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

Thursday, October 24- What Do YOU Hate?

     “Hate” is an interesting thing. I hate okra, and yet I hate bullying and intimidation. I hate 100-degree days with 100% humidity, but I also hate war and violence. “Hate”, much like “love”, is a word that gets used a LOT…OVERused…to the point that it loses its meaning. So what DOES the word mean?

     Here is what has to say:

hate  [heyt],  verb, hat·ed, hat·ing, noun

verb (used with object)

1. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.

2. to be unwilling; dislike: I hate to do it.

verb (used without object)

3. to feel intense dislike, or extreme aversion or hostility.


4. intense dislike; extreme aversion or hostility.

5. the object of extreme aversion or hostility.

     Synonyms include:  loathe, despise, abhor, detest. The main antonym is…love.

     So it seems that “hate” is a pretty strong word. I see words like “intensely” and “passionately” used in the definition and it tells me that hating is not for sissies! But have you noticed how we use the word? I joked about hating okra, humidity, war, violence, bullying and intimidation. (Actually, I wasn’t joking- I DO hate those things!) But how can the same word be used to describe my feelings about both a southern vegetable that my mom stewed with tomatoes (Yuck!) AND violence?

     The one way I see the word used that drives me the MOST crazy…the one usage that I…HATE…the most…is when someone says, “I hate him/her/them.” And while you might think that behavior is reserved for those “Godless heathens” of the world, hang on a bit. I went to seminary with a woman who, in one breath would castigate (great word…Google it!) people who she labeled as narrow-minded and opinionated and in the very next breath (LITERALLY! I actually heard her do this once!) would say…and I quote, “I HATE those girls who wear their hair in a ponytail and stick it out through the hole in the back of a baseball cap!” Wait…I…you…WHAT? You WHAT? You HATE girls who stick their ponytail through the hole in the back of a baseball cap? REALLY? Well, THAT’S “open and affirming” at its finest, isn’t it?!

     The Bible says that we are NOT to hate people, but instead to what? LOVE them, even our enemies! And we KNOW that. We can recite it. We understand in our brains that is what Jesus said and we “get” why He said it. “Makes sense, Pastor!” But we seem to have more than a little trouble when it comes to having that information travel from our head to our heart.

     We KNOW we are not supposed to hate others…but if we are honest, we do it anyway. And who is it we hate? Usually it’s either 1. People who are not like us OR 2. People who have wronged us. But Jesus says we are to NOT hate those folks but instead love them. Why would we want to do that? Because when you hate them, especially the people who have wronged you, you are letting them live rent-free in your head. They have control over how you think and feel as long as you hate them. But the second you forgive them and show them Christian love, 2 things happen: 1. It confuses the DAYLIGHTS out of them and 2. It frees you from the hold they have over you.

     What do YOU hate? Let it go. It’s only weighing you down, and the person you hate doesn’t care and probably doesn’t even know. Find the freedom that only letting go of hate and grasping firmly to Christian love can provide!

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

Tomorrow-  Band on the Run!

Wednesday, October 23- Gentle on My Mind

     Glen Campbell recorded a song called Gentle on My Mind. The lyrics include: “It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk. And it’s knowing I’m not shackled by forgotten words and bonds and the ink stains that have dried upon some line, that keeps you ever gentle on my mind.” Today, we look at gentleness.
     We are in week 3 of our current Wednesday Bible Study, Livin’ on a Prayer. It’s about the Beatitudes- the “blessed are..” statements Jesus makes in the Gospels. The 1st 4 Beatitudes show us the ideal heart condition of the Christian, while the last 4 show lifestyle- the result of that heart condition. If you remember from the 1st Wednesday, Jesus goes up on a mountain and delivers what has become known as the Sermon on the Sermon. That week we looked at the poor in spirit, who were promised the kingdom of Heaven. Last week, we looked at those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Here is today’s Beatitude- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
     People expected to see earthly power, dominion, pomp and circumstance, splendor and a strong military presence out of a Messiah. This guy must be a mistake– blessed are the…meek? MEEK??? How ate THEY going to take over the world? If the meek actually inherit the world, it would be the biggest upset in sport history, the ultimate Cinderella story, the 2nd greatest story ever told.
     There is an Olympian theme that says, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”. It means “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. And that’s exactly what society teaches- faster, higher, stronger. We are taught to push, shove, confront…and conquer. The world thinks in terms of strength, power, ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. We put up a good front so that others won’t see just how vulnerable we are. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Assert yourself. Care for nothing except yourself. The only vice is weakness, the only virtue- strength. Be strong, be a superman. The world is yours if you get it.”
      Many would say, “If the meek intend to inherit the earth, they’re going to have to be more aggressive about it!” But Jesus is not talking about earthly meekness- the world is profoundly mistaken about that. Meekness is not weakness. It’s not simply being nice. It’s not peace at any price. It’s not never getting angry. It’s not being cowardly or emotionally flabby or lacking in conviction or being tentative. It’s not being ready and willing to compromise on any issue. It’s not being shy, timid, insecure and wimpy. It’s not being a wuss.
     Well, if it’s not those things, then what s it? It’s gentleness, self-control, self-discipline and submission. It’s strength, humbleness, character, patient and endurance. It’s strength under control, power under restraint and authority. Being meek is to willingly accept and endure the will of God, to see it all as perfect. It means to not resist, rebel or complain about God’s call on your life but to embrace it, to not be preoccupied with yourself. It means you don’t care what others think about you, but instead accept your own limitations and weaknesses. It means being controlled and forgiving, with a strong, teachable spirit. It means being…gentle. It means we know our place in God’s plan and we strive to bloom where we’re planted. Doesn’t all of that sound amazingly like Jesus?
     The meek are filled with awe/wonder at God and His purposes. But they are not awe-struck by the frustrations of life. They are more easily mobilized by eternal causes and less easily hindered by daily disappointments. Because they place fewer demands of life, the meek are less easily disappointed. They are less concerned with entitlements and more interested with assignments. We are like the bucking beast that’s been tamed, a horse once wild who now is obedient. To be useful, we must be broken. We are still just a strong, but we are under control…gentle. God wants to bless us and use us, but 1st we have to become submissive.
     Fear prevents us from experiencing the joy that is defined in the Beatitudes. Fear’s goal is to make us take our eyes off the mountaintop, and instead settle for the dull existence of the plains. Do we have the power to beat fear? Worldly power always has the threat of being overpowered by something bigger and powerful. But God is all powerful; He IS the biggest dog in the yard. 
     We often neglect our spiritual maintenance- we are “clothed w/power”, but out of gas. What’s the secret? Peace- w need to know who AND whose we are, where we are going and that we have nothing to prove. We need to set aside our  agendas and opinions and instead be forgiving, humble, gentle…meek. If we live our life for God, if He’s in control, then what do we have to fear? Meekness is necessary to receive God’s Word and to communicate God’s message.
     Here’s a question- do you think Jesus can use anything He chooses to perform His miracles? Of course you do! Then why is it so hard to imagine that He would use…you?! God loves to take nothing and make something wonderful. In Jesus, the mundane becomes the mighty, the dull becomes the divine, the humdrum the holy. We pray and  ask God to take the lead of our minds and hearts. Then we go unmeekly in our own predetermined direction.
     When we are truly meek, we are not worried about being pushed around but instead grateful to be pushed along…by God. When we are meek, we don’t engage in shoulder-shrugging resignation but shoulder-squaring resolve to better bear the burdens of life. The meek go on fewer ego trips but have far greater adventures. They have less concern over being taken for granted and more concern for being taken by the hand. The have less concern over their own plans and more concern over His plans.

     The song Gentle on My Mind also includes these lyrics- “I still might run in silence, tears of joy might stain my face and summer sun might burn me till I’m blind, but not to where I cannot see you walkin’ on the back roads, by the rivers flowing gentle on my mind.”

     Meekness helps us step gratefully to the altar to place our talents, our time and ourselves there as a gift to God. Meekness causes a necessary erosion of the ego- but it is far better to save your soul than your face. Are you meek? If not, look at the 1st two Beatitudes- the poor in spirit and those who mourn- we are only dealing with them if we bring them to the 3rd one. If meekness and gentleness are not found in the heart, then they are not found anywhere.

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

 Tomorrow- What Do YOU Hate?

Tuesday, October 22- Musicians ROCK!

     The Bell Choir played Sunday at church. Did you hear what I said? The BELL CHOIR played Sunday at church! Now you might be wondering what the big deal is- Bell Choirs play in churches around the country every Sunday! So what?! 

     Have you ever watched a Bell Choir play? I mean a GOOD Bell Choir? It’s amazing! I watched…what?…15 people all sit at the same piano and, each only choosing a few notes to play, knocked it out of the park! I continue to be amazed at the level of talent and dedication that goes into playing the bells.
     I saw at least 3 different playing techniques being employed during that song. Some played the “normal” way. Some laid their bells on the table and played them with mallets. Some held them in their hands but dampened them with their fingers. They let them ring. They choked them. They swung them back and forth to change the sound. Wow!
     It’s one thing to have one musician play a great song. But it’s a totally different thing to have that many people come together to make beautiful music. I have played in concert bands, orchestras, pep bands, marching bands, pit orchestras, rock bands, praise bands and YES…a Bell Choir (once, as an emergency fill-in,), and I always enjoy the collaboration that goes into making music. There is nothing quite like a group of musicians coming together to make something together that is FAR more beautiful than anything they could create individually. 
     Music is a universal language that transcends culture, economics, geography…even time. It speaks to me like nothing else can. I have always loved music, but my hearing loss has just driven that fact home even more. The Arts are an essential part of who we are…who God created us go be. He made us to be more than simply automatons. He made us to be creative beings, capable of producing beauty that reflects HIS beauty…with His help!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Monday, October 21- Closed Captioning Provided By…

      Closed captioning is a fascinating thing. Previously-taped  events offer closed captioning that not only stays current with what the person on the TV is saying- sometimes it’s like you have a time machine that takes you a split-second into the future! The closed caption will reveal something JUST ahead of the person actually saying the words.
     On the other hand, if it is a live event (like a baseball game), the closed captioning is always a few seconds behind what is being said. And that makes sense- whoever is entering that data into a computer can’t do so until the words are actually spoken.
     Often, the accuracy level of the closed-captioning is dead-on. What the people say is captured perfectly by the words that show on the screen. Sometimes, the sentence is edited for length, but still offers the gist of what was said. And sometimes, well, it looks as if the person typing the words into a computer somewhere has been drinking heavily!
     Another thing about closed captioning is that, when there is music playing and no one is talking, a couple of music notes will be shown on the screen. And when someone is talking in a voice other than their normal one, the closed captioning will tell you that fact…in parentheses.
     You may be thinking to yourself, “Pastor, why do you know so much about closed captioning?” We have recently turned ON the closed captioning on the TV’s in our house. Depending on the circumstances (what’s ON TV, what else is happening in the room, how loud the TV, etc.) I find it really hard to distinguish words because of the damage this…THING…in my head is doing. I can HEAR the sounds…but I can’t always make words out of them. The same is true with other methods of amplified sound. In Sunday worship, there is a time each week when I walk around and offer people a microphone. They offer a prayer request, to which I offer up a prayer. Standing 3 feet from them, I can hear then fairly well. But as soon as their voice enters the sound system and comes out through the speakers, I suddenly can HEAR them, but struggle to decipher words.
     I must admit two things:
1. Hearing loss is a tough thing. I never realized how much I appreciate…depend on…my hearing until it was compromised. It radically impacts every facet of our daily lives.
2. I have gained a tremendous respect for people who deal with hearing loss every day. It is difficult, challenging, isolating.
     What ministries are you familiar with that are designed for those with hearing loss? Has it impacted you or someone close to you? I would love to hear about your story- perhaps a new ministry can grow out of this challenge!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Musicians ROCK!

Sunday, October 20- Tongues of Fire: Teacher

     Teachers are an amazingly underappreciated lot! Having lived with one for the past 28 years, I have been able to “peek behind the curtain” and see what being a teacher is REALLY like. With that in mind…I would like to take this opportunity to publically apologize to…ALL of the teachers I had growing up! Here’s just ONE example-
     Drummers are notorious for getting in trouble in band. They are A. almost always the ADHD kids, B. therefore easily distracted and bored and C. have WAY too much time on their hands while the director works with…the REAL musicians! When I was in High School, our band room had a tuning machine that sat on a little table up against a rather large load-bearing structural pillar. It was SO boring to watch the band tune…drummers don’t HAVE to tune, thank you very much!…that I decided to amuse myself one day. I snuck down front and positioned myself on the side of that pillar that was OPPOSITE the tuning machine. That put me A. very near the tuning machine and B. out of sight of the director! When he had the whole band play their tuning note, I whistled about a half-step off-key…JUST enough that the tuning machine told him that the band wasn’t in tune! I then remained silent as he went section by section, checking the “in-tune”ness of the trumpets, clarinets and so forth. Because I was quiet, each group registered in tune. He then went back to the whole band…and I then went back to whistling off-key! From there, he went back to each section and tried it again. Eventually, he went instrument by instrument. And no matter what he tried, the individuals and the sections were always IN tune…but the BAND was NEVER in tune! We spent 25 minutes tuning that day! It was awesome! But this morning, I would like to go on record, for the first time in 35 years, as saying, “Mr. Cohill…I’m very sorry and I’ll never do it again!”
     2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Now the Lord is the Holy Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, freedom is also there. Our faces are not covered with a veil. We all display the Lord’s glory. We are being changed to become more like him so that we have more and more glory. And the glory comes from the Lord, who is the Holy Spirit.
     Today we wrap up 7 weeks of digging deeper into exactly Who the Holy Spirit is. Each week, we’ve focused 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. Week 3, we looked at the Holy Spirit as the quintessential Guide of our lives. Week 4, we considered the fact that the Holy Spirit is an Indweller- He lives within us. Week 5 had us considering the Holy Spirit as someone who speaks on our behalf- the Intercessor. Last week, we looked at the Holy Spirit as the great Revealer. Today, we bring this series to a close as we talk about the fact that the Holy Spirit is our Teacher.
     Each week, we’ve closed the sermon with a good ol’-fashioned altar call. And we’ve opened 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)
     Jesus promised that the Spirit would teach His disciples “all things” and bring to their remembrance the things He said while He was with them. They were moved by the Spirit to remember, understand and implement the instructions Jesus gave for the building and organizing of the Church and the revelation of things to come. Jesus promised US that the Holy Spirit would teach US all things as well.
     John 14:25-26 I have spoken all these things while I am still with you. But the Father will send the Friend in my name to help you. The Friend is the Holy Spirit. He will teach you all things. He will remind you of everything I have said to you.
     We’ve all heard the snarky comments about how teachers are overpaid because they only work 7 hours a day, get lots of holidays and have summers off. But I’m here to tell you that, if you actually believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. If you believe that, you simply don’t understand much about teaching. BE a teacher for a week, or even LIVE with a teacher, and you’ll see just how easy teaching is. I would argue that there is NO job more important than being a teacher. ANY job that you can name that you think is more important…they had to learn it from SOMEBODY! We entrust our greatest resource…our children…to the men and women that give their lives to the profession of teaching. We’d BETTER have faith in them!
     What defines a great teacher? We’ve all had teachers who either should have never gone into the profession or at least should have retired years ago. But for those GOOD teachers- the dedicated ones who pour out their passion for no other reason but to help others learn- what are some common, defining characteristics?
     They are resilient. They have an unwavering desire to make life better for their students. They’re always looking for opportunities to strengthen their students’ learning…AND their own. They create a healthy environment where students’ lives are touched and their minds challenged. They provide a comfortable and safe space for students to take risks and express their own opinions and ideas. They encourage an environment where everybody is heard and everybody knows they belong. They foster excitement and enthusiasm for learning. They talk WITH and listen TO their students so they can design work that motivates and inspires them. They have a knack for coaching kids in fun ways, constructive ways. They are great communicators. They set high standards and then hold not just their students but themselves to those standards. They are flexible, able to multitask, and willing to collaborate.
     But what makes a good teacher a great teacher is when they take their craft from science to art.  Great teachers have a firm grasp of both the science AND the artistry of teaching. I had a 2nd Grade teacher who was also my 4th Grade teacher- she got “promoted”! Every student wanted her as their teacher, and every student who HAD her as their teacher…cherished that relationship! She made me WANT to learn! She made me WANT to do my best. She made me WANT to do everything I could to make her proud. But what she did better than ANY of that was make me feel like…I mattered. I grew up in a rather dysfunction home. And there were lots of days when I came to school feeling pretty lost…pretty unwanted. But the 2 school years I had her as my teacher, I was EAGER to get to school. Why? Because I knew she cared. I knew she loved me. I knew I mattered to her. And because of that, I wanted to be the best…ME…I could be. I wanted to please her. I wanted to jump through whatever hoops she could lay out for me that day. All because she made me feel like I mattered. Thank you, Mrs. Nillson!
     At the end of the day, students don’t care how much their teacher knows until they know how much they care. But once they know how much the teacher cares, they are willing to do anything for them, regardless of how challenging it may be. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He is constantly showing us how much He loves us. And that love should compel us to want to do whatever we need to do to grow in faith.
     The Holy Spirit is the best kept secret in Christ
ianity- His role has been largely misunderstood from the beginning. He wasn’t sent to make it possible for us to do really cool stuff. He was sent to work in the background, like the operating system of your computer. You don’t see it but you know it’s there, and without it you wouldn’t be able to do anything. And He will never tell you to do anything that is contrary to the will of God.
Galatians 4:6-7 Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. He is the Holy Spirit. By his power we call God “Abba.” Abba means Father. So you aren’t slaves any longer. You are God’s children. Because you are his children, he gives you what he promised to give his people.
     The Holy Spirit works for one main purpose and one main purpose only- to bring glory to God. He is a foretaste of heaven- a glimpse of what an eternity with God will be like. He lives with us and in us. He convicts us of our sin and teaches us a better way. He guides us to the truth and offers us insight into God’s ways. And He will be with us forever. God has given us His Spirit to teach us and His Word to serve as our textbook. Our main source for faith learning should be the Word of God as inspired by and taught by the Holy Spirit.
     Shortly after buying a piece of land in Bruno, Nebraska that included a barn, a nearby creek on the farmer’s newly-purchased property rose quickly…and put his new barn under nearly 2’ of water. He half-jokingly said to his family, “I bet if we had enough people, we could pick up that barn and carry it to higher ground.” To his surprise, one of his sons started on that very solution! He counted the number of boards, timbers, and nails and estimated that the barn weighed about 19,000 pounds. He then calculated that 344 people would only have to each lift about 55 pounds to carry the barn to higher ground. But how do that many people each get a grip on the barn in order to lift it? He designed a grid of steel tubing and attached it to the inside and outside of the barn, providing handles for the “barn raisers”. As the day of the planned move approached, word of the barn raising spread like wildfire. On the morning of the lift, nearly four hundred…THOUSAND people from 11states showed up! When everything was ready, the farmer counted, “One, two, three!” and 344 people, acting as one, lifted that barn like it was nothing! The crowd cheered as they carried the 9-ton barn 50 yards up the hill and onto dry land in just 3 minutes. How’d they do it? They got enough people to work toward a common goal. They spread the load out evenly and equally. And with one heart, one mind, one purpose, one direction and two hands they were able to accomplish the impossible.
     THAT’S what the Holy Spirit calls us to be. Through His encouraging, His guiding, His indwelling, His intercession, His revealing and His teaching, He equips us, enables us to be so much more TOGETHER than we could EVER be apart. Two are better than one and a chord with three strands isn’t easily broken. We have enough people to work toward a common goal. We are working hard to spread the load out evenly and equally. And with one heart, one mind, one purpose, one direction and two hands…we are able to accomplish the impossible.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Closed Captioning Provided By…

Saturday, October 19- Cooking, Chemistry and Christ


     I have shared many times in this space- I love to cook! My parents both worked when I was growing up, so by the time I was 8 years old, my mom had all of us taking turns cooking dinner. That meant two things: 1. Once a week an 8-year old cooked dinner and 2. Once a week…we all ate pancakes for dinner! (It was all I knew how to cook!)

     I will readily admit that mastering cooking has been a…learning curve…for me. When we were first married, I made a box of mac and cheese for my wife. I didn’t have QUITE enough milk, so I topped off the milk with a LITTLE bit of what I found in the cabinet…condensed milk! (In my defense, my mom never used it, so I had NO idea what it was! I mean…it SAID “milk” right there on the can!) I used such a SMALL amount of that my wife’s response was, “This is good!” Well, I figured if a little was good, then a LOT must be even better! So the next time I made a box of mac and cheese, I got my secret weapon out of the cabinet and used as the sum TOTAL of the milk the recipe called for! My wife took one bite and…well…let’s just say she had some questions about my culinary skills! But, as they say, practice makes perfect and so, over the years, I have gotten much better at cooking. (I am NOT nearly perfect, however!) I cook regularly and am not afraid to tackle any recipe. I am also fairly comfortable with just “making it up as I go along”.

     One thing I have come to understand over the years of cooking regularly is that cooking is chemistry. Think about it- you take a group of ingredients and combine them in such a way that they become a new thing. Sometimes it is even truly a chemical change. But the food that ends up on the table has passed through a chemical process before it gets to your mouth. The end result is often not even recognizable as the sum total of the various ingredients.

     As I was fixing dinner recently, it dawned on me that the “chemical” change that takes place when cooking is very similar to the change that takes place when you accept Christ into your life…your heart. When you become a Christian, you become a different person. You become a different…THING. A chemical reaction occurs that makes the end result not even recognizable as the sum total of the various ingredients.

     To confirm that fact, I don’t have to look any farther than…myself. I am not even remotely recognizable as the same person that I was BC…before Christ. I don’t mean to imply that I was such a horrible person before OR that I am a saint now- neither is true. But I am no longer who I was. A chemical change has occurred. I am a new creation. BUT…I am also NOT what I WILL be. That’s the beauty part of a life lived in Christ- you are always moving toward glory. You won’t make it…in this world…but Christ encourages you to continue to take positive steps.

     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: Teacher

Friday, October 18- Sin Beyond Your Wildest Imagination!

     Well…did the title get your attention? If it DIDN’T…you are simply NOT paying attention! Some people would say that the ONLY sin better than “normal” sin would be sin beyond your wildest imagination!
     I am currently leading a Bible Study that focuses on our priorities. The emphasis of this study is not just priorities but PROPER priorities…putting God first and everything else after Him.
     This week’s lesson included the following quote, “We are all capable of sin beyond our wildest imagination.” The first time I heard that, I had to rewind the DVD and listen to it again. But no…that IS what he said. “We are all capable of sin beyond our wildest imagination.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. It’s also pretty shocking stuff!
     Do you think you are capable of sin? If you said, “No”, I would have to politely but firmly disagree with you. Of COURSE you’re capable of sin…we all are. We’re human. In fact, not only are we CAPABLE of sin…we are GUILTY of sin. We sin on a regular basis. We don’t WANT to (I hope), but we DO. That’s why we need God’s grace and forgiveness.  
     But- are you capable of “sin beyond your wildest imagination”? Am I? Is anybody? Is EVERYBODY? According to the guy who is in the DVD we were watching this week, the answer is, “Yes”. And although my initial reaction to his statement was shock and amazement, I have had some time to think about it. And upon further reflection, I would have to say that, sadly, I agree with him.
      You’ve heard that expression, “There but for the grace of God go I”? You know- you see someone “worse off” than you and you say, “There but for the grace of God go I”. I have always had some trouble with that expression, because the implication always seems to me to be that God pays MORE attention to me than the “poor unfortunate soul” I just saw. And I have a problem with that type of theology.
     But what if, instead, it means that when we see someone who is in the very depths of sin, having committed the absolute WORST, most heinous sin possible, we see them and realize just how close to the possibility of that kind of behavior we really are. You may be thinking, Not ME!” right now, but think about it- ONE poor choice, ONE bad situation, and any of us could find ourselves in the depths of sin. Not dancing around the edges of it but neck deep in it. And THAT is precisely the door through which God enters.
  For God, sin is sin. We don’t want to believe that, because we don’t want to think that we could POSSIBLY be as bad as THAT person. But God doesn’t quantify sin- sin is sin. We are ALL sinners in need of redemption. Fortunately, our God is in the Redemption business. If we are willing to come to Him and confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse us of ALL unrighteousness. Not just SOME…but ALL!
       Are we capable of sin beyond our wildest imagination? Yep! But is our God capable of taking that sin as far away from us as the east is from the west and washing us as white as snow? Absolutely!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Cooking, Chemistry and Christ

Thursday, October 17- Punkin’ Pickin’!

     (Let me say RIGHT up front that this is NOT a picture of MY vehicle with MY pumpkins in it! I wasn’t smart enough to actually take such a picture, so I shamelessly stole this picture from the Facebook page of a woman in the church I serve who A. was at the same event I was and B. reads this blog! So…Andrea…SORRY!)
    A few days ago, I wrote about my pulchritudinous penchant for pumpkins! Well…the hits just KEEP on comin’! This last Sunday, a husband/wife/daughter/son-in-law quartet who are members of the church I serve hosted the 2nd Annual Punkin’ Pickin’ Party. It was at their farm and it…was…awesome! There were LOTS of people (which ALWAYS makes a church event better, in my mind), lots of food, a GREAT setting and marvelous fellowship.
     You know how you’ve gone to events that lasted two hours, but FELT like they lasted SIX hours? Well, this event was the exact polar opposite of that. It was a 2 hour event, from 3PM-5PM, and we arrive at about 3:05. We ate some food, talked to lot of people, picked out a couple of pumpkins and all of a sudden…2 hours had passed and it was time to go! I felt like I had been there 20 minutes! THAT is the mark of a successful event!
     There is great power in churches that are involved in a grand array of impactful ministries. When lots of God’s people roll up there sleeves and dig into the business of ministry, amazing things happen. Likewise, there is nothing quite like large groups involved in deep and meaningful Bible Study. In addition, the power of corporate worship cannot be duplicated in any other setting. BUT…(you KNEW that was coming!)…Any church that does ALL of those things well is STILL incomplete without intentional…here’s the $64 word…fellowship. There is a level of relationship that simply cannot be achieved under any other circumstance.
   When we gather together with no other agenda but to break bread together and share each other’s company for a time, great things can happen. Walls can be broken down, fences can be mended, ice can melt and bonds can be created that can withstand the test of time.
     How’s YOUR “fellowship quotient”? If it’s not where it could be, where you would like it to be, only you can change that. Are you a part of a church? If not…find one. Does your church offer fellowship activities? If not, help start some? Does your church offer fellowship opportunities that you are not taking advantage of? If so, START! Work on building those relationships that will help you build your personal faith. It is not only rewarding…it’s fun!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Sin Beyond Your Wildest Imagination!

Wednesday, October 16- Sad Songs Say So Much

     A man died and went to heaven, where he was met by St. Peter. “I have looked at your life, and it seems that you didn’t really do anything that was particularly good OR bad. Therefore, I’m not really sure what to do with you. Is there anything you did that would help me make a decision?”
     The man thought, and then said, “Yes. I was driving when I came upon a woman being harassed by a group of bikers. I took out my tire iron, went up to the leader, tore OUT his nose ring and told him he’d better stop…or he would have to deal with me!” St. Peter replied, “Wow! I’m impressed! When did THAT happen?” “Oh, about 2 minutes ago!”
     Elton John wrote a tune called Sad Songs. The lyrics include: “Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain. And ironing out the rough spots is the hardest part when memories remain…Sad songs say so much.” It’s a catchy tune, but do you believe that?
     We are in week 2 of our current Bible Study, Livin’ on a Prayer. It’s about the Beatitudes- the “blessed are..” statements Jesus makes in the Gospels. The 1st 4 Beatitudes show us the ideal heart condition of the Christian, while the last 4 show lifestyle- the result of that heart condition. If you remember from last Wednesday, Jesus goes up on a mountain and delivers what has become known as the Sermon on the Sermon. Last week we look at the poor in spirit, who were promised the kingdom of Heaven. Here is today’s Beatitude-
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
    How do we mourn? For whom and what do we mourn? If we’re honest, that’s a hard one! If Jesus had just said “Blessed are those who are happy,” we’d say “Yeah! Amen!” But He doesn’t!  He says the exact polar opposite! He says blessed are those who…mourn, “Hold phone! What? Mourn?” When our heart aches and is nearly breaking, we don’t feel very blessed! What does Jesus mean? It seems contrary to human experience. Our society has an amusement-park mentality. Everything is supposed to be kittens d moonbeams, not mourning and crying. Blessed are those who mourn? I don’t thinks so! What kind of sense does that make?!
     Perhaps the better question would be- how in the world can we find the comfort of God in the midst of grief and mourning? Where would we even start? What does He mean here? We immediately think mourning mean the loss of a loved one. Is there a Biblical precedent for this? Yep! In the Ancient Near Eastern world, mourning was very dramatic. Mourners were actually hired to weep.
      What IS grief? The definition is this- “To feel and express grief, sorrow and regret”. And that is so true in part- but grief is not just mourning the loss of a loved one. Jesus is also talking about mourning the presence of evil in the world. It is not necessarily bereavement, but it does touch those who experience the sorrow of sin. We mourn because of man’s disobedience to God…because of our own sins. We mourn over bad decisions we AND others make. We mourn over opportunity lost and time wasted. We mourn over how we fail to treat others the way we should. We mourn over how God’s will is not being done. We mourn over how we spend too much time JUDGING one another and not LOVING one another. We mourn over how people who NEED God..reject God. But we can’t mourn  yet NOT also appreciate our inability to handle life on own. As we said last week, the way up is down.
     The funeral home was given the choice of music to play at the beginning of the service, as the family was walking in. It was supposed to be Track 1 on the Elvis Presley CD, “Love me Tender”. Unfortunately they cued up the wrong track. As the family walked in, they heard, “Return to Sender”! 
The passage says those who mourn will be comforted. Shall be comforted. The Greek word that is used is parakaleo. It means “call to one’s side, console, encourage, strengthen.” In the New Testament, the Greek talks about the Paraclete- one who encourages. We should absolutely let others be the Paraclete to us, but what might be more important is that we return the favor. How does God comfort those who mourn? In 2 ways: 1) with His presence and 2) with His promises.
      I used to own a pair of mourning doves named Abra and Dabra. I was trying to train them for use in my magic act. They were great, but they knew when morning came, even before it actually came! When we first got married, they would coo  that powerful mourning sound and it would FILL the apartment. I tried them in every room. I eventually put them RIGHT next to the bed so that I could tap the cage and get them to stop. They DIDN’T! My wife finally told me it was her or them! The choice was easy- the mourning doves found a NEW home!
     Human Sorrow and mourning are often caused by the conditions of life. They also involve deep personal agony. And they MAY be caused by sin. They also require a specific response- one that is best characterized by confession. And the response to that confession is forgiveness. It’s OK to mourn. It’s healthy, and there IS a time for every purpose under heaven. What is the end result of mourning? Comfort- from Above, throughout our life.
     Do you know joy in your life? Not happiness, but joy? Do you know real peace and contentment? Do you know comfort? Divine peace and comfort come to those who mourn against sin. Do you do that? God wants to give us peace, comfort and joy. How? Through prayer. It was that great Theologian Jon Bon Jovi who said, “We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got. We’ve got each other and that’s a lot…we’re halfway there, livin’ on a prayer.” 
     When we see evil in the world, it should make us mourn. It should drive us to our knees in prayer. We should mourn sin- in our life and in the world. We should ask for forgiveness and mercy. We should ask God to “create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit in me, restore my joy.”
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Punkin’ Pickin’!

Tuesday, October 15- I’ll Flick Your Flies If You Flick Mine!

     I am a “horse” guy! I must, however, qualify that statement a bit! I don’t own a horse. I don’t ride horses. I don’t watch horse racing. I don’t bet on horse racing. I’m not interested in horse shows. “Well then HOW, Pastor, are you a ‘horse’ guy?!” Simple- I LOVE horses!
     When I was a kid, we had a HUGE chestnut colored Tennessee Walker named General. (I have written about him before.) He was a beautiful animal. He was a lovable animal. He was also a VERY stubborn animal! My mom got him with the intention of riding him. But it didn’t take long before…nobody rode him. Over time, he became much less of a horse and much more of a big dog! He would follow you around, he loved attention and he was always begging for food. Sounds JUST like most dogs I’ve had!
     Because I grew up with a horse, I have a great love for them. I know where most of the horses in the area live…because I pay attention to that sort of thing when I drive. And as I pay attention to these horses, I have noticed an interesting thing. Twice now, I have seen two horses (in different places…NOT the same horses) who were seemingly intentionally working together toward a common goal. In each case, they were standing side-by-side, grazing. But they WEREN’T standing shoulder to shoulder. Instead, they were standing facing opposite directions, like two police cruisers who have pulled up, driver’s window to driver’s window, to talk to each other.
     At first, I didn’t realize what they were doing. But then I noticed that they were…ready?…swatting each other in the face with their tails! My thought was, “Why doesn’t one of them move?” But then it hit me- they were swatting flies off of each other’s face! Think about it- unless they bend their head back quite a bit, a horse can’t reach his head with his tail. Therefore, he has no defense against those nasty flies. BUT, if your buddy stands next to you, he can swat them off of you while you return the favor! Brilliant!
     Teamwork is a great thing. The Bible says, “Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do. Suppose someone falls down. Then his friend can help him up. But suppose the man who falls down doesn’t have anyone to help him up. Then feel sorry for him! Or suppose two people lie down together. Then they’ll keep warm. But how can one person keep warm alone? One person could be overpowered. But two people can stand up for themselves. And a rope made out of three cords isn’t easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) We are SO trained in this country to not need anybody. We are a nation of Lone Rangers. Bootstrap theology. Call it what you will, depending on others isn’t a very strong concept to Americans. But when we are able to get beyond that mentality and intentionally focus on collaboration, great things can happen. It takes determination and it takes vulnerability, but it can pay massive dividends. And as we do that, we are also building and strengthening relationships along the way. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
     You may NOT be swatting flies off of someone else’s face, but you CAN be more intentional about teamwork, Watch for ways you can deliberately involve someone else in what you are doing. Why? Because two people are better than one and a rope made out of three cords isn’t easily broken!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Sad Songs Say So Much

Monday, October 14- What IS a Hero?

     When I was a kid, my heroes were easy to identify. As I have shared in other daily entries, I was a HUGE superhero fan. I read every comic  book I could get my hands on. I played Superman and Batman all the time. I watched Dudley-Do-Right, Underdog, you name it. I LOVED the old black and white George Reeves Superman show on TV. And the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show in the late 60’s…please…don’t EVEN get me started on that! And when they started making movies about them, well, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven! (Again as I’ve shared, I STILL have a 12″ tall Superman statue that “stands guard” over my office!)
     Why are so many people drawn to “larger than life” characters like these? Well…it’s because they’re “larger than life”! They are powerful, smart, fast, dedicated, faithful, and…heroic. They have cool costumes, cool cars, cool toys…they’re just…well…cool! We want to be like them. How awesome would it be to be able to drive around in that amazing costume, stopping crime, saving the day, and getting all the accolades? VERY!
     But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to realize what it REALLY means to be heroic. (We always hear that folks like the police and fire department are the REAL heroes, and while I completely agree with that…we’re not going there today.) It seems to me the REAL heroes are those who most definitely have earned the adjective “unsung”. I think those folks who get up and do their job EVERY day are heroes. I think folks who work exhaustively to raise their kids to be decent human beings are heroes. I think folks who are faithful to their spouse are heroes. I think folks who do the RIGHT thing, even when it is NOT the popular thing or the easy thing, are heroes. I think folks who live life in the shadow of God are heroes.
     It is SO easy to see people doing the wrong thing- it goes on all around us, all the time. Everywhere you look, you can find people skirting the edge of decency. They treat other people badly. They lie, cheat, steal. They make sure they are the most important thing at all times, regardless of anyone else. We ALL know people like that. We ARE people like that at times.
     But we also know people who have had a difficult life, to say the least. Nothing has been easy for them. And yet, they have a smile on their face, a bounce to their step, a song in their heart. They are the kind of people who don’t have 2 nickels to rub together, but if they found your wallet, you’d get it back with everything still intact. They’re the kind of people who, even when they’re in a hurry, will let you go first through the door or the intersection. They’re the kind of people who take their marriage vows seriously- they aren’t just PHYSICALLY faithful to their mates, but the also treat them with respect, not calling them names and saying or doing hurtful things to them. They’re the type of people who sacrifice for their kids- giving up some of their own desires so that their kids can have the best chance possible to grow into men and women of God. They’re the type of people…you get the picture!!
     Who are YOUR heroes? Who are the people who you look up to? Perhaps more importantly, who are the people who look up to YOU? Who are the people who depend on you being the best person YOU can be so they can try and mirror that behavior? It’s a huge responsibility- knowing that your spouse, your kids, your grandkids, your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow church members, look to you as an example. How’s that going? Do you find it tough? You should…it’s hard. BUT…if you daily turn to God in prayer, asking for the strength, wisdom, guidance, patience and peace to live each daily to its fullest, it suddenly becomes a WHOLE lot easier. Turn to God, and ask for the strength to be…a hero.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- I’LL Flick Your Flies if You Flick Mine!

Sunday, October 13- Tongues of Fire: Revealer

    May 25, 1977- movie-making forever changed that day. You may think that’s good and you may think that’s bad, but either way…it’s true. The original Star Wars was released. I was finishing up my sophomore year of high school in May of 1977 (which either makes me really young or really old…depending on your perspective!) and couldn’t wait to see it! The funny thing is that movie theaters ONLY agreed to show it because the studio threatened to withhold the movie The Other Side of Midnight if they didn’t!
     No matter what revisionist history creator George Lucas offers now, the original movie was NOT envisioned as the beginning of a franchise! He barely got the first one made and distributed. But the overwhelming success of that movie, later renamed Episode IV: A New Hope, guaranteed future installments. That fact led to May 21, 1980, when the second installment, The Empire Strikes Back, was released. And THAT movie (considered by many to be the best of the series) produced arguably THE best “reveal” in movie history.
     Late in the movie, our hero, Luke Skywalker, is trapped by the evil Darth Vader. After hacking Luke’s hand off with his light saber (NOT a very nice thing to do!), Darth says, “Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father.” Luke replies, “He told me enough. He told me you killed him!” And then…Darth drops the bombshell! “No…I am your father!” Bum, bum, buuuum! The first time I saw it…May 21, 1980…you could hear a pin drop! “No…WAY!” Mind. Blown!
     The most shocking “reveal” in movie history was a well-protected secret. Very few people knew about it until the movie was released. Even the actor in the shiny black suit, David Prowse, didn’t know. He was the BODY of Darth Vader, but not the voice. So Prowse spoke lines as they filmed, but they were NOT the lines we heard in the finished cut. Those were provided, of course, by the incomparable James Earl Jones. When they filmed, Lucas told Prowse to say that Obi-Wan killed Luke’s father, setting up the greatest “reveal” ever!
     We are nearing the end 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. Week 3, we looked at the Holy Spirit as the quintessential Guide of our lives. Week 4, we considered the fact that the Holy Spirit is an Indweller- He lives within us. Last week, we considered the Holy Spirit as someone who speaks on our behalf- the Intercessor. Today, we look at the Holy Spirit as the great Revealer.
     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)
Acts 2:17b-19a “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Holy Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will have dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on those who serve me, both men and women. When I do, they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above. I will show miraculous signs on the earth below.
     The Holy Spirit is the direct link between God and humanity. Jesus promised that, after the resurrection, His Holy Spirit would come to guide us into all truth. Since the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we’re able to better understand truth. Why? Because we have the very mind of Jesus Christ, in the Person of His Holy Spirit, within us.
     Let’s be honest- often our actions, even the ones that make us look our best and most pure, most altruistic, are nothing more than a veil to hide the truth- from not just others, but ourselves. We regularly put on a mask to hide the reality of who we are from the world. But the Holy Spirit isn’t going to stand for that sort of self-deception for long!
1 Corinthians 2:12-13 We have not received the spirit of the world. We have received the Spirit who is from God. The Spirit helps us understand what God has freely given us. That is what we speak about. We don’t use words taught to us by people. We use words taught to us by the Holy Spirit. We use the words of the Spirit to teach the truths of the Spirit.
     Truly surprising moments that result in great reveals are pretty rare on television, but the team behind Bob Newhart’s last series, simply title, Newhart, cooked up a classic twist ending for the show’s series finale. During the last two minutes of the episode, Bob Newhart, who’d spent the previous eight seasons playing Vermont innkeeper Dick Loudon, wakes up in an oddly familiar bedroom. “Honey, wake up, you won’t believe the dream I just had,” he says, right before bedmate Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife, Emily, on popular 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show, rolls over. Big reveal! The eight seasons of Newhart — and thus the very existence of Dick, his wife Joanna and even the dimwitted Larry, Darryl and Darryl — had been nothing but a wacky, indigestion-fueled fantasy within the more realistic world of Newhart’s earlier comedy series. A truly GREAT reveal!
     We are SO vulnerable to the weight of sin, to the constant gravitational pull of the world. It is always there, singing its siren song and trying to lure us onto the rocks of self-doubt and sin. We tend to think that the opposite of evil is good. And that seems reasonable. I mean, I’ve seen enough Law and Order to know about “good cop, bad cop”! But it’s really NOT. We can do “good” for entirely the wrong reasons. No, the opposite of evil is truth.  Being honest about who we really are…and about the sin in our lives…is the opposite of evil. The Holy Spirit doesn’t simply want us to “do good”. He wants us to first offer full disclosure of our sins. He wants us to confess our sins to Him. He will then forgive us and wipe those sins away. THEN we are compelled to “do good”- NOT to improve our image but as a response to the revealing of the Holy Spirit.
     The Holy Spirit is the Great Truth Revealer. But truth in this case doesn’t mean rules and regulations. It’s not about “church doctrine”. Instead, it’s about the revelation of God’s facts…God’s truth. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth…about us! Unchangeably, unrelentingly and inevitably, the Holy Spirit shines His light on our thoughts and actions…the deepest recesses of our hearts. Everything we have and everything we are is revealed. No matter how we might dress it up for the rest of the world, the Holy Spirit pierces through the smoke and mirrors and reveals who we really are. His goal is to tear down the facade we work so hard to create. As He does that, an amazing level of self-knowledge is the gift we receive. It IS a gift, but it can be a painful one to receive.
     The Holy Spirit wants us turn back our OLD leaves before we try to turn over a new leaf, because when we turn over a new leaf without first addressing the weight of our past, we simply hide that past. And when sin is hidden, the Holy Spirit can’t wash us clean from those sins. The promise of forgiveness conditional upon first confessing our sins- “IF we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1Corinthians 2:14-15a Some people don’t
have the Holy Spirit. They don’t accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. Things like that are foolish to them. They can’t understand them. In fact, such things can’t be understood without the Spirit’s help. Everyone who has the Spirit can judge all things. But no one can judge those who have the Spirit.
     Everything we need can be found at the base of the Cross – at the feet of Jesus. It is THERE that we are washed clean by His shed blood. And how do we know that? What is it that tells us…convicts us…to come to the cross of Jesus Christ, seek redemption and become a new person? How do we know that we need that? Who opens our eyes to the truths of God? The Holy Spirit. There is a Christian band called Big Daddy Weave who recorded a song called Christ Is Come. The bridge to the song includes these words:
     “Prince of Peace, Yeshua, Messiah, the Son of Man, Holy One, King of kings, Lord of lords, the Great I Am, Comforter, Counselor, Author and Finisher, Divine Truth Revealer, Deliverer, Healer- You are God!”
     The Holy Spirit IS the very essence of God, sent down from Heaven to not just live WITH us but to live IN us. He comes to reveal God’s truths to us. What is He trying to reveal…to you?

Saturday, October 12- Small Groups

     I have a confession to make- I love to buck the system! I know- right now you’re saying, “Gee, Pastor, tell me something I DON’T know!” Seriously, when I was younger, I took what other pastors and theologians said as, no pun intended, Gospel. My philosophy was that they had more experience than me, they knew more than me, and therefore I should listen to them.
     But now, I’m older, I have a lot more experience and…I’m a lot more opinionated! And one of the things in ministry I buck the system about is…small groups. There is a pervasive thought that small groups are essential to successful, sustained church growth. And I would…absolutely agree with that! “But wait, Pastor- I thought you said you ‘bucked the system’ when it came to small groups? If that’s ‘bucking the system’, you probably ought to work on your “system bucking” a bit more!” No, that’s not the part of small groups that I disagree with! 
       The commonly-held belief I want to challenge is the definition of “small group”. Many church growth guys feel that the ONLY thing that classifies as a small group is a group that has been intentionally put together for the express purpose of accountability. They gather to study, pray and care for each other…period. And these are GOOD things. “I’m waiting, Pastor!” The key to that definition, for me, is the word “period”. The typical model is that everyone in the church is in a small group that is specifically part of the Small Group Ministry. They are ASSIGNED a group for the purposes stated above. Therefore, any group that does NOT meet that rather stringent description…isn’t a small group. THAT’S the part I disagree with!
     There are lots of folks in churches that would NOT be in a small group if it weren’t for the intentionality of this kind of ministry. BUT…(“There it is, Pastor! Finally!”) There are also lots of people who are ALREADY in a very functional small group, without the help…or mandate…of a structured ministry. The music groups at my church are a prime example of that. I am not a part of the choir or bell choir, but I see them doing so much more than simply practicing and presenting music. And I not only see but experience that same thing as a member of the praise band.  
     We practice every week- Thursday nights. We gather at 6:30PM. We set sound levels and do mic checks. We then talk about the songs we are doing for the week. We run through all of them, slowing up to work on especially challenging spots. Then we work on songs that we are rehearsing for future weeks. We close the evening in a circle, hands clasped, praying with and for each other.  And throughout the evening, we laugh, we joke, we share…we truly enjoy being with each other. When someone in the group has a special need, we gather around them, lay hands on them and pray for them specifically. We take food to fellow band members who are facing medical issues or tough times. We truly share our lives with…and care for…each other. If that’s not the definition of a small group…I can’t imagine what is!
     Intentionally-created small groups can be a GREAT thing. But so can affinity groups- folks who come together for a common purpose. WHY and HOW people get together in small groups to build deeper relationships isn’t NEARLY as important as THAT they do it. 
     What kind of small group are YOU a part of? Whatever it is…and however you came to be a part of it…I pray it helps you better connect with fellow Christians, because that is NEVER a bad thing!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a great week! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Tongues of Fire: Guide