Monday, June 30- Welcome Back!

welcome-back-kotter

Did you watch “Welcome Back, Kotter!”…“back in the day”? I will be honest…I loved that show! Looking back, it appealed to the lowest common denominator…which may be EXACTLY why I like it so much! You had all the stereotypes present- the nerdy Jewish kid who didn’t quite fit in and supplied much of the “comic relief”, the “hip” African American kid who really had a heart of gold, the scheming Hispanic kid who was always on the fringe of trouble and the cocky, braggadocio-filled Italian kid who was the chick magnet. Then there was Mr. Kotter. Gabe. A “local boy made good” story. He graduated from James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, New York…BARELY…and then went away to college. BUT…he returned to make a difference in his alma mater!

That was during a time when one of the main goals of a new TV show was to have a theme song that could also serve as a top-40 radio hit. And “Welcome Back, Kotter!” was no exception. Written and recorded by former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian, “Welcome Back” not only topped the Easy Listening chart but also reached #1on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week in May of 1976…after only five weeks on the charts. Interestingly, the song also reached #93 on the Country chart that same year.

Like most theme songs of that day, it told the story of…the story. The lyrics are:

“Welcome back! Your dreams were your ticket out. Welcome back to that same old place that you laughed about. Well the names have all changed since you hung around, but those dreams have remained and they’re turned around. Who’d have thought they’d lead ya’ back here where we need ya? Yeah we tease him a lot ‘cause we’ve got him on the spot. Welcome back.”

Although I haven’t seen that show in…oh my…decades, I found myself singing that theme song yesterday. You see, the church I currently serve had a “Welcome Back” party for me after worship yesterday! And it…was…awesome! They called it a “picnic”, but due to lack of outdoor space and sheer numbers, we had it inside. The dining room was decorated with red and white checked table cloths, picnic baskets and lots of plastic ants! (One parishioner joked, “Why do you have plastic cockroaches!?”) The food was picnic fare- hamburgers, brats and hot dogs grilled outside by the United Methodist men, potato salad, baked beans, deviled eggs, fresh fruit and ice cream and cookies! (It was scary good!)

By now, you are probably sick of hearing about how glad I am to be back with my church family. But you’re simply going to have to listen to at least a little more! I just feel blessed to be doing so well physically and to be back doing what I love to do. But apparently, that’s not enough for THESE people! No! They insist on telling me how happy they are to have me back, how good I look and how much they’ve missed me! It’s humbling and overwhelming!

As we were cleaning up afterward, one gentleman said to me, “This was great! We’re going to do this again next year…aren’t we?!” I replied, “SURE! Let’s just see if we can do it without having to celebrate my return after 6 weeks of surgical recovery!

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

Tomorrow- Relay For Life

Sunday, June 29- Gears of Wars

Gears of War     The platoon was on maneuvers out in the field when the Commanding Commander and the 1st Sgt. hit the hay for the night. The Commanding Officer, “Sergeant, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” The Sergeant looked up and said, “I see millions of stars.” The Commanding Officer asked, “And what does that tell you, Sgt?” “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Sir?” The Commanding Officer looked at the Sergeant and said, “Well, it tells me that somebody stole our tent!”
Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries. We are taking a good, hard look at the Old Testament Book of Psalms. The Book of Psalms is a collection of religious poems or songs, designed to be set to music. Some are hymns to be sung by a congregation. Some are private prayers. Some are lyrical devices for remembering major events in Israel’s history. The Book contains 150 psalms, making it the longest book in the Bible, based on number of chapters. Every human emotion, every circumstance of daily life are captured in these 150 chapters. This 11-week series will carry us through the rest of the summer…AND through the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows of life. Today we look at the fact that, in life, we are faced with the gears of war. And that fact SHOULD be painfully obvious. I mean, recently I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out! Let’s look at a Scripture that points to the fact that even the one and only Son of God was in the midst of warfare-
Matthew 20:18-19 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
The Psalms talk about a LOT of things. Every human emotion…literally…can be found within these 150 chapters. But one of the more common themes in the Psalms is that of war. The period during which they were written was one of great strife and turmoil. And, as we will focus on today, life is simply an ongoing war between good and evil.
Today, we are focusing on Psalm 20. But the truth of the matter is that Psalms 20 and 21 go hand in hand- they are bookends…twin battle songs. Psalm 20 is the prayer BEFORE the battle, anticipating victory while Psalm 21 is the praise AFTER the battle, reflecting on the victory. This Psalm, written by King David, reflects the many wars he fought that are recorded in 2Samuel, chapters 8-10. David was, in many respects, a “warring king”. His sword may have been worn…but it wasn’t rusty! Let’s look at today’s Psalm-
     Psalm 20 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Now this I know: The LORD gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!
A young soldier was making his first parachute jump. The Jump Master explained the procedure, “You count to ten and pull the first ripcord. If the chute doesn’t open, pull the second. That should do it. Then, after you land, there’ll be a truck waiting to pick you up.” The soldier checked his gear, called out the customary “Geronimo!” and jumped out of the plane. He counted to ten and pulled the ripcord. The chute failed to open. He pulled the second ripcord…and the chute still didn’t open. As he plummeted Earthward, he said, “I’ll bet the truck won’t be there, either!”
This psalm is a prayer for the king- David. And it is written by…David! David draws up a prayer, to be used in the congregation…for himself! Is that a bad thing? It may SOUND like it, but I would argue that even strong Christians who know well how to pray for themselves should STILL desire the prayers of others FOR them.
So Psalm 20 is a prayer…an intercessory prayer. An intercessory prayer is a prayer on behalf of someone…or something…else. This prayer was an intercessory prayer for the king as he prepared to face the enemy in battle. And if there is one truth to be found at the foundation of this Psalm, it is that battles will happen. It’s NOT a question of “if”…but “when”. And since they ARE coming, we need to be ready. We need to have “the goods” in place that will help us survive the hard times.
Verse 1- May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
Verse 1 talks about God answering us in our time of distress. And if you answer someone…it’s because you first HEARD them! It’s very encouraging to know that God not only HEARS our prayers, but is also ready to RESPOND to them…to help.
John 15:7 says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” And 1John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
The key word here is “if”- “IF you remain in Me, IF My Words remain in you…” and “IF we ask…according to His will…” There are conditions to God answering our prayers. The 1st condition is “remain”…if we remain in Him and allow His Word to remain in us. The 2nd condition is “according to His will”…God is NEVER going to give us something that goes against His will simply because we ask for it. The key to answered prayer is staying connected to God and His Word and always seeking discernment regarding His will.
There is ALWAYS hope…no matter what the situation…because we have prayer as our connection to God. No matter what the battle is, no matter who the enemy is, we can still pray and God will still hear us.
Verse 2- May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
Verse 2 talks about help and support…strengthening us. God’s strength of the Lord is THE strength that we both want and need if we are to go into battle. His strength is sufficient in any situation. When we are at our weakest, God’s power is at its strongest.
Too often in the battles of life we try to fight under our own power. And the truth is that when we do that, we WILL fail…every time. The ONLY way to successfully navigate the battles of life is to rely on the ever-present strengthening power of God.
Verse 3- May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
Verse 3 asks that God would recognize our sacrifices and offerings.
 Verse 4- May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.
Verse 4 touches on a fascinating side of our relationship with God. It asks that God would give you…the desire of your heart. Does God DO that? Because I REALLY desire that new Mercedes, and yet…I don’t see it in my driveway! Know what I’m sayin’? The answer is, “Yes!” God DOES give you the desire of your heart, but we have to go back to 1John 5:14- if it is compatible with His will. And I seriously doubt that my Mercedes is in HIS plans!
Verse 5- May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests.
Verse 5 comes around again to joy- NOT happiness…but joy! It also points to a confidence in God- not IF we are victorious but WHEN!
 Verse 6- Now this I know: The LORD gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.
Verse 6 offers an assurance that is inspiring- I KNOW that God will bring me the victory! I KNOW it
 Verse 7- Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Verse 7 says, “We will remember the name of the Lord our God”. If you know what God has done in the past, then you have a good indication of what he will do in the future. The saying is “past is not a guarantee of future results”. And for you and me…that’s true. But looking at God’s track record gives us a PERFECT predictor of His future performance!
Verse 8 and 9- They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!
The Psalm ends with a wrap-up- the enemies will be brought to their knees but the rightwous will stand tall and firm.
If you were asked to name a great battle, what would come to mind? Pearl Harbor? Gettysburg? The Alamo? D-Day? Those are just a few of the most famous battles from history. But notice this- they all took place somewhere else. We all know that some battles happen a great deal closer to home. And sometimes those “close to home” battles aren’t fought with fists or guns…but with words. We all know the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is am marvelously pithy saying, but I would like to quote that great theologian Col. Sherman T. Potter from MASH, “Horse hockey!” A broken bone or a split lip will heal. But words can cut so deep that the wound takes decades to heal…if it heals at all.
Perhaps some of the greatest battles are the ones that are fought internally. I’m talking about those painfully private battles with pain, illness, depression, financial difficulty, grief, worry, stress, frustration, loneliness, temptation, relational breakdowns…the list goes on and on. And these battles, although internal, can feel SO big, so overwhelming that we feel like we are drowning- we simply can’t hold our ground. Maybe we don’t have to do fight tooth and nail with a giant like David did. But we do face giant-sized problems of our own from time to time, don’t we?
What’s your giant-sized problem? Maybe there is some practice or habit that you KNOW to be wrong…but you continue to struggle to overcome it. Maybe you are overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. Maybe you have some physical, emotional, or circumstantial struggle that you wrestle with regularly. Maybe your finances have you on the ropes, ready to toss in the towel and say, “No mas!” Maybe worry makes it hard for you to breathe on a regular basis. Whatever your giant-sized problem is, I would like to insist that you CAN overcome it. How? You need to have an attitude. A big ol’, major-league ‘tude! But not THAT kind of attitude- no one wants to see that! No, you need a different kind of attitude- one that a lot of Christians these days are missing. You need an attitude of victory! You need to NOT live a life of discouragement. Discouragement comes in all shapes and sizes. And frankly some of the most damaging forms can come from the people closest to us.
When you’re faced with a giant problem, respond to it with faith in God. But let me assure you that there will be people who will try and discourage you. They do it with the BEST of intentions…but they’ll STILL do it! “Give up. You can’t do that. It’s too hard. You’ll never make it. If I couldn’t do it, you can’t either. You’re too young. You’re too old. You’re too stupid. You don’t have enough talent.” People say things like that ALL the time, and it threatens to pull the plug and let all the will drain right out of you.
So what should you do? Don’t listen to them! They may MEAN well…but they’re WRONG! If the people around you want to be Eeyore…then let them! But you don’t have to join them! The person who says it can’t be done shouldn’t disturb the person who’s actually DOING it.
When you choose to serve God, you will have to deal with many giant-sized problems. And when that happens, be prepared for the naysayers who just LOVE to tell you that you won’t succeed and should just give up. Don’t listen to them! Instead, focus on what God has done in your life. Focus on the good things. To quote that great theologian Bing Crosby, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative but don’t mess with Mister In-between.”
Now let’s be honest- when you’re neck-deep in a difficult situation, it can be HARD to see God at work in your life. But I find that, when I am faithful and push forward, once I come out the other side and have the marvelous gift of hindsight, I can see the markers He placed all along the way.
     Deuteronomy 33:27-29 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, ‘Destroy them!’ So Israel will live in safety; Jacob will dwell secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew. Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights.”
Life is warfare or, as that great theologian Pat Benatar said, “Love is a battlefield.” But God is with you. And those who make it their business to glorify God can expect that God will, in one way or other, fulfill them. And those who walk in His counsel can promise themselves that he will bless them. Those that have their eye still upon the salvation of the Lord shall have their hearts filled with the joy of that salvation.
A lot of Christians fall because they fail…to remember Who their God is. We live in uncertain times and therefore we need to remember the Who our God is and what He has promised. Many of God’s people lack a strong, consistent faith because they don’t know and therefore can’t depend on God’s promises. But when we recognize that we simply don’t have the goods to adequate defend ourselves from our enemies, we realize that we have to fully rely on God for our protection…our victories. If God be for us, who can be against us?
Many in this world think that Satan still has the upper hand on Earth. But I’ve read the last chapter and that is simply NOT the case. Jesus defeated the devil at the rugged cross and the empty tomb. And because of that victory, we can confidently live victorious lives in the here and now.
I am here this morning to tell you that the world, the devil and things of the flesh do NOT have to have a strangle hold on your life. The enemy wants you to “come south” and join him, but God offers you a front-row seat in Heaven. The way to make it through the daily battle is to constantly remind yourself that Jesus has already won the battle…for you. Pray about it. Prayer turns despair into hope and hope into certainty. It will sustain us when our own power fails us. It can snatch victory from the gaping jaws of defeat. Got any rivers you can’t ford? Got any mountains you can’t climb? Got any valleys you can’t navigate? Turn to God- He specializes in the impossible.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. To get what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done. If you never try more than you think you can possibly do, you’ll never accomplish all that you possibly can. In other words…with God, all things are possible.

Saturday, June 28- A 5-Year “Overnight Sensation”

Jeremy Lin

I have always loved the phrase “overnight sensation”. We all know what that means- someone, usually an actor or singer, who seems to come out of nowhere and become a star…an overnight sensation. And the reality is that there ARE people who do that. There ARE people who are discovered and rocket to “the top” in the blink of an eye because of a movie or TV show they are in or a song they record.

But the truth is that for every one of those “overnight sensations”, there are HUNDREDS of folks who toiled in obscurity, cranking it out day after day after day for years before FINALLY “making it big”. We don’t really see them struggle all those years, so to us…they came out of nowhere.

I have been thinking about that fact recently. I started this blog on September 14th, 2009. I have posted a new blog ALMOST every day since. That means that A. I am less than two months away from the 5-year anniversary of Stick With Jesus and B. I have posted somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,700 blogs. And when you figure that I average about 5,500 words a week, I have written about 1.4 million words! And my “hit” count is in the “millions” range now.

Let me say up front- I didn’t start this project to gain notoriety. I started it…to see if I could do it! I started it to give me an outlet for writing. I started it to try and spread just a bit of faith and humor. I don’t make a dime off of this site. In fact, it costs me money.

I remember early on, I did a LOT of reading about “how to make your blog grow”. (I was looking for the “magic bullet”!) But the overarching advice was…just keep plugging. Just keep writing. Just keep doing what you are doing. Do that, and you WILL find an audience. But it will take time.

This seems like good advice for us Christians, too. Many folks begin their Christian walk on fire for God. They are burning so brightly that they are sure they have reached to pinnacle- they are BFF’s (Best Friends Forever) with God and all is right with the world. And then the first speed bump comes along. They are rocked on their faith foundation. And they begin to have some doubts. And before they know it, the 2nd punch comes rocketing in…and they are knocked off their feet, gasping for breath. And they find themselves pulling away from the church…away from God.

There are very few “overnight sensations” when it comes to Christianity. Instead, it’s a marathon…NOT a sprint. We take baby steps…and just keep on taking them. Where are YOU on that journey? Frankly, WHERE you are is MUCH less important than which direction you are going. You are NOT competing against anybody else, so who CARES if they are farther along than you? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, day after day after day. And before you know it, you’ll be…an overnight sensation!

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

Tomorrow- Gears of War

Friday, June 27- Cheerwine!

cheerwine

“Cheerwine is a unique, distinctly cherry-flavored soft drink that is as much a popular culture phenomenon as it is popular beverage. Known as the Nectar of North Carolina, this light and refreshing sparkling beverage features real cane sugar and a large bubble pattern that delivers its very clean, very complete, sweet-yet-mild flavor just ringing with strong cherry notes. Most folks say it’s impossible to explain the euphoric taste of Cheerwine – that it’s just one of those things you have to try for yourself – but one thing everyone agrees on is that Cheerwine should not be mistaken for cherry cola.

Created in 1917 in Salisbury, North Carolina by a general store owner named L.D. Peeler, this singular soft drink with a hint of wild cherry and a bubbly effervescence became an immediate hit. Folks from all around the county came to LD’s store to give it a try. Soon cold cases all over North Carolina were filled with the “Nectar of North Carolina.” It was known to put a smile on everyone’s lips who gave it a try, and the Legend was born.

The odd name of Cheerwine, which is not a wine and contains no alcohol, comes from its burgundy wine-like color, cherry flavor and – of course – the smile it puts on the face of its drinkers, which it’s been doing since 1917. Cheerwine is indeed a cherry different soda: born in the south, raised in a glass.”

Have you heard of Cheerwine? Taken from “the internet”, this description sums it up as good as anything else! I first “met” Cheerwine in the summer of 1998. I had been in the ministry a grand whopping total of 10 months when I led a mission trip to the mountains of southern North Carolina. 6 of us piled into a van and drove to the area south of Ashville, North Carolina to spend the week doing mission work.

The 6 of us were part of a larger group of about 50 people. They divided us up into teams and my team included no one from my group. So I spent my days “out in the field” with my NEW friends and my evenings back at camp with my OLD friends…AND the new ones!

On our second day out, the other adult in my group mentioned something about wanting a Cheerwine. Thinking that was an alcoholic beverage, I said, “Huh?!” She said, “Have ya’ll never heard of Cheerwine?” “Nope!” So she planned for us to stop at a convenience store on the way back to camp that day so we could pick up “a cold one”! We did…and I was smitten! Oh MY…it was good! We stopped every day after work for a Cheerwine!

Fast forward 16 years…to two days ago! My son said, “There’s a box on the porch for you that says ‘Liquid- fragile’ on it.” That seemed like a strange thing so I went out onto the porch as sure enough…there it was! I brought it in, not remembering having ordered anything that would fit this description. I cut open the box to reveal…2 12-packs of…CHEERWINE! Along with the “bountiful harvest” was a note from one of the “kids” who went with me on the trip…who, after 16 years, is NO LONGER a kid! He said he was thinking of us and wanted to say “hi”!

The truth is this- you just never know who you touch or how you touch them in ministry. I spent a lot of time with this “kid”, between mission trips, youth group and…sadly…sitting with his family in the first few hours after his dad suddenly and tragically died. His family will forever hold a special place in my heart. And there are LOTS of families and individuals who hold those special places in my life.

Every “job” I have had in my life was just that…a job! Oh, I always found things to like…but I also found things to…not like! But what I do know is NOT a job, it’s a vocation, a calling…a gift. I get to share in the lives of so many good people. You just can’t ask for better than that. And every once in a while, something like a case of Cheerwine will show up, just to remind me how blessed I am!

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

Tomorrow- 5-Year “Overnight Sensation”

Thursday, June 26- Just Call Me “Job”!

Job

The Old Testament Book of Job is a fascinating, if not confusing, read. The gist of the story is this- God and the Devil are having a chat about Job (pronounced “Jobe”) when the devil says that he thinks Job is only being true to God because God has blessed him. He says that, if God were to take away Job’s blessing, Job would drop Him like a hot rock!

So the devil and God enter into a…wager, if you will…to see just what Job will do. God then let’s a LOT of bad stuff happen to Job. And yet, through it all, Job remains steadfast. Oh, he asks some questions along the way and voices some…displeasure…but he does not turn from God.

First off, let me say that, for my money, this book is more of a metaphor than a literal story. Did it actually happen? “Quien sabe?”, as the Spanish say! But whether it did or not, what it has to tell ME is more metaphoric than literal.

I have been thinking about Job for the past 24 hours or so. An old friend of mine (we share a birthday and we were in a band together…he’s a good bass player!) recently Facebooked (Don’t you LOVE how that has become a verb?!) me and said that reading my blog daily is like reading the Book of Job! Now I will say right up front- for him, that was intended as humor! And for me…it WAS humor! He and I have that kind of relationship. We don’t communicate all that often, but when we do, the sarcastic humor is right there, ready and waiting…and appreciated!

His comment, although provided as humor, has made me think about my life over the past year+. And frankly, a person could make the argument that I HAVE lived a “Job-like” life during that time. It has been one trial after another tribulation all along the way. The initial news was an absolute bombshell…and the hits just kept on coming. The tumor was large. It was not like anything anybody had seen before. (If you remember, I am only the 19th person ever to have this type of tumor!) It was really hard to find a medical professional who was willing to take a stab at treating me. The drug therapies that were tried A. didn’t work and B. had a pretty profound negative effect on me. I have completely lost the hearing in my right ear. I lost almost all of the movement in the right side of my face. I have already had 2 surgeries: one where they took my right ear off, dug some “stuff” out of my head and then sewed my ear back on and 2. One where they opened my head like a melon, took a LOT of “stuff” out, patched it all up with titanium and then sewed me back up. I was off work for 6 weeks. Blah, blah, blah! Could

Now, I could easily look at that list and think, “Woe is me!” I could go all Job-like and think that God has punished me for something I did. I could assume that God has abandoned me or that He simply doesn’t care. Those would ALL be responses that most of us would at least understand, if not agree with.

But I simply don’t have a gear to understand God as CAUSING my physical challenges. Doesn’t work for me. They happened because I live in a fallen world. They happened because I am a human with a marvelously frail and finite body. Could God have STOPPED it from happening? Sure- God can do anything? Then why DIDN’T He? Haven’t the foggiest! But I DO know that He has walked this journey with me. I DO know that He has taught me SO much…about myself, about life, about faith…through this. And I DO know that life on this planet, no matter how long or short it is, is but a precursor to a promised eternity with Him.

So Bill T. Bassplayer (NOT his real name, but what he call him at MY house!), you have hit the nail on the head, my friend! My life IS like Job’s…in the sense that, even in the midst of difficulty and uncertainty, I simply REFUSE to give up or turn my back on Him. Thanks for the reminder!

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

Tomorrow- Cheerwine!

Wednesday, June 25- The Book of Psalms

psalms

Have you ever ready the Old Testament Book of Psalms? It is, by number of chapters, the longest book in the Bible. (It has 150 chapters, by the way!) It is a collection that was intended to be put to music. Some of the Psalms were intended as “congregational” pieces- to be sung by groups. Others are “personal songs”, offering up everything from joyous outbursts to sorrowful laments.

The Psalms are, at their heart, a book of poems. And while I am NOT a huge fan of poetry, the Book of Psalms contains some of the most beautiful poetry ever written. Every imaginable human emotion can be found in the Psalms- if you CAN’T find it…you’re probably not looking too hard! If you want to find words that capture the thankful joy that you are feeling, you will find them in the Psalms. If you need to connect with someone who has felt the depth of despair in which you find yourself, the Psalms would be a great place to look.

I would guess that perhaps THE most recognizable Scripture from the whole of the Bible would be the 23rd Psalm. Let’s take a look at it. (And if you know me, you know that I do NOT tend to be a King James” sort of preacher! But for me, some Scripture just NEEDS to be heard in that marvelously poetic language. The 23rd Psalm is one such passage!)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

How beautiful is THAT?! We immediately see that the Psalmist sees Christ as a shepherd- guiding and protecting His flock. And that shepherd offers me peaceful places to be. Not only that- He restores me. And even though times get tough…and they WILL…He walks with me. Therefore, I have nothing to fear. He protects me. He provides for my needs. And at the end of my earthly life, I have the promise of life eternal with Him. It simply doesn’t get much better than that!

The Psalms are a beautiful collection of the human experience and how it is impacted by our connection to God. My challenge to you is this- read a Psalm…one Psalm…every day for the next 150 days. That will take you into November. It will also take you into a deeper appreciation of both the Book of Psalms and what it means to be a child of God!

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

Tomorrow- Call Me Job!

Tuesday, June 24- Health Update

health update

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I have offered health updates along the way. At first, I numbered them- #1, #2, #3…etc. Then, I started making up numbers- #4,629…etc! Here is the newest Health Update and I decided…not to number it at all!

My wife and I left for St. Louis, MO about 2PM on Sunday. We stayed Sunday night with my brother and his wife, who live in the St. Louis area…on “the Illinois side”! (Considering how many nights we have stayed at their house over the past year and how much money that would translate to in hotel bills…I shudder to think! Thank God for family!)

Yesterday morning, we were up and out of the house by 8AM. After a brief stop for coffee (Come on! We HAVE to have our priorities!), we headed to downtown St. Louis- Barnes Hospital and the Siteman Cancer Center to be exact. My first appointment was in the neighborhood of 9AM. (When you have a “lab appointment” 45 minutes before your “regular” appointment, it means “show up somewhere around the time of your lab appointment, we’ll take 3 minutes to do a blood draw, and then you can walk across the hall and wait for the doctor”!)

After the blood draw (NOT kidding about the “three minute” thing!), we went across the hall (ALSO not kidding!) to the oncologist’s office. (If you remember, even thought my tumor is not cancerous, it is so rare that the medical professionals had a tough time knowing who was the best specialist to work with me. This oncologist was chosen because A. he is tops in his field and B. he was the one who said, “Yes!”)

He said that my blood work was good and that he thought I was doing quite well. We talked about the fact that I have an MRI scheduled for late July and that he would want to see the results and then see me again. We also talked about what we would do if the little bit of tumor that remains in my head starts growing again. He talked to me about a form of chemo that will be the next step…if we come to that. The tumor might start growing but grow VERY slowly and it might not grow at all. So we are in the “monitoring” stage.

We then drove out to southwest St. Louis County to see my Ear, Nose and Throat doctor- the one who participated in the surgery along with the neurosurgeon. He was very surprised at the progress I have made in regaining the use of my facial muscles. He agreed with my physical therapist that I have probably gone from only 20% usage to 60% usage. He also admitted that he was a bit of a realist when it came to such things and didn’t really think I would regain much if any of that usage! He also agreed that my right eye was doing SO well that I didn’t need to keep the appointment with the eye specialist that I had in late July!

He also said that my right ear canal has “bounced back”. It was crushed by the tumor and he had no reason to think it would do anything but seal itself off after surgery. Instead, it has expanded to its original shape and size! Now, that does NOT mean that I can suddenly hear! The bone in my inner ear is STILL gone…and will REMAIN gone. But it DOES mean that I should have MUCH less trouble with that ear than I have had over the past year! Huzzah!

The last thing he told us was a surprise to both of us and sounded like a good thing! In talking about the tumor that remains in my head and the likelihood (or not) of it being a problem again, he told us that they “burned it off” at the dura- the sac that surrounds the brain. Cauterizing it, according to him, would make it more likely that it would be unable to find a blood supply. And if it can’t do that…it won’t grow. So- fingers crossed for cauterized dura!

In all, our trip was barely over 24 hours- stem to stern. We were delighted to make it safely. We were delighted to get positive, upbeat news. We were delighted at a visit that did NOT involve a considerable amount of pain! And we were delighted to sleep in our own bed again last night!

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 Psalms

Monday, June 23- Seasons Change

season-change

I have come to one inescapable conclusion- seasons change. (“That’s IT, Pastor? That’s all you got? ‘Seasons change’? You have a fancy Master’s Degree in Theology and the best you can do is ‘seasons change’? Get the hook!”) But it’s TRUE! Seasons change. And if you look at the literal definition of that phrase, you can see it happen right before your very eyes. (Whatever “very eyes” are!)

Along those lines, I have noticed as I’ve gotten older that the changing of seasons in Illinois doesn’t seem to happen quite the same as it used to. We seem to go from Winter to Summer with a BRIEF stop in Spring and then Summer to Winter with an equally brief stop in Fall. But as I claim that, I have to also claim that I sound a LOT like my dad when I say things like that! Next thing you know, I’ll be writing about, “Back in MY day, we walked uphill to school…BOTH ways…in the snow…ALL year long…with cardboard for shoes…IF we were lucky!”

So, seasons literally change. No startling revelation, that. But seasons also change in more metaphoric, less obvious ways. And even though those changes are more metaphoric and less obvious, they are no less impactful on our lives- perhaps MORE so.

Think about who you are right now. Paint an honest picture of the person you are as you read this. (You must be a pretty AWESOME person- you keep reading Stick With Jesus!) You are…who you are at this moment. But you are NOT the same person you were 20 years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago. Your sensibilities are different. Your likes and dislikes are different. The way you spend your time is different. It’s a natural progression.

But what I find, and I include myself in this assessment, is this- the older we get, the more set in our ways we tend to become. As the physical flexibility of youth deteriorates, so does the emotional, societal flexibility we once had. Things that were “no big deal to us” at one point in our lives now tend to be a much bigger “deal”. And that reality tends to cause unintentional rifts among Christians.

We get caught up in the color of the carpet of whether or not someone has a cup of coffee in the sanctuary. We worry about whether or not someone has tattoos or piercings. We complain because the music isn’t what it once was. But the reality is that NOTHING is as it once was. There is not ONE facet of life that is the same as it was just a few years ago. Living organisms grow. And as they grow, they inevitably, with design, change. And the moment they stop changing…they are done.

United Methodist founder John Wesley said, “If your heart is right, take my hand.” In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. (And it’s almost ALL small stuff!) Major in the major- Jesus Christ. And let the other things be interesting topics for discussion. NOT debate…but discussion. Because in the grand scheme of a Savior dying on the cross for our salvation, the minor things just…don’t…matter!

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

Tomorrow- Health Update

Sunday, June 22- Two Paths

Psalm Psermon Pseries Two Paths     The preacher, arriving in a small town to be guest speaker at a local church, wanted to mail a letter to his family back home. He stopped a young boy on a bike and asked him where the post office was. The boy gave him directions, and the preacher thanked him. “If you come to church this evening,” the preacher said, “I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.” “I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy said. “You don’t even know how to get to the post office.”
Today, we begin a new sermon series (my FIRST sermon series since April 13th)- The Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries. Over the next several weeks, we will take a good, hard look at the Old Testament Book of Psalms. The Book of Psalms is a collection of religious poems or songs, designed to be set to music. Some are hymns to be sung by a congregation. Some are private prayers. Some are lyrical devices for remembering major events in Israel’s history. The Book contains 150 psalms, making it the longest book in the Bible, based on number of chapters. Every human emotion, every circumstance of daily life are captured in these 150 chapters. This 11-week series will carry us through the rest of the summer…AND through the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows of life.
     Proverbs 1:21-23 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech: “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.
This is an interesting passage- it both makes you feel guilty AND gives you hope! God shouts from the town square, “How long are you going to continue to make bad choices?” Ouch! BUT…it goes on to say that if we make BETTER choices, God will pour out His wisdom on us. He will make known to us His teachings. Choices- that’s what we are looking at today. And the truth is that we all have choices to make, paths from which to pick. Those great theologians over at Led Zeppelin perhaps said it best in their song Stairway to Heaven, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on. And it makes me wonder.” Let’s look at today’s Scripture:
     Psalm 1 1Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2but who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law day and night. 3They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers. 4Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.
A bagpiper was asked by a funeral director to play at the graveside service of a homeless man. He had no family or friends and the service would be in the back corner of the city cemetery of a neighboring town. The piper wasn’t familiar with the area and got lost on his way there. He finally arrived an hour late and saw that the funeral was over and the hearse was gone. The only people left were the grave diggers and they were eating lunch before finishing. The piper apologized to the men for being late. He then went to the grave and looked in- the vault lid was already in place. Not knowing what else to do, he began to play. The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. The piper played his heart and soul out for this man with no family and friends. He played like he’d never played before. He finished up with Amazing Grace, and as he played, the workers began to cry. The piper wept, the workers wept- they all wept together. When he was finished, he quietly packed his bagpipes headed for his car. And even though his head hung low, his heart was full. But as he opened the car door, he heard one of the workers say, “I’ve never seen anything like that…and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years!”
It’s no happy accident that this psalm is the first one. It serves as a precursor, a preface to the rest of the book. Why? Because it is absolutely necessary that we strive to be righteous before God. This very first Psalm is a very intentional and special start to the Book of Psalms. It tells us that life is like a way or a path…a road. Psalm 1 also tells us about two groups of people. There is the person who chooses the way that leads to God finds joy and peace along the way, and the end of the journey is heaven. And then there is the person who chooses the path that leads AWAY from God walks a very different road- they struggle to find true joy and peace. And the end of the journey is eternal separation from God. The first 3 verses focus on the friends of God- they are referred to as “righteous”. The last 3 verses focus on the enemies of God- they are called “Godless”.
This psalm offers instruction about good and evil, blessing and curse…life and death. It encourages us to take the right path- the one that leads to joy- and avoid the one that ends in misery and ruin. This psalm calls us to be faithful- faithful to ourselves, faithful to each other, faithful to God. It focuses on the holiness and joy of a godly person, the sinfulness and misery of a wicked person and God’s approach to both.
Last week at church, my wife talked about the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is something that people or things can give you. They can also take it away. Happiness is fleeting, transitory, hard to hang on to. Joy, however, is something that comes from God. And it is also something that no one can take from you. You can CHOOSE to give joy up…but that is the ONLY way you can lose it.
And verse 1 tells us how to FIND true joy. It says we should NOT do what the Godless do, we should NOT go where the sinners go and we should NOT turn from what God teaches us.
Verse 2 goes on to tell us more about finding joy. We should take great delight in God’s law and reflect on it all day, every day- 24/7/365. In other words, we should regularly read…the Bible.
What does the word “forgive” mean? One common thought is that it means to “excuse” a particular act or behavior. But “forgive” means SO much more than that. It literally means “give away”. In other words, when God forgives us, He doesn’t simply excuse what we’ve done- He gives it away. And since He gives our sins away, it means He can forgive us when we ask Him.
Verse 3 quotes the Old Testament books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Joshua. It tells us that we should drink the water…the LIVING water…that God offers. It tells us that we should bring fruit…offerings….to God. It tells us that we should be strong, especially when things get tough.
It finishes with the thought that, if we do these things, God will be pleased with us. Verse 3 also tells us that this path…the right path…isn’t a dark and scary place. Why? Because it is defended, watched over. And not just by anybody- it is watched over by God Himself. It doesn’t mean we won’t have and troubles along the path. It means that we can continue the journey, confident that He is watching over us, guiding us.
Verse 4 begins the conversation of what Psalm 1 calls the Godless. It says that they choose to not keep God’s rules and that choice sends them down the wrong paths. And in the end, they are like the chaff that has been separated from the wheat- they are discarded.
I worry a bit about people who say, “I believe in God and all…I just don’t go to church or read the Bible.” The truth is that you simply cannot build the same relationship with God sitting in your easy chair watching Joel Osteen or chipping onto the 4th green or doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle as you can sitting in a House of Worship, with fellow believers. Corporate worship (worshiping with others) and the fellowship that goes along with that can’t be duplicated- it is ESSENTIAL to deepening your faith, essential to staying on the right path. Life down the wrong path is hollow, empty and meaningless.
Verse 5 focuses on the judgment God makes as to who is righteous and who isn’t. There WILL be a day when we each are judged on the way we lived our lives. We are called to be like trees planted by the river- healthy and full of life because we’re close to the source of life-giving water. Interestingly, the word that is here used for “planted” literally translates to “transplanted.” Trees can’t transplant themselves; some higher power has to do it for them.
We can’t transplant ourselves in God’s Kingdom. He does that for us. And when He does, He always plants us in good soil, near a ready supply of His living water. But once we are planted, it’s our responsibility to put the work in to not only stay healthy but flourish. If we stay close to God, we will never be dry and wilted. Instead, we will be vibrant, productive and truly alive- you will produce fruit. The believer who draws from Scripture, who fully relies on God, WILL be fruitful.
Verse 6 promises that, if we take the path that leads to God, He will watch over us, guide us. If you don’t think you need Jesus in your life, you are walking on shaky ground- heading down the wrong path. This Psalm says that the righteous are like strong trees planted along the river, but the wicked are like the chaff that is separated from the wheat and thrown to the four winds…or into the fire. The human existence produces internal droughts, but trees planted close to the river can weather the drought! The droughts of life will not destroy you if you remain close to the life giving resource of Jesus Christ!
That long-running joke about men being unwilling to ask for directions may not be a joke after all. A British insurance company produced a study showing that the average male driver travels an extra 276 miles a year simply…because he refuses to ask for directions. Further, he spends an extra $3,100 worth of wasted gas over his lifetime. Statistically, 25% of men would rather wander aimlessly, for up to a half an hour, before they are willing to stop and ask for directions, while 1in 10 simply won’t ask at all! AND…41% of men admit to telling their passengers they know where they’re going…when they don’t! On the other side of that coin, 75% of women polled have absolutely NO problem asking for help.
We are called to choose a different path- walk a different road. We are called to stand in a different place. We are called to sit in a different seat. We are identified in part by the things we DON’T do, by the places we DON’T go and by the company we DON’T keep.
In August of 1969, 2 men and a boy got lost in Death Valley. They became stranded in the unforgiving Saline Valley without water. One of their bodies was found 7 miles from their abandoned car, another 14 miles, and the last 17 miles. The police officer who investigated said they simply…went the wrong way. They turned to go BACK to a house they passed 30 miles back. Sadly, just a mile…ONE MILE…in the other direction was a grove of trees with a fresh-water spring.
I faced a HUGE crossroads when God called me into the ministry. I didn’t want to do it- I couldn’t tell the difference between going into the ministry and the worst idea I had ever heard. So I fought it…for years. And during that time…life was HARD! And when I finally couldn’t take it any more…I gave in. I did NOT “answer a call”- I gave in! And once I gave in…things started happening. Oh, don’t get me wrong- life was still hard and I still made bad choices. But suddenly doors were opened that had been shut. Suddenly, paths that seems impassible became clear and more easily navigated.
Do you ever find yourself on the wrong path? Have you ever realized that, somewhere along the way, you turned the wrong direction and now…you find yourself far from God? I am here this morning to tell you that, no matter how far you’ve strayed, you are NEVER too far from God. “Sounds great, Pastor…but how do I get BACK?!” Thanks for asking! You start by telling God that you’re sorry. Then you ask God for forgiveness. Ask Him to make you a new person. Ask Him to give you the living water that only Jesus offers. Ask for His help in staying on the right path. Ask that the fruits of the Holy Spirit would grow stronger in you.
The road you choose to travel determines your destination. And where you spend eternity is determined by the path you choose while here on earth. It’s impossible to take the wrong road and go to Heaven. It IS, however, quite possible to CHOOSE the wrong road and end up…somewhere else. When you are lost, you are NOT at a crossroads. You are already walking the wrong way. And you will continue to walk the wrong way until you stop, assess your circumstances and CHOOSE to turn around…do a 180…and go the opposite direction. People say, “I’m going to turn my life around 360 degrees!” And sadly, that’s what many people do. When you turn your life around 360 degrees, you end up going the same direction a before! If life is not going the way you thought it would, you DON’T need a 360…you need a 180.
That great theologian Robert Frost, in his poem The Road Not Taken, said, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Perhaps Jesus said it more succinctly- (Matthew 7:13-14) Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. To get what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Seasons Change

Saturday, June 21- Leaving the Nest

leaving the nest_dr-com1

My younger son just got back from his 8th Grade trip to Washington D.C. (They also visited Philadelphia, Virginia Beach and Busch Gardens Williamsburg!) They were gone for a week and he had a MARVELOUS time! He got to see a great deal of our country’s history- never a bad thing!

It dawns on me that events like this one are crossroads in our lives. My younger son is still the same awesome kid he was when he left and yet…he’s different. He’s been “out on his own” and has been able to see what it’s like to make his own decisions and manage his own money. AND…he was able to do it in a very safe, controlled setting! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Over the next few years, there will be many more opportunities for him to “spread his wings”, preparing him for adulthood.

Our faith growth is much like our physical and emotional growth. We start at the very beginning (which, according to that great theologian Julie Andrews is “a very good place to start”!) and we are spiritual infants. Then, as we progress, we take our first true steps toward a more mature faith. But we learn quickly that there are fits and starts on the way. It is often “two steps forward and one step back”. But we DO make forward progress.

Then, one day, we are up and moving on our own. We have the spirit of Christ within us, but we still have much to learn. And through study, worship, prayer and LOTS of positive influence from fellow Christians, we continue that learning process. We slowly, some days imperceptibly, continue taking forward steps.

And then one day, something magical happens. We realize that we have made such progress that others are now coming to us for help, strength and guidance. After years of being mentored, we are now offering mentoring to others. And that can be a VERY rewarding place to be!

But you know what? Even when you get to that point where you are serving as a mentor, either intentionally or organically, to others, you still need to have someone who is mentoring you. That is the beauty of the Christian walk- we are always on a journey. There are always people farther along the journey than we are who can…and do…offer us guidance and encouragement. Likewise, there are always people not quite at the point we are to whom WE can offer that same guidance and encouragement.

The Christian faith is a journey. It’s a marathon…NOT a sprint. And we are ALL on the continuum somewhere. We should ALL have those folks we look to for guidance and inspiration. Likewise, we should ALL have those people who look to US for those same things!

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

Tomorrow- Two Paths

Friday, June 20- Mowing the Grass

Mowing the lawn. Carrying in the groceries. Taking out the trash. The list goes on and on and on. What, you make ask…am I talking about?! GOOD question! These are just a few of the things that I could NOT do after surgery!

After surgery, when I was nearing release from the hospital on Easter Sunday, we asked the doctor what restrictions I would have. He reminded me that I needed to be off work 6-8 weeks. He also said to not lift anything over 5 pounds and to not do anything too strenuous. Oh, and I couldn’t drive because of the pain meds I was on! Geeminy, Doc…anything ELSE?!

Think about what you do every day. There are SO many things on that list- things we do without even thinking about it.  We get up, we take a shower, we get dressed, we fix and eat our breakfast, we go about our day…whatever that might be…we eat dinner, go for a walk, watch some TV, go to bed. Then we get up the next day and start it all over again. And in between those everyday things, we do OTHER everyday things- vacuum, clean, do laundry…mow the grass. And…most of us take them all for granted!

But what happens when you CAN’T do the everyday things? What happens when the things that you do EVERY day are suddenly the things you CAN’T do? I was reminded of this recently. I have not mowed the grass this season…at all. Folks from the church I currently serve have been gracious enough to mow it for me when they mow the church grass. (How awesome is THAT?!) And for someone who has mowed a JILLION lawns in his day, that’s hard! (A jillion may be a bit of an exaggeration!) I have mowed so many yards, in fact, that in high school, my brother and I had a lawn-mowing business! And now I’m NOT mowing the grass!

(Before you worry about my lawn and go to get your mower…don’t worry! I caught the man who has been nice enough to mow and A. thank him profusely and B. tell him that my younger son is back from his 8th Grade Washington D.C. trip and fully capable of mowing!)

What do you take for granted? What is it that you do regularly that you don’t give a second thought to? Most importantly, what would you miss if you suddenly COULDN’T do it? OK, so maybe it’s NOT mowing. But whatever it is, be thankful for it. Thank God that you can do the things you do. Let Him know, on a regular basis, how grateful you are for the life that he gives you. Because life is just that- a gift. We take it for granted on a regular basis, but life is such an amazing gift. Don’t waste it. Don’t squander it. And don’t take it for granted. Instead…cherish it!

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

Tomorrow- Leaving the Nest

mowing-your-lawn-1

Thursday, June 19- Encouragement or Manipulation?

manipulating

In the Greek of the New Testament, there is a word. Actually, there are a LOT of words, but right now I want to focus on ONE word- paraclete. It means, “advocate, helper…encourager”. So a paraclete is someone who encourages others. In the New Testament, Barnabas was called The Paraclete- The Encourager. He was a Cypriot Jew (a Jewish person from Cyprus) who traveled with the Apostle Paul. When Paul showed up in Jerusalem after his conversion, the disciples were VERY wary of him- his reputation preceded him! But it was Barnabas who “vouched” for him, telling the others that Paul was different person- one they could trust.

Encouragers are VERY important people in life. There are PLENTY of people out there who are apparently miserable enough with their own lives that they want to drag YOU down with them- “misery loves company” and all that! So, in the midst of all the naysayers, when you find an encourager, you have a tendency to hang on to them.

I have found, however, in my years of ministry, that there can be a fine line between encouragement and manipulation. Think about it- someone tells you that you really ought to do…whatever it is they are trying to get you to do. And, if you trust them, you are more inclined to at least THINK about what it is they are “encouraging” you to do.

But we all know that sometimes, people try really hard to manipulate us into doing things. The reasons why they would do that are as varied as each individual circumstance. But among those reasons would be- they don’t want to do it themselves, they need more people to help do something, or they simply like the illusory control that seems to go hand in hand with cajoling people into doing your bidding.

And again, there is a VERY fine line between encouraging and manipulating. If I intentionally structure a conversation with the desired result of getting you to do something, is that manipulation or encouragement? It COULD be both. But for me, the difference is found in the motive. If I do that because I simply want you to do something, then yes…I am manipulating you. But if I genuinely believe that God is calling you to something and I help you see that, then it is NOT manipulation but encouragement…especially if I gain NOTHING in the end!

Be aware of what’s going on around you. Or as Matthew 10:16 says, “…be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” It’s perfectly OK to be discerning- that’s why God gave us minds to think. Be aware…but be open as well. Don’t get dragged into something that you don’t want to…or shouldn’t…be a part of. But also don’t miss God’s call- use the discernment He gave you and then commit to the things of God!

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

Tomorrow- Mowing the Grass

Wednesday, June 18- Baptism

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When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

Do you remember this story from the New Testament? (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus is born, He is presented at the temple as a 8-DAY old baby, He gets “lost” at the Temple for a time when He is 12 years old and then…he’s 30 years old, showing up to be baptized. (It’s interesting to look at how the Gospels start, when you consider them chronologically. Most scholars think that the Gospel of Mark was written first, followed by Matthew, Luke and John. Mark, the 1st Gospel, starts with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus, Who enters the story as an adult. Matthew, #2, starts with the genealogy of Jesus and a BRIEF narrative about His birth. Luke, #3, starts with prophecy about both Jesus and John the Baptist coming. And John, #4, starts…in the beginning. The farther the writer gets from the actual event, the more they see the need to “back up” a bit more to set the stage for the story so that the reader has a better understanding.)

Many people have read today’s Scripture and said, “Why does Jesus get baptized? He should be the One baptizing.” This echoes what John the Baptist says in Matthew’s version of the story. And it’s a valid question. There are many possible answers, most of which dovetail together. For me, the “simple” answer is that Jesus came to take away our sin. He ultimately died on the cross for that very reason. But here, right at the very beginning of His public ministry, He sets the stage for what is to come. Does He have sins that need to be washed away? No. Will He have sins that require the punishment of the cross in just 3 short years? No. But He shows that He is God in the flesh…Emmanuel…come down from heaven to free us from the bondage of our sin nature.

I have been thinking a lot about baptism lately. I have had meetings…conversations…with people about either their baptism or the baptism of their children- that’s what I do prior to baptizing someone. And in those conversations, we talk about the nature of baptism. I ask them what baptism means to them. (But I preface that question with, “This is NOT a trick question! I’m not trying to get you to say the Secret Word so that you can earn the Magic Decoder ring! I just want to know what you think!”) And then we have a conversation about one of the two sacrament s of the United Methodist Church. (Communion is the other.)

Some faith traditions see baptism as an act of salvation- you do NOT go to heaven without it. United Methodists have a different take. We see baptism as more of an act of promise. When parents bring a baby or a small child to be baptized, they are making a promise, on behalf of their child, that they will do all that they can to raise the child to be a man or woman of God. If the person being baptized is an older child or adult, they make that promise for themselves.

In fact, Confirmation in the United Methodist understanding is directly tied to baptism. The (roughly) 8th Grader who completes Confirmation and is confirmed is doing something- they are…ready?…CONFIRMING the promise that was made at their baptism. So if you were baptized as an infant, you would confirm that about 12-ish years later. If you are baptized immediately before you are confirmed, which certainly happens, then you make the promise and, a few minutes later, confirm it!

Have YOU been baptized? If not…why not? It’s NOT too late! I think infant/small child baptisms are very special. But I also think that adult baptisms are powerful. Why? Because you are making the promise…for yourself. You are publicly stating that you accept Jesus Christ and want to walk in His path. How cool is THAT?!

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

Tomorrow- Encouraging or Manipulating?

Tuesday, June 17- WHOSE Music?

itunes-gift-card

I LOVE music. If you read this daily…whatever it is…at ALL, that is no surprise to you! I have been a drummer for 43 years. I have loved music since before that. My mom and dad listened to music. My brother and sister listened to music. I got a good taste of a WIDE variety of genres at an early age. And I have clung to that eclectic taste ever since.

Having said that, however, I have ALSO shared in this space that, if Ronnie Milsap is lost in the 50’s tonight, then I am stuck in the 70’s…EVERY night! I LOVE “classic rock” and I listen to it a LOT. If you scroll through the 900+ songs in my iTunes account, you will see an inordinate number of classic rock songs. Oh sure, there is plenty of Contemporary Christian. There is classical. There is urban contemporary. There is easy listening. Nearly everything…except rap! (I USED to say “except rap and country”, but my wife has pointed out to me that a decent amount of the Eagles songs are “southern rock” at best…and “country rock” at worst!) But the majority of the music is classic rock. I love it. It feeds my soul. And it is what I listen to often. When I am given an iTunes gift card, it burns a HOLE in my computer! I get on iTunes and within MINUTES…that card is GONE!

For Father’s Day this year, my older son gave me…an iTunes gift card. As I opened it, he said something about it being a copout but that I am SO hard to buy for. I reminded him that I have said all along that an iTunes gift card is a PERFECT gift for me- NOT a copout! Then he handed me a scrap of yellow paper from a legal pad. He said that he had made a list of some of “his” songs that he thought I would like. I thanked him, gave him a hug and then we posed for pictures!

Later in the day, after he had hopped in the car and headed back to Chicago, I got my laptop out and loaded my new iTunes gift card into my account. I was READY to buy some more classic rock- there HAS to still be some music from the 70’s that I don’t have! But then I thought about that list he made. I pulled it out and looked at it. I recognized a grand, whopping total of NONE of the artists on his list. Not ONE! Didn’t know a singer, didn’t know a song. I thought about the fact that, when he handed me the list, he said, “Give them a listen and see what you think!” So…I set out to do that.

I found the first one on the list and hit “play”. (If you don’t know, on iTunes you can listen to a portion of a song before you buy it.) They usually start somewhere in the middle…horribly unsatisfying for a musician. I started to listen to the first selection, struggled to appreciate the song starting in the middle…and then made a decision. It struck me- WHY did I need to listen to them before I bought them? My sons know me better than almost anybody in the world (except my wife!) and if my older son hand-picked these songs FOR ME, because he thought I would like them, why in the world do I feel the need to screen them ahead of time…to see if they are worth getting?! HE. PICKED. THEM! So I systematically found each song…and bought it. Roughly $14 later, I had purchased everything on the list. That was on Sunday afternoon/evening. Yesterday (Monday), I got the opportunity to listen to some of that music. Good stuff!

How often do our kids try to share things with us…only to have us make them feel like their opinions and thoughts don’t matter? They want SO badly to show you that they can contribute. They want SO badly to do something that you measure as worthy. They want SO badly to make…you…proud. And yet, so many adults are SO stinkin’ busy that they simply don’t have the time…won’t TAKE the time…to give to the people who should matter the most to them. NO ONE every lays in their death bed and says, “I wish I had worked more.” Or “I wish I had finished one more report.” No. They say, “I wish I had given more of my time…myself…to my family.

What children do you have influence over? Kids? Grandkids? Neighbor kids? Students? Nieces? Nephews? Church kids? Whatever. We ALL have the capacity to have influence on children. What are YOU doing about that? Give them your time. Give them your attention. Give the your love. You will NOT regret it!

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

Tomorrow- Baptism

Monday, June 16- A Partial List of “Fathers”

men

So, yesterday was Father’s Day. We had a GREAT morning at church- my wife preached a great Father’s Day message. I then had an awesome lunch of my wife’s homemade lasagna, salad and garlic bread. (No offense to anyone intended, but if you tried my wife’s lasagna…every other lasagna would pale in comparison! Just sayin’!) Then we took pictures and gave/received gifts to commemorate the day. My younger son is out of town- 8th Grade Washington DC trip- and my older son was home for the weekend. So we hung with him for a while before he had to head back to Chicago. Other than not having my younger son home, it was a GREAT day!

When we “do” Mother’s Day or Father’s Day at church, I like to honor ALL of the women or ALL of the men…not just the moms or dads. The reason is that, while I love and miss my mom and dad, there are a LOT of women and men in my life who have helped me become the person I am. (You can decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad!!) Not everybody has a mother and/or father. And not everybody has a great relationship with one or both parents. But we all have people in our lives…biologically connected or not…who have helped mold us and shape us.

On this day after Father’s Day, I have been thinking about those folks. I think about my paternal grandpa. (I never met my maternal grandpa.) He was known to have a bad temper and he became more than a bit of a hermit after my grandma died. But he used to drive to the grocery store every week and, while he was there, he would buy 2 of those huge Hershey bars. He would keep one for himself and drop the other one off at our house on his way home. He taught me that kindness can be found in the little things.

I remember a family friend- somewhat of a “bigwig” at a college near us. He was often there for me as a surrogate dad when my dad was out of town…which was often. More than once, he took me to a scout sleepover, hiking trip or other event.

I remember my wife’s dad. I met him when I was 16 years old- my wife’s 16th birthday, to be exact. He is a funny guy with a witty sense of humor. He is also fiercely loyal to his family. He would walk through the fires of hell in a suit made of gasoline for them…us. He accepted me into the family, put up with a lot of…crud…over the years, and remains one of my strongest supporters.

I remember a former pastor. He was a great…if not unique…guy. He was full of life and very much on fire for God. He also tended to rub some people the wrong way. Sadly, that fact led him to be unceremoniously “bounced” from our church and, ultimately, the ministry. But while he was my pastor, he…more than any other clergy…helped me see the call God had placed on my life. He is very much responsible for my being in the ministry.

I remember the first pastor I had the pleasure of serving with. He was…is…younger than me. (But NOT by much, thank you very much!) But he taught me SO much about what it REALLY means to be a minister. There is the marvelously ethereal and theoretical stuff you learn in seminary. And there is the “down and dirty, wallowing in the trenches” stuff you only learn by…doing it. He helped me navigate that minefield.

I remember a retired minister I served with early in my career. He was truly one of the finest examples of what it means to be a Christian I have ever seen. He loved me for who I was…but wasn’t always willing to leave me there! He was just as comfortable getting in my face and giving me “what for” as he was sharing his life and his faith with me. I STILL want to be him when I grow up!

I remember the Associate Pastor I had at my last church. He was…is…a retired minister who agreed to come on staff with me. He is a marvelous human being who was a blessing to serve with. He was willing to do whatever needed to be done and, even though he had YEARS of experience on me, he always had my back…regardless.

The list could go on and on…and on! I am grateful for ALL of the men who impacted my life. I will be forever in their debt. I only pray that, in some small way, I can offer to OTHER men what these guys, and others like them, offered to me!

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

Tomorrow- WHOSE Music?

Sunday, June 15- Breathing Life: I am Loved!

breathe-time-out_1698116c     “What the heck is going on here?” said the angry man as he stormed into the florist shop. “I just lost one of my main clients…and it’s your fault!” “Why don’t you calm down a bit,” said the lady behind the counter, “and tell me what happened.” “Well,” said the man “My biggest client moved to a new location, and to be nice I called you guys up and asked you to send him some flowers with a note saying ‘congratulations on your new location’. He called me and said, “Why did you send me flowers with a note that said ‘rest in peace?!’” “Oh no!” she sighed, “now I understand why I got that nasty message from the funeral home!”
Today we wrap up our current Sunday sermon series. That’s RIGHT- we have successfully navigated the weeks that I was “banned” from the real pulpit! Seriously, during my recovery and absence from the church I currently serve, there have been incredibly capable and committed folks “guesting” in the pulpit…and doing a marvelous job! I am eternally grateful to them for their willingness. So I have offered this series NOT for their benefit…or frankly even yours! I have offered it as a challenge to…ME…to get back in the saddle and push forward…Breathing Life. Each week, we have focused on some aspect of our faith that we can intentionally “breathe” into our day-to-day life, with the ultimate goal of breathing new life into our souls. So far, we have looked at breathing sight, breathing health, breathing wholeness, breathing faith, breathing compassion, breathing hospitality and breathing abundance. Today, we consider breathing life- I am loved!
As we circle back to breathing life, it strikes me that ultimately…there is life…and there is death. It IS a cycle or, if you will excuse the rather lame reference to an Elton John song, a circle of life. And at the heart of it all, in the center of the circle, is one thing…love. And love is at the heart of today’s story. Jesus and His disciples are pulling a “Hope and Crosby” thing…on the road…when they get word that their good friend Lazarus is sick. Jesus says to tell them that He will be there. Then…He doesn’t go…for 4 days! Jesus tells them that he is NOT dead but asleep, and they go.
 John 11:30-36, 39-44 Jesus had not yet come into the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews were with Mary in the house, comforting her. When they saw her stand and leave quickly, they followed her, thinking she was going to the tomb to cry there. 32 But Mary went to the place where Jesus was. When she saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw Mary crying and the Jews who came with her also crying, he was upset and was deeply troubled. 34 He asked, “Where did you bury him?” “Come and see, Lord,” they said. 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how much he loved him.”
Jesus was in the vicinity of Jerusalem and Lazarus and his sisters were from Bethany, which was only about 2 miles from Jerusalem. Lazarus’ sisters assumed that Jesus’ love for their brother would elicit an immediate response from Him. But that is NOT what Jesus did. He waited. When He got there, He encountered a lot of mourners “sitting shivah”- a 7-day period of mourning.
Mary came out of her house to meet Jesus and the people who were following Him. In reverence and helplessness, she fell at His feet. “If only YOU had been here, he would still be alive.” Jesus is very troubled by the whole scenario, “Where did you bury him?” They headed out to the site…and Jesus wept. This is, by the way, the shortest verse in the Bible. Based on the humanity and love it shows, I also wonder- is it the most significant? The people were weeping- the Greek word is klaio- “to lament or wail”. But Jesus wept- the Greek word is dakruo- to shed tears. This Greek word is used nowhere else in the New Testament. The crowd saw Jesus’ tears as both proof of His affection…and evidence of His limitations. Sure, He gave sight to the blind, but overcoming death? Well, that’s simply too much. Nobody present really expected a miracle of this magnitude!
 Jesus said, “Move the stone away.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since he died. There will be a bad smell.” 40 Then Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but I said these things because of the people here around me. I want them to believe that you sent me.” 43 After Jesus said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with pieces of cloth, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take the cloth off of him and let him go.”
After church, little Johnny talked to the pastor, “I heard you say today that our bodies came from dust and when we die they go back to dust.” The pastor responded, “Yes. Why do you ask?” The boy got wide-eyed, “You’d better come to our house right away and look under my bed. There’s someone under there who’s either coming or going!”
So Jesus goes to the tomb and commands that the stone be rolled away. You have to understand- this is a HUGE deal. To come into contact with a dead body was to risk defilement AND break the law. Picture the scene; it is highly dramatic. The crowd is watching and waiting. Mary is weeping. And Martha is objecting- “Jesus, You can’t do that! Me thinketh he stinketh!” (NOT the King James version!) But Jesus replies, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God? Move stone away.” So the stone is rolled away and the tension mounts. WWJD? And what DOES He do? He stops and thanks His Father!
Then, Jesus shouts 3 words, “Lazarus come forth!” The great theologian St. Augustine said that, at that moment, if Lazarus HADN’T come forth…all the dead that had gone before would have! Lazarus comes out, wrapped in the burial clothes. Jesus says, “Take the cloth off and let him go.” Right before their very eyes, death’s hold was broken by the Voice of authority. And many, having come to Bethany as mourners, now return to Jerusalem as informers. With this climactic miracle, Jesus offers definitive proof to His greatest claim, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He moves the resurrection from the “then” to the “here and now”. It is as “in your face” an event can be.
Physical death separates us from each other. But spiritual death separates us from God. When you are sick, you want a doctor…not a medical book. When you are being sued, you want a lawyer…not a law book. And when you are facing hard times, you want a Savior…not a book on church discipline. Jesus calls the spiritually dead back to life. Jesus came so that people…us…might live full lives in Him.
Do you know someone who is danger of dying…spiritually? Is it…you? Do you know you’re loved, with an unconditional, unwavering, unforgettable love? Are you willing to accept the help of such a Man- a Savior? The truth is that only Jesus can raise the dead. But we can participate in the process…but our obedience is necessary. We have to be willing to LET Him take away the stone. You might be thinking, “What happens if I do?” Well, Jesus will come to you…accept you…love you. That’s what happens if you say yes to Jesus. You feel more alive than you have ever felt before.
His sisters thought that Lazarus was buried too soon. Do you ever feel that way? “Lord, if only You had been here sooner…my brother would still be alive, or my kids would be OK, or my marriage would be sound…my life would be better. If only You had showed up on time!” Are you in need of prayer? Does your life need a major change?
Jesus asked, “Where did you bury him?” I wonder…what was He REALLY saying? I think he was saying, “Take Me back to the place where you gave up, the place where you quit believing, the spot where you quit praying. Take Me back so I’ll know where to pick things back up.” Martha and Mary took Him to the tomb. Where do YOU need to take Him?
Jesus was 4 days late answering the prayer of Mary and Martha. He was 4 days late in healing Lazarus. He was 4 days late…but right on time. His delay was NOT due to a lack of love or an abundance of fear. Instead, Jesus waited for just the right moment. It was NOT a human schedule…it was God’s schedule. It was a Divine timetable. God is in control. He has the power to resurrect your life, to bring you deliverance and spiritual victory. Lazarus was bound, he was buried and then he was beckoned. Maybe life has you bound and buried. If so, remember that you are being beckoned- Jesus is calling you to come forth.
Seven weeks ago, we took the 1st step to breathing new life into our faith through our sight. Our eyes were opened to the endless possibilities of a life lived in Jesus. Six weeks ago, we learned the 2nd step- health. Once our eyes are open, the possibilities begin to come into focus. And when that happens, our health…spiritual health…improves. Five weeks ago, we considered the 3rd step- wholeness. A focus on life and health leads to a greater understanding of wholeness- physically and spiritually. Four weeks ago, we looked at the 4th step- faith. Three weeks ago, we looked at step #5- breathing compassion. Two weeks ago, we looked at step #6, breathing hospitality. Last week, we considered step #7- breathing abundance. And today, we wrapped things up with step #8- breathing life. We’ve made the final step in the journey to breathing fuller and more meaningful life through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, June 14- 40%

40 percent

I have shared before that I am currently neck-deep in electrical stimulation therapy in an attempt to get the use of the right side of my face back after the tumor in my head impacted the facial nerve. I started out going to the therapist 3 times a week. Then we went to twice a week with me taking the machine home and doing it twice a day on my own. This week was only one trip to the therapist and next week will be the LAST trip to the therapist for a while. (I will continue to “shock myself” at home twice a day for at least the next three months!)

Since I am nearing the end of my current time with the therapist (no doubt an “insurance thing”!), I wanted his input on how I was doing. As we were packing up the “shocker”, I said, “OK- I want your input here. I want to know what you think- where I was when I first started, where I am now and where I might expect to GET.” So he laid out his opinion for me.

He told me to imagine that where I was before all this…mess…started was 100%. (Which it was.) He then said to imagine that “paralyzed” was 0%. OK- makes sense so far. He said that, when I first came in, having never met him before, he would assess that I was at 20% on the right side. He pointed out that I had a little movement around the eye…and not too much else.

He then went on to say that, right now, I am at…60%! “Wait- WHAT? 60%?! That is freakin’ redonculous!” So his assessment is that, during the 20 days I have been doing therapy- my first day was May 22 and we had this conversation on June 12- I have improved by…40%?! I’m sorry…but that’s amazing! Based on how bad I perceived it to be when we started (and 20% ain’t no walk in the park!), I had NO expectation that I would see this much improvement in less than 3 weeks.

He went on to say that he has no reason to think that I won’t regain…everything I lost! Did you read that? EVERYTHING I lost! He did NOT think that I would take the next quantum leap of 40%, bringing me to the illusive but highly sought after 100%, in another 20 days! He said, realistically, it will probably be a year before I see full restoration. I asked if that meant I would need to continue the electrical stimulation for 12 more months. Fortunately, his answer was, “No.” He thought 3 more months and I can retire the mini-electric chair!

Victories have been much less complicated and much more savored over the past couple of months. I wanted 100% of the tumor out of my head. I didn’t get that, but I DID get 99.9%! I wanted to not spend more than one day in ICU. I spent I day there- my 53rd birthday! (They sang to me and brought me a MASSIVE “happy birthday” cupcake!) I wanted to not spend more than 2 days in a regular hospital room. I was moved INTO that room EARLY Saturday morning- the day before Easter. I was released from that room Easter Sunday afternoon! I wanted to get back to our house and our bed as soon as possible. We slept in that bed Monday night- the day AFTER Easter. I wanted the wound to heal well. It has done remarkably so. And I wanted to regain as much of the use of the right side of my face as possible. And in 20 days…40%!

Without more surgery and/or expensive hi-tech devices, I am NOT going to hear out of my right ear again- there are “parts” that are simply…gone. I will probably have to look at SOME kind of ongoing treatment for the portion of the tumor that is still in there- we’ll know more in about 10 days. I will always have titanium mesh and titanium screws in my head. I will never again be able to open my mouth as wide as I once could. (Insert your joke here!) But you know what? I’m. Still. Here! I am still upright and breathing. I am still taking nourishment. And I am still about God’s business. And THAT, my friends, to quote that great theologian Dan Fogelberg, is a gift I never can repay!

Life is short. Life is fragile. And life is a gift. Therefore, you might as well make sure your glass is always half-full. “Half-empty” simply sucks the life right out of you…and besides, nobody wants to be around you if you are a glass half-empty kind of person! Recognize the gifts you have received. Recognize the beauty all around you. And recognize God’s love for you, which knows no bounds and is beyond your ability to comprehend it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and shock my 60% face!

 

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

Tomorrow- 40%

Friday, June 13- Guy Stuff!

 

guy stuff 2What do you think of when hear the phrase “guy stuff”? You might well think of watching football. You might consider beer as a part of the equation. There might be, in your mind, a decent amount of burping and scratching. There would CERTAINLY not be an asking of directions!

The truth is that stereotypes are grounded at some level in truth. (Please note my careful choice of words- “at some level”. I do NOT think that stereotypes are accurate, fair or appropriate. I simply mean that they tend to grow out of some reality that is then taken to an illogical extreme.) So when guys get together, there MAY be football-watching, beer or any of the other things I mentioned. But there are times when guys get together and do “guy stuff”…and NONE of those things are a part!

Every Wednesday morning, I am part of a men’s Bible study. It is the FIRST “men-only” study I have ever been a part of. Really! It meets at…GULP!…6:30 in the blesse AM. Somewhere in the neighborhood of ten guys gather in the Fellowship café area of the church I currently serve. Somebody makes a pot of coffee. Somebody else brings a Casey’s bacon breakfast pizza. (If you’ve never had one…try it. The only thing better than a slice of Casey’s bacon breakfast pizza is TWO slices!)

When then spend the next hour working through whatever book we are studying. The last book we did was a study on the New Testament Book of Acts. The current book we are working through is a “modern retelling” of a United Methodist founder John Wesley’s notes on the Sermon on the Mount. We made it clear right up front that this Bible study group is a marathon and NOT a sprint! We do not race through the study- “snail’s pace” might be more descriptive! But that’s OK, because it gives us the opportunity to actually talk about things and figure out how they apply to our lives.

I will be the first to admit that I am NOT the stereotypical (there’s that word again!) “guy”! I don’t watch, or ever really follow, football. (I DO, however, geek out over baseball!) I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t fish or hunt. I don’t play golf. (Man! At this rate, I’m going to get my “guy membership card” revoked!) But for my money, this Wednesday morning men’s Bible study is the best “guy thing” I do all week. In fact, it’s one of the best…THINGS I do all week!

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

Tomorrow- 40%

Thursday, June 12- Give It Away

Give it away We are an “everything has value, make your money where and while you can” kind of society. We love to sell things. We will spend hours and hours and HOURS (did I mention “hours”?) getting ready for a garage sale and then celebrate gleefully when we make $150 dollars. (I have to wonder, each and every time, just how much my time was worth as I PREPPED for the garage sale!) It is the American Way to make a buck. Why in the WORLD would we give something away…for FREE?!
Don’t believe me? Read on, Macduff! An old friend of mine told about a garage sale he and his wife had- a very unusual garage sale! They dutifully put all of their stuff out on tables, nicely displayed for all to see. But there was a catch- everything was free! They had signs all over stated that fact- FREE! And yet…people simply couldn’t wrap their heads around that fact. Person after person asked about this odd turn of events. “Free? Really? Everything is FREE?!” “Yes.” “What’s the catch?” “No catch. Free.” Some people took things and left, apparently afraid that the homeowners would change their somewhat delusional minds. Others wandered around, pondering the validity of this strange offer. One guy, who apparently just was unable to buy into the whole concept, left a $5 bill on one of the tables. A later “customer” saw it and asked, “Is everything on this table free?” “Yes.” “What about the $5 bill?” “Free.” They thought about it…then walked away empty-handed!
So giving things away is not the norm for us Americans. But is it the norm…or should it be…for us Christians? I would argue that when we give something away- whether it is money, goods or time- we are being the hands and feet of God. For years now, the churches that I have served have taken up a special offering at Christmas. Some years, 100% of the money raised has gone to some ministry project. And some years, 100% of the money has gone to keep the church “out of the red” at the end of the year. (It’s simply a reality that, no matter how big or small your church is, there are times when the “income” doesn’t meet the “outgo”!) My experience is that those giving are a LOT more excited about giving to support a clean-water well in Africa or an outreach ministry in Kentucky than they are about making sure the power bill is paid on time!
Every time I have been involved in starting up a ministry that was built around the principle of giving something away, there have been those who were sure it couldn’t possibly work. But when people are committed to doing ministry simply for the sake of doing ministry, without any notion of getting something in return…amazing things happen.
So what are YOU giving away? “I can barely put food on my table, Pastor. I can’t afford to give anything away.” Au contraire mon frère! Notice early on, my list included, “money, goods or time…” Some have disposable income to offer. Some have some THING (furniture, bike, clothes, whatever) to offer. And some have time to offer. But I am convinced that we ALL have SOMETHING to offer. So again- what are you giving away? God WILL bless you for stepping out in faith!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Guy Stuff!

Wednesday, June 11- The Road to Emmaus

emmaus1 “On the road to Emmaus”- arguably one of the most recognizable Biblical phrases out there. Shoot, an entire movement was built around the notion of Emmaus. But how well do you know the actual story? It’s an often-referenced story that is one of the most powerful New Testament examples of Jesus’ ability to transform lives. Let’s walk through it. This story takes place AFTER the resurrection. They have heard rumors of Jesus being alive, but all they know is that “our women” told them that, although they were told He had risen, they did not see Him. And so, these two walk…and talk.
Luke 24:13-32 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
So these two guys are walking along, traveling from Jerusalem back to Emmaus, and talking about what had just happened. And Who should happen to join the but…Jesus Himself! HOWVER, they are “kept” from recognizing Him. They didn’t FAIL to recognize Him- they weren’t ALLOWED to. Why would that be? You have to assume that they have something else to learn that will be better learned without the distraction of realizing that the topic of their conversation is standing right in front of them. So Jesus, cloaked from them, comes up and joins them.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Jesus asks them what they are talking about and they are amazed. “Are you stupid? EVERYBODY knows what we are talking about!” (That might NOT be the King James translation!) So they proceed to tell Jesus about…well…Jesus! They talk about what He was SUPPOSED to do. But they also show their disappointment that He DIDN’T do those things.
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Jesus, still veiled from their recognition, reminds them of the “rest of the story”- these things that happened where prophesied- they HAD to happen. He then starts back in the Old Testament and lifts ALL the Scripture about Him…and that’s a LOT!
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They get home and they are so moved by this “stranger” and what He has to say that they encourage Him to stay with them. I wonder, did Jesus continue on as if He was going further because He had someplace special to go…or was it a little test of their hospitality? Either way, they convince Him to stay. When they gathered at the table…common table sharing…that’s when everything changed. Suddenly the guest was the host! Jesus took the bread- the served became the server. He gave thanks for it and served it. If THAT’S not a nod to the events of the Last Supper and Communion…I don’t know what COULD be!
At the moment the bread was served- His body, offered to them- their eyes were opened; they could see Him for Who He really was. And in that same instant…He was gone. In the twinkling of an eye, Jesus simply vanished. (“One to beam aboard, Mr. Scott!”) And the two men, Cleopas and his friend, were left to realize that Jesus had opened their hearts to Him on the road…before He then opened their eyes!
Our eyes can play tricks on us. They can deceive us. They can make us see things that are not there…and miss things that are right in front of us. The old saying is, “Believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see.” And here, these two men couldn’t see Jesus. They missed Him completely. That is, until He took the step and opened their eyes to the truth. After touching their hearts, He allowed them to see Him. And then…His work was done there and He was gone.
Have you been on the road to Emmaus? Has Jesus opened your heart to His truths? Is it time to invite Him into your home…your life…and have you eyes fully opened?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Give it Away