Thursday, July 31- The Homecoming

Homecoming

If you know me very well at all, then it will come as no surprise to you when I say that the most important thing to me, next to my relationship with God, is my family. They are why I get up in the morning! They are the most awesome people in the world to me. I am partial, but for my money, I have THE most awesome wife and THE most awesome kids in the whole, wide world!

I say that because there is an important thing happening in my family over the next few days. I call it…The Homecoming! As you might know, our older won, who is 26, lives in Chicago. Our younger son, who turns 14 THIS MONDAY lives…of course…with us!

We don’t get to see our older son as much as we would like. Oh, don’t get me wrong- he comes home for the weekend every 4-6 weeks-ish. But we don’t see him EVERY DAY, so we don’t see him as much as we would like. But he is coming home for the weekend. In fact, he’s coming home TODAY, so it will be a slightly longer weekend!

Our younger son, on quite the other hand, left town last Sunday! He got the opportunity to “go home”. My wife, my older son and I all call the St. Louis area home. We were all born in the same town. My wife and I spent the first 43 years of our lives in the STL area, while our older son was 16 before we moved north. So for us, that area is home. But our younger son was only 3 years old when we moved out of the STL area and headed to Central Illinois. He spent 8 years there before we moved to where we currently serve. So for him, Central Illinois is home! He went back to spend the week with one of his best friends. While there, he has been able to also see some of his other good friends- people he hasn’t seen for 2+ years! And he has been having a GREAT time!

So tomorrow night, our older son rolls in. Then, on Saturday morning, we drive to Peoria, IL to meet the folks with whom he has been staying so we can pick up our younger son! By 10AM Saturday morning, my family will be together again! Now the reality is that it will be for a rather short period of time…but that’s OK. We will enjoy every minute and make the most of the time!

Saturday night, we will celebrate my younger son’s birthday two days early, since we will all be together. He has already ordered his birthday dinner- cranberry pork roast, mashed potatoes with gravy, fresh green beans, fresh sweet corn and lemon bars for dessert! (I’m not sure which one of the four of us will enjoy that dinner the most!) Sunday morning, we will all go to church, have a great morning, have lunch together and then begin opining the fact that our older son will soon have to grab his backpack and his guitar, hop in the car and head to Chi town!

I am SO proud of my sons. In some…important…ways, they are very much alike. And yet in other, substantive ways, they are marvelously different from each other. They are unique human beings who are frighteningly smart, wonderfully creative and overwhelmingly kind and caring. And do you know who I attribute ALL the good traits to? THEIR MOTHER! I figure that any questionable or annoying characteristics they have come straight from their father’s side, while all of the GREAT qualities they have are directly from the awesome woman who birthed them!

People who say, “These kids today…!” don’t know the same kids I know! My kids, my nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great nephews, the kids at the churches I have served or are currently serving- awesome! I look at the kids I come in contact with on a regular basis and I think to myself, “We are in GOOD hands!” Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to peel potatoes!

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

Tomorrow- Passion

Wednesday, July 30- Yet Another Health Update

health update

The past 14 months have TRULY been a roller coaster. There have been more ups and downs than any amusement park ride I’VE ever been on! Well, yesterday the roller coaster went for another ride, and THIS time it was NOTHING but the peaks!

My wife and I left home about 1:30PM on Monday afternoon, heading for the St. Louis, MO area. My brother and one of my two sisters both life in that area, and we stay with my brother and his wife when we go for my “medical stuff”. (As I have said in this space before, I shudder to think how much we would have spent on motel bills over the past 14 months if it weren’t for family!)

We got to the town where they live about 5PM and stopped off at Imo’s Pizza for dinner. (If you have never had Imo’s pizza…you are MISSING it, my friend!) We then went to their house and hung with them for the evening.

We were up at 6:30AM yesterday and on the road by 7:20AM. (We HAD to stop and get coffee before we headed for STL! I mean, you HAVE to have your priorities!) After lots of road construction and lots of Tuesday morning STL rush hour traffic, we made it to the Center For Advanced Medicine, a part of the Barnes Hospital/Washington University complex. We went to the 3rd floor and checked in for the MRI.

They took me back, had me change into the charming “paper pants/ill-fitting gown” ensemble, and then had me remove any jewelry. I realized at that moment- I wear a LOT of stuff! 2 rings, a watch, a “survival” bracelet, a cross necklace I wear on the OUTSIDE of my shirt and a puzzle piece necklace that I wear INSIDE my shirt. (My wife has the matching puzzle piece! Ain’t we SWEET?!) Oh, and of course- the earring!

Then I got the IV put in. I have had so many IV’s, blood draws and shots over the past 14 months that needles don’t even phase me anymore. I carried on a conversation with the tech about the difficulties he is facing in his personal life while he got the IV in and I didn’t even bat an eye!

After that, it was off to the room for the MRI. I gave up my glasses and climbed on the table.

The headphones went on, the foam piece went under my knees, the “panic button went in my hand, the cage was snapped down over my face and then…sucked into the tube! My MRI’s are done “with and without”, meaning they do a regular one and then, after injecting me with a special dye, the do it again. Apparently it offers more and better contrast. I’ll be honest, even with the noise and even with the claustrophobia, I tend to sleep though them these days. Yesterday was no exception! About an hour later, I was getting off the table and heading out to get re-dressed and re-earringed!

An interesting side note- we ran into a former parishioner in the MRI waiting room. She was there for a scan. I hadn’t seen her in more than two years and she lives ALMOST as far from STL as I do! It was good to see her and reconnect.

Then it was up to the 6th floor to check in at the neurosurgeon’s office. We were almost an hour early for the 11:30AM appointment, but whatcha gunna do? So we sat in the waiting room and read on the trusty iPads until about 11:20AM, then heading into the exam room. The neurosurgeon came in about 10 minutes later. He hadn’t seen me since just 2 weeks after surgery and he was thrilled with my progress! He thought the scar…his handiwork…looked great. And he was excited about how much mobility I had regained in my face. The day after surgery he looked at it and said, “Yeah, you have some movement.” Yesterday, he said, “Right after surgery…you had NONE! But NOW…!”

And then we talked about the MRI results. I had told me wife on the drive down, “85% of me is looking forward to this MRI because the results are going to be SO good. But 15% is dreading this MRI because I fear the tumor is coming back.” Well, apparently the 85% won out, because the neurosurgeon said that the MRI showed no sign of the tumor…NONE! In fact, he was so pleased with the results, he said I don’t need another scan for 6 months! For the past 14 months, I probably haven’t gone any longer than 4 weeks WITHOUT a scan! Awesome!

I still have to be monitored. It’s still possible that this thing could rear its ugly head again sometime. I’m still completely deaf in one ear. BUT…I’m also alive! And I feel good- for the first time in a LONG time! I have facial muscles that are back up to 70% usage. And I have an MRI that could NOT find any evidence of the tumor. It really doesn’t get much better than that!

Let me take another opportunity to thank you, sincerely and from my heart, for your prayers throughout this journey. Prayer is NOT the least we can do- it is the MOST we can do!

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 Homecoming

Tuesday, July 29- On the Road…Again!

barnes02

Yesterday, I wrote about “the new normal”. Today is a GREAT example of that! As you read this, my wife and I are in the Center For Advanced Medicine at the Barnes Hospital/Washington University Hospital complex near downtown St. Louis, MO. Although I could look it up, I have lost track of how many times we have made this trip!

You may be thinking, “Oh, no! What’s wrong? I thought you had the surgery and all was well?” First off- nothing’s wrong. I DID have the surgery and things DID go well. But the reality is that the tumor I have is exceedingly rare- I am the 19th recorded case…ever. And they were unable to get it all in the surgery. They got an estimated 99% of it and they cauterized the rest of it. But they had to leave that little bit because it had attached itself to the outer layer of the dura- the “sac” that envelopes the brain. They were reluctant to penetrate the dura in order to get that last bit. I, for one, am QUITE grateful they made that decision! A very invasive, in-depth, lengthy surgery would have become, at that moment, brain surgery!

So I need to keep seeing my Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, my oncologist and my neurosurgeon. They are doing extensive genetic testing on the tumor the removed, to see if there is anything they can learn that would help me down the road, help someone else who comes up with this…or both. But in the meantime, they want to keep tabs on me, to make sure that things are going OK.

So today started with a drive through Tuesday morning St. Louis rush hour traffic to get to our destination. I have an MRI at 9AM. It will be “with contrast”, so I will have a temporary IV inserted so that they can, at the appropriate moment, inject the dye. My last MRI was early Easter Sunday morning (how appropriate!)- AFTER surgery and BEFORE I was released. That MRI established a new baseline- my new normal, if you will! Today’s MRI will be compared to that one. They will be looking for any change that might signal that the tumor has “awakened”. They don’t think it will…but they want to make sure. Again, I am quite happy with that decision!

Later this morning, we will meet with the neurosurgeon- the guy who had his hands in my head! First, he will marvel at how well the scar has healed- he told me that his work on the OUTSIDE of my head was “as good as a plastic surgeon”! Then, he will marvel at how much of the use of my right side facial muscles I have regained. When he last saw me, I only had about 20% used of those muscles. Now, I have about 75% use and, according to my physical therapist, that number should continue to climb!

He will have already looked at the MRI I had earlier today, so we will then discuss what he saw. Assuming that what he saw was a whole lot of nothing, we will talk about when he would want/need to see me again and we will leave. If, by some odd chance, there IS some change…then we will discuss that as well! When we leave downtown St. Louis, we will drive across the Mississippi River, stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Troy, IL (it’s RIGHT off the interstate!) for some of the BEST coffee on the planet! We will then drive home, get the dog from the kennel and sleep in our own bed again! 2 years ago, I could not have imagined ANY of this. Now…welcome to our new normal!

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

Tomorrow- Yet Another Health Update

 

Monday, July 28- The New Normal

Normal

Are you normal? Seriously- are you normal? We throw that word around a WHOLE lot- “He’s not normal.” Well, THAT’S more normal.” “This simply isn’t normal!” And we use that word as if we have…ANY idea what it means!

I have decided that, for most people, “normal” really means “typical”. You know what I mean- THIS is what I typically experience when THAT happens. Therefore, it must be “normal”. Example- I ask the dogs if they are ready to…EAT! And all they have to do is HEAR that word (because they both clearly understand English!) and they get all excited and race for the kitchen…and the food bowls! Their behavior is…normal.

I have also decided that, in many measurable ways, I am NOT “normal”. I used to TRY to be normal. But somewhere along the way, I realized that A. I don’t even know what “normal” is and B. even if I figure it out, I’m pretty sure that, whatever it is…I don’t have it! I mean, ministers are supposed to be rather serious. They are supposed to wear shirts and ties all the time. (I once had a parishioner, mad as a wet hen because I was mowing my lawn in shorts and a t-shirt, inform me that Rev. Yiffniff, a former pastor of the church and NOT his real name, even wore a shirt and tie to mow HIS lawn! My response? “Well, bully for Rev. Yiffniff! But I can GUARANTEE you that you will NEVER see me mowing my lawn in a shirt and tie!”) Ministers are supposed to be perfect and not make mistakes. Well, if THAT’S the list of qualifications for minister…I’m in deep trouble!

The other thing I have come to understand about “normal”- thanks in large part to many conversations with my smart and beautiful wife- is that “normal” doesn’t stay normal for very long. To be entirely honest, my family currently experiences a “new norm” seemingly every day. Just about the time we feel like we are getting our sea legs, that we are getting a handle on things, that we have identified “normal”, something changes and we usher in a new norm,.

But I have come to understand that “new norm” is not necessarily a bad thing. If we get too mired in the current normal, our lives get stale, rote and repetitive. And when that happens, we aren’t much use to God. BUT…when we stop worrying about what normal is and simply start living day by day, taking things as they come and constantly searching for the silver lining in the cloud, then God can use us for all sorts of things. Why? Because we are open to change, open to something and most importantly…open to Him!

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

Tomorrow- On the Road…Again!

Sunday, July 27- Here is Our King

Psalm Pseries Here is Our King     Early on in their marriage, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were crossing the Strait of Georgia to reach Vancouver Island on the western coast of Canada. The weather was a bit rough and the boat was rocking violent. Just as a young petty officer arrived in the royal suite, the ship lurched and the tray of tea cakes he was holding fell to the floor. Surprisingly, Philip jumped onto his hands and knees and helped pick them up. After grabbing a handful of cakes, he returned to his chair, turned to his wife the queen and playfully remarked, “I’ve got mine- yours are still on the floor.”
Later, Prince Philip was visiting an Australian University where he was met a couple who were introduced to him as “Mr. & Dr. Robinson”. The man explained, “My wife is a doctor. She’s much more important than me.” Prince Philip nodded and sympathetically replied, “We have that trouble in our family, too.”
Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries- taking a good, hard look at the Old Testament Book of Psalms. This book is a collection of religious poems set to music. And in these 150 Psalms, every human emotion, every circumstance of daily life are captured. This 11-week series is carrying us through the rest of the summer…AND through the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows of life. Today we take a look at who we are actually talking about when we say: Here is Our King.
1Timothy 6:12-16 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, Who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, Who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time- God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone is immortal and Who lives in unapproachable light, Whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. Amen.
Possessions of the powerful or famous – no matter how common those possessions might be- can be seen as extremely valuable…some would say priceless.  Several years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte’s toothbrush sold for $21,000. His toothbrush! His old, dirty, used TOOTHBRUSH!
Adolph Hitler’s car sold for over $150,000. People have paid extraordinary amounts of money for Winton’s Churchill’s desk, C.S. Lewis’s pipe, sheet music handwritten by Beethoven, and a house once owned by Ernest Hemmingway. Jackie Kennedy’s FAKE pearls sold for almost a quarter of a million dollars and JFK’s wooden golf clubs went for nearly THREE quarters of a million! All these things were sold at many times their intrinsic value. These items didn’t demand great sums of money because they had great intrinsic value. Instead, they demanded those prices simply because they once belonged to someone famous.
Elvis Presley is the King of Rock and Roll. Garth Brooks is the King of Country. Michael Jackson is the King of Pop. Harry Belafonte is the King of Calypso. Sam Cooke is the King of Soul. Bob Dylan is the King of Folk. Benny Goodman is the King of Swing. Scott Joplin is the King of Ragtime. BB King is THE King of the Blues. Kenny Loggins is the King of the Movie Soundtrack. Luciano Pavarotti is the King of the High C. Johnny Carson is the King of Late Night. And LeBron James is, apparently, simply…The King! (Just ask him!) Lots of people claim the title of King, but who IS? Who’s at the top of YOUR list? Today’s Psalm focuses on that very question- who is YOUR king?
Psalm 93 The Lord reigns, He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure Your throne was established long ago; You are from all eternity The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea– the Lord on high is mighty. Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; holiness adorns Your house for endless days.
The Sunday School teacher said to her students, “We’ve been learning about how powerful the kings and queens were in Biblical times. But there is a higher power than a king or a queen. Who can tell me what it is?” The kids thought about it for a few moments, then little Tommy blurted out, “I know what’s higher than a King or a Queen! An Ace!”
In the Old Testament Book of 1Samuel 12:12, the people told God, “We want a king to rule us.” What they REALLY meant was that they wanted a man, a person- someone they could see and touch, who could sit on an earthly throne, wear a crown and tell them what to do. They wanted to be…like everybody else. So…God gave them a king. He gave them Saul, David, Solomon and many others. Some were good. Many were bad. In the end, it took defeat at the hands of foreign kings and being hauled off to a strange land in exile for them to understand that they HAD a King…all along. In exile, they no longer had an earthly king, so God became their king again. They were no longer ruled over by human kings, but by God.
Psalm 93 tells us one important thing: no matter what happens, God is still in charge. He is still King over everything! We need to remember that- especially when bad things happen. Let’s take a second and walk through Psalm 93.
Verse 1- The Lord reigns, He is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
God reigned and is robed in majesty. In other words, He wears his authority and power like we wear our clothes. Those attributes are out there where everyone can see them. And nobody can take His power and authority away from Him- it will always be there. He will always be there. He will always make our souls safe.
Verse 2- Your throne was established long ago; You are from all eternity.
This verse tells us that God not only IS King- He has BEEN King since before time.
Verse 3- The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
This verse suggests that the waters of life get higher and higher … until they threaten to drown us! The pounding waves of life are hard to overcome.
Verse 4- Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea– the Lord on high is mighty.
This verse says that, while the powers of this earth, the powers of life might threaten to overtake us…God is stronger. He is mighty.
Verse 5- Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; holiness adorns Your house for endless days.
The statutes of God- His rules- are in the Bible. They’re not hard to find and they’re not hard to understand. But they ARE hard to live out day to day! We’re told that holiness adorns His house forever. In the Ancient Near eastern world, the house of God was traditionally seen as the temple in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they also destroyed the temple. But, after the Israelites returned from exile, they re-built God’s house. And since WE became the house of God when Jesus showed up at the beginning of the New Testament, then we are now the place God dwells forever.
God wanted us to live in a kingdom, to be sure- HIS kingdom. But what does it look like when we live in His kingdom? First of all, it means that we live with an awareness that His kingdom really exists. Many people live their lives as though this earthly, visible world is the only one there is. They seem to have no awareness that we’re surrounded by another world which is more real than this one will ever be. Repentance is the way we enter the kingdom of God. Once that happens, then His kingdom lives inside of us.
Luke 1:31-33 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.
Jesus came to fully establish God’s kingdom on the earth. His kingdom became “darn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” once He proved that the grave could not keep Him, that death could not hold Him. In that act, He showed, once and for all, His victory over sin and death.
Let me assure you- God’s kingdom is NOT in trouble- never has been never will be. We can’t make it stronger and, likewise, we can’t throw a stick in the spokes. We DO, however, have an invitation to be a full-bore, pedal to the metal part of it- an invitation that we have every bit of free will to turn down if we so choose. But if we DO refuse His offer…the only one we hurt is ourselves.
It’s important that we have an awareness of God’s kingdom. But it is JUST as important that we recognize that, for it to have any real impact in our lives, God’s kingdom needs to be…within us. The people of the Ancient Near Eastern world were looking for God’s kingdom to come in a huge, outward, visible display of overwhelming power. They thought God would throw out the foreign oppressors who occupied Israel and usher in a new age of peace- one that ALL would see. But God’s kingdom is, in fact, a complete 180 from what most people think. It’s NOT turning a right-side up world upside-down. Instead, it is turning an upside-down world…right-side up. There won’t be any stereotypical outward display of power and success. There won’t be any overt military victory or political coup. God’s kingdom is an interior kingdom, a kingdom of the heart.
He is changing the world by changing us. C. S. Lewis said, “God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought. . . into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.”
God’s kingdom is subversive. Let me say that again- God’s kingdom is subversive- revolutionary and, frankly, treasonous in some circles. If we commit to being a part of the kingdom of God, we agree to be a part of a subversive, countercultural movement. As members of the kingdom of God, we live in a kingdom that runs parallel to the kingdom of the world, the kingdom of evil. And like the two sides of a train track, these two kingdoms run side by side…and they are in complete conflict. No matter how trite or hackneyed it may sound, we are engaged in a spiritual battle, with weapons like faith, prayer, righteousness and joy in our arsenal.
When we submit to God’s kingdom, God changes us. And AS He changes us…He changes the world. As things start changing inside of us, they also start to change around us. We start influencing the world. We start connecting more and more people to Jesus Christ. We start robbing the devil of his power. It’s more than just a subversive movement- it’s a full-blown Divine Conspiracy!
The fascinating thing about God’s kingdom is that, to an awful lot of people, it appears to be somewhere firmly lodged between little and nothing. But the truth is that God’s kingdom has tremendous power to influence, to change and to grow. It’s the seed in the crack of the sidewalk that fights its way through whatever stands in its way, fighting to break through to the sunlight. And as we all know, that tiny little seed eventually fractures and lifts the concrete. God’s kingdom does its best work while hidden and unseen. The tiny seed is hidden underground, but when God puts his life in it, it becomes a great tree. God works silently and in hidden ways, but what he is doing, quietly, is conquering the world.
We look at what goes on in the world and we think, “Why even bother?” But God is not beaten and discouraged. Instead, He is full of irrepressible joy…He IS irrepressible joy…and He wants nothing more than to share that joy with us. Your King hears you when you call His name. He supplies your needs. He helps you in times of need. He loves you and watches over you. You are the apple of His eye. He will never leave you or forsake you.
If we deny God and turn away from His power and authority, we will always…ALWAYS… find ourselves dominated by outside influences- influences that do NOT have our best interests at heart. We need to recognize and embrace God’s Kingship- His power and authority. We need to reflect that commitment in our marriages, in our parenting, in our jobs, in our church and in our witness to others about God’s glory!!
In their book Resident Aliens, authors Stan Hauerwas and Will Willimon talk about the fact that, sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began. For them, the transition happened VERY specifically on a Sunday evening in 1963. That day, the Fox Movie Theater in Greenville, South Carolina, in defiance of South Carolina’s time-honored blue laws, opened on Sunday. Seven boys, including the authors, made a pact to enter the front door of their church…so they could be seen…then quietly slip out the back door of the church and head over to join John Wayne at the Fox Theater. That evening, and others like it, has come to represent a watershed in the history of Christendom. On that night, the Western world served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church. There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides. The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the world view for the youth of the country. And the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish. Those parents had never been forced to worry about whether their kids would grow up Christian. The church was the only show in town. Church, home and state formed a consortium, working together to instill Christian values. Most people believed that and lived their lives around that notion. But now, few readily believe it today. All sorts of Christians are waking up to the realization that it this no longer ‘our world’- if it ever was to begin with. It seems as if we are no longer a Christian nation- one nation under God and all. And for many, we are not only a non-Christian culture- we have become an anti-Christian culture. So what do WE do…us Christians…what do we do with the fact that we live in a world that has, in large part, abandoned God? What do we do when we realize that we are living in a completely different world than many of the people around us?
We need to turn away from the kingdoms of the world and fully commit our lives, and the lives of those dearest to us, to the eternal power of God’s kingdom. We need ask God to come fully into our heart and rule over our lives and our families with His spirit of love. We need to draw a line in the sand and let the devil, who tries SO hard to rule over the world…and us…through fear and manipulation, let him know that we will not be dominated by flesh or foe. He has NO stand in our lives and we will NOT be moved. We are NOT subject of the prince of darkness. We are subject of the King of peace!

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 New Norm

Saturday, July 26- What Is Success?

Success

What is “success”? As you have probably figured out by now, I LOVE words and am also a big fan of dictionary.com! (Why in the WORLD would I want a big ol’ fat dictionary cluttering up my bookshelf when I can simply call up dictionary.com and get what I need?!) AND…dictionary.com says this about success- “The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals, the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like, a performance or achievement that is marked by the attainment of honors, a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.” That whole definition seems to encapsulate what it means to succeed in this country.

But the portion of the definition I would like to focus on today is, “the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like”. Let’s be honest- that is pretty much how our society measures success. That’s why we practically fall all over ourselves about celebrities who make hit movies…and massive paychecks. That’s why we go crazy for baseball, football and basketball players who have the best stats and the biggest contracts. That’s why we so easily forgive the Charlie Sheens of the world for one transgression after another. It’s NOT really because we are, to quote Charles Durning from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, “forgivin’ and forgettin’ Christians”. It’s really because we are so enamored of “success” that we are willing to overlook or explain away nearly anything when success is present.

But those folks are so hard to pin our stars to. And I would bet that, deep down in those places they don’t like to talk about at parties, many of them don’t even really WANT us to pin…anything…to them. They are just folks who were at the right place at the right time with the right combination of skills that made them “stars”, unlike the countless others who have mad skills but didn’t quite have all the planets align properly for them. I think about the sports stars I idolized growing up. Some of them have stood the test of time, maintaining a high standard. Some of them have crumbled under the pressure. ALL of them have proven, in one fashion or another, that they are…ready?…human!

As I have gotten older, I have come to a different understanding of success. For me, success is now much more about how people live their lives. I see great success in a parent who sets a high standard for their kids…and sticks with it. I find success in people who have the opportunity to do the wrong thing…and don’t. I see success in folks who have committed their lives to God, determined to bloom where they are planted and simple be the best person they can be- the person God created them to be. Those are usually the people who don’t attract attention. They don’t get articles written about them or TV shows produced about them. But I am convinced that they are the true backbone of this nation. Those people who keep getting up, day in and day out, putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of their circumstance. That, to me, is success! How do YOU measure 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- Here Is Our King

Friday, July 25- Discontinuity

discontinuous

There is an episode of Seinfeld in which George and Jerry are talking about a woman. George says, “She wants me to dress smart-casual. What is that?” Jerry looks at him and says, “I don’t know…but you don’t have it.” I have been thinking about that quote recently because of a word that has been popping up on my radar of late- discontinuity. It’s not a word most people tend to use. And I would hazard a guess that, if you stopped the average Joe on the street and asked what discontinuity was, they might well respond, “I don’t know…but you don’t want it!”

Discontinuity is one of those words that you might not be able to fully define, but you’re sure, just from the sound of the word, that it’s not something to be sought after. So, let’s see what it DOES mean. Dictionary.com says, “Lack of continuity (that’s a LAME definition!), irregularity (that’s better!), a break, interruption or gap, a point at which a function is not continuous, a zone deep within the earth where the velocity of earthquake waves changes radically.”

So what I hear from that definition is that discontinuity is all about a break from the norm, about times when the “norm” is no longer continuous, about seasons when the very ground beneath your feet is unsteady…or changes radically. When you hear that definition, you might still think that discontinuity is to be avoided. But I would like to claim that discontinuity can be a very rewarding, even enjoyable thing!

In the church, discontinuity usually occurs when one of two circumstances are present. One circumstance is when there is a “power play” going on- groups or “cliques” within the church start jockeying for position. Often the pastor is in one of those groups- sometimes he or she IS the group! When some folks in a church fell that the status quo is in danger, they dig their heels in and attack, in an effort to maintain the church the way it’s always been. The ironic thing about this particular circumstance is that A. it is decidedly un-Christian and B. in their efforts to avoid discontinuity…they CREATE it instead! I have been in the midst of this type of discontinuity- it’s NO fun!

The other circumstance that brings about discontinuity is when the church begins to grow. When things are happening, people are joining, baptisms are being done and attendance is on the rise, it is an awesome time in the life of a church. But it also causes discontinuity because the church is no longer what they were…but not yet what they will be. One might say irregularity…discontinuity! I have also been in the midst of THIS type of discontinuity…and it is a BLAST!

The church I am currently serving is in the middle of discontinuity. To be honest, it began with my diagnosis and subsequent surgery. And while that was not the best kind of discontinuity, they handled it beautifully! And OUT of that discontinuity, and the way the congregation rallied around it, a good, healthy, exciting discontinuity has emerged!

Attendance is up, folks are joining the church, we are baptizing folks, more people are attending Bible Studies, more people are volunteering for ministries and the excitement and anticipation is palpable- you could cut it with a knife!

Now I KNOW that church growth, even at its best, can be daunting. “The way we’ve always done it” is not only challenged- it’s pretty much tossed out the window. Why? Because the reality is that, in order to keep up with the growth, a church has to adapt and change- they have to thrive in the midst of, perhaps because of, the discontinuity.

I would not wish the last year of my life on anybody. But God, my family and my church family saw me through it. And here, on the other side of surgery, God is richly blessing this church for their faithfulness and dedication. I simply cannot WAIT to see what He has in store for us as this unfolds in time and space!

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

Tomorrow- What Is Success?

Thursday, July 23- Caused…or Allowed?

cause-effect1-1o5x08u

I had the same discussion twice this week- in two difference settings under two different sets of circumstances. And when that happens, with no pre-planning or manipulation on my part, I figure it must be something that needs to be talked about…SO, here it goes!

The question at the heart of this discussion is really quite simple- not EASY, but simple. Here’s the question: “Is EVERYTHING that happens in the world either CAUSED by God or ALLOWED by God?” Like I said, it is a really simple question. It’s just not an easy one to consider. So, what do you think?

Let’s take a moment to pick the question apart. The first half of the question could be rephrased this way, “Does God sometimes cause things to happen?” I think any believer would agree that the answer to that question would be, “Yes.” If you have read the Bible or experienced God in basically ANY way, you have context to understand that God sometimes intentionally causes things to happen. I don’t really think that’s the “non-easy” part of this whole discussion.

No, the hard part seems to come when we consider the OTHER half of the question. It would look something like this- “If God doesn’t cause a specific event, does He at least ALLOW it to happen?” Here’s an example to help us wrap our heads around the whole thing. I walk out the door, slip on an icy step, fall and break my arm. Ouch! Did God CAUSE that event? For my money, and with my understanding of God, I would have to say, “No.” God, as I understand Him, is NOT in the business of doing horrible or mean things to us to “teach us a lesson”. The reality is that we are fully capable of doing enough stupid stuff on our own!

Ok, so if we proceed with the premise that God did NOT cause my fall and subsequent broken arm, then we now have to ask if He allowed it to happen. Many people seem to want to immediately go with, “No, He didn’t allow it.” But my follow-up question is always, “COULD He have stopped me from falling and breaking my arm?” The answer is invariably, “Yes, of course- He’s God, He can do anything.” And to that I say, “Exactly!” He IS God. He CAN do anything. Which means that He COULD have stopped me from breaking my arm…easily. But. He. Didn’t. And if He COULD have and didn’t…then He CHOSE not to- He allowed it.

So I have played my cards now- you know how I feel about the question. I am firm that the answer to the question, “Is EVERYTHING that happens in the world either CAUSED by God or ALLOWED by God?” is, “Yes.” Everything…EVERYTHING…that happens in this world is either something God CAUSED to happen or ALLOWED to happen.

So the follow-up question is logical, “Why does He CHOOSE to intervene in some situations and yet ALLOW other situations to simply run their natural course?” And my simple and honest answer to that question is, “I have no earthly idea!” Does it have something to do with the whole “free will” thing? Quite possibly. But I don’t ultimately don’t know the answer to that question, and I am skeptical of anyone who says they have all the answers.

Our time on this planet is short…especially when compared to an eternity with God. If we are able to hang on to that notion, then we are better able to keep some perspective. It does NOT explain the answer to the question. What it DOES is help us see that, in the grand scheme of eternity, the answer to that question just really isn’t all that important!

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

Tomorrow- Discontinuity

Wednesday, July 23- Nehemiah

nehemiah-jerusalem-theng-kik

I JUST started teaching a study on the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. He was the son of Hachaliah and is thought to be from the Tribe of Judah. He lived in the 2nd half of the 5th century BC. His story says that in the 20th year of Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, (which would have been 445/444 BC), Nehemiah, having been taken into captivity, was the king’s cup-bearer. Some translations describe him as the king’s wine tester. In other words, he was responsible for making sure that the wine served to the king had not been poisoned! (Job security might be a little hard to come by in that setting!)

Nehemiah found out that the walls of his home city, Jerusalem, were destroyed. He felt he needed to do something so he took a risk and asked Artaxerxes for permission to go back and rebuild them. The king relented and sent him to Judah as governor of the province with both the proper papers and a mission to rebuild the walls.

First off- don’t you love the names? I mean, most people are rather familiar with the name Nehemiah, even though it’s not terribly common. But Hachaliah? And what about Artaxerxes? Let’s be honest- if either of those are your name, you are probably NOT going to find a personalized keychain at Stuckey’s! (Just get a pecan log and call it good!)

But beyond that, the story of Nehemiah is a fascinating one. His first reaction to hearing about the condition of Jerusalem is to weep. His heart was broken. He then spent time in prayer. After that, he went to the king to get the necessary permission. Then, he spent the next little while planning. So, he showed honest emotion, he prayed, he got the permission he needed and then…he planned. That is a pretty good order. He didn’t squelch his feelings- he owned them. He then prayed- earnestly and fervently. He knew he would need the right support, so he secured it. He could have taken off at that moment- all the i’s were dotted and all the t’s were crossed. But he understood that planning was necessary. So he made the necessary plans…and THEN headed off.

When he got to the walls of the city…or what was left of them…it was utter devastation. The destruction was so bad that his donkey couldn’t even walk through it- he had to leave the animal behind and continue on foot. He surveyed the damage and then made contact with those who were living there- the remnant.

That phrase- the remnant- is a common one in the Old Testament. God raised up the Hebrew people as His chosen ones. Their fire burned brightly. But then human nature got in the way and they turned from God. Their fire slowly dwindled until there was nothing left but an ember- the remnant. But like the ember that remains in your campfire, God was there to gently and persistently fan that ember, adding tinder and oxygen, fueling it as is grew back to a flame. That’s what was happening with Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem. He was the fan that would help re-kindle the ember- the remnant- into a flame that would once more burn bright.

Nehemiah was not afraid to be who God called him to be. He was not afraid to show emotion. He was not afraid to step out in faith. He overcame great adversity because he wanted to be the person God created him to be. What a GREAT example for all of us. Showing emotion is NOT weakness. Praying to God is essential. Getting others on board with the vision God gave you is necessary. And through it all, standing up to and overcoming the roadblocks that are thrown in your path is what God empowers us to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to Stuckey’s to see if I can get a Rev. Mark keychain and a pecan log!

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

Tomorrow- Caused…or Allowed?

Tuesday, July 22- The Joy of Babies

babies

I’m not gonna lie- I love babies! Let me re-state that- my WIFE and I love babies! When someone comes to church on Sunday morning with a baby, we practically trip over ourselves…and each other…to be the first one to get to the baby! (Have you noticed, by the way, that as soon as you have a baby, you become nothing more than the receptacle for the baby? Suddenly, people who used to LOVE to see you don’t even NOTICE you! “Where’s the baby?!”) I am NOT shy about asking someone I know (I DO refrain from stopping total strangers on the street!) if I can hold their baby. I’m not afraid of babies. I don’t fear I am going to “break” a baby. I just love babies! (I don’t WANT another one…at least until grandkids come along…but I do love them!)

This past Sunday was good day for people who love babies. I baptized, between our 2 morning services, 3 babies on Sunday. There was the handsome little guy (who, by the way, has the same hairstyle as me! But while it took me years to grow INTO my hairstyle, he will OUTgrow his soon!) at the early service and beautiful twin girls at the late service.

I have an undefeated streak that has now reached its 18th year and probably 150th infant baptism- I have NEVER had a baby cry during the actual baptism. Never. Ever. I’ve had babies cry when I first took them from Mom and Dad but I was able to call them down before I baptized them. And I had one little guy who I could NOT calm down so Mom held him during the baptism. But regardless…The Streak was intact coming into Sunday. And…is STILL IS!

The little boy did great, leaning against my chest and staring at me while I talked. This was the FIRST time I had baptized twin babies. (I have baptized two babies together before, but they were cousins of basically the same age and not twins.) And the girls did GREAT!

One thing I do when I baptize babies is, after the actual baptism is done, I carry them through the congregation, letting everybody get a good look. And while I carry them, I talk to the congregation about our mission. I explain that we don’t want to be the best church we can be so that we can compete with the church down the street. And we don’t want to be the best church we can be to put up good numbers at the end of the fiscal year. We want to be the best church we can be, the church God calls us to be, because of the babies, the kids and the youth.

We want to have the best youth groups we can. We want to have the best Nursery program we can. We want to have the best Vacation Bible School we can. We want to have the best youth and children’s Sunday School classes we can. We want to have the best Children’s Church we can. Why? Because we want to be the best reflection of Jesus Christ we can be for the youth and children that God has entrusted to us. We want to be good role models to them so that they have the best support system possible growing up. We want to be, to quote the Army, all that we can be…because it’s what God calls us to!

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

Tomorrow- Nehemiah

Monday, July 21- Christian Photoshopping

photoshop

It seems like to whole world is photoshopped. You can hardly see a photograph on TV, in print or on the internet without there being some photoshopping. It is rampant. But I remember that, not so long ago, there was no such verb as photoshopping. There was a day when Photoshop was computer software that very few people actually knew how to use well. But now, much like Jello, Kleenex, Band-Aid, Astro Turf and Crock-Pot…but no longer Xerox…photoshop has been welded into the American lexicon.

One of the many ways photshopping is used is to make less than perfect pictures look perfect. More and more, celebrities and models are being photoshopped so that any flaws they have are erased and perfection is achieved. I have even seen recent evidence of celebrities fighting back against photoshopping, wanting to be seen as they are and not as someone WANTS to see them.

It strikes me that regular” photoshopping is not the only kind of photoshopping that goes on. I think there is a decent amount of what I would call “Christian photoshopping” that goes on. What, you may ask, is Christian photoshopping? Thanks for asking! I think there is a STRONG temptation to live our lives one way Monday through Saturday and then live them a different way on Sunday.

Think about it- as we come to church Sunday morning, we intentionally put our best foot forward. I mean, I get up early Sunday morning, I get all shaved and cologned, I put my shirt and tie on, my dress shoes, my spiffy little “praying hands” tie tack, the ink pen goes in my pocket and “hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go!” We all gather together, putting our best face on, being funny and welcoming and charming…and then we leave.

But what do we do…when we leave? I personally don’t wear a tie the rest of the week, unless something unusual like a wedding or funeral is happening. It’s not unusual to find me in black jeans, a “smart casual” shirt and tennis shoes during the week. It’s also not unusual to find me outside my house, early in the morning or late at night, taking the dogs out and wearing “gym shorts”, a t-shirt and flip-flops.

Do we “sanitize” ourselves, carry out a heavy dose of Christian photoshopping, when we come to church on Sunday morning, only to go out and act just like the rest of the world the rest of the week? Much of the world would say that we do that all the time. We would say we don’t do that. I would say that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The truth is that we ARE scrubbed clean on Sundays, putting our best for forward, making our best impression.

But does that mean if we don’t “wear a tie” the rest of the week, then we are simply Christian photoshopping? Not at all. I firmly believe that God is MUCH more interested in WHAT we do and HOW we act than He is about how we look or whether or not we are perfect. Pay less attention to trying to achieve some warped sense of perfection and pay more attention to trying, every day in every circumstance, to simply being the best YOU you can be. Don’t get caught up in trying to be someone you’re not. Instead, focus on being the person God made you to be…period.

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 Joy of Babies

Sunday, July 20- The Judgment Seat

Psalm Psermon Pseries The Judgment Seat     A prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman, to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a rising big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.” The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Williams, do you know the defense attorney?” She again replied, “Why, yes I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. I used to baby-sit him for his parents. And he, too, has been a real disappointment to me. He’s lazy, bigoted, he has a drinking problem. The man can’t build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the shoddiest in the entire state. Yes, I know him.” At this point, the judge rapped the courtroom to silence and called both counselors to the bench. In a very quiet voice, he said with menace, “If either of you asks her if she knows me, you’ll be jailed for contempt!”
Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Psizzlin’ Psummer Psalm Psermon Pseries- taking a good, hard look at the Old Testament Book of Psalms. This book is a collection of religious poems set to music. And in these 150 Psalms, every human emotion, every circumstance of daily life are captured. This 11-week series is carrying us through the rest of the summer…AND through the trials and tribulations, the highs and lows of life. Today we take a look at who actually gets to sit in: The Judgment Seat
Genesis 3:8-10  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Dictionary.com says this about the word judgment: “making critical distinctions and achieving a balanced viewpoint, the formal decision of one or more judges, a particular decision or opinion formed “ It also says, “to assume the position of critic”. Theologian Henri Nouwen said, “As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgment and condemnation. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their ‘right’ place.” Judging others is like reading one page of a book and being confident that you know the whole story, from beginning to end. And the truth is that we spend so much time and effort judging what other people do that we often fail to do very much on our own. Let’s look at Psalm 75:
Psalm 75 We praise You, God, we praise You, for Your name is near; people tell of Your wonderful deeds You say, ‘I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge with equity. When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. To the arrogant I say,’ Boast no more, ‘ and to the wicked,’ Do not lift up your horns. Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck. ” No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
He pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs. As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, Who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.’
A New Yorker was forced to take a day off from work to appear for a minor traffic summons. He grew increasingly restless as he waited hour after endless hour for his case to be heard. When his name was called late in the afternoon, he stood before the judge, only to hear that court would be adjourned for the rest of the afternoon and he would have to return the next day. “What for?!” he snapped at the judge. The judge, equally irked by the tedious day AND the rather sharp question, roared back: “$100 for contempt of court! That’s why!” Then, seeing that the man was checking his wallet, the judge softened a bit: “That’s OK. You don’t have to pay right now.” The young man replied, “I know. I’m just seeing if I have enough money for a few more words.”
Psalm 75 tells us that God does good things for His people. It also tells us that He is the One…the ONLY One…who sits in the seat of judgment. Many of the notes for this Psalm attribute its writing to a guy named Asaph. The twelve psalms attributed to Asaph are generally identified as Psalm 49 and Psalms 72-82.  But some of those are labeled “of Asaph”, some “for Asaph” and still others “a testimony to Asaph”. Therefore, Biblical scholars don’t fully agree on what exactly that means. It could mean that these psalms were part of a larger collection from the Asaphites- the temple singers. It could mean that these psalms were sung in the style of Asaph. It could mean that Asaph himself wrote them. Or it could mean that he transcribed these psalms from a speech David might have given. Let’s walk through Psalm 75:
Verse 1- We praise You, God, we praise You, for Your name is near; people tell of Your wonderful deeds.
Verse 1 tells us that the collective body…US…are those who praise God. David uses the Jewish phrase, “Your name is near”. To the Hebrews, God’s name represented His very essence. To them, if God’s name was near…GOD was near! And because of His greatness AND his nearness, the people tell of His wonderful deeds.
Verse 2- You say, ‘I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge with equity.
Verse 2 shows a shift in emphasis- in Verse 1, it is the people who are talking, while verses 2-5 shift to God talking. This verse cuts right to the chase- it is God…ONLY God…Who will sit in the judgment seat. And He’s not only going to sit there, but He’ll also be fair in His judgment. It also points out that God will be the One to not only choose the where and the how- He’ll choose the when, as well. “I choose the appointed time.” We want SO badly to have things happen in our time. But I’ve learned that as soon as I confess and submit myself to the realization that everything is in God’s time and NOT mine…things seem to start falling into place!
Verse 3- When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.
Verse 3 talks about earthquakes- the ground acting as if it is nothing more than shifting sands. And when the ground is shifting sand, buildings and trees fall over, holes open up and the people are afraid. When we’re not walking in God’s will, when we’re moving counter to His right judgment, we feel like we’re in an earthquake- the ground beneath us is no longer solid but nearly fluid. God says that, in the midst of those shifting sands, it is Him…and ONLY Him…Who can make the ground solid again. He can hold its pillars firm.
Verses 4 &5- To the arrogant I say,’ Boast no more, ‘ and to the wicked,’ Do not lift up your horns. Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck. ”
Verses 4 and 5 talk about, of all things- horns. Animals that have horns have them for a reason. They’re for defense. They’re for offense. They’re used as weapons. Horns tend to make an animal stronger, more powerful. But in this setting, it is PEOPLE who have horns. And those with horns are the ones who don’t live in God’s will. Then God encourages us to NOT lift our defenses to heaven, to NOT stretch our necks out…as if we were full of ourselves…when we speak to Him. Instead, we’re called to bow our heads in reverence and awe when we come before Him.
Verse 6- No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves.
Verse 6 tells us that nobody is more important than God…nobody. No one is qualified to judge but God, no matter from what direction they come. We are not to exalt ourselves, because only God should be exalted.
Verse 7- It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.
Verse 7 tells us that God brings one person down while He exalts another. For my money, what David is saying is that God points out that one person is out of His will while another is IN His will. WE are the ones who put ourselves down by the choices that we make…and don’t make.
Verse 8- In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; He pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.
Verse 8 looks at a very common thing in the Ancient Near Eastern world- a cup of wine. Wine was an everyday part of life in that time and place. But THIS wine is not just “normal” wine- it has spices in it. The spices make it taste different- they make it less than pure. The wine here represents punishment…the consequences of our actions and our choices. The fact that the wicked will drink it down to its very dregs- or as those great theologians over at Maxwell House would say, “To the last drop”- means they will received ALL of the consequences of their actions. They will stubbornly cling to their wicked ways and ride them all the way to the ground.
Verses 9 & 10- As for me, I will declare this forever; I will sing praise to the God of Jacob, Who says, ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.’
In verse 9, we switch “persons” again- the Psalmist is talking only for himself. Ultimately, we are the ONLY ones we CAN speak for. He recommits to the fact that he will sing God’s praises. Verse 10 quotes God, Who says, “I will cut off the horns of all the wicked”, referring back to the horns mentioned in Verses 4 & 5. This means that God will take away their strength and their power. They will be like animals that have lost their horns. But the righteous will be lifted up, strengthened, blessed.
Writer Dave Barry said, “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.” When we judge each other by outward appearance, we are only looking at the surface of the ocean.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate, the sin.” But in my way of thinking, it seems backward and decidedly un-Christian to approach life with that attitude. The phrase may have come from the Latin phrase, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum”, a quote from St. Augustine which means, “With love for mankind and hatred for sin.” But the main problem with “Love the sinner; hate the sin” is that hate comes so much easier to us than love. If we intentionally try and love one thing while hating another, human nature will naturally push us toward the hating to the neglect of the loving. And once we START hating sin, we find it is so much easier to hate OTHER people’s sin than our own. And that not only makes us just as sinful as those we judge…it also makes us more hypocritical.
I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have enough time for hate. Life’s short. I think we need to simply love the sinner…period. We need to love the sinner and…let God worry about the rest. The great…yet humble…Rev. Billy Graham said, “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” Our job is NOT to judge. Our job isn’t to figure out if someone is deserving of something or not. Our job is to pick up the fallen, restore the broken, and heal the hurting…love the sinner.
We foolishly think we can know a person’s character after just a few minutes of observation. But we can’t. We have no idea what their life is like, what they’re going through. Do you know ONE person…ONE…who came to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior because someone bullied them, shamed them or judged them into it? No, of course you don’t. BECAUSE THERE AREN’T ANY! I don’t know about you, but the ONLY way I made it here at all was through the love, patience and support of Christian brothers and sisters who stood beside me and supported me when I was sinking deep in sin. They didn’t judge me…they loved me. When you find yourself judging someone else, stop and ask yourself one simple question: “Do the reasons I am judging them say more about THEM…or ME? And then decide whether or not you’re OK with judging being that which defines you as a human being. We can always find somebody worse than we are to make us feel better about ourselves- “Those awful people- they need to repent!” But to be honest, that’s a cheap shot. Yes, they DO need to repent…but so do we! If you’re breathing, repentance is essential!
Romans 2:1-4 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, walked timidly and without an appointment into the University President’s outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business there. “We’d like to see the president,” the man said softly. “He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped. “We’ll wait,” the lady replied. For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted. “Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she said to him. He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, and he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.
The president, stern-faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple. The lady told him, “We had a son who attended here for one year. He loved it here. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.” The president wasn’t touched. He was shocked. “Madam, we can’t put up a statue for every person who attended this university and then died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.” “Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly. “We don’t want to erect a statue. We’d like to give a building.” The president rolled his eyes. “A building! Do you have any idea how much a building costs? We have over 20 million dollars in physical buildings on this campus.” For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it costs to start a university? Why don’t we just start our own?” The president’s face wilted. Her husband nodded and the couple got up and walked away. You can easily tell the character of others by how they treat those who they think can do nothing for them.
How would your life be different if you simply stopped judging others? Let today be that day! Look for the good in everybody you meet. Have respect for their journey. We are called to love, not judge.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Photoshopped Faith

Saturday, July 19- The Consultation

Paperwork

In the United Methodist system, there is a structure. (“No FOOLIN’, Pastor?!”) There is the local church with their local pastor- the bedrock of the denomination. Several congregations (and I DO mean “several”!) together form a district. Several districts (in my case- 10) together form a conference. A group of conferences form a jurisdiction and the jurisdictions together form the denomination. Each conference is shepherded by a bishop. The Council of Bishops is presided over by one of the bishops, but there is not position akin to “Pope” in our denomination. Every district has a District Superintendent- an ordained elder who temporarily steps out of local parish ministry to oversee the district.

Every year, we United Methodist clergy have what is called…The Consultation. We meet with our District Superintendent for about an hour to talk about how our year has been, what we have planned for next year and if there is a reason that we should or shouldn’t be moved from the church we currently serve.

Prior to The Consultation, we are to fill out a Clergy Self-Evaluation form, which is then emailed to the District Superintendent and becomes part of The Consultation. I JUST got done filling my evaluation out for the year. The evaluation form asks us to review the goals we set LAST year and reflect on how we’ve done. It also asks us to grade ourselves in different areas of our ministry. In addition, it asks us if there is any missional reason why we should or shouldn’t stay at the church we currently serve.

I have always had good relationships with my District Superintendents- I have served in 3 different districts and had 6 different District Superintendents. But my relationship with my current District Superintendent is different. He and I served in churches near each other when I first got into the ministry. We did a fair amount of joint ministry and he served as both a friend and unofficial mentor. And then, he moved and I moved and we didn’t see much of each other. Then, all of a sudden, I am moved to the church I currently serve at the same moment he is named the new District Superintendent of the district I am in. Gotta love it!

The itineracy system- pastors being moved by the Bishop and Cabinet through prayer and discernment- is what I serve under. Both times that I have been moved to a new church, the process began with a phone call. And the phone call began with the words, “The Bishop has discerned a new call for you.” For both moves, two things were true- I didn’t request a move and it seemed to clearly be “a God thing”. I know pastors who seem to always be aware of the pending move. But I can’t function that way. I can’t work under the notion that I am going to be moved.

The truth of the matter is this- ONE day, I WILL be moved from the church I currently serve. My average stay so is about 7.5 years, and I have only been here TWO years, so logic/math would tell you it won’t be for a while. And I for one pray that it’s not for a LONG time- I LOVE it here! But none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, so I try to minister as if I will be here forever. The Consultation with my District Superintendent is coming up soon, and I will be sure and tell him all 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- The Judgment Seat

Friday, July 17- It Always Tastes Better When Somebody Else Makes It!

potluck

Well, Vacation Bible School 2014 is in the record books! VBS is an annual thing for most churches. And even though most churches host it, there are MANY different approaches to HOW it happens. For us specifically, there were several “firsts” this year: it was the first year of four days instead of five. (I know- that is close to sacrilege! But we all felt that Day 5 last year was one day too many for ALMOST everybody involved. So we decided to try something different! AND…it worked!) It was the first year we offered an adult class. (Our goal was to make it more of a “family event”. We had up to 10 folks in the adult class, so I think, as the teacher, that it was a GOOD first year!) We also offered an all-family dinner for the first time!

To further the concept of a “family event”, dinner was added. I have done this at every church I’ve served. I have always felt that VBS has much more “reach” as a family event than “simply” a kid event. So along with the adult class, we added dinner.

The first (and biggest) obstacle to overcome when you add dinner to a 4-night event is…finding people to cook! That’s a rather big undertaking and not something that just anybody is going to be comfortable with. But we are very blessed at the church I currently serve to have lots of folks who are both able and willing to be involved in such things.

I had suggested to my Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries that we wanted kitchen volunteers who had NO other responsibility each night- dinner was PLENTY of responsibility! And BOY did we get it. A total of 16 people volunteered to help! Two VERY capable women stepped up to be the leaders and the team…was…amazing!

Having done a fair amount of restaurant and catering work, I am well aware of the fact that the menu can make or break an event like this. Hot dogs and chips are a VERY cheap meal…but one that most people won’t cross the street to eat, let alone leave their home and come to church. On the other hand, steak and lobster is an awesome meal, but one that we couldn’t possibly afford! So proper meal planning is essential. And the planning ROCKED! The menu was- Sunday: Chili Cheese Dogs, Monday- Walking Tacos, Tuesday- French Bread Pizza and Thursday- Spaghetti. Of course, each night also included some combination of salad, veggies, chips, cottage cheese, apple sauce, etc. and desserts.

The meals were great and, as is often the case, I was reminded that it always tastes better when someone else cooks it! I mean, I’m a pretty darn good cook. And I could make French Bread pizza. But it simply wouldn’t taste as good as the stuff made by fellow brothers and sisters who saw what they were doing as a ministry. No way. No how!

So, after 5 nights of NOT cooking dinner (I also wussed out and got “carry out” last Saturday night!), I had to…GASP!…cook dinner last night! And while it was good, it wasn’t AS good!

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

Tomorrow- Grace

Thursday, July 17- Triage

MASH_Episode_-_5x9_-_Father_Mulcahy_at_the_front

Were you as big a fan of the TV show MASH as I was? I am NEARLY positive that I have seen all 256 episodes. I haven’t seen the show for years and yet, to this day, I still quote it in sermons at least once a quarter! The show, while transitioning from a rather typical slapstick comedy at the beginning into one of the first “dramedies” by the end, taught me some things about the Army and about medicine. One of the words I learned from watching MASH is triage!

Are you familiar with that word? Dictionary.com described it as- “the process of sorting victims, as of a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.” It also says- “the determination of priorities for action in an emergency.” The definition of the root word is “to sort”. In other words, triage- in a larger, non-medical sense- means to sort things out and prioritize them. And although I NEVER heard that word among all the $10 words I learned in seminary, triage is one of the most-used skills I have at my disposal!

In the movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (How’s THAT for a transition!!), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is dying because of his intentional exposure to radiation while saving the ship and its crew. As he dies, separated by a thick sheet of glass, he shares this interchange with Kirk (William Shatner)-

Spock: Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…

Kirk: …the needs of the few…

Spock: …Or the one.

Spock points out that his sacrifice was necessary to meet the needs of the many. In the next movie, Star Trek: The Search For Spock, after Spock has been “resurrected” (long story not worth telling!), this interchange happens with Kirk:

Captain Spock: My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.

Kirk: You would have done the same for me.

Spock: Why would you do this?

Kirk: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.

So from one movie to the next, they turn that phrase on its head. Their point is that sometimes, the needs of the many DO outweigh the needs of the few…or the one. BUT…sometimes the needs of the few…or the one…outweigh the needs of the many. But how do we decide which is which? THAT’S triage!

I recently left a class I was teaching to go and be with someone who was in need. I walked out of class, right in the middle of things, and didn’t make it back until they were one sentence and an “amen” away from finishing the closing prayer and going home! Oh sure, I told them I was leaving. I apologized for leaving. I asked them if they could pick up where I left off and continue the discussion. But…I left.

The truth is that, when you are in the ministry, some time you have to tell the few or the one, “I’m sorry but I CAN’T come right now.” Likewise, sometimes you have to tell the many, “I’m sorry but I have to go.” I can only think of one time I left a class in the middle- a couple of days ago. And I can only think of one time I left a worship service in the middle. It was a couple of Christmas seasons ago and, during the Early Service, as our choir offered up their annual cantata, my father-in-law suddenly had a medical emergency that required paramedics, an ambulance and a trip to the ER. I knew that I had to be with family. I HATED to leave the congregation in the middle of worship…but I KNEW that I had to be with my family!

Despite the fact that my older son was delighted when I entered the ministry because it meant that I would “only work one day a week” and despite the fact that, to this day I have people who hear, “I’m a pastor” and their follow-up question is, “What ELSE do you do?”, pastors are faced with hard decisions on a regular basis. And as that great Theologian from MASH Father Mulcahy said to Hawkeye, “When you lose one, you lose a life. When I lose one…I lose a soul.”

Give your pastor the benefit of the doubt. No matter how hard you think he or she works…they work a lot harder than that! Other than the sheer volume of time spent, it may not be the most physical job in the world. But the emotional toll it takes can be just as difficult! If they are forced to make a hard decision that negatively impacts you, respond the way one of my parishioners responded the other night. When I got back to the class, I said, “Again, I apologize for having to leave.” To which she responded, “I think you would have to apologize…if you DIDN’T go!

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

Tomorrow- It Always Tastes Better When Someone Else Cooks It!

Wednesday, July 16- The Oaks of Mamre

Oaks of Mamre

One of the classic “stories of the faith” is found in the Book of Genesis. (Frankly, SEVERAL classic “stories of the faith” are found in the Book of Genesis!) In the 18th chapter, you get a story that is sometimes called The Three Visitors. It takes place in a setting called The Oaks of Mamre.

Genesis 18:1-15 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3 He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way–now that you have come to your servant.’ ‘Very well,’ they answered, ‘do as you say.’ 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.’ 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. 9 ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘There, in the tent,’ he said. 10 Then the Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ 13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.’ 15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh.’

There are almost literally a TON of things we could talk about in this passage. Why did Abraham tell the visitors HE would get them “something to eat” and then tell Sarah to “put the big pot in the little pot” and bake bread while the servants slaughter and roast a calf? Why did he not eat with them? Why did Sarah hide in the tent? How did they know her name? Why did she laugh? How did they know what she said? How did they KNOW she would have a baby? Why did Sarah lie about laughing? LOTS of things to talk about!

But my question for the day is a direct quote from that great theologian Butch Cassidy as he and the Sundance Kid are being tracked by a posse- “Who ARE those guys?!” Seriously, who are these three mysterious strangers who seem to materialize out of nowhere…out in the MIDDLE of nowhere?

Think about it- we are in the middle of a desert. These guys show up and they don’t SEEM to have anything with them to sustain them. Abraham has an entire entourage to help keep him going in the desert. But these guys seem to just walk in through the haze and heat waves.

When Abraham sees THEM, he hurries over to THEM and refers to THEM as “my lord”. Lord. Singular. NOT lords…but lord. Odd. He tells them/him that if they/he have found favor in Abraham, they/he should stay. He offers hospitality. That was considered the norm in the Ancient Near Eastern world- if you had a traveler come by, you were to offer them whatever hospitality they might need.

Once the feast is presented, Abraham, the patriarch of his clan, stands off to the side…as a servant, waiting to cater to their needs. He doesn’t seem at all surprised that they/he knows Sarah’s name. We could say, “Well, they had a conversation that wasn’t recorded here in which Abraham told them/him her name.” OK, but if that happened then surely he would have also told them where she was.

Then comes the real kicker! The Scripture says that Abraham is told that he and Sarah would have a baby. And who told them? The three? No. The lord mentioned before? No. The Lord…capital L…told him. Seriously. Look back at the Scripture- that’s what it says!

Three men. My lord. The Lord. Is it possible that these “three men” are not…men…at all? Is it possible that they are physical manifestations of God’s presence? Is it possible that they are God’s angels, sent down from heaven to “put on human form” for a time to deliver a message? Is it possible that they are two angels…and Jesus Christ Himself?

I had seminary professors who would poo-poo that last idea vehemently. They often poked fun at those who “found Jesus behind every rock and tree of the Old Testament”. I mean, Jesus is a New Testament guy…GUY…right? Well, Christianity is built on the bedrock principle that Jesus is the one and only begotten Son of God- with God…and actually God…from the very beginning. If you believe that, then it is REALLY such a leap of faith to believe that He came down in human form in the good ‘ol’ BC a time or two? (And if you DON’T believe that…you and I have some rather differing opinions about Christianity!)

For my money, the crux of this story is found in the New Testament Book of Hebrews, Chapter 13, Verse 2- Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. When we welcome the stranger into our midst, we might well be welcoming angels…and quite possibly Christ Himself!

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 Needs of the Many, the Needs of the Few

Tuesday, July 15- This Is Crazy!

church full

There are problems…and then there are problems! Many churches have problems like: not enough people coming to church, not enough children, not enough young families, not enough people involved in ministry, not enough commitment, not enough passion, not enough…period! To be honest, the Christian church in the good ol’ US of A struggles with these things on an ongoing basis. Mainline denominations are on the decline.

And then there are other problems: not enough parking, not enough space for everybody coming to church, not enough room for all the youth, so many babies and little kids in church…etc., etc. and so forth!

At times in my ministry, I have been deeply rooted in the first paragraph. At other times, I have been firmly ensconced in the second paragraph! And I freely admit that, as a pastor AND someone who thrives on growth and change, the second paragraph is a WHOLE lot more fun that the first paragraph!

I bring this up because of what is currently going on at the church I currently serve. They had made some powerful forward moves over the past few years and, when I got here, seemed positioned to make a really strong forward push. Good things were happening. New ministries were starting. Attendance was going up. More and more people were getting involved. And then…surgery! The fact that I was going to need major cranial surgery went from being a distinct possibility to a reality. I had a few weeks to “get my house in order”, personally and professionally, and then I was going to be out for 6-8 weeks…IF everything went well!

After talking to the leadership of the church, I presented a plan to my superiors for their approval. The plan included the volunteer leaders of the church, in close collegiality with the rest of the paid staff, running the church in my absence. Church members would ever preach on Sundays, except Easter and the 2 Communion Sundays that would fall during my convalescent time. My superiors agreed, but confessed that it was not “the norm”. But I KNEW they could do it! And they did a great job!

My only concern was that the momentum we had gained over the past few years would be lost. I feared that people would start to drift away over the weeks. And as those weeks wore on, that seemed to hold true. At first, attendance held. But as Week 3 turned into Week 5, attendance dropped. I’m not going to lie- I was a bit worried.

But then…an amazing thing happened- a God thing! The 2nd Sunday in June was my first Sunday back. And attendance was up…but not that much. My 2nd week back…it dropped again. But then…oh my! It took off! We had almost 200 people in church on the 4th of July weekend- which is traditionally one of the lowest Sundays of the summer. And then last Sunday, in the MIDDLE of July, mind you, we had 220 people in church! 220! In addition, we have had baptisms and/or new members every week- including 3 baptisms and 5 new members this coming Sunday!

Babies/toddlers making noise in church? Beautiful music! Kids running…RUNNING…up by the altar during greeting time to say hi to me and give me “a pound”? Awesome! Struggling to decide what we are going to do with all the people who are coming on Sundays? The best problem in the world! Thank you God, for the blessings!

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 Oaks at Mamre

Monday, July 13- Offering Grace

saying_grace

I have shared before in this space that, when I was a kid, we were not exactly church-going folks! (I jokingly refer to us as “The Godless Heathens”!) The reality is that we were bad people- we didn’t rob banks, knock down old ladies or kick puppies. But we did NOT have a connection with church. Faith in God was not high on our familial priority list! One of the best examples of that is when we sat down to eat, NO prayer was EVER offered. But when we had people over, someone in the family (it varied from event to event) would say, “Should we say ‘grace’?” We would all then bow our heads momentarily before saying, “Grace!” and then laughing about it!

As a younger adult, even AFTER I “found God” and became serious about my faith walk, praying over a meal was not normal…especially if we were out in public. I always assumed that everyone in the restaurant would look at me as if I had three heads if I dared to actually PRAY in public! Since then, I became more and more comfortable with the notion that now it would be unusual for us NOT to pray over a meal…regardless of the setting!

But is THAT what it means when we talk about offering grace? Well, yes…and no. It certainly IS “grace” when we lift up a prayer before we eat. But “offering grace” is SO much more than that! Offering grace is what we (hopefully) do for each other every day. What IDS “grace”? Dictionary.com (Where I go for pretty much EVERY dictionary need I have! I mean, why do I need a big ol’ hunkin’ hardback book when I have…the internet?!) offers this as part of the definition of the word- “favor or goodwill, mercy, clemency, pardon.” Look at it this way- if I do or say something stupid (NOT out of the realm of possibility!) and your response is forgiveness instead of judgment…THAT’S grace.

If you multiply that by, oh, let’s say…infinity…then you get the concept of God’s offering of grace to us. I have heard it said that God’s grace is giving us what we don’t deserve and NOT giving us what we do deserve! God offers His grace to us all the time…IF we are willing to both seek it and accept it. If I do something wrong and then just arbitrarily go to God with no contrition in my heart and expect Him to forgive me…I might be disappointed. And that disappointment won’t stem from God’s unwillingness to offer the forgiveness…the grace. Instead, it will stem from the fact that I won’t receive genuine grace or forgiveness because I didn’t offer genuinely confession.

God’s grace is free…but it’s not simple. We have to be ready to receive it. We have to be willing to honestly…sincerely offer up the fact that we NEED it. We have to recognize our inability to do it on our own. We have to be willing to see that being connected to Him is essential to true fulfillment in life. And when we can genuinely seek and accept God’s grace, then we are empowered to offer that same grace to others!

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

Tomorrow- This Is Crazy!

Sunday, July 13- At the Right Hand

Psalm Psermon Pseries At the Right Hand      I have a pastor friend who is also a PK- Pastor’s Kid. And he tells the story of one Sunday when his dad was in the pulpit, preaching. (And his dad can PREACH!) The son decided that would be a good time to “act up” because his dad wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. So he stood up on the front pew and proceeded to march back and forth, on display for ALL to see! His dad tried to get him to quit, but the son KNEW Dad wouldn’t come down and stop him…so he just kept right on marching! Just when he thought he had gotten away with it, Dad swooped down out of the pulpit, picked his son up off the front pew, tucked him under his arm and headed out the back of the sanctuary! “I’ll be back in a minute!” The son, shocked by this most recent development, picked his head up, looked at the rapidly receding congregation and yelled, “Pray for me!” He later said, “That was the day I learned that God’s judgment is swift…and comes from the right hand!”
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 what it means to be at the Right Hand:
Isaiah 41:9-10 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
If you remember last week’s message, David ran from King Saul who was trying to kill him. Today, we look at the fact that David wrote Psalm 63…as a response to the fact that his son Absalom was trying to kill him! David seems to have a way of hacking people off! Last week, David ran off to Ziph. Today, he flees to Edom, east of Jerusalem. Even in Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, there were wilderness places- areas less inhabited and more barren than most. The world is the same way…LIFE is the same way. No matter what path we walk, there will be wilderness times. Even the most devout among us will sometimes find ourselves in the wilderness- a place that is lonely and desolate- a place that leaves us wanting, wandering, and unsettled.
Today’s Psalm reminds us that the power and love of God’s mighty right hand is evident…when you are willing to look for it.
Psalm 63 You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.  I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. Those who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, ”Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?” “You’ll be fine- just think good thoughts and before you know it…it will be morning.” “Please, Mom. PLEASE! I’m scared! Sleep with me!” His mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. ”I can’t dear,” she said. ”I have to sleep in daddy’s room.”
A long silence was broken at last by his little voice. ”The big sissy.”
Let’s walk through the verses of Psalm 63:
Verse 1- You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
This psalm, while offering us the “I want some retribution” side of David, also offers as much warmth and devotion as any of David’s psalms. Some of the sweetest of the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters were written in prison. Likewise, some of the sweetest of David’s psalms were written while he was on the run, fearing for his life.
To get to Edom, David had to travel through the wilderness. There wasn’t much water and David’s thirst for water reminded him of his greater thirst…for God. Our bodies need food and water to survive. Likewise, our souls need something to survive- they need God.
Notice that David says, “You, God, are MY God…” We need to see God both AS God…and as OUR God. We need to acknowledge that God IS, that He lives- that we pray to Someone Who really exists and is present with us. And we need to recognize and submit to His authority over us. And those things should happen with a song in our heart and a lilt in our step.
Verse 2- I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
David had witnessed God’s power and glory in the Temple in Jerusalem…the Holy of Holies…and he wanted to see it again. Once you have had a powerful experience of God, you want more.
Verse 3- Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.  
Because of David’s experience of God, his previous complaints are now turned into praise and thanksgiving! After the first two verses focus on his burning desire to seek God, he now spends the next 4 verses expressing his joy and satisfaction in having FOUND God!
Verse 4- I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
Lifting your hands is an act of submission, an act of contrition. When we lift our hands to God, it’s a sign that we are giving our whole selves to Him. David, in the middle of the wilderness, still had his heart strangely warmed as he blessed and praised God. Even in our deepest, darkest hours we need to continue to praise God.
Verse 5- I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
When animals were lifted up as burnt offerings to God, often part of the meat would be eaten. That is what David refers to here- a feast. He recognizes that God feeds his soul just as a feast feeds his body. Therefore he will continue to praise God.
Verse 6- On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
In the Ancient Near Eastern world, the night was divided into separate watches. Here, David vows to remember and think of God throughout the night. Notice he says, “On my bed…” I find that is often the time when we are most vulnerable, most open to God. The cares and busy-ness of the day are behind us. The room is dark and the house is quiet. It is as if the world has been stripped away- it’s just you…and God.
Verse 7- Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
Have you ever seen a hen spread her wings and cover her brood of chicks, trying to protect them from all harm? Several times in the Bible, we are given an image of God as a mother bird, allowing us to hide under the safety of his wings when we are in danger. Having expressed his desire TOWARD God and his praises OF God, David now expresses his confidence IN God and his joyful expectations OF God.
Verse 8- I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.
For thousands of years, the Devil was been associated with the left hand, even being portrayed as BEING left-handed. In the 17th Century, it was even thought that the Devil baptized his followers with his left hand. Evil spirits were thought to lurk over the left shoulder – that’s where the superstition of throwing salt over your left shoulder comes from. Joan of Arc, burned at the stake in 1431 for being a heretic, was often portrayed as being left-handed in an attempt to make her seem evil.
Superstition says that getting out of bed with the left foot first means you will have a bad day- getting up on the wrong side of the bed. A ringing in the right ear means that someone is praising you, but a ringing in your left ear means that someone is cursing you. An itchy right palm means you will receive money, but an itchy left palm means you will have to give someone money.    If your right eye twitches you will see a friend, but if your left eye twitches you’ll see an enemy. It’s considered bad luck to sew the left-hand sleeve onto a garment before the right sleeve. When going on a journey, if your right foot itches you’ll have a good trip but if your left foot itches it will end in sorrow. The wedding ring being worn on the 3rd finger of the left hand originated with the Greeks and Romans, who wore them to fend off left-handed evil. Raising a toast with the left-hand is to curse the recipient of the toast.
Christianity is also strongly based towards the right hand. It is the right had that gives the blessing and make the sign of the cross. The bible contains over 100 favorable references to the right-hand and around 25 unfavorable references to the left-hand. “Hand” represents the ownership, power and control that its owner has and exercises. The hand also represents the whole person, symbolizing the achievement of what was promised by the mouth. In the Exodus story, God’s mighty hand defeats the hand of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. As a symbol of God’s power and salvation, “the hand” is still remembered at Passover in an event known as the “sign on your hand”.
Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats? The sheep…the good guys…are placed where? On Christ’s RIGHT hand. Meanwhile, the smelly, ill-tempered goats are placed at His left hand. And in the end, those on the right inherit the kingdom of God while those on the left are sent to the everlasting fire! And when Jesus ascended into Heaven 40 days after the resurrection, He is said to have been seated at the right hand of God- the position of power and authority. In addition, the right hand of God is also understood as a place of salvation, refuge, and protection.
Verses 9 & 10 Those who seek my life will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals.
In this passage, David shows that he is fearfully and wonderfully…human. He offers up what is known as a Prayer of Imprecation. “Imprecation” is simply a fancy seminary word that means you are praying for bad things to happen to other people! Seriously! There’s a NAME for it. But none of us have EVER prayed a prayer that something bad would happen to someone else…right? Prayers of imprecation run counter to the teachings of Christianity. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray FOR them, not against them. But here, David offers up his hope that bad things will happen to his enemies- a prayer of imprecation.
Verse 11- But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
David ends by talking about the king, which is…him! He says that he will praise God because his enemies are dead. There is a difference between praise and worship. Praise is ABOUT God while worship is TO God. One of the things that distinguish the people of God from others is that we offer both praise and worship to God.
Praise and worship originate in a heart full of love for God. And we love God because He first loved us. Without God’s love, any praise we could offer is hollow and meaningless. He is the doctor when we’re sick and the lawyer when we’re in trouble. He is the Mother to the motherless and the Father to the fatherless. We praise Him because He provides shelter from the storms of life. He offers spiritual medicine for our pain. He is the rope of hope when we are sinking in the sea of sadness and sorrow. When we fall and can’t get up, He reaches down with His mighty right hand and lifts us from the muck and mire of our sin. The right hand of God is a wonderful place to be!
Ephesians 1:17-23 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
When you can’t sleep at night- during the late “watches” of the night…pray to God.
Pray for your enemies. Don’t offer up prayers of imprecation- that bad things will happen to them- but instead pray that their hearts will be turned to God. Praying to God and praising God should be the quintessential works of our lives. We should center ourselves around an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all that He HAS done, IS doing and WILL do in and through our lives.
David called upon God in all circumstances. We should aim all of our focus squarely on Him. We should live our lives in dependence of His grace and forgiveness. We should fully believe in our heart and joyfully confess with our mouth that God is good, all the time. And when we lift our hands, it should be in praising His name, in reaching for His mighty right hand. God’s right hand offers abundant satisfaction to a gracious soul. We would quickly wither on the vine if God’s mighty right hand weren’t uplifting and supporting us. It is solely by the power of His right hand that we are kept from falling. He strengthens us, quickens us and comforts us. And our past experiences with God and our present sense that His grace will carry us should give us the courage to face the future unafraid.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Offering Grace

Saturday, July 12- Full-Service Shop

Service Station

Do you remember the service stations? I’m NOT talking about the quick-stop convenience stores we have now. (Don’t misunderstand- I tend to LOVE the quick-stop convenience stores we have now! I mean, you can get a tankful of gas, an iced coffee, some Chex mix, a hot dog and a quart of oil!) No, I’m talking about the SERVICE stations that they had…back in the day. When I was a kid, you would pull up to the pump and at least two guys would run…RUN…out to your car. One would come to the window and ask you what you wanted- gas-wise- while the other would begin the process of: checking your oil, topping off your wiper fluid, checking your tire pressure and cleaning your windows. They had a box of cold soda by the door and maybe some candy bars in the store. And if you needed work done on your car, they had a mechanic on duty that could help you out.

The transition from what we had THEN to what we have NOW wasn’t an overnight sort of thing- it happened gradually over a number of years. First, one station in town went to a “self-serve” pump. And then, slowly, almost glacially, the other stations in towns started down that road in an effort to keep up. And then, one day, we all woke up and realized that we were pumping our own gas and if our oil was going to get checked…we’d better do it!

We have become a society of specialists. Look at the doctors you have. “Back in the day”, I had…A doctor. Now, I have forty-leven doctors! Sure, I have a “family doctor” who is the one that I see when I am sick or whatever. (And, by the way, I like him a LOT!) But I also have an oncologist, a neurosurgeon, an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist as well as physical therapists, nurse practitioners…the list goes on. Now, I think it’s GREAT that we have become more specialized. I don’t mean to sound like my dad, “Back in MY day…!” But I DO miss the full-service shop.

Recently, I had a reader contact me and say that she had never noticed until recently all of the OTHER things that are available on my website. And she is a VERY smart, VERY observant lady! So I figured if SHE hadn’t noticed it…maybe you hadn’t, either! Over the years that Stick With Jesus has been in existence, I have slowly worked at making it a “full service shop”! So, after you finish reading this, click “Stick With Jesus Home” in the top left corner of the page, go back to the home page, and take a look at what else is there. You will find, along with the daily blog, a daily Bible Verse page, a page devoted to prayer requests, a page that features my weekly comic strip- The Rev, a music channel that has a playlist (an incomplete list) of some of my favorite contemporary Christian music, a page of original videos that I have created and use as the Call to Worship each week at our Contemporary Worship Service, a page that has links to my Facebook and Twitter pages, a page that has a form through which you can contact me with questions, thoughts, suggestions or whatever as well as two “coming soon” features- The Homebaked Daily Bread and Weekly Bible Studies.

Please take a minute and look at what else there is. Then feel free to sense me a comment or question. See something you DON’T like? Let me know. DON’T see something that you wish was here? Let me know! Thanks for reading and please keep helping me make this the best site it can be!

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

Tomorrow- At the Right Hand