Tuesday, September 30- Early Squirrely!

Early SquirellyWhen I was a teenager, I couldn’t tell ANY difference between getting up early and the WORST idea I had ever heard! I LOVED to stay up late- I was always a night owl. But getting up early was another thing entirely. I was, to be blunt, a fate worse than death! Even in college, I HATED early morning classes. I tried SO hard to avoid them like the plague. And for the most part…I succeeded!

And then, you get out “in the real world” and pesky things like jobs and kids get in the way and, over time, you get better and better at handling the early-morning hours. You still don’t necessarily LIKE them any more, but you at least can handle them better.

Eventually, you have had to get up early for so long that you learn to not only adjust to the early hours but you actually begin to like them. (There was a tiome when I would have said that was crazy! Now…not so much!)

But lately, I have seen the polaer opposite of this behavior play out in my house. My younger son is choosing…CHOOSING…to be involved in things that meet early in the morning. Did I mention…CHOOSING?! He has been involved in Scholastic Bowl for 5 years now. (He got a unique opportunity to start early- when he was in 5th Grade.) And in the school district we are a part of, that activity meets in the blessed AM! 6:40 in the blessed AM, to be precise!

And NOW, he made the High School Jazz Band as a Freshman and they meet…you guessed it…at 7AM! And not once but TWICE a week! So, for those of you keeping score at home, that means that a full three days out of each week, he has to be at school somewhere between 6:40 and 7AM. And the thing that amazes me? He doesn’t complain. Oh sure, he’d rather stay in bed some days…who wouldn’t?…but he gets up on his own, takes a shower, eats and heads to the car. When I was his age, I could barely FIND the car, let alone want to actually get in it!

I am decidedly partial, but I have awesome sons- and I am so proud to be their dad!

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 Commitment Question: Do YOU Want to Quit?

Monday, September 29- Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head!

raindrops

Now it can be told! There is a woman who is a member of the congregation I currently serve who has ALS. She has fought valiantly against this insidious disease and is truly an inspiration to all who know her. She rarely misses Sunday morning worship and is a regular, contributing member of my Sunday School class.

As I’m sure you have seen, in the very recent past, there was a spate of “ice bucket challenges” that populated Facebook. In these short videos, someone would state that they are accepting the challenge from someone else. They say they will donate X number of dollars to ALS research. They challenge someone else…and then they have a bucket of ice water dumped on them!

When those were going strong on the internet, I began to have members of the congregation I currently serve contact me, suggesting that we as a churchy should do something along those lines to honor the woman in our church. As conversations happened, several suggestions came out. One suggestion was that we bring what is lovingly called “the horse trough” (it is, in fact…a plastic horse trough that the church has used at times for immersion baptisms) and have people stand in it during church, eight down front, and have the bucket of water poured over them. I allowed as how I didn’t think that would be the best choice!

In the end, we decided on a plan. A group of people gathered together last Friday afternoon at my house. There was myself, my wife, our Worship Director, our Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries, our Office Administrator, our Treasurer and the husband of our United Methodist Women president. We invited the woman who has ALS and her husband to come and watch, along with my wife’s parents, who live with us.

There is a deck on the front corner of my house that is JUST the right height for such a venture. One by one, the folks involved stood just off the corner of the deck, looked into the camera (my iPhone, actually!) and said why they were there and encouraged the congregation to “give when the cans came around”. Then, someone on the deck above them poured a 5-gallon bucket of water over their head! Then they would challenge the next person. And so on.

The last people to go were my wife and I. She was wearing a dress (machine washable!) and I was in a shirt and tie (a tie that I didn’t care about). I also had on black gym shorts so that the shot could be framed in such a way that it looked like black dress pants! My wife started out very nervously explaining what we were doing and why. Then, I looked at the camera and said, “We are very supportive of this venture, but I just don’t think this is appropriate for the pastor and his wife. Therefore, we support it but won’t be participating.” I then turned to my left, motioned off-camera and said, “Can I have my glasses, please?” That was the cue for not one but TWO 5-gallon buckets to be dumped- one on each of us! The video ended with a tribute to the woman in question!

Later on in each of our three Sunday services, cans were passed to collect specifically for ALS research. The money will be sent to wherever we find that uses to largest percentage of the money specifically for research.

Was it goofy? You bet! Did we have WAY too good a time doing it? Probably! Did it touch people and raise both money and awareness? Absolutely! I want to always be the kind of pastor who demonstrates that it’s OK to let your hair down (metaphorically speaking!) and have some fun! It’s OK to not be SO straight-laced that no one feels they can connect with you. As Christians, we are not called to be OF the world…but we sure are IN the world! And SINCE we are, we need to continually look for ways to meet people where they are and help them get to…Jesus!

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

Tomorrow- Early Squirrely!

Sunday, September 28- Step Four: Plan the Activities

Terra Incognita Step Four     A woman invited several people over for dinner. All the preparations were made and, at the appointed time, all the guests arrived. After some “pre-dinner” conversation, the guests were invited to the table. And once they were all seated, the hostess turned to her six-year old daughter and said, “Honey, would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” the girl embarrassedly replied. “Well Sweetie, just say what you hear Mommy say.” The little girl thought for a moment, nodded to her mom, bowed her head and said, “Lord…why on earth did I plan to invite all these people to dinner?!”
This morning, we continue to venture ever deeper into uncharted waters as we continue our current Sunday morning sermon series- Terra Incognita. Latin for “unknown land”, Terra Incognita describes that which is beyond the boundary of what has yet been discovered. It’s the great unknown- the things that are beyond our current understanding. Over the 7 weeks of this series, we are looking at several aspects of the “uncharted waters” into which we as a church are currently sailing. And every week along the way, we pause to focus on the beauty, the wonder AND the challenge of the “undiscovered country”!
James 4:13-15 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today– at the latest, tomorrow– we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”
Jesus is saying that if you want to be His disciple, if you want to truly follow Him, here’s what you need to do- make plans that put Him first, above everything else in your life. It may be simple…but it’s NOT easy. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
A couple on vacation was exploring the back roads of the Emerald Isle- Ireland. They inevitably got lost. They finally spotted a farmer who was leading his cow across the pasture. They stopped him. The wife asked (because we ALL know that men don’t ASK for directions!), “Excuse me, but could you direct us to Mohill? We’re lost.” A lovely smile creased the man’s leathery face and he replied, “You’re not lost at all, don’t y’see? You’ve found me…and I know where you’re going and how to get there.” When you’ve found Jesus you’re not lost at all, because He knows where you’re going and how to get there. And if you don’t make plans, if you don’t know where you’re going…you’re simply going to end up somewhere else.
Isaiah 32:6a, 8 For fools are fools and that’s that, thinking up new ways to do mischief. They leave a wake of wrecked lives and lies about God. But those who are noble make noble plans, and stand for what is noble.
Leadership magazine once ran a cartoon that showed a church building with a billboard in front that said: “The LITE CHURCH: 24% fewer commitments, home of the 7.5% tithe, 15 minute sermons, 45 minute worship service; we have only 8 commandments—your choice. Everything you’ve ever wanted in a church … and less!”
That might represent what some people are looking for in a church, but it does NOT represent what Jesus is calling OUR church to. The question ISN’T “Can I follow Jesus completely?” The question is, “Am I WILLING to follow Jesus completely?” We’re all human- sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we make bad choices. But what God is confronting is NOT our ability to follow Him…but our willingness.
My wife’s parents live with us and, when they moved in, they brought with them a dog. She is a pood…cocker…shih…terr…she’s a DOG! And she’s a little dog. BUT…she THINKS she’s a big dog. Get her on the leash, take her outside and she begins to DEMAND that she is going to do…or NOT do…whatever it is she want do…or not do! “I want to go there! I want to stand here! I don’t want to go over there!” The reality is, however, she can THINK that all she wants- I outweigh her by some rather large exponent and therefore…she simply doesn’t get to dictate her plans!
Most people don’t have any REAL plan for their lives. They go through life without a clear picture of what God wants. They have no idea of their God-given destination. Many years ago, Albert Einstein was on a train bound for New York City. As the ticket taker came walking through the car, Einstein reached into his pocket to retrieve his ticket, but couldn’t find it. He frantically searched his coat pockets, turned his pants pockets inside out, but still couldn’t produce the ticket. The ticket taker said, ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Einstein, we all know who you are. Forget about it.’ About 20 minutes later, the ticket taker came back through the car, and by this time Einstein was on the floor searching everywhere for the lost ticket. Again the ticket taker tried to reassure Einstein by saying, ‘I told you not to worry about the lost ticket. We trust that you purchased one, and that’s good enough for us.’ Einstein looked up at the railroad employee and said, ‘Young man, this isn’t a matter of trust but of direction. I need to find the ticket because I forgot where I am going!”
When we seek to honor God with our lives, if we trust God will all our heart then He will work out everything for His own ends. In other words, even when we mess things up…we STILL belong to God and God will STILL work it out. Without God guiding you, you might think you know your plans, but the end result probably won’t be where you hope to be. The danger for every Christian is to put God on a shelf somewhere, on hold until we REALLY NEED HIM, and make our plans without giving any thought to what He wants of us.
An atheist, in what he saw as one last great act of defiance, left his farm to the devil. When he died, the legal system was baffled over how to honor his wishes. Finally, the court decided that the best way to carry out the farmer’s wishes was to permit the weeds to take over the farm, let the house and barn rot and to let the soil erode and wash away. The court declared in its ruling, “The best way to let the devil have possession of anything is to do nothing.” The best way to allow Satan to destroy your plans and dreams is to simply do nothing. Just continue to live with no plans…and you’ll never arrive at your desired life destination. A plan is simply a road map for getting you to where God wants you to be.
There is nothing wrong with planning. The problem is when we make plans without including God. The foundational question we should ask about any plan we make should be, “Is this plan consistent with God’s will for my life?”
So, how do you develop a plan that’ll get you from where you are to where you God wants you to be- in your marriage, your finances, your career, your ministry, your faith, your life? Well, first, you need a defining purpose. “What am I here for? Why do I exist?” The answer is clear: You are here…to glorify God. We are ALL here…to glorify God. That’s our purpose. Author and pastor Rick Warren offers a five-point purpose plan:
1. Worship. Our main goal as human beings is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
2. Fellowship/Membership. God wants EACH of is to be a contributing member of His body.
3. Maturity. God wants us to be spiritually mature- Christ-like.
4. Ministry. God wants us to meet a need in the world and to be a contributing part of the body of Christ
5. Mission. God wants to communicate to the world…through us.
A lot of people are simply NOT into planning. They just put their hope in “fate” and then accept whatever comes. But a plan for your life should involve something that you’re passionate about. But how do you identify what you’re passionate about? Bob Biehl, president of Masterplanning Group International, suggests six questions to help you identify your passion:
1. What needs that I see in the world are of concern to me?
2. If I could meet any need in the world, what need would I meet?
3. What are the most urgent needs in my country, my community, my work, my school, and my church?
4. What age group or type of people naturally interests me?
5. What are the major needs among my neighbors, my friends, and my family?
6. If I don’t meet these needs, who will?
Your plan, your purpose, should involve something for which God has given you special gifts. And I firmly believe with all my heart that God has given EACH of us unique gifts designed to help us fulfill our unique purpose…our plan…in the world.
In the end, there’s nothing wrong with making your own plans. But the Old Testament Book of Proverbs says that no matter what plans you make, God decides where those plans will take you.
Proverbs 16:1-3 Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word. Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place.
If we commit our plans to God, then He will make our plans succeed and our paths straight. What’s the shortest distance between two points? A straight line! And when we submit our plans to God, He says He’ll make our paths straight. If we plan to go where God wants us to go, He will help make our path straight. Abraham Lincoln once said “No one ever got lost on a straight road.” Why? Because on a straight road, there’s only one direction to worry about. Oh sure, there might be little side roads, diversions and rest stops along the way, but as long as you stick to the straight road that God has for you, you’ll always know where you’re going.

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

Tomorrow- Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

Saturday, September 27- The Joy of Worship

worship1

I have a confession to make. Ready? Here it comes- I LOVE worship! Seriously! I LOVE worship. Now you might be saying, “Well, I would HOPE so, Pastor. I mean, you ARE, after all…a Pastor!” But I don’t love worship simply because I’m a pastor. I love worship because…it’s what I was made to do!

I was recently reminded of that fact. I had to go to a clergy meeting in a town that is a good, solid 45-minute drive from my house. I will admit right up front that the words “clergy meeting” and I don’t mix well! (Honestly, the word “meeting” and I are barely on speaking terms!) I have been to my share of “clergy meetings” over the years and, to be brutally honest, they are often right up there with watching paint dry on the “excitement scale”!

But this particular clergy meeting, and all the clergy meetings planned by my current District Superintendent (DS), are…different. Why? Because they are…ready?…worship services! Yep! Worship services! Meeting shmeeting- we worshiped! There was an awesome young man there who played the guitar and ushered us into a sense of worship. There was a young pastor there who is starting a new church in the greater area and shared his testimony with us. There was prayer. (My DS told the gathered that if they wondered whether or not miracles still happened, all they had to do was look…at me! Amen, Brother, amen!) After we worshiped together, we went to the basement of the church we were in and did the OTHER things that us United Methodists do well- eat! (Italian beef, slaw, chips, cake…good stuff!)

Worship- what was once something I could barely stand (I would check my watch and count the number of things STILL left on the Order of Worship in the bulletin) is now something I look forward to. I lead three worship services every Sunday and the only thing that would be better than that was if we had…FOUR! There is simply nothing quite like gathering together with fellow believers and lift your voices, your prayers…your lives up to God…together. For my money, it simply doesn’t get any better than 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- Step Four: Plan the Activities

Friday, September 26- Look Busy!

look busy  I was recently driving through a community about 45 minutes from where I live. I found myself following a Deputy Sheriff’s car. I was obeying the law…and HE was obeying the law, so we were just…well…driving! At one point, I noticed two guys walking along who

would be the kind of folks many would “profile”. They both had shaved heads (insert your joke here), over-sized jean shorts and no shirts. Tattoos seemed to be the order of the day and shirts were, apparently, completely optional. They were laughing and kind of shoving each other as they walked, and they, frankly, had the stereotypical look of the skinhead/neo-nazis that television likes to typecast.

I noticed them RIGHT before they noticed the Sheriff’s Deputy car. The speed at which they suddenly got VERY serious and suddenly walked VERY straight almost made me dizzy! They looked STRAIGHT ahead, not acknowledging either each other OR the Deputy! After the police car passed them…their heads slowly turned to check and see if the Deputy had driven on…or was turning around! He drove on, they breathed a collective sigh of relief and life as we all know it went on as planned.

As I watched that scenario unfold before me, I was taken back to, of all places, seminary! I had a buddy in seminary that had a marvelous collection of funny t-shirts. You never knew which shirt Phil would have on, but you ALWAYS knew it would be both funny and clever! But arguably one of my favorite “Phil” shirts was one that had NO pictures on it…just words. But the words were…FUNNY! The shirt said, “Jesus is coming…look busy!”

I regularly laughed at Phil’s shirt, but I wonder if it hits a bit closer to home than many of us might be comfortable with. We struggle all the time with behaving in a way that makes Jesus proud of us. We WANT to live our lives in the right way, but some days it’s SO hard.

I heard a quote recently that made me laugh out loud- “You don’t want to get caught lying to God!” The quote is funny, but it also reveals a flaw in the way we sometimes approach God. We seem to want to see God…like we see each other. “If I do this or that wh

en He’s not around to see…I’m gold!” But the truth is that it doesn’t work like that. God is ALWAYS there, ALWAYS with us, ALWAYS watching. That fact used to creep me out a bit, but now I find it very comforting. He is ALWAYS with me. Good stuff!

So instead of “Jesus is coming…look busy”, perhaps our t-shirts should say “Jesus is here…stay busy!” His presence in our lives should make us want to remain active in the ministries to which He has called us! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go work on that new t-shirt!

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 Worship

Thursday, September 25- Situational Ethics

situational-ethics-cartoon

A phrase came up recently in a class I was teaching. It is a phrase that I am very familiar with but one I haven’t thought about much lately. The phrase is “situational ethics”. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary (my beloved dictionary.com didn’t cover it!) says that situational ethics is “a system of ethics by which acts are judged within their contexts instead of by categorical principles”.

So situational ethics is a construct whereby “right and wrong” are defined much more by the specific perspective or circumstance one finds themselves in and much less by any over-arching and universal “truth”. A simple example that we can ALL identify with would be driving 15 miles per hour OVER the posted speed limit and justifying it when your kid or grandkid points out that you are breaking the law by saying, “I’m just keeping up with the flow of traffic!”

I DON’T think we can argue much about the fact that situational ethics exist. The reality is that we are faced with them everyday…every hour…nearly every moment.

So the question ISN’T, “Are we challenged by situational ethics?” Instead, the question is, “What do we DO about them?” And so…what DO we do about them? Is it OK to let the situation dictate how you respond, rather than have any semblance over an ethic that doesn’t adapt to the circumstance but instead remains rock solid? Are we comfortable with our kids and our grandkids seeing us “bend reality” to fit our circumstance?

I’m sure it must be obvious by now what I think! There IS a universal ethic that should inform everything we do…and everywhere we do it! There IS a way to act…a way to behave…a way to respond that should overshadow any individual circumstance. Look at it this way- if you’re swearing like a sailor when you’re out with the guys (or girls) or when you’re at work but you are a paragon of virtue when you’re at home…you are FIRMLY ensconced in situational ethics.

Who is God calling you to be? Seriously. Right here. Right now. Who is He calling you to be? You may be saying, “I don’t know!” But guess what? You DO know! And guess what else? You will never be complete…NEVER…BE…COMPLETE…until you become the person God calls you to be.

And the only way…the ONLY way…you can be that person is to have an ethic that doesn’t change with the wind or the tide. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. And to justify doing it because of the circumstance is just that- justification. Draw a line in the sand. Stick to your guns. Refuse to give in simply because it’s easier. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Say “please” and “thank you”. Hold doors for people. Do the right thing…simply because it’s the right thing.

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

Tomorrow- Look Busy!

Wednesday, September 24- The Wholeness Question: Do YOU Want to be Made Well?

Wussification Do You Want to be Made Well     Do you want to stay safe in the world? Well, the 1st thing you need to is avoid cars. 20% of all fatal accidents occur in cars. The 2nd thing you need to do is don’t stay home! 17% of all accidents occur in the home. The 3rd thing is to avoid streets and sidewalks. 14% of all accidents happen to pedestrians. The 4th thing is you should avoid traveling by air, rail or water. A full 16% of all accidents happen on public transportation. After all of that, of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals, so we should obviously avoid hospitals! But you will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur during a worship service and most of them are due to preexisting conditions. Therefore, logic would CLEARLY dictate that the safest place to be at any given point is…the church! The moral of our story is this- attend Church- it may save your life!
Tonight, we are on the 3rd week of our current series- The Wussification of the Church. Based on the writings of Leonard Sweet, this series is squarely aimed at the decline of the mainline Church over the past 30+ years. Each week, we will look at what we can do to be on the front line of a much-needed resurgence in the American Church. Each week, we are asking a hard question designed to help us make those necessary steps. The 1st week we asked, “What are YOU looking for?” Last week the question was, “Do YOU understand?” Today we ask, “Do YOU want to be made well?”
There’s a counseling technique called “Solution-Focused Therapy”. In it, the counselor asks, “What are YOU going to do?” And almost always, the 1st response to that question is, “I need somebody else to do something FOR me- my husband, my wife, my boss, my kids…God.” For them, the solution to their problem is OFTEN the responsibility of anybody BUT the patient. And, to be honest, that’s a typical human response…isn’t it? It’s far easier to look for a rescuer than it is to take responsibility. But the Solution-Focused Counseling method reminds people of their role as a responsible participant in their own lives. We are NOT to merely be innocent bystanders- watching life go by, experiencing the hurt, rejection and disappointment that go with it but being unable to do anything about it. Solution-Focused Counseling focuses the attention back on the individual and their personal responsibility. But the truth is this- that technique isn’t really anything new- Jesus used it quite often.
John 5:1-15- Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda, which is surrounded by 5 covered colonnades. Here, a great number of disabled people used to lie down- the blind, the lame and the paralyzed. One man who was there had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He said, “Do you want to be made well?” The man replied, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
I want you to imagine for a moment the Pool of Bethesda. It was a place where sick people would congregate because they believed they could be healed by getting into the water when it bubbled up. In the middle of that sea of humanity was a man who had been in that situation for 38 years! Then one day Jesus comes along. Here is this man- obviously crippled. He’s got all the accouterments and paraphernalia that were common to the folks who begged for a living. He And he has been there for 38 years- longer than Jesus has been alive! He has been hanging out at the pool for 38 years, hoping to be healed. Then Jesus comes along and asks the man a crazy question- a question to which the man offers a lame (no pun intended) excuse. And then Jesus gives him an impossible set of instruction.
The crazy question Jesus asks the man is, “Do you want to be made well?” Now really- what kind of question is that? Does the crippled man want to be made well? I mean, come on- that’s like when your dad would ask, “Do you want a spanking?” “Is that a rhetorical question, Dad? Can I have a second to think about it? Are there any OTHER choices?” Let’s be honest- the answer seems obvious.
But maybe the question isn’t as crazy and obvious as it seems at 1st blush. Think about it-
here’s a guy who has been crippled for 38 years. And like Blanch DuBois from the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire, he has had to depend on the kindness of strangers.
If he was suddenly “made well”, then he would also suddenly…have to start earning his OWN way in world- for the 1st time in 38 years!
He would no longer have any excuse. The responsibility would suddenly be his. So, maybe “Do you want to be made well?” wasn’t such a crazy question after all. Instead, maybe it was a question that pierced to the very heart of the issue and exposed the motives that lay deep inside.
Notice what comes next- the man doesn’t answer! Instead, he offers an excuse as to why he is not healed. “I’m all alone with no one to help me!” You hear his sad, tragic cry and you can’t help but feel sorry for him- he’s alone in the world. He’s crippled and he’s lonely. BUT…he doesn’t answer the question but instead offers up what amounts to an excuse. To say “There is no one to help me” also means, “I can’t help myself and God’s apparently not going to do anything for me either!”
But Jesus is having none of it. He’s like your mom- He’s heard it all before! AND, He knows there is a better day waiting for this man…if he will only believe. So Jesus says, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.” Notice this- Jesus doesn’t offer even one little drop of syrupy sympathy. He does NOT accept the man’s whining and moaning. Instead, Jesus offers him a message of life and vitality. He offers the man what we might recognize as the Gospel’s version of Nike- “JUST DO IT.” And…the man DOES it! He picks up his mat and he walks…for the 1st time in 38 year- maybe for the 1st time ever.
Now, let’s be clear- the healing was 100% by Jesus’ power. But there IS a human factor here as well. Think about it- who healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda? Jesus did. But who had to get up and walk? The man did. Who saves us from our sins? Jesus does. But who has to repent and believe? We do. Who gives us the power to live above sin? Jesus does. But who has to consciously decide, day by day, to follow Him? We do.
All too often, we hold on tightly to the things that tend to paralyze us spiritually. But Jesus can heal those things. And when Jesus heals us, we are left with no excuse for our lives other than the choices we make. We won’t be able to cry out, “My life isn’t my fault- it’s everybody else’s!”
The man said, “I don’t have anybody.” But in Jesus, we DO have Somebody, and not just someone to drag us around on our mats of self-pity but somebody Who can bring healing to our damaged lives. It frankly would have been easy for the man at the pool to simply dismiss Jesus as a nutjob. It wouldn’t have been the first OR last time. It takes more strength to obey Jesus’ impossible instructions, leave the hurt behind and accept the salvation that only He offers.
Despite how it may seem sometimes, Jesus isn’t oblivious to your pain, your hurt, you need. Just as He saw the man at the pool and knew he’d been there long time, He knows how long, how much and how deeply you’ve been hurting, too.
You may be looking at this story and thinking, “But what about all the OTHER people at the pool? Why didn’t Jesus heal them, too?” And to be honest, with a Master’s Degree, seminary training and 17+ years of ministry…I have NO earthly idea! Some people by the pool might not have chosen healing over hurting if the healing meant leaving their old life and no longer being able to lean on others. Some people actually choose to hold onto the hurts, because they’d rather complain and play the martyr than do the work necessary to get better. Maybe Jesus knew the man was ready to make a change. JC said, “Do you want to be made well?” It may sound like a “Well…duh!” moment, but it’s really not. I’m convinced a lot of people don’t really want to be healed- they don’t really want to be made well. Sound crazy? Not saying “yes” means admitting we hurt. “Whaddya talking about, Jesus? I’m fine- never better! Don’t worry about me; go help THAT guy- he’s the one with the REAL problems.” Saying “yes” means choosing wellness over pain. So for some, being a spiritual invalid isn’t so bad- somebody else does all the work.
Too much of the American Church is wussified. The Church used to be about great and mighty things- bringing light into the darkness, making the dead come back to life. The Church of Jesus Christ used to make waves. Now, I fear, many churches struggle to even make a splash. The Church has become wussified. It’s become populated by a healthy percentage of folks who whine and wheeze at every cut and scrape society gives them. The Church has a drug problem- they’ve allowed themselves be drug into places they really shouldn’t be. In a wussified Church, the pain comes from being relegated to the margins of a postmodern life. The healing offered by Jesus is downplayed- it’s consigned to nothing better than equal footing with meditation and exercise regimes that are designed to de-stress our hectic lives. Jesus’ powerful message to a weary world that is stumbling in soul-sucking darkness is often considered nothing more than leisure-time reading- a light summer novel. The Church has become just another, and I might add not very well recommended, option for spending time on a Sunday.
So, what about us? Jesus looks at us- sometimes crippled by our problems, our circumstances and our sin and what does He say? Is He asking us same question? Is He saying to us- “Do YOU want to be made well?” Do YOU want to continue to hold on to the hurt? Is it easier to just let the bitterness fester, to wallow in the hurt betrayal, licking our wounds? Or do YOU want to be healed?
Today, Jesus asks us the question, “Do YOU want to be made well?”…and He waits for our answer. Will you continue to hold on to the things that hold you back? Will you keep on offering the same old excuses? Or will you listen to the call of Jesus and reach out for that which is beyond you? Will you “Get up, pick up your mat and walk”? It’s time for us to leave our hurts behind, pick up our mat and walk. It’s time to choose healing over hurting. It’s time to take the 1st step. Will you? Will you believe in God’s goodness and His grace? Will you believe that He wants to revive your spirit and restore your heart? Will you admit to the hurting? Will you make the healing choice? Will you pick up your mat and walk? Jesus has the power to re-animate lifeless limbs and empty lives.

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

Tomorrow- Situational Ethics

Tuesday, September 23- New Bibles!

bible kid

Ok- I will confess right up front that I am a bit of a self-professed geek. (Insert your joke here!) In fact, a parishioner called me a “computer geek” yesterday. And when I was retelling that story at our United Methodist Men’s dinner last night, one of my Christian brothers said, “Are you sure she said “computer”?!” I would be offended by the whole thing if A. it weren’t true and B. it weren’t so funny!

With all of that as the backdrop, let me say that I got to participate in of the coolest things on Sunday! The United Methodist Women (UMW) from the church I currently serve have a tradition of giving the 3rd Graders in the congregation a new Bible in the fall. And we did that this past Sunday! At both morning services, we invited the 3rd Graders who were in attendance (they had been “invited” in advance, so it wasn’t like we surprised them or anything!) to come up front. The two women who are the co-presidents of our UMW talked about the tradition and why we do it. They then gave each child a Bible that we had especially picked out for them. (They had written in the Bible so that each kid will always remember from where they got it!) They wrapped things up with a prayer for the kids.

The very next thing in the service was the Children’s Moment, so I got to watch the kids who received Bibles for a few minutes AFTER they got them. It was pretty cool to see how excited they were to have them and how they enjoyed leafing through them…even to the point of completely ignoring the Children’s Moment! I also saw one kid who is not yet IN 3rd Grade who picked up one of the Bibles that was NOT specifically designated for someone (we always have extras…just in case a kid shows up we didn’t count on!) and paged through it- lovingly, almost longingly, thinking about next year when HE will get one!

I see the excitement and wonder in the eyes of those kids and I think two things: that’s EXACTLY why we do it in the first place and…what happens to that wide-eyed wonder over God’s Word as we get older? The truth is that the “child-like” faith we had when we were new Christians often “softens” into a malaise that borders on indifference. We become jaded and what once seemed new, fresh and exciting becomes old, stale and boring.

Here’s my challenge to you- identify the areas of your Christian walk that have become rote, routine…boring. And THEN…figure out how to “un-bore” them! A life lived fully in the shadow of God Almighty SHOULD be the most awesome, exciting thing in your life. And if it’s NOT…why not?

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

Tomorrow- The Wholeness Question: Do YOU Want to be Made Well?

Monday, September 22- A Plumbing Prayer

plumbing prayer

Prayer-the way it manifests itself and the way it is answered- is a fascinating thing. I believe that God always answers prayer. And despite the hackneyed nature of the expression, I FIRMLY believe that sometimes the answer is “yes”, sometimes the answer is “no” and sometimes the answer is “not now”. I’ve had non-believers challenge that with the idea that it’s just a cop-out: “How convenient that you cover ALL the bases with that approach. That way, no matter WHAT happens, you can attribute it to God!” All I can say is that my personal experience says that’s the way prayer goes!

My other insight into prayer is that no prayer is TOO big or TOO small to offer up to God. There is no threshold below (or above) which you can’t go to God. He puts no parameters around what you can pray for. “Nope- too big! Nope- too small! OK- just right!” (Sounds more like the 3 Bears than the Trinity!) He encourages us to come to Him with all that we have and all that we are.

My family recently had an experience that drove that last point home in spades! I was cooking dinner and I had just cleaned a head of cauliflower. I didn’t have much waste, so I put it down the garbage disposal. But while it wasn’t much, it apparently was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, because immediately (and I DO mean immediately!) the sink…BOTH sinks, in fact…became clogged! And I not talking “a little clog”- I’m talking “King Leonidas, 7,000 Greeks and 150,000 Persians at the pass of Therm

opylae” clogged! SHOOT! It was Friday night and we HAD to eat on time because there was a home football game that folks had to get to. I left my wife cooking and ran to Wal-Mart of a clean, new unused plunger that hadn’t even SEEN a bathroom! I rushed back home and…nothing! That was simply NOT going to do it! SO…I rushed back out to the local hardware store and picked up some Drano. And this wasn’t the “gentle, soothing” Drano- this was the “atomic bomb” Drano!

I rushed back home…again…and poured half of the bottle in each sink. I knew that, if this didn’t work, it was either “go buy a snake and try and fish it down through the drain” or “take apart the trap and find the clog”. I was NOT looking forward to either prospect! So we quickly finished getting dinner ready and on the table. As we sat down to eat, I offered up a prayer. I prayed for the food, for the family and for the events of the evening. But as I said “amen”, my wife jumped in. “Lord, I know it’s a little thing, but if You could help us clean out that drain, it would be greatly appreciated! Amen!” She looked up and said, “I figured nothing is too small t

o take to God!” We then started to eat. Not 60 seconds passed…not even ONE minute…when we suddenly heard from the kitchen that marvelous “sucking” sound that announced to the world that the drain was opened! Hallelujah! There was GREAT rejoicing in Mudsville! Instead of having to go to the game with a plumbing job hanging over my head, I got to go and simply enjoy seeing my younger son perform in the marching band!

This little episode reminds me of exactly what I said early on- NOTHING is too big…OR too small…for God. He wants us to come to Him wi

th everything He has- NOT because He needs to hear it but because we need to SAY it. We need to continuously lift ourselves and those dear to us to His never-failing love, confident that He genuinely cares for us!

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

Tomorrow- New Bibles!

Sunday, September 21- Step Three: Research the Cost

Terra Incognita Step Three     There was a TV commercial once that began with a guy sitting in the chair at a tattoo parlor expressing his love for his girlfriend Donna by getting her name tattooed on his arm. Halfway through, he thinks to ask how much the tattoo will cost. The guy tell him $50.00. He pulls out his cash, and says, “Oh, I only have $41! What can I get for $41?” The commercial then cuts to the couple on the sidewalk. Donna storms off and the guy yells after her, “I’ll get it fixed!” The camera zooms in on the tattoo which reads, “I love Don!”
This morning, we venture ever deeper into uncharted waters as we continue our current Sunday morning sermon series- Terra Incognita. Coined in 150AD by Greco-Egyptian writer Ptolemy, the phrase Terra Incognita describes that which is beyond the boundary of what has yet been discovered. Latin for “unknown land”, Terra Incognita is the great unknown- the things that are beyond our current understanding. Over the 7 weeks of this series, we are looking at several aspects of the “uncharted waters” into which we as a church are currently sailing. And every week along the way, we’ll pause to focus on the beauty, the wonder AND the challenge of the “undiscovered country”!
Romans 6:20-23 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
In today’s Scripture passage, Jesus tells us what it means to be His disciple. The bottom line is this- to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have to be committed to Him over and above anything and everything else. Anything. Everything.
Luke 14:28-33 Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’ Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce? Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good- bye, you can’t be My disciple.
Have you seen the OTHER commercial where the college professor has intentionally put his clothes on backward, shaved the back of his head to look like a face and put his glasses on backward…ALL so that he lecture his class while continuing to search on his laptop for the best travel deals? He even holds the coffee cup up to the back of his head…the BACK of his head…and makes a slurping noise as if he’s actually drinking! I laugh at that commercial every time I see it. But the truth is that, even with the very small amount of air travel that we do, I have spent my fair share of time comparing websites, researching the cost of a trip. The truth is that it is essential to understand what your journey will require of you.
An interesting thing to understand about this passage is that, before the spot where I started reading, Luke tells us that large crowds were following Jesus. He then tells us that Jesus specifically turned toward that crowd and began to tell them what it takes to be a disciple. What that points to is that He wasn’t talking to the folks who were out to get Him. He wasn’t talking to the “hangers-on” who could have cared less about His life or His message. No, He was talking to the folks who were traveling with Him- His FOLLOWERS. They already had a positive attitude about Jesus. They genuinely cared about what He had to say. BUT…they apparently confused a positive attitude ABOUT Jesus for true discipleship toward Jesus. They THOUGHT they were followers of Jesus, but in fact they were simply casual followers…not committed believers.
They were all GUNG HO to follow Jesus…as long as the cost wasn’t too high or the challenges too great. They did “Christian things”- go to church, pray, sing Christian songs- but they weren’t really committed to Jesus. They were happy to go along for the ride, but they were unwilling to give up everything to follow Jesus…REALLY follow Him.
And aren’t we guilty of that same behavior some days? We look to Jesus to solve our money problems, our relationship problems, our health problems, our “whatever” problems. But then we so quickly grow disillusioned and become increasingly unwilling to actually give ourselves over to Jesus when He doesn’t wave His magic wand and solve our problems, when following Him requires actual sacrifice. These large crowds were actually casual followers instead of committed believers. What about you?
You probably noticed that the Message translation of today’s passage said, “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good- bye, you can’t be My disciple.” But other translations say things like, “Anyone who comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters,-yes, even his own life cannot be my disciple.” Wow! Harsh stuff! But we need to understand that the word “hate” here is figurative. In the Jewish understanding, the word “hate” was used to express a lesser kind of love. More than our emotions, Jesus is talking about our commitment level. He should be first among our priorities and loyalties. What Jesus is saying is that we should love Him more that we love the people and things in our lives. He doesn’t want people to make a commitment to Him without understanding and seriously thinking about what’s involved. Jesus doesn’t want half-hearted or lukewarm. He wants the 50,000 red-hot poppin’ watt Church of Jesus Christ. The gift of salvation is free…but it’s not cheap. It’s simple…but it’s not easy. Moral compromise and half-hearted commitment are not the things Jesus is looking for. Jesus doesn’t want crowds- He wants commitment!
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We have cheapened grace, and cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting for costly grace. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.” Many churches and many pastors have made the gift so cheap, they’ve watered it down so much, that it’s simply lost its meaning and impact for many people. But that is NOT the message of the Bible. That is NOT the message Jesus offers us in today’s Scripture reading. Quite the opposite. Jesus says there IS a cost- there’s a price to be paid. We have to be willing to put Jesus and His will for our lives above everything else. That’s the cost.
Many people feel they don’t need to be associated with a church family. They don’t need to change their lifestyle. It’s OK to cheat my neighbor. It’s OK to gossip. It’s OK to be disrespectful. It’s OK to hold grudges. It’s OK to be greedy, walk over other people to get more money and yet NOT share my good fortune with God. All of that is OK…because God’s grace is cheap, freely given. But that kind of cheap grace does WAY more harm than good. It was Martin Luther who said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing…is worth nothing.”
What does it take to follow Jesus? 100%. You can’t get by with half. You can’t settle for the bare minimum that’s needed to get by at the moment. You can’t wallow in what a former boss of mine called “stinkin’ thinkin’”. You need complete resolve to stand up and face the great battles of life. Jesus isn’t looking for 30%, or 50%, or even 75%. He wants 100% of our lives…all the time- 24/7/365. He doesn’t want the Lukewarm United Methodist Church. He wants the 50,000 Red-Hot Poppin’ Watt United Methodist Church! He wants us to remember the cost HE paid for OUR lives so that WE might be willing to pay the cost for HIS grace.
Author Max Lucado tells a marvelous story about…dancing: “Let’s imagine that you want to learn to dance. Being the rational, cerebral person you are, you go to a bookstore and buy a book on dancing. You take the book home and get to work. Finally, you think you’ve got it, and you invite your wife to come in and watch. You hold the book open and follow the instructions step by step. You even read the words aloud so she’ll know that you’ve done your homework. “Lean with your right shoulder,” and so you lean. “Now step with your right foot,” and so you step. “Turn slowly to the left,” and so you do. You continue to read, then dance, read, then dance, until the dance is completed. You plop exhausted on the couch, look at your wife, and proclaim, “I executed it perfectly.”
“You executed it, all right,” she sighs. “You killed it.” “What?” “You forgot the most important part. Where is the music?” Music? You never thought about the music. You remembered the book. You learned the rules. You laid out the pattern. But you forgot the music.
“Do it again,” she says, putting in a CD. “This time, don’t worry about the steps; just follow the music.” She extends her hand and the music begins. The next thing you know, you are dancing-and you don’t even have the book.”
When it comes to faith, we’re prone to follow the book…yet ignore the music. We master the doctrine, outline the chapters, memorize the dispensations, debate the rules, and stiffly step down the dance floor of life, counting out loud but with no music in our hearts. We carefully measure each step, we calibrate each turn with precision, and then we flop down into the bed every night- exhausted from another day of dancing by the book. Dancing with no music is tough stuff. You need to, completely and without restraint, let God have you. You need to let God love you. And you need to be prepared for that moment when your heart starts to hear music you’ve never heard before, when your feet learn to dance like they’ve never danced before.
Proverbs 24:3-4 It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation. It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.
One day, a new believer wanted to become all that God wanted him to be so he visited an elderly Christian from his church. He’d heard that this elderly man had never lost his love for Jesus in all the years he’d been a believer. When the man got there, he found the old Christian sitting on his porch with his dog stretched out next to him, watching a beautiful sunset. The young man greeted him and then asked, “Why is it that most Christians eagerly chase after God during the first year or two after their conversion, but then fall into a complacent ritual of weekly church and end up not looking any different than their neighbors who aren’t even Christians? I’ve heard you’re not like that. People say you’ve eagerly sought after God throughout your years as a Christian. People see something in you that they don’t see in most Christians. What makes you different?
The old man smiled and replied, “Let me tell you a story. One day I was sitting in the sun with my dog. Suddenly, a large white rabbit ran across in front of us. Well, the dog jumped up and took off after that big rabbit. He chased that rabbit over the hills with great passion. Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking across the creeks, up the embankments and through the thickets and thorns! Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Eventually, only my dog continued in hot pursuit of the white rabbit. In that story, young man, is the answer to your question.” The young man sat in confused silence. Finally, he said, “I don’t understand. What’s the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?” “You fail to understand,” answered the well-seasoned older man, “because you failed to ask the obvious question. Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase? And the answer to that question is that they hadn’t seen the rabbit. Unless you see what it is you’re chasing, the chase is just too hard. You’ll lack the passion and determination necessary to keep up the chase.”
Have you seen God? Jesus is talking about counting the cost to be His disciple. Jesus is saying it’s not easy to be His disciple. He’s saying that, to be His disciple, we have to be willing to put everything else second. He comes first. I’ve had people say, “How can I adequately follow God if I don’t first take care of my family?” I would argue, “How can I adequately take care of my family if I don’t first follow God?” What is the example that you want to set for those around you? Do you want them to say, “He was only somewhat committed to his faith…but he never missed a Sunday golf game or soccer match!” Jesus is calling us to a radical kind of life- a life that sets us apart from much of society. Not ABOVE…but apart.
Are you willing to pay that kind price to follow Him? Are you willing to turn the love you have for Him into action- an action that might well separate you from some of the values and ideals that you hold dear?
Cheap grace is grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. Costly grace is gift which has to be asked for. That kind of grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it’s grace because it calls us to follow Jesus. It’s costly because it costs us our old life. It’s grace because it gives us a marvelous new life.

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

Tomorrow- A Plumbing Prayer

Sunday, September 21- Trimming the Fat

 

trimfat     As you know by now, I do a lot of cooking. That started when I was a kid. By the time I was 8 or 9 years old, we each had to take turns cooking dinner. My mom and dad both worked full-time and it was tough for my mom to get home and get supper on the table. So, in an effort to make us kids more self0sufficient AND try to maintain a bit of her own sanity, she started that new approach. I was…AM…the baby of the family and so I was the least “qualified” to cook dinner. In fact, when we started that, the ONLY thing I was somewhat confident cooking was…pancakes! So guess what we had EVERY time my name came up in the rotation? Yep!

The early…and all-encompassing…experience with cooking manifested itself, over the ensuing years, into an appreciation…a love…of cooking. It’s a very creative endeavor and one that usually provides nearly immediate feedback. And one of the things that is rather a constant when it comes to cooking is to cut away the part of whatever food you’re preparing that isn’t suitable to eat. You know- you peel the potatoes, you “clean” the celery and you shuck the corn. You also trim the fat from the meat. Whether it’s beef, pork or chicken, I tend to trim the fat, gristle and bone away before I cook it. Sometimes, depending on what I’m cooking, that step doesn’t happen until after the cooking is complete. But often, I trim away that which isn’t useful or helpful in the completion of the dish.

That’s how I view live, as well. There are times when I am hammering on all cylinders and everything is great. But there are times when the priorities get a bit skewed and the focus gets a bit grainy. And when that happens, I see God stepping in and employing cooking techniques. He begins to trim the fat. Now, I’m not talking about excess weight that I carry…which I do…but instead I’m talking about when things in life start vying a BIT too much for the top spot that should be occupied by God. When that happens, it’s time to trim the fat.

It’s not always a pleasant experience. In fact, it’s SELDOM a pleasant experience! But it is absolutely a NECESSARY experience. And my experience is that, not matter how uncomfortable the experience itself might be, once we are on the other side of it, we can see how necessary…and freeing…it was.

What is the fat that needs trimming in your life? What things are trying to take that top slot that should be reserved for God? Whatever they…let go of them. Give them to God. The pruning process is SO much easier if you willingly let go of them instead forcing God to wrestle them from your death grip. Let go of them. And when you do, you will feel SUCH relief. You will feel a weight lifted off your shoulders. You will be able to breathe easier. And you will feel more peace than you have felt in a while.

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

Tomorrow- Step Three: Research the Cost

Friday, September 19- A Good Problem to Have!

 

good problem

The church I currently serve has a problem. Now, I understand that I’m not supposed to “air your laundry” in public, but it has to be said. And perhaps by saying it out loud, we can further address the problem. Our problem is this- we have space issues.

Now, I’ve seen churches whose space issues caused them to close off entire wings of the church in an effort to decrease maintenance and utility bills. Fortunately, those are NOT the space issues of which I speak! No, our space issues tend to run toward the opp

osite end of the spectrum. We DON’T have too MUCH space- we have too LITTLE space!

Having said that, let’s look at what that really means. Very few, if any, churches experience a lack of space 24/7/365. The truth is that, at 10:30 on a Thursday morning, we have all the space in the WORLD. 9:30 Tuesday night? Same deal. 1PM on Saturday? Same. 12:15PM Monday? You got it.

“So when DO you have space issues, Pastor?” Well, 5:30PM Wednesday evenings, when we have our all-church dinners. 6PM Wednesday nights, when I have more people than comfortably fit into the biggest room I have available to use as a classroom. Also 6PM Wednesday evenings and 6PM Sunday evenings when our Junior and Senior High Groups meet and really don’t have much in the way usual space available. 10:15AM Sunday morning, when our “Blended” worship service seems to get fuller and fuller. And in regards to parking, ANY time we have a large-ish event!

And if you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “Problem? Is that really a problem, Pastor?”, you are raising a good question! The truth is that a lack of space for ministry IS a problem, but OH is it a GOOD problem! There are a LOT of churches that would absolutely LOVE to have those kinds of problems. An awful lot of churches are experiencing quite the opposite of too many people and too little space. Over the past 30+ years, mainline American Christian churches have seen a pretty dramatic downturn. Literally 1,000’s of churches have closed during that time because they simply didn’t have enough of a critical mass to keep the doors opened and the lights on.

So does the church I currently serve have a problem? You BET they do! Is it an awesome problem to have? You BET it is! I am SO grateful and feel SO blessed to serve a church that is experiencing growing pains. The challenge and the pure joy of a growing, thriving church is on

e of the things that make me want to not only get out of bed every day but LEAP from the bed, ready to go to the greatest job I could imagine!

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

Tomorrow- Trimming the Fat

Thursday, September 18- OK- So I’m Picky!

Baseball-Caps-Accept-Paypal-19-big

I have shared before in this space that I have been diagnosed with ADHD- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult- frankly, nobody even KNEW about ADHD when I was a kid! And when I WAS diagnosed, it helped make sense out of a LOT of things! I have also been diagnosed with OCD- Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. (If you ever saw the TV show Monk, that was a rather strong case of OCD!)

I have found that the two of those things together- ADHD and OCD- make for a rather interesting “alphabet soup”! In some facets of my life, the ADHD clearly has the upper hand. Meanwhile, in OTHER parts of my life, the OCD rules! I have noticed that the combination of the two have made me completely unconcerned about some things…and AMAZINGLY picky about other things!

Things not going as planned or things that are still somewhat “up in the air” as the event they are a part of nears simply don’t bother me. I do just fine…even thrive…in barely-managed chaos. As other people are worried sick and in full-blown panic mode, I am often the one who is saying, “Take big, deep breaths- we’ll be just fine!”

But then there are the areas where the OCD rises to the top. And one of those areas is, of all things, baseball caps! Yes, you read that right- baseball caps. And NO- that is NOT “code” for something deep and mysterious. I literally mean the hats that baseball players wear. I am FRIGHTENINGLY picky about…baseball caps!

The church I currently serve recently did a customized clothing order. You know- t-shirts, hoodies and polo shirts with the church logo on them- like that. And one of the things we offered was baseball caps. And quite frankly, the reason we offered them was that A. I was overseeing the order and B. I like baseball caps! I LIKE them, but I am very particular about how they are made.

I have been wearing baseball caps consistently for about 43 years or so. I have had more baseball caps that most people could imagine. In fact, I used to collect them- getting a new hat from every place we went. And while I stopped buying the hats, I still have probably 2 or 3 dozen on shelves in my office!

Here’s the deal- to be a GOOD baseball cap, it has to be “structured”. I’m sure you have seen those hats that have no substance to them- they are rather short and don’t hold their shape. But a true structured hat looks and fits like the ones the pros wear. Well, when I ordered the church hats, I had to go by the description and the picture since I didn’t have one “in hand” to look at. I picked the hat I thought was best and ordered them.

When the hats arrived (late, I might add), they looked GREAT! BUT, they were not fully “structured”! I took one look and said, “SHOOT!” My wife wondered what was wrong and when I told her, I added, “I’m rather picky about hats!” She looked at me and said, “I’m well aware of that fact!” I guess my reputation precedes me! But I decided to wear the hat anyway and…guess what? I LOVE it! One of the most comfortable hats I’ve ever worn!

Events like this help remind me that it is important to choose carefully which hills I am willing to die on. My personality is such that I could easily attempt to die on nearly EVERY hill. But the reality is that, if you approach life that way, you simply won’t survive long. Or if you do, life won’t be very enjoyable. Instead, keep the main thing the main thing and don’t sweat the small stuff. And the reality is that it is almost ALL small stuff…especially baseball caps!

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

Tomorrow- A Great Problem to Have

Wednesday, September 17- The Grace Question: Do YOU Understand?

Wussification Do You Understand     Several years ago, my wife and I led a mission trip to inner-city Denver, CO. The neighborhood in which we served is called Barnum- legend has it that P.T. Barnum wintered his circus there! The neighborhood has been “white” over the years but had transitioned into a Hispanic neighborhood. The church we served was still a predominantly white church, with the members driving in for church. They were looking for ways to bridge the gap between them and the neighborhood- that was our goal for the week!
One of the many things we did was host an evening vacation Bible School for the neighborhood kids, trying to get them into the church. The event went VERY well. But at the end of the first night, there was a Grade School-aged girl standing in the church kitchen with some adults and there seemed to be some confusion. I came in to see if I could help and it seemed that A. she spoke little to no English, B. she was trying to call home and C. no one could get her phone number to help her dial! Well, I took TWO WHOLE YEARS of Spanish…in High School…147 years ago…so I KNEW I could help! I went up to her and said, in my best Spanish accent, “Que is el nombre de tu telefono?” That is, “What is your telephone number?” The girl looked at me as if I had 2 heads, so I again said, “Que is el nombre de tu telefono?” She stared at me for what seemed like an eternity, then said…in PERFECT English, “Are you trying to ask me what my phone number is?!” Turned out- I was asking her what the NAME of her telephone was!
This is the 2nd week of our current sermon series- The Wussification of the Church, based on the writings of theologian Leonard Sweet. This series is aimed squarely at the decline of the mainline church over the last 30+ years. Along the way, we will look at what we can do to be on the front line of a much-needed resurgence. Each week, we will ask a question- a HARD  question- that will help us make the necessary steps. Last week, we asked, “What are YOU looking for?” Today, with my epic fail at Spanish in Denver, we ask, “Do YOU understand?”
C.S. Lewis once said that the most frequently spoken word in heaven must be, “Oh!” As in, “Oh, NOW I understand!” “Oh, NOW I see God’s plan!” “Oh, NOW I get why I went through that!” Tonight, we will look at a Scripture passage that is fairly well-known, featuring a character who clearly did NOT understand.
John 3:1-21- There was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night, “Rabbi, we know You are a teacher Who has come from God, for no one could perform the signs You are doing if God was not with Him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they can’t enter a 2nd time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.
You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can’t tell where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and you don’t understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people don’t accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you don’t believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?
No one has ever gone into heaven except the One Who came from heaven- the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”
A little girl had to write an essay for school about “birth”. She started by asking her mom how she born. The mom busy and so she said, “The stork brought you to our doorstep.” She continued her research by asking her dad how he was born. The dad was also busy, so he said, “I was found under a cabbage leaf in the garden.” She then went to her grandma and asked her how she was born. “I was picked from a gooseberry bush.” The girl felt she had enough to go on, so she wrote her essay. Then next day, she was asked to read it in class. She got up in front of her classmates, cleared her throat and began to read in a loud, clear voice, “Based on my research, there has not been a natural birth in our family in at least 3 generations!”
So Nicodemus- Nick- is introduced to us as a Pharisee. He is a prominent, fully credentialed Jewish leader. And that’s important. It emphasizes his status- he is obviously a prominent member of the Jewish community.  Notice that Nick addresses Jesus as “Rabbi”. It’s the same title Jesus’ soon-to-be disciples used when they met Him. And by using that title, Nick acknowledges what he believes to be Jesus’ authority. They are both teachers of Israel, but Nick doesn’t seem to recognize that he and Jesus simply aren’t on the same level. Do YOU understand? Jesus tells Nick that he must be born again. But to Nick, Jesus’ words are nothing but mysterious and enigmatic. Do YOU understand?
We all probably are familiar with John 3:16- For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. But do you know verses 17-20? They are JUST as powerful.
For God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever doesn’t believe stands condemned already because they haven’t believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and won’t come into light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
John 3:16 is widely and deservedly seen as the quintessential “summing up” of the Gospel message. “John 3:16”- He loved us…US…SO much…how much? So much that He gave up one and only begotten Son…for US! God’s purpose in sending His Son was so that we would have the opportunity to receive eternal life with Him. Eternal life- a gift from God that is available to all who believe.
In 1981, an old VW Bug was stolen in California. Police staged an intense search for the vehicle and its driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations to try and contact the thief. Why? What was SO special about an old, stolen car that was nothing more than one of MANY? Well, on the front seat was a box of crackers…laced with poison. The car owner was going to use them for rat bait! The police were more interested in catching thief to save his life than to recover the car.
So often when we run from God, we think we are trying to escape His punishment. But what we are REALLY doing is eluding His rescue. He came to save us. He came to be the Light, because light reveals the darkness for what it is…a gutless coward who hides in the shadows and preys on our fears and our insecurities.
I read an article once in a national publication. The title of the article contained the phrase “local church”. Ironically, the word “local” was hyphenated between different 2 lines, resulting in a headline that read “LO-CAL CHURCH”! I fear that’s what the American Church has become- a lo-cal Church! I have little patience for critics who always know what’s wrong w/everything, who always know exactly how to fix everything, who feel they need to tell everyone all about it and yet…continue to do nothing but complain! Many mainline Churches water down the broth SO much in an effort to feed more people that there often is not enough spiritual nutrition left to feed anybody. And that fact leads us back to the title of this series- The Wussification of the Church. What does that mean? Does it mean that when we turn the other cheek and show compassion…we’re wusses? No, it does NOT mean that. Turning the other cheek takes great strength. Jesus Himself often showed great gentleness and compassion. So then what does it really mean? Wussification points to apathy, to being too comfortable…with church on Sunday…and with “everyday life” the rest of the week.
United Methodist founder John Wesley pretty much invented street evangelism. He would attract great crowds of people who would then be converted at a huge revival. But if we take that same approach today- it often doesn’t turn people toward Jesus but instead pushes them away. Why? The wussification of the Church.  In Wesley’s day, a book cost about the equivalent of one month’s salary. Therefore, most people didn’t have books. So pamphlets and tracts telling about Jesus were cutting edge hardware in the 18th century.
Now, fast-forward to the good ol’ 21st  Century. Books and pamphlets are no longer so costly. In fact, fewer and fewer ACTUAL books are even purchased anymore. Why? More people are reading on things like laptops, Kindles, iPads and smart phones. Imagine if we stood on a street corner, passing out smart phones, Kindles and laptops. Talk about crowds! People would be waiting in line to listen to what we had to say. But early street evangelists didn’t just have pamphlets. They read chapters from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Fox’s Book of Martyrs and Thomas A Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. Their hardware came with spiritual software! Do YOU understand?
Don’t get me wrong- we need the classics. We need their depth and their mystery. So embrace the classics…just don’t dwell on them. The Church also has to embrace fluidity and change. But how? How do we hold on to an unchangeable God while still embracing change? We do it by fully embracing the paradox. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. BUT…for Him to BE that and still hold on to us, we have got to be fresh and new every day. That’s the paradox.
If we want the main things to stay the same, we have to be willing to constantly change and re-invent. 86% of all mainline Christians sense that God is motivating people to stay connected to Him through different means and experiences. If we want the Gospel to be as alive to our kids and grandkids as it is to us, then we have to be willing to change. Change- the mark of every living thing. Did you know that the medical definition of death is a body that doesn’t change? When we stop changing…we die. But the truth is that American Church of the last 100 years simply hasn’t changed much, and I would argue THAT’S the reason for the overall decline.
The Church needs to be able to use the medium of current culture as a vehicle for the Gospel. Why? Because the current culture is the Roman road. It’s the road that people are traveling on/ right now. It is the dominant global culture. For the Church to NOT speak the language of the culture, not to use the images, sounds and concepts that come from it, is simply not being very incarnational. In order for the Church to incarnate Jesus into the culture, we have to find ways to embrace the culture. Do YOU understand?
We have to risk a new beginning. We have to trust ourselves to a new birth IN Jesus to truly be part of the kingdom OF Jesus. As long as we cling to the old and are afraid to follow Jesus…unwilling to risk our lives for Jesus…they we can never truly be a part of God’s great adventure.
Do you remember “The Wide World of Sports”? Do you remember the agony of defeat- that painful ending to an attempted ski jump? The skier was in good form when suddenly, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head over heels off the side of the jump, bounced off the supporting structure and fell down into the snow below. But what many people don’t know is that he CHOSE to fall rather than finish the jump. Why? Because the jump surface was too fast and midway down, he realized that if he completed the jump, he was going to land on completely level ground, which could be fatal.
To change one’s course in life can be dramatic and sometimes painful. But to change is better than to meet with a tragic, possibly fatal ending. That’s the problem that Nick faced. Jesus says that Nick is facing a fatal ending if he doesn’t change directions. But Nick knows only one way…the earthly way. He hears the phrase “born again”- and he gets confused. Somehow he’s missed the crucial truth, and that’s exactly why he’s come to see Jesus. Nick has been headed in the wrong direction and he’s just now beginning to realize that he has to change course. And yet, he’s hesitant. He seems very uncertain about making such a drastic change. Why? Because Jesus can’t be fully understood by the old standards. Jesus is the fresh, final revelation of God Who puts all that came before Him in new light. Do YOU understand?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- OK…So I’m Picky!

Tuesday, September 16- AED/CPR

AED

Not quite 2 weeks ago, I wrote about a 2-part Community Preparedness class I helped schedule and was a participant in. I shared how the congregation I currently serve has a vision of doing whatever we can do to be as prepared to serve the community as possible. Well, last night we took another step in that direction!

A few months ago, we purchased (through the generous donations of church members) an AED- Automated Exterior Defibrillator. It’s a device that you hook up to someone who is unresponsive. The AED monitors there vitals and tells you whether or not they need to be shocked and whether or not you should begin/continue CPR.

We bought it because we have about 4 instances in just the past 2 years where someone in the building found themselves in medical distress. Each of those 4 times, 911 was called, EMT’s showed up, stabilized the victim and transported them to the hospital. And in an ideal world, that’s exactly what should happen. But the world isn’t always ideal, so we decided we should try and be more prepared…just in case.

After the purchase of the AED, a training class was offered. I really wanted to take the class, but it was when I was out recovering from surgery. So I was delighted when we were able to offer another class! We offered sign-up to those who were interested and we had 16 folks show up last night to participate.

The training started with CPR. Between a video, the instructors and practice dummies, we each had the opportunity to both learn the techniques necessary and try them out. After we had thoroughly covered CPR, we then learned how to use the AED device. By the end of the evening, the 16 of us gathered were all officially certified to administer CPR!

The longer I am in the ministry, the more I understand how important it is that I, as the spiritual leader of this particular congregation, do as much as I can to be as prepared as I can for what might come up. This is not only a good rule of thumb for a leader, it is also a great way to model that kind of behavior to the congregation. If I act as if I don’t care about such things…then why would anybody else in the church care? But if I help set the bar for who we are and what we are about as a church, then other people are encouraged to come alongside and join in. And when that happens…well…great things happen!

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 Grace Question: Do YOU Understand?

Monday, September 15- Fall Has Fallen!

fall-colors

I am a lifelong resident of the beautiful state of Illinois. I grew up in the southern part of the state. Then I lived, both during 4 years in college and 8 years as a pastor, in Central Illinois. And now I live in the northwestern part of the state. And this state is very diverse. There are the rolling hills, bluffs and hollows of both the southern and northern sections, as well as the flat prairie lands of the central part.

It is also a diverse state in its makeup. There are a TON of little towns- the backbone of a state like Illinois. Those small communities stretch from one end of the state to the other. But scattered among them are large towns and cities that are altogether different. Springfield and Peoria are big by many standards. And there is, of course, Chicago- 3rd largest city in the country. Illinois is a very diverse state.

The weather of Illinois is also very diverse. I wrote recently about the notion that Illinoisans live by, “Don’t like the weather? Just wait!” And that is SO true. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was so hot that they let school out early. And yet, two mornings ago the low was 39 degrees. 39 DEGREES! Fahrenheit! And that fact alone (along with the obvious calendar reference!) tells me that my favorite season of the year is here! Now technically, Fall is NOT here yet. It doesn’t officially arrive until Monday, September 22. But regardless of what the calendar says…Fall is here! And that makes me very happy.

There are usually 2 seasons each year that make me wonder why I live in Illinois- Summer and Winter. I don’t mind Winter that much…if the snow and ice aren’t too bad. I’m not a huge fan of “10 below with a wind chill of 30 below”. And then there’s Summer. As much as I don’t like really cold, I REALLY don’t like really hot. (My mom told me I was not supposed to “hate” things, so I had to say “REALLY don’t like”!) There are Summer days in Illinois when you walk outside and feel like you can’t breathe.

But then there is Spring and Fall! Spring is so beautiful, with the grass turning green and all of the plants and flowers budding and, growing and blooming. Gotta love Spring. But even Spring in Illinois is not quite on par with Fall. Fall is just amazing here. The leaves start to turn. You can turn OFF the air conditioner and LEAVE off the furnace. There are many days when the windows can be open, letting that fresh air pour in. There is that marvelous, crisp “nip” in the air. The sweaters and hoodies come out of the closet. Fall is great!

I am grateful for God’s creation…even Summer and Winter! I am grateful for the beauty that is all around me, every day. I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for my church family. And, on this side of surgery and recovery, I am grateful for life!

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 Fluff

Sunday, September 14- Step Two: Consider the Length

Terra Incognita Step Two     A little girl was attending a wedding for the first time. She watched as the pageantry unfolded. She heard the minister say that the journey the couple was beginning would be a lifetime journey. She heard the minister talk about commitment and dedication. After a while, she leaned over to her mom and whispered, “Why is the bride dressed in white?” Her mom replied, ‘Because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life.’ The thought about that response for a moment, then whispered back, “Then why is the groom wearing black?”
This morning, we venture into uncharted waters as we continue our current Sunday morning sermon series- Terra Incognita. In 150AD, Ptolemy, a Greco-Egyptian writer from Alexandria, wrote a book called Geography. It was a compilation of what was known about the world’s geography in the 2nd century. In it, he coined the phrase Terra Incognita to describe that which was beyond the boundary of what had yet been discovered. Latin for “unknown land”, Terra Incognita refers to the great unknown- that which is beyond our current understanding. For 7 weeks, we will look at another aspect of the “uncharted waters” into which we as a church are currently sailing. (A side note: for this series, we will be using the Message translation of the Bible.) And along the way, we will see the beauty, the wonder AND the challenge of the “undiscovered country”!
Galatians 6:9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Today, we are going to focus on one specific event from the life of Old Testament “giant of the faith” Joshua. At this point in the story, Joshua is very old. He’s old AND he has seen it all in his lifetime. He cut his teeth as the right hand man to none other than Moses. Then he led the people into battle over the land that God had promised them. He’s seen God’s plagues bring a pharaoh to his knees. He’s seen the Red Sea parted. He’s made the 40-year trip through the desert. He’s seen the Jordan River part. He’s seen the walls of Jericho crumble. He’s seen the enemies of God panic and run. And now…he’s old. He’s led a full life and he’s nearing the end of it. So he calls the people together for his parting words. And here, on his deathbed, Joshua calls the people to commitment. He calls them to turn from all the other gods (lower-case “g”) they worship and CHOOSE to serve God- now and forever. And the call is the same for us today as it was for those gathered around Joshua way back when.
Joshua 24:13-15 I handed you a land for which you did not work, towns you did not build. And here you are now living in them and eating from vineyards and olive groves you did not plant. So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River and in Egypt. You, worship God. If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve- and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living. As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”
During the worship service, a little boy listened to the preacher drone on and on about following God and about eternity. For him, the SERMON began to seem like an eternity. His mom kept telling him to stop fidgeting. Finally, she leaned over and whispered, “If you don’t sit still, Pastor’s going to lose his place…and then he’ll have to start his sermon all over again!” The boy IMMEDIATELY quieted down!
What Joshua offers up here is nothing less than a stunning declaration- a powerful decision of faith regarding how long he is going to remain committed to the journey. As the Israelites begin to settle into the Promised Land, as they make the transition from nomadic tents to permanent homes, Joshua challenges them to make a stand. He makes it CLEAR where HE stands- “Y’all can do what you want, worship who you want, but for me and MY house…we are going to worship God…period.
In this one simple sentence, Joshua shows us a heart longing for more. He also shows us what it means to be a spiritual leader. And his decision, his stand, not only changed HIS life- it changed the lives, the destiny of an entire people. Joshua was willing to stand by his faith, even when faced with the longest odds, and serve God, regardless.
As she lay dying, Forrest Gump asks his mom, “Momma, what’s my destiny?” She replies, “You’re gonna have to find that out for yourself, Forrest.” Later, he stands at Jenny’s grave and says, “I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” As much as I LOVE that movie, I going to have to agree to disagree with the unlikely owner of Bubba Gump Shrimp!
Your life is NOT an accident. You HAVE a destiny. And Mrs. Gump was right- you have to figure that out for yourself and only you can make the choice. You were born FOR a purpose and WITH a purpose- we ALL were. And we can ONLY truly become the person we were created to be when we actively pursue the purpose to which God has called us.
Author Viktor Frankl tells the story of two brothers who were in the same concentration camp during WW2. One brother became a saint…while the other became…something MUCH less than that! Frankl says the reason why is that each of them had the power to choose how he would react to his situation. And each one had to ultimately accept responsibility for their choices. There seems to be a decent cross-section of the population today that simply doesn’t want…or refuses…to accept responsibility for their choices. They blame their circumstances. They blame those around them. They blame the government. They blame society. But somewhere along the way, we have to stop blaming it all on somebody else and accept responsibility for ourselves.
Are you familiar with George Jones? He is an old-school country music icon. And a lot of his songs reflect that- they are the stereotypical “cheatin’ and drinkin’” songs. And George’s personal drinking problem was no real secret. Then, on March 6, 1999, George was nearly killed when he drove his Lexus into the side of a bridge in Nashville. The investigation revealed- no surprise- that he was legally drunk at the time of the accident. Amazingly, he survived. When his next album came out, it was called “Cold Hard Truth”. The big hit song from that album was called “Choices”. The “hook line” from that song says, “I’m living and dying with the choices I made”.
One of the greatest gifts God gave us is that we can make our life better by CHOOSING to. No matter what your situation is, you have a choice. You may not be able to change what is happening around you, but you SURE can change how you react to it. The end result of your life will ALWAYS be the sum total of the choices you made while you were here. A conscious, public decision to serve God is NOT easy. It demands integrity, devotion and self-control. A conscious, public decision to serve God means serving wholeheartedly and without restraint. Just like selfish decisions can negatively impact the people around you, a decision to serve God can positively influence them. To be entirely blunt, we either crown Jesus…or we crucify Him. There’s simply no middle ground. It is choice- not chance- that determines our destiny.
If someone said, “Pack- we’re leaving.”, the first question you would probably ask would be, “Where are we going?” But the second question would be, “How long are we going to be gone?” I mean really- how can you properly pack if you don’t know how long you’ll be gone? How can you adequately prepare for a journey if you don’t know what the time commitment is?
God gave us the ability to choose. Why? Because He loves us, and if there is no free will…there is no real relationship. We have to WANT to follow Him, we have to CHOOSE to follow Him, if it is really going to mean anything. Life is basically one long, unbroken string of choices. We are faced with them every day. Some barely make a ripple in the water while some have consequences that are comprehensive and significant. And the choices that we make define our nature, our direction…and our destiny. And out of all the choices we face, the one Joshua makes in today’s Scripture is the one…the ONLY one…that has eternal significance. Are we going to KNOW God…or ignore Him?
If you feel like you have strayed too far from God, if you feel like it’s simply too late for you, let me assure you of one thing this morning- it’s NEVER too late to do the right thing. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow’s a mystery. And today is a gift- that’s why they call it “present”.
Who are you going to serve? It’s pretty easy to worship the other gods (lower-case “g). It’s pretty easy to aim all your devotion to your job, your car, your house, another person, fame, power…whatever. They simply don’t demand much. On the other hand, they don’t offer much in return, either. Meanwhile, God demands everything. He doesn’t want lukewarm- He wants boiling- the 50,000 watt, red-hot poppin’ church of Jesus Christ. God demands everything…AND He offers MUCH in return! Joshua says, “Choose for yourselves…today…whom you will serve.” And to make sure there is no question, he offers up what HE is going to do, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Serving God when it’s convenient, when things are going well, when life’s easy…no big deal! But to serve God at all times and in all places…much more of a challenge. Joshua knew those challenges, those struggles- he lived through them. And yet he says, “It’s worth it.” Serve God with all faithfulness…because it’s worth it. Even when the going gets tough and the road ahead isn’t clear, the best choice is serving God with all faithfulness.
1Chronicles 16:8-12 That was the day that David inaugurated regular worship of praise to God, led by Asaph and his company. Thank God! Call out His name! Tell the whole world who He is and what He’s done! Sing to Him! Play songs for Him! Broadcast all His wonders! Revel in His holy Name, God-seekers- be jubilant! Study God and His strength, seek His presence day and night. Remember all the wonders He performed, the miracles and judgments that came out of His mouth.
God is so much more than we could possibly imagine. We have nothing He needs and nothing that will make Him more complete. So why bother? It’s simple- grace. Because of His grace, we’re welcomed into a relationship with Him. Because of His grace, Jesus gave His life for us so that the gap between us and God would be bridged.
So, choose this day Whom you will serve. Will you serve God with all faithfulness, knowing that it’s hard and that there will be opposition, turmoil and struggle? It’s simple…but it’s seldom easy. It’s sometimes not pleasant…and there is a cost, a price to pay. “Well, Pastor, why would I want to choose God instead of the easier route?” Here are 4 reasons why we should choose to serve God:
1. Because the relationship is worth it.
2. Because God knows and wants what’s best for us.
3. Because a life lived in God is full of joy and purpose.
4. Because of the steadfast hope of an eternity spent with Him.
I don’t know where you are this morning- whether you’ve made the decision…REALLY made the decision…to serve God or not. But if you have NOT made that decision, or you made it but it was a rather half-hearted decision that hasn’t played out too well, there is always an opportunity to change that. The Bible doesn’t leave much room for fence-sitting on the fence- it doesn’t encourage us to serve God…under OUR terms.
I recently read the top 5 habits of successful families. They are:
5. They have learned to cope with adversity
4. Each person is treated with respect and kindness
3. They eat, talk and simply spend time together regularly
2. Love and laughter are expressed every day
1. Jesus Christ is the glue that holds them together
That, for my money, is a MARVELOUS list! Those are all things MY family works very intentionally to try and do. It is also a marvelous list…for a church family. Think about it- what defines a successful church family? Well, they have learned to cope with adversity. We can disagree about things and still love one another. We strive for unity WITHOUT uniformity. Each person is treated with respect and kindness. I like to just be a fly on the wall some days and watch you all greet each other. I simply DON’T seem division like I see “out in the world”. I don’t see people being ignored or shunned because they look different or talk different or act different. I see people being treated with respect and kindness…exactly the way God CALLS us to treat each other.
We eat, talk and spend time together regularly. A recently joined member of our church family was at the most recent Wednesday Night Fellowship meal and asked, “You do this EVERY week?” Yep! And why? Because we enjoy spending time together and the fellowship that happens simply strengthens our bonds. Also love and laughter are expressed daily here. Life is simply too short to NOT do that. If you can’t find something to make you smile, to make you chuckle, to make you full-out belly laugh…I would argue you aren’t trying real hard! I see people enjoying life…and each other! And the best thing- Jesus Christ is the glue that binds us together. It’s obviously not our backgrounds, our jobs, our economic status or our age that knits us into a church family…it is Jesus Christ.
We all need some help from time to time as we try and navigate the uncharted waters of life. Those waters are hard…and tricky. There are ALL kinds of unexpected and potentially dangerous currents that crop up. We can come upon areas that are completed unmarked- no visible reference points. And all along the way, we have to make choices- ones that we will live and die with. We need to choose wisely, because our choices have eternal consequences. Choose life. Choose God. Today, Joshua and I invite you to make a choice. I can stand before you and say with surety, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” What’s YOUR response?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Fall Has Fallen!

Saturday, September 13- Tilling the Yard

rototiller

I had a flashback to my childhood on Thursday! I have mentioned before that, when I was a kid, my mom was a HARDCORE gardener! She subscribed to Organic Gardening magazine and she put EVERYTHING she read in that publication to work! We had NEARLY every fruit and vegetable one could have in the garden. I thought everybody did that…until I got a little older and say the “big, wide world”!

I have planted, weeded, watered, tended, harvested and eaten a TON of produce. I have also run more than my share of rototillers. We had the little one that barely broke the ground and could be run by a little kid. And we had the BIG one that would have dug to China if we had let it and would beat you to death while you wrestled it for control!

That all came flooding back when I pulled into the driveway from my “4-hour drive for a 2-hour meeting” trip. (See yesterday’s post.) There were four guys from the congregation I currently serve in the front yard, “plowing” the grass! You see, there is a patch of grass between the church parsonage- the house where my family lives- and the church itself. It’s not very big, but it IS the biggest single patch of grass on the church property.

Thanks to some construction that was going on in the summer of 2012, that patch of grass was little more than a mudhole by the Fall of that year. So the men of the church sodded the whole area, in anticipation of winter. Fast-forward to this summer. Much of the sod, due to a VERY short “haircut” it got last summer, was overtaken by some kind of insidious weed. So we sprayed weed killer…which worked like a CHARM! And THAT led to four guys in my yard tilling up the dead stuff, spreading grass seed and straw and watering. The plan is to try and establish a stand of grass before the weather turns too far.

What was done in my yard is pretty much what happens sometimes in our lives. We slowly, almost imperceptibly, stray from the life we are trying to lead…from God…and then, one day, find ourselves overrun with weeds. We try to convince ourselves that the weeds, when mowed, don’t look too bad. But the reality is that something NEEDS to be done. But we rebel against that notion because, well, it can be painful to make the necessary changes.

But when we allow God to run the rototiller, rake up the “dead crud” and toss it in the burn pile, spread some new grass seed and straw and then water the whole shooting match, great things start to happen. We gain a new lease on life, a new outlook. We have renewed vigor. And best of all, our relationship with God, once strained at best and damaged at worst, is restored. And THAT, my friends, makes all the rest of it suddenly worthwhile!

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

Tomorrow- Step Two: Consider the Length

Friday, September 12- 4 Hours For a 2-Hour Meeting

Bored 3

I had an…interesting day yesterday! I am a fully ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church and a member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. In that capacity, my health insurance, as well the health insurance of my family, is provided through the Conference. The premium is paid by the congregation I serve. I more recent years, I have helped foot the bill for a portion of that premium.

But as health care costs have risen and the economy has faltered, those premiums have gone…and up…and up. And they have reached the point where many local churches simply cannot afford the cost. So it was voted at our most recent Annual Conference to no longer offer health insurance through the Conference but instead offer a stipend, less that the amount that the church has been paying for healthcare, which each pastor is to use to purchase his or her own coverage. This will go into effect January 1, 2015.

In anticipation of that…blessed event…the Conference has offered 2 workshops designed to offer us guidance on how to navigate these change. The one closest to me was, well, not that close to me! AND…it was yesterday. I left the house at 7:45AM and drove my younger son to school. From there, I left town and headed to Bloomington/Normal, IL- about a 2-hour drive from where I live and very familiar to me. I lived in “B/N” for 4 years- from fall of 1979 through spring of 1983- when I went to college. I always enjoyed the community and have fond memories of my time there.

I arrived at the church where the seminary was being held about 9:50AM- 10 minutes before it started. That gave me time to hit “the little pastor’s room” before the session started! Since it was one of only two seminars being offered, there were a lot of clergy gathered there. (It’s always nice to see clergy brothers and sisters you haven’t seen for a while!) We spent two hours talking about…health insurance and then…I drove home. I got out of B/N about 12:15PM and pulled into my driveway about 2:25PM. (I would say that the day had been busy, but I still had a meeting, band practice and a couple of hours of work to do!)

I will be the first to admit that I am NOT a fan of meetings! I nearly loathe TALKING about doing things- I would rather DO them! But having said that, I DO realize that, in many circumstances, meetings are necessary! Churches don’t function without meetings. They are the backbone of what we do. Our goal, our mission, is to connect people to Jesus Christ. GREAT goal! But to do that requires planning, conversation and collective prayer. Without those things, it would simply be a hodge-podge of individuals doing whatever they felt like with no real direction or plan.

Did I learn anything from this particular meeting? Absolutely I did. While I still don’t relish the thought of having to get on the internet and wander through the maze that is health care options, I feel a bit more prepared for that ordeal than I did before the seminar. Am I thankful for the folks who gave of their time, talent and expertise to make the seminar what it was? Absolutely I am. They could have simply said, “Figure it out for yourself- I’m busy!” But they didn’t. Am I excited about having to switch health care insurance, especially given the critical health issues I have faced in the past year +? Nope! But it is GOING to happen, so I might as well make the best of it!

So I drove 4 hours to attend a 2-hour seminar. What does that tell me? Well, it tells me that I am not a big fan of meetings OR being stuck in the car! But it also tells me that sometimes you have to do what you DON’T want to do in order to get something worthwhile accomplished. Anything that is worth doing takes some effort. Our job is to stick to it, keep our nose to the grindstone, keep our shoulder against the frame, pushing…pushing…pushing. If you have to drive 4 hours for a 2-hour meeting, then make sure your gas tank is full, plug your iPod into the car stereo, put your favorite playlist on “shuffle” and head on down the highway!

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

Tomorrow- Tilling the Sod

Thursday, September 11- 50 Pounds of Chicken

chickens

Several of my posts over the years have been about cooking. I love to cook. It’s creative. It sometimes takes complex thinking and it provides a rather instantaneous reward! I got another chance to do those things yesterday!

We have all-church dinners every Wednesday evening. 90-ish people gather at 5:15PM, have dinner together and then go on to a WHOLE lot of other things- Fuel (our children’s ministry), adult Bible study, youth Bible study, Bell Choir practice, Choir practice, the nursery…or maybe just home for the evening. I was part of a group that planned and prepared the meal. We had homemade, fresh, all white meat chicken salad on a croissant, fresh, homemade coleslaw, baked beans and desserts.

A local grocery chain had split chicken breasts for 98 cents/pound. 98 CENTS a POUND! If you don’t but chicken enough to know, that is DIRT cheap! That’s just above giving it away! So 50 pounds of chicken was purchased! 50 POUNDS! (Between this meal, one we are doing on Sunday and my family’s personal use, 100 pounds was bought! We pretty much cleaned them out!)

On Tuesday morning, I baked all 50 pounds. It all went in 3 really large pans. I drizzled butter over it, added garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, basil and Italian seasoning, slapped some foil over it and popped it in the oven. Tuesday afternoon, a group of us gathered to pull the meat off the bone and shred it. (I saved all the bones and the juice. It will make some AWESOME chicken broth that will be the base of a hearty chicken soup for a Wednesday evening dinner later in the fall!)

Yesterday, my mother-in-law and I chopped 4 dozen hard-boiled eggs, 4 bunches of celery and 7 large onions. I then added all of that, plus more garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, basil, Italian seasoning AND a liberal amount of mayonnaise to the shredded chicken. A large roaster of baked beans and two large bowls of that homemade coleslaw finished it off.

The chicken was served on those awesome croissants- compliments of that same local grocery chain who gives us a minivan full of bread products and sweets every two weeks. GIVES THEM TO US! We do a LOT of good ministry with that generous donation! The dessert was cinnamon rolls and sticky bun pull aparts- again thanks to the free bread delivery!

I joke a lot about Methodists and eating, but the truth is there us a GREAT sense of fellowship that happens when you gather around the table. The noise at these meals is almost deafening…and I LOVE it! It’s the sound of life. It’s the sound of nearly 100 people sharing their lives with each other. Talking. Laughing. Sharing. It’s a great example of what it means to be the body of Christ. It’s a great example of what it means to be a church family. And it’s a great example of how to have a great meal!

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

Tomorrow- 4 Hours For a 2-Hour Meeting