Friday, October 31- The Death of a Cell Phone

iphone     I have been a Sprint customer for…oh…about 17 years. We were living in our home town yet serving a church 40 minutes away WHILE I was also going to seminary full-time AND my wife was teaching full-time! We were on the road so much that I worried about my wife having car trouble along the way. (We had a Dodge Shadow that we bought BRAND NEW and was THE worst car we have EVER owned! It gave the term “lemon” a whole new meaning!)

I went to the Sprint store…because it was the ONLY cell phone store I knew of! (Remember that this was 1997- cell phones weren’t what they are now!) I wanted the most basic plan they had for her- one phone. But they HAD to go and tell me that I qualified for TWO phones! “Oh…OK!” So we both had cell phones. We were among the first people we knew to have them. They were HUGE!

Over the years, we have stayed with Sprint because, even though we have had more than our share of mind-numbing experiences with them, they have consistently had good service and the best overall plan. So we went through the gamut of phones over the years. (I once said, and I quote, “I will NEVER switch from the Palm platform…it’s the BEST!) Being a closet techno-geek (OK- maybe not so much a CLOSET one!), I have always gravitated toward the smartphones. And I have had SEVERAL over the years!

Almost 3 years ago, I finally made the jump to the iPhone. I resisted for a time, but after having an iPad for a while, I became sold on Apple products. And that phone worked great for me. BUT…it died earlier this week! I am convinced that the makers of cell phones pre-program them the die RIGHT after you become eligible for an upgrade! This time, it actually lasted several months after that moment! Amazing!

Monday afternoon, I noticed that I had no signal on my phone. Where the “bars” are supposed to be, it simply said “searching”. I thought that perhaps I was in a “dead zone”, as I was someplace I don’t usually go. But the next two places I went…the phone still said “searching”. From there, it went downhill to the point that the phone would ONLY tell me that I needed to plug it into a computer and connect it to iTunes.

I use my phone a LOT as a minister. It is the main way people find me, either through actually calling me or texting me, emailing me, Facebooking me…you get the idea! I called Customer Service, but sadly the problem was beyond their ability to help. They referred me to the closest full-service Sprint location where they could run a diagnostic on the phone. And even though the town in which we live is kind of an island unto itself, geographically, fortunately that store was in the SAME parking lot as another business we were already planning to visit on Tuesday!

I DREAD going to a Sprint store as much as I dread calling them on the phone. BUT…I had no choice. So in we went. There seemed to be a decent number of people ahead of us, but there was also a decent number of people working. So we checked in…and waited! Eventually, my name got called. But I couldn’t hear them…because I’m ¾ deaf…so I was grateful (as I always am) that my beautiful wife was with me to “interpret”! The phone proved to be on life support, so the conversation quickly moved to “new phone”.

I had already looked at the 2 newest iPhones, just in case, so I knew which one I wanted. They had it in stock, in the color I wanted. He got one, got it set up, gave me credit for my old phone that I used to get a case and a car charger, and we were done. 76 minutes later…we were done!

Did I want to be there? Would I rather have a pointy stick jabbed in my eye that waste 75 minutes like that? Just about! But something dawned on me while we waited- the “old me” would have be SO impatient. I would have been a big jerk, demanding that they fix this mess. I would NOT been their favorite customer of the day! But the “new me” was patient, pleasant, even jovial. I had a great conversation with the sales associate and thanked him for his help.

If God can change me…He can change ANYBODY! Do you need an attitude adjustment? Look to God. Walk in His way. Read His Word. Try every day to be a bit more like Christ. Do it, and one day you will realize, all of a sudden, perhaps in a Sprint store, that you are a new person, re-born on Christ! No if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a call!

Tomorrow- Trunk or Treat Debriefing

Thursday, October 30- So…Much…Candy!

It…is…everywhere! It’s in the lobby. It’s in the Sanctuary. It’s in the church dining room. It’s in the church café’. And the church office? Oh…MY! There is a table (for those of you who are regular readers, it is the “magic table” that sat on our porch during my surgical recovery. And perhaps that explains the rest of this blog!) in the church office that is piled HIGH with it. So much, in fact, that it has overflowed to the space UNDER the table! In a word, it is…EVERYWHERE!

And what, you may be asking, is “IT”? Good question! From the title of today’s blog, you SHOULD be able to surmise that “IT” is candy! I honestly don’t think I have ever seen this much candy in one place other than a store that SELLS candy!

Tomorrow is Halloween. If there is a more polarizing day of the year for church folks, I’m not sure what it would be. There are churches that refuse to even say the word because the event is seen as so evil. There are churches who seem to take the “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach- there is nothing bad about anything. And then…there are churches somewhere in the middle. Label the church I currently serve as “somewhere in the middle”.

My philosophy about Halloween is pretty simple. There are certainly some elements…OK, MANY elements…of Halloween that are evil. Not gonna lie. And, as a fully ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I’m in no hurry to further the agenda of evil. Doesn’t really work well into the stated job description!

BUT (Admit it- you KNEW that was coming!), things are not that simple. Most kids who participate in Halloween don’t have ANY sense or intention of evil. They just want to play “dress up” and get some candy out of the deal.

Therefore, churches have a choice to make. And there are two possible options. They can draw a line in the sand and refuse to have anything to do with it. OR, they can find a way to participate and yet not compromise their beliefs. My experience is that Christian churches historically are all too willing to draw that line and thereby alienate further themselves from the community around them. And while I am not willing to water down the message simply to reach more people, I AM willing to change the delivery system of that message if it better reaches a new generation of folks.

With that in mind…we have a LOT of candy! The congregation has been incredibly generous. They have donated a TON of candy. They have donate hundreds of bottles of water. They have donated hundreds of dollars. And some of them will bring their cars, complete with candy, and donate their time to hand that candy out. We will cook and give away…GIVE AWAY…about 425 hot dogs. We will give away hundreds of bottles of water. And we will give away hundreds of pounds of candy. Along with giving away all of those things (did I mention “GIVING away”?), we will give away two more things- handbills about the youth and children’s ministries of the church and…good will.

I had a woman stop me at the local grocery about 3 weeks ago. I didn’t think she even knew who I was. (And I do NOT stand out as “the pastor” when I am out and about.) But she said, “Is your church doing Trunk or Treat again this year?” I assured her that we were. She said, “Oh good! It’s such a SAFE way to take my grandkids trick or treating. In fact, you offer so much that we usually take them to your church…and then go home!” The biggest thing people see when they come to our Trunk or Treat event (this is out 3rd year) is fun, welcoming, loving people who have no greater agenda than simply showing the love of Jesus to their neighbors. And for my money…it doesn’t get much 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- The Death of a Cell Phone

Wednesday, october 29- The Lost Heart

Growing up in the country, there were LOTS of things to get into! You didn’t really have to go looking for trouble- it was always right there, ready to go with you! And one of those temptations was the veritable plethora of farm ponds around us. You couldn’t stand in my front yard and swing a dead cat without hitting a farm pond! And my mom was deathly afraid of the water- she nearly drown as a kid. So she was adamant that we were not allowed to go to any of the farm ponds without an adult. So OF COURSE- we were ALWAYS at a farm pond without an adult!

One day my brother wanted to go fishing at one of those ponds and he didn’t want to go alone, so he talked/threatened me into going! Honestly, I would rather have a pointy stick jabbed in my eye than go fishing- I am WAY too ADHD for that! So I took my GI Joe (the REAL 11½” ones, not those wussy 3¾” ones!) and went with him.

After a bit, he got tired of fishing (I TOLD you so!) and convinced me to let him tie my GI Joe to his fishing line and cast him out into the pond. That went great the first few casts. But then, on cast #5, GI Joe’s camouflage shirt came off and fell into the water! I was nearly apoplectic! “Get it! Get it! You have to GET it!” So he dove into the pond and swam out, looking for it. Sadly, there was enough “hardware” (snaps and such) on it that it sank…never to be seen again. (There is, however, a legend at that pond of a catfish that wears a camo shirt!)

At that point, my brother suddenly realized that he was IN the water, completely against mom’s direct orders. Aaawww, SNAP son! So he decided that misery loved company and encouraged me…to join him! We had a great time swimming in that muddy, algae-covered, snake-infested pond (something I wouldn’t do now on a dare!) and then climbed out and were faced with the question- how do we go home…with mom there…and NOT get caught? Well, my brother SUDDENLY remembered that he had to go work for a farmer…and left! I was suddenly like Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald- on my own! So I walked…VERY slowly…home and lingered out in the yard for a while until my clothes dried before going in the house. But to my credit, I DID tell my mom about it- when I was 42 years old! LONG after the statute of limitations ran out!

What do you do when you have allowed others to drag you down? What do when you feel your heart feels lost? In 2009, heart disease cost the US $304.6 billion. 26% of ALL deaths in the US are caused by heart disease. It is the leading cause of death among both men and women. The heart is an incredibly vital organ, and NOT just from a physical standpoint. It is also central to spiritual growth.

Tonight, we start a new sermon series called Burning Heart: The Unmistakable Fire. This series is aimed at reigniting our hearts, setting them ablaze with a fire for God. Many people have “head knowledge” about God, but they lack the “heart connection”. The distance from the head to the heart is only a few inches…and yet some never make the journey. The Greek word for “heart” is KARDIA. It certainly refers to the physical heart, but it also refers to our center, the very core of our being.

Over the course of this series, as we walk through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we will experience the journey the heart takes as it moves from being lost to being on fire for God. The question is- where will you find yourself on the journey?

The Book of Deuteronomy- Moses is 120 years old and about to die. But first, God wants him to write down a record of the treaty between God and the people of Israel. In the 1st 3 chapters, Moses reviews the history leading up to the treaty. In chapters 4-27, he reviews the terms of the treaty. And in chapters 28-30, he calls on the people to be faithful to the treaty.

     Deuteronomy 1:21-28 It is said, “God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as God has told you. Don’t be afraid; don’t be discouraged.” Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” The idea seemed good to me; so I selected 12 of you, one from each tribe. They left and went into the hill country, came to the Valley of Eshcol and explored it. They reported, “It’s good land that God is giving us.” But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of God. You grumbled and said, “God hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart.'”

Our brothers have made us lose heart. When I was in first grade, I sat next to another boy. One day, a rather large puddle appeared at his feet as he sat at his desk. His pants were wet and his face was red. The teacher came over and asked him what happened. He thought for a minute, then pointed at me and said, HE did it!” It’s SO easy to blame others. It’s also SO easy to let others to drag us down.

We are all familiar with the late great Johnny Cash. But what do you know about his life? The late 60s were very hard on him. He was in a very serious car accident. As a result of the injured sustained, he became addicted to amphetamines and his weight dropped to 140 lbs.

In his pain and his agony, Johnny Cash cried out to God. God answered him and turned his lost heart into a burning heart. He was ordained, sought out and partnered with Billy Graham and served God until he died.

Burning heart. Do you remember the two men who were on the road to Emmaus? After they had a direct experience of the risen Savior, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was opening the Scriptures to us?”

Burning heart. The rock group Survivor, who owe their ENTIRE career to Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky movies, recorded The Burning Heart. The lyrics include, “Bravely hope against all hope- there is so much at stake. There’s a quest for answers, an unquenchable thirst.” The burning heart, the unmistakable fire.

Burning heart. Are you familiar with the word “Epiphany”? When it’s lower case, it means “an experience of sudden and striking realization.”. But when it is capitalized, it refers to the celebration of the Wise Men visiting Jesus. These Wise Men- the Magi- were unlikely people to follow a star- they were gentiles, they were scholars, they were learned men. But they came anyway. And between them, they presented 3 gifts to the boy King: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold was normally reserved for the king…and Jesus is the King of Kings. Frankincense was normally used by priests at the altar. Jesus is the principle recipient of our worship. Myrrh was used for embalming. Its appearance here precludes Jesus’ death and resurrection. 3 gifts- very expensive and very symbolic. But the greatest gift of all was the one that was not mentioned- the gift of themselves, “They fell down and worshipped Him.”

The reality is that there is no mention of how many Wise Men there actually was. The number 3 was chosen simply because that’s how many gifts there were. In the book “The Travels of Marco Polo”, the adventurer tells of visiting the Persian city of Saveh. He says it was the city from where the “3 Magi set out”. He also says he saw 3 tombs “of great size and beauty”. In them were 3 bodies…they even still had hair and beards. An early 6th Century Greek manuscript offers names for the Magi: Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior. They were called by God, they allowed a king to drag them down, they realized it, they found their burning heart and they received renewed strength.

People are constantly making promises and resolutions that they can’t keep. Often they never really had any intention in keeping them. It seems to me, the BEST promise you can make if you want to become a spiritual redwood is this- make a change for the better. “Sounds great, Preacher Man, but isn’t that just so much lip service?” No. It’s do-able, and here are 3 steps that make it happen.

  1. Develop a more positive attitude toward your life What would it take to make your life worthwhile? Winning the lottery? Getting married? Having your kids make you proud? Getting that big promotion at work? We have this “If only” mentality in this country. “If only I could…if only they wouldn’t…if only that might…” I have to tell you that if you are waiting for ALL the little pieces to come together…it’s going to be a long wait!
  2. Develop a more positive attitude toward your faith United Methodist founder John Wesley once wore a bow tie with long ribbons hanging down from it. A woman who saw if came up to him and asked, “Are you open to criticism?” Wesley responded, “What do you want to criticize?” The woman said, “The ribbons on your tie are too long. That is wholly inappropriate for a man of God” She then took out a pair scissors and proceeded to cut the ribbons off. Wesley thought for a moment and then said, “May I borrow your scissors?” She handed them to him. “Are YOU open to criticism?” She warily agreed that she was. Wesley smiled and said, “Then please stick out your tongue!” People LOVE to criticize their church- they complain about always being asked for money. They complain that things are NOT the way they want them. They complain about what the music IS…or ISN’T. They complain that their church has a van…or DOESN’T have a van. Chaplain Vance Havner said, “We are not going to move the world by criticism and conformity, but only by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.” The Church does not exist to meet OUR wants, but rather to enable us to better help others meet their needs. The church is a place where people can carry their burdens and drop them off. It’s a place where everyone should feel welcome. It’s risky to be that kind of church, but I for one would rather try something great for God and fail than to play it safe and succeed.
  3. Develop a more positive attitude toward other people Robert Schuller once said, “It would amaze us how many people we would influence for Christ if we treated more people nicely.” If we treat each other with love, then wonderful things can happen for the kingdom of God. The song says “people who need people”…but the church doesn’t just need people- it needs POSITIVE people. We need to make sure that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.

There is nothing you will face that Jesus can’t handle, because God will not take us where His grace can’t sustain us. Determine that you are going to walk in deeper obedience with God. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that the more obedient you are – the fuller your life will be. The only one way to experience a more rewarding and satisfying life is to return your lost heart to God.

There is an Indian fable about a mouse. He had such fear of a particular cat that a local magician took pity on him and turned him into a cat. But then…he had great fear of the dog. So he turned him into a dog…and he proceeded to be afraid of the tiger. He turned him into a tiger and he was afraid of the hunter. Finally, he turned him back into a mouse. He said to him, “Regardless of what you LOOK like you have the heart of a mouse and so I can’t help you.”

So many Christians seem dissatisfied with who they are. They seem stuck in a Christian rut. And I wonder- what’s the problem? I think perhaps the problem is that they focus on their troubles and not on God’s promise. They allow others to drag them down. They have the heart of a mouse…but they WANT the heart of a tiger. They want a burning heart. Life’s short- don’t let others drag you down. Instead, make the most of every opportunity. WE want a burning heart.      Worship, joy and praise are fruits of a burning heart. So here’s tonight’s burning question-  “What temperature is YOUR heart?” Some people say, “Religion is boring!” And I look at them and say, “You are SO…right! ” Religion IS boring, but faith…oh my! Religion is about blind adherence to rules, while faith is about a relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Put God 1st, and you will have an AWESOME life! It will NOT be perfect. Let me repeat that- it will NOT be perfect…but it WILL be blessed! If you CHOOSE to love God, with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength…your life will be blessed. Does that sound good? Do you think that’s a good deal? Are you ready to choose God completely? Are you ready to return your lost heart and exchange it for a burning one?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- So…Much…Candy!

Tuesday, October 28- Inspecting the Inside of My Eyelids

untitled      During the many months that I struggled with the tumor in my head, there was one constant. (Well, there were probably several constants, but I’m going to focus on one of them!) As the tumor took its toll AND the medicine designed to fight it took its toll, my energy level continued to drop.

As a result of that fact, there was an addition to my daily routine that simply had to done- a nap! Nearly every day, I would take a 60-90 minute nap. I get into comfy clothes, climb into bed and try to tune the world out for a time.

Despite my wife’s protests, I always kept my phone on during those naps. Not only do I get a pretty decent amount of calls and texts related to my job, but I also got a decent amount of calls related to my health. And during that time in my life, I didn’t feel I could afford to miss one of those medical calls.

If you know me well enough, you already know what I’m about to say. But the truth of the matter is that I am ADHD enough that the concept of a nap is foreign to me. I don’t sit still very well, let alone LAY DOWN and sleep…in the MIDDLE of the day! But it became apparent, thanks in no small part to my wife’s persistence, that the only hope I had of continuing to function was to suck it up and take those naps.

I was reminded of the “nap days” last Sunday. I didn’t get a ton of sleep Saturday night and then had a typically busy Sunday morning. (I do, of course, only work ONE day a week!) After lunch (also a church function), I sat down in my chair to read…and almost immediately dozed off! My wife (have you seen her as the consistent voice of reason in this blog? That’s no accident!) encouraged me to…take a nap! Two hours later, I was greatly refreshed and ready for the evening activities at church!

We were created to work hard, play hard…and rest! God even designed a day in there as “the day of rest”. Notice there are three things on that list: 1. Work hard, 2. Play hard and 3. Rest. I have learned the hard way that they are all important. I have the “work hard” down cold. I am easily described as a “workaholic”. I will admit that I don’t play as well as I should. But o the other hand, we have a LOT of fun at my house. We laugh, we joke, we are constantly trading witty quips. We are pretty doggone playful at my house. I’m sure that same wife would say that I don’t rest as well as I should. Ut I am better than I used to be!

Make sure you are working hard at what God has called you to do. Make sure you are also playing hard- enjoying life and getting to do some things you like to do. Also, make sure you take time to rest and rejuvenate.

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 Lost Heart

Monday, October 27- It’s SO Trivial!

trivia night

We had some good ol’ fashioned fun on Saturday evening! A group of 8 of us (four couples) from the church I currently serve formed a team and competed in a local Trivia Night. The event was held at a local facility and was designed as a fundraiser for the county Search and Rescue team.

There were, if I remember correctly, 13 teams that competed. If you have never participated in a Trivia Night, here’s how they tend to work. There are 10 rounds. Each round has 10 questions, one each from a list of 10 categories. The categories often stay the same throughout the ten rounds. (In this case, some categories were changed after 5 rounds.) Your team has an answer sheet for each round. The question is read, then the team has to try and A. figure out the answer and B. come to some consensus on that answer! Then, the “final” answer is written on the sheet.

The event cost $10/person, $80/table. In addition, you could pay an extra $6 for a bonus sticker. You put that sticker on the answer sheet from ONE round and that round’s score got doubles. Obviously, you tried to choose the round you thought you did the best on! You could also pay $10 MORE and get 10 “mulligans”. That means you got 10 stickers- one for each round. Before you turned each answer sheet in, you had to decide which question you were the least sure of. The sticker would go on that question and it would automatically be counted as correct. So the grand total was $96/table, $12/person. The event started at 7PM and ended at 10:30PM, which means that we each paid about $3.43/hour for an evening of entertainment. Not a bad deal!

The last category of each round consisted of the emcee playing the intro to a “rock and roll” song…JUST the intro. From that, you had to name both the name of the song and the artist. Now, all modesty aside, I have a nearly eidetic memory when it comes to music. (According to dictionary.com, eidetic means, “of, pertaining to, or constituting visual imagery vividly experienced and readily reproducible with great accuracy and in great detail.”) In fact, I am SO geeky that I will put my iPod on “shuffle”, so that random songs come up, and see if I can name the title and artist BEFORE the first word is sung. (Sadly, that eidetic memory doesn’t translate to everything else!) So when I heard the category, I was greatly encouraged.

Then, the first song came. And I KNEW both the title and the artist- Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp- within the first 2 or 3 notes. Not measures…notes. I thought to myself, “Oh, we’ve GOT this category! Mark them down as ‘correct’ all the way down!” And then the next song came. We got the question right, but it wasn’t without a little teeth pulling. I knew the song, but couldn’t come up with it. Over the next 120 seconds or so, another team member wrestled with it and came up with some lyrics from the song. From there, I was able to come up with both the artist- Bob Seger- and then the title- Turn the Page. Barely!

One of the interesting dynamics of a Trivia Team is that they usually come up with the right answer to EVERY question. However, they come up with LOTS of answers for every question. The trick is to figure out WHICH answer to actually write down! We had AT LEAST 6 or 7 times where we HAD the answer…and wrote down something else!

In the end, we came in 3rd– 5 points away from 2nd. And although I can be FRIGHTENINGLY competitive, I/we were pleased with 3rd place! Out of the top 3 teams, ALL of them had folks from our church- about 15 out of the 24 folks! We were WELL represented! We had a great time. Had some good snacks and some GREAT fellowship. AND…it was a successful fundraiser for a very worthy cause- one whose leadership team is also populated by folks from our church!

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

Tomorrow- Examining the Inside of My Eyelids

Sunday, October 26- Vista One: Living on the Edge of Tomorrow

Growing Spiritual Redwoods Vista One      There was a pilot with 3 passengers- a boy scout, a priest, and the smartest man in the world- and a plane that developed engine trouble in mid-flight. The pilot rushed back to the passenger
compartment and exclaimed, “The plane is going down! We have only three parachutes, and there are four of us! I have a family… I have to survive!” With that, he grabbed a parachute and jumped out. The smartest man in the world said, “I’m the smartest man in the world. It would be a great tragedy if I died!” With that, he grabbed a parachute and jumped. The priest looked at
the boy scout and said, “My son, I have no family. I’m ready to meet my Maker. You have so much ahead of you. You take the last parachute.” The boy scout said to the priest, “Hold on, Father. We’re going to be fine. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane…wearing my backpack!” Perspective is everything- it can change our outlook from bleak
to bright in the blink of an eye with just a few well-chosen words.
Today, we begin a new sermon series- Growing Spiritual Redwoods. This series, based on the book of the same name by Bill Easum and Tom Bandy, looks at the two types of churches that exist today–those that are withering and those that are flourishing. We start from the premise that “the way we’ve always done it” keeps churches from fully connecting people to Jesus Christ. This series will help us answer the kinds of questions that confront Christians in this era of rapid and uncertain change. Questions like: are you committed to Jesus Christ…or to a particular doctrine? Do you see faith as an experience of Jesus…or a heritage to protect at all costs? Do you believe the purpose of ministry is to make members…or disciples? Deep spiritual vitality and an openness to the new thing that God is doing characterize the “spiritual redwoods” that can emerge from this time of change.
Genesis 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning– the first day.
So let’s pause for a moment and take a look at 2 words that are key to this series: vista and redwood. According to dictionary.com, a vista is a comprehensive mental view, a prospect of a distant time. In other words, it’s a view of what’s ahead, from a well-placed, well-chosen lookout. God is the best vista we could hope to have!
And then there’s “redwood”. Redwood trees are the tallest trees in the world. Found throughout the northern hemisphere 60 million years ago, today they can only be found on a 450 mile strip of land in Northern California and Oregon. While they average around 325’, the tallest known redwood is a whopping 379.1’ tall- taller than a 30-story building! The tree is named Hyperion and it was “discovered” on August 25, 2006. It just seems funny that a tree that is almost 380’ tall is “discovered”! It sits in a remote area of the Redwood National Forest and the exact location of the tree is a rather closely-guarded secret- officials are afraid that the increased foot traffic would upset the ecosystem and threaten the tree. Hyperion contains about 18,600 cubic feet of wood and is somewhere in the neighborhood of 700–800 years old. The average lifespan of a redwood is 500-700 years, but some have been known to live as long as 2,000 years.
The truly fascinating thing about a redwood is that, despite their overwhelming height, they have a relatively shallow root system. Under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t be able to stand up to the winds that pummel them- they would topple under the force. But redwoods have a unique feature- while their roots only go 13-15 feet DEEP, they grow 30-50 feet OUT, intertwining their roots with those of the redwoods around them. This symbiosis creates a sense of strength and stability that enables the redwood forest to collectively withstand what the world throws at it. And THAT, my friends, is a GREAT model for the Church!
2Corinthians 4:13-18 It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to Himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

God has brought us together, here and now, for a great adventure. And He calls us to boldly step out in faith. He calls us to be willing to take risks. He calls us to be trailblazers. To quote that great theologian Elwood Blues, “We’re on a mission from God.” We have a mission. We have a bold adventure set before us. Ephesians 2:10 says it this way, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So what is it that God is calling us to? Here are of 3 things that, if we can do them, as individuals and as a body, will forever change the trajectory of this congregation.

1.    Live our faith
What does it mean to live your faith? It means to walk the walk you talk. It means to show others, through your actions, upon what foundation your life is built. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that having God’s Spirit within us makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Now, you might be looking at that list and thinking, “Pastor! Why don’t you just ask me to sprout wings and fly while you’re at it?! That list is TOO hard!” And you know what? You are ABSOLUTELY correct- it IS too hard…if you’re trying to do it under your own power. If that’s your approach…don’t bother. It won’t work. BUT…if you let go and let God, let His power work through you, then that list is imminently “do-able”!
Loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled- in other words, God wants us to show respect and love to others. And for it to happen, we have to be deliberate in the way we live our lives. We should live out our faith in such a way that shows we understand that blind adherence to doctrine will alienate people so fast it will make your head spin…BUT loving others simply because they, too, are children of God, is our goal.
You’ve heard the expression, “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. Sounds good. Been around a LONG time. But I have edited that saying as I apply it to my life. My edited version is this, “Love the sinner…period.” I simply don’t have time to hate. Nor do I have the inclination. I don’t want to focus on hate. So- I work hard to focus on the “love the sinner” part. And since we are ALL sinners, that means, “Love your fellow human simply because they ARE your fellow human.” Hate- ain’t nobody got time for that. Let God sort all of the judgment stuff out. All I have to do is love the sinner…period.

2. Be bold in our faith
I Peter 3:14 says, “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” The phrase “do not fear” or “don’t be afraid” shows up a LOT in the Bible. In fact, there are 365 instances of it. 365- one for every day of the year!
It’s hard to be bold if you are crippled with fear. They simply don’t go together. Author Max Lucado says this about how fear can crowd out the good things of life: “Can one be happy and afraid at the same time? Clear thinking and afraid? Confident and afraid? Merciful and afraid? No. Fear is the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good. Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”
Fear never wrote a symphony or a poem. Fear never negotiated a peace treaty or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did those things. Faith did those things. God did those things.
Writer Cyril Connolly said, “Hate is the consequence of fear. We fear something before we hate it. A child who fears noise becomes a man who hates noise.” Bravery isn’t the absence of fear. It’s being willing to move forward DESPITE the fear. And why should be refuse to let fear rule us? Because God is our light and our salvation. He’s the stronghold in our life. He will strengthen us and help us. He will uphold you with His mighty right hand. It was Plato who said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

3. Connect people to Jesus Christ
The Mission and Vision Statement of the church I currently serve is this- “We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ”. Simple. Pure. Unadulterated. You may not LIKE it or agree with it, but you can’t say you don’t understand it. Why are we here? We are here to help connect other people to Jesus Christ so that they might experience the live-changing power that we have experienced.
But what does that look like- in real time? It looks like…sacrifice. It looks like resisting the temptation to hit the snooze bar on Sunday mornings and stay home instead of getting up, coming to church, worshipping with your church family and getting your spiritual battery re-charged for the week ahead. It looks like stepping out in faith and offering your car, your candy, your bottled water, your money and yourself to the Trunk or Treat event to help us better connect with the community. It looks like sacrificing some “free” time to commit to one of the MANY Bible Studies that are currently being offered here. (If my count is right, there are 10 different opportunities for adults to be in Bible Study…RIGHT NOW!)
It looks like screwing your courage to the sticking place (to quote Lady Macbeth) and inviting someone to come with you to church…or Bible Study…or Wednesday Night Fellowship…or whatever. As a church, we can offer all the snappy ad campaigns and postcards we want, but the way a church REALLY grows is by one individual inviting another individual to join them. It looks like being willing to sometimes completely change the way we deliver
The Message…as long as we refuse to water down the Message itself. It looks like putting God first…and everything else second. I have people say, “It’s not wrong to put my family first, is it? How can I adequately serve God if I don’t first take care of my family?” My response is like Jeopardy- in the form of a question, “How can I possibly adequately take care of my family if I don’t first serve God?”
Connecting people to Jesus Christ means being willing to sacrifice some of our wants and desires in order to better focus on God’s desires AND the needs of others. But I am convinced that a body of believers- true believers who are committed to serving God above all else- are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Why? Because they have the love of Jesus down in their hearts. Where? Down in the hearts. Where? Down in their hearts!
1Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Have you ever had lobster? I mean FRESH lobster? The meat is delicious, but hearing them knock on the underside of the pot as they cook, and then having to clean them while you eat them? Not so much! But they are fascinating animals. Do you know how a lobster is able to grow bigger when its shell’s so hard? They molt. They periodically shed their shell so that they can make room for a new one. The ONE thing that protects them, keeps them safe, and they get rid of it. When the lobster starts feeling cramped inside its shell, they instinctively look for a safe spot to hide. There, they molt- the old shell comes off and the new shell forms. Now, it’s smart that they look for a safe place to do this, but no matter where they go to shed their shell, they are still vulnerable, still at risk. They can easily get tossed against a coral reef and badly injured. Or…they can get eaten. (We’re not the ONLY ones who like lobster!) The bottom line is that a lobster has to risk its life in order to grow. If they refuse to be vulnerable, they’ll never grow. Once their current shell hardens, it offers no room for new growth. They HAVE to risk their lives…or they will not survive.
What about you. How is YOUR shell fitting these days? Is it a bit too tight? Have you allowed your spiritual growth to be constricted? Are you tired of living out the textbook definition of insanity- doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Are you feeling stifled? Lifeless? Your shell keeps you safe…but it won’t let you grow. And it also won’t let other people in. I have an offer for you. Will you join me and shed your shell, despite the dangers, and prepare yourself for new and better adventures? Do you dare to shift your vision a bit more toward Jesus? Do you dare imagine what might be possible if you turn away from the world and turn more toward Jesus? You are one step away from an explosion of energy that can totally transform your life. Will you take that one step? To get what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- It’s SO Trivial!

Saturday, October 25- Persistence

persistence

When I was in high school, the theater department did the play The Miracle Worker. If you know that show, there aren’t many roles for males. There is the role of Helen Keller’s father, which went to a friend of mine who was a senior. And other than that, there is the role of a young man and a couple of boys…and the doctor. Ah…the doctor!

I was cast as “the doctor”. (You know you have a relatively small role when your character doesn’t even have a name. You’re not on stage long enough to warrant it!) The doctor only appears in the opening scene of the play, and he only has one line. The lights come up on the doctor, along with Capt. and Mrs. Keller, around Helen’s crib. The doctor is clearly examining the baby. After a moment, he straightens up, looks to the parents and says, “She’ll live.” And…he’s done. I threatened the director that, on opening night, when we were “live” and she couldn’t do anything about it, I was going to say, “She died. BUT…if she HAD lived, here’s what would have happened.” I could then narrate the entire show!

Helen Keller HAD to be one of the most persistent people…ever. She wasn’t born deaf and blind, but came down with a mysterious illness when she was 18 months old in 1882. It left her without sight and sound at a crucial stage of development. After years of struggle, her parents were able to find Anne Sullivan, a recent graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind. By this time, Helen was extremely moody and difficult to reach. However, Anne steadfastly tried to teach Helen sign language by pressing the symbols into Helen’s palm. In a famous “eureka” moment, Anne was finally able to make Helen connect the letters W-A-T-E-R being written in one palm, with the water from a pump being poured on the other. From there, Helen began a lifelong journey to interact with the world around her. For 25 years she worked to improve her speech so others could understand her. She graduated cum laude from Radcliff in 1904 at 24, and wrote her first book, The Story of My Life.

Persistence seems to be at a premium these days. There is an awfully strong sense of “entitlement” in this country. People don’t seem to want to have to work for much, but instead have everything handed to them because they deserve it.

I don’t know about you, but my folks raised me to understand that you had to work for what you got. They also taught me that if someone else was working…so were you. You weren’t done until everyone was done. (To this day, if I am tired and want to sit down, I will all but beg my wife to come and sit…so that she will stop working and I can stop working!)

I think persistence is a requirement. You have to be willing to keep your head down and just keep pushing, regardless. Life is too short to slow up and let the world pass you by. God created us for SO much more. He created us to be ALL that we can be. He created us to make the BEST use of the gifts He has given us. He created us to be His hands and feet, His eyes and ears in the world. He created us to do SO much more than just narrate!

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

Tomorrow- Vista One: Living on the Edge of Tomorrow