Sunday, November 30- No Room!

IMDb Week One

A honeymoon couple is in the Watergate Hotel in Washington.  The bride is concerned. “What if the place is still bugged?”  The groom says “I’ll look for a bug.” He looks behind the drapes, behind the pictures and under the rug. “AHA!” Under the rug was a disc with four screws. He gets his screwdriver, unscrews the screws, and throws the disc out the window.  The next morning, the hotel manager asks the newlyweds…”How was your room?”, “How was the service?”, “How was your stay at the Watergate Hotel?”  The groom says, “Why are you asking me all of these questions?”  The hotel manager says “Well, the room under you complained of the chandelier falling on them!”

Today, we begin our Sunday morning Advent sermon series- The IMDb Cast of Characters. In case you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “IMDb? What in the world is THAT? Some kind of military code?”, let me explain.

The Internet Movie Database (abbreviated IMDb) is an online database of information related to films, television programs, and video games, taking in actors, production crew, fictional characters, biographies, plot summaries, and trivia. Actors and crew can post their own resumé and upload photos of themselves for a yearly fee.

Taking a page from the IMDb website, we’re going to spend Sunday mornings during Advent looking at a few of the “featured players” in the Christmas story- their “past roles”, how they got the ole in which they are cast in THIS story and what lies ahead for them.

Today, we look at a character who consistently gets a bad rap in this story. He is vilified, reviled…and he isn’t even actually mentioned! The fact that e are talking about him this morning is based solely on inference gleaned from 10 words…TEN words…that imply his involvement. So, let’s consider the reality that a bit player, walk-on, “extra” kind of guy named Vinnie T. Innkeeper was cast as “the bad guy”.

Luke 2:6-7 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Jay, Tom and Paul were at a convention together sharing a large suite at the top of a 75-story hotel. After a long day of meetings, they were shocked to hear that the elevators in their hotel were broken, and they would have to climb 75 flights of stairs to get to their room. Jay said to Tom and Paul, “Let’s break the monotony of this unpleasant task by concentrating on something interesting. I’ll tell jokes for 25 flights, Tom can sing songs for the next 25 flights and Paul will tell sad stories for the rest of the way.” At the 26th floor, Jay stopped telling jokes and Jim began to sing. At the 51st floor, Tom stopped singing and Paul began to tell sad stories. “I will tell my saddest story first,” he said. “I left the room key in the car!”

So Vinnie T. Innkeeper was a struggling actor who just couldn’t seem to catch a break. His name and his “look” typecast him into certain roles. He was “the bad guy”. He had done walk-ons in shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Law and Order. He was always “the muscle” and he never had much to do- seldom even had any lines.

And now, his agent calls with the latest “opportunity”- the innkeeper in a story about a couple coming to Bethlehem and having a baby. In the original script, he had a couple of lines, culminating in, “”We don’t have any rooms available.” But in the end, it all ended up on the editing room floor- except for a  3-second clip of Vinnie shaking his head “no” and closing the door.

Consider this- we vilify the innkeeper for not letting Mary and Joseph in. In reality, we have NO idea what happened at the door of that inn. We can’t possibly know the conversation that took place between Joseph and the innkeeper. But we always imagine this gruff, rude, crude “goodfella” with a heart of stone who turned away the woman carrying the Savior of the world.

But I wonder, deep down in those places we don’t like to talk about at parties, would we have reacted any differently? If a couple showed up at your house…or MY house…looking for a place to rest, would we say anything to them other than, “Sorry- there’s no room in the inn.” It’s easy to see this story as a clear-cut example of how NOT to behave. Do you remember Goofus and Gallant from the Highlights magazine? The Highlights magazine was the only…the ONLY…reason I liked going to the doctor’s office! And Goofus and Gallant were…are…to boys who sow the opposite sides of a situation. Goofus always made the wrong choice when faced with a situation, while Gallant always made the right choice. For our money, Vinnie T. Innkeeper is CLEARLY the Goofus of the Nativity story.

But my gut tells me that we are all simply lucky that it wasn’t US in that same situation. I fear any one of us could easily be Vinie T. Innkeeper. Doing the right thing means doing it even when it’s a tough situation…perhaps ESPECIALLY then.

His name was Wallace Purling, but everybody called him Wally. Wally was nine years old and in 2nd grade…even though he should have been in 4th. Wally was big, awkward and slow…in both movement and mind. It was time for the annual Christmas pageant and Wally wanted nothing more than to be a shepherd. But his teacher, Miss Lumbard, assigned him a different role- the innkeeper. She figured that he wouldn’t have many lines to learn and his size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so, the day of the pageant arrived. Shepherd’s crooks, creches, fake beards, crowns and halos where the order of the day. And no one was more caught up in the magic of the event than Wally Purling. He stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage to early. Then, the time came. Joseph tenderly guided Mary to the door of the inn and knocked hard on the wooden door. Wally was there, waiting. “What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open abruptly. “We seek lodging.” “Well, seek it elsewhere. The inn is full.” “Sir, we’ve asked everywhere- we’ve come a very long way and we’re very tired.”

“There is no room for you.” “Please, good innkeeper, my wife Mary is with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner.” For the first time, Wally relaxed his stiff stance a bit and looked down at Mary. And there was a long pause. The audience started to feel uncomfortable. From backstage, the prompter whispered, “No! Begone!” Wally snapped back to attention, “No! Begone!” he repeated automatically.

Joseph sadly put his arm around Mary and the two of them started to move away. Wally, however, didn’t turn and go back inside his in. Instead, he stood in the doorway, watching the downcast couple walk away. And his eyes began to fill with tears. And then, suddenly and inexplicably, the Christmas pageant took a sharp left turn. “Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And then Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have MY room.”

Some people in attendance thought the pageant had been ruined. But there were many, many others who considered it the most “Christmassy” of all the Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

Here’s the deal- a couple is going to show up at your door…your door…in about 3 ½ weeks. The woman will be “great with child”. And they will want to come into your home…into your heart. The child she carries is the Word made flesh, Emmanuel…God with us. He wants to be invited into your home- not just for a brief respite before going back out into the cold, harsh world…but forever. Whether He comes as a baby, seeking shelter or as an adult- “He stands at the door and knocks”- He will NOT force Himself into your home…into your heart. There is NO relationship unless you willingly invite Him in. Will you open your heart to Him this Christmas? Will you, instead of turning Him away, fling wide the door and say, “Don’t go, Jesus.You can have MY room!”

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

Tomorrow- Ring the Bell

Saturday, November 29- What is Advent?

advent_candlesTomorrow is a special day in the church year. Tomorrow is the first day of…Advent. “Advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “arrival”. Advent is the period of waiting that starts on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day. It is the time that we set aside to prepare for the arrival of a baby in a manger Who came to save the world…and to save us.

So, if Advent means arrival, what arrival are YOU waiting for this Christmas? We all know the “right” answer…but is it the HONEST answer? You know what I mean. We are well aware that the answer to the question should be, “Of course we’re waiting for Jesus, Pastor!” But are you…REALLY?

Think about it- what are the things you look forward to at Christmas? Well, we look forward to hearing the great music. We look forward to all of the beautiful decorations. We look forward to the parties. We look forward to the school programs. We look forward to the shopping. We look forward to the good food. We look forward to decorating the tree. We look forward to family. We look forward to presents- the list goes on…and on…and on!

If you are a normal, red-blooded American with a special fondness for Christmas, you agreed with several points in that list. (Shoot- I didn’t agree with ALL of it…and I wrote it!) But did you notice something? There is NO mention, in that ENTIRE list, of the real reason we celebrate this holiday. The name of Jesus didn’t appear even ONCE! And yet, if we’re honest, my list could be seen as a relatively all-inclusive list…on the surface.

It’s so easy to lose track of Christmas. It’s so easy to get so caught up in the stress and the strain of the season that, by the time December 15th comes, all we can do is pray that it will all be over soon. And what a SHAME that reality is!

What will you focus on this Advent season? DON’T ignore or forget the music and decorations, the parties and the presents. Just put them in perspective. Focus on the fact that God chose…CHOSE…to put on our skin, come down among us and breathe our air…walk our sod. And let me tell you, my friend, 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- A Life-Giving Christmas: Hope

Friday, November 28- The Runaway Train

Runaway_trainposter

Thanksgiving is over- let the games begin! I pray you had a great day yesterday. We had a great day! The 5 people who live in our house and our older son, who lives in Chicago, gathered for a nice, quiet, relaxing day. (Oh sure, we moved some furniture in the morning, but that doesn’t count!) We had a crock pot egg, cheese, hash brown and bacon casserole for breakfast- it was GOOD! And then, about 2:30PM, we had our Thanksgiving dinner. We had

a TWENTY pound turkey (the carcass is in the freezer, waiting to become a good pot of soup!), along with mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh green beans, cornbread and Craisin stuffing, corn, jello/pretzel salad and Hawaiian sweet rolls. Later, we had my wife’s world-famous, award-winning pumpkin cheesecake! (She made if for me! She LOVES me!!) But anyway you slice it- Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is a runaway train, barreling down the track…right for us!

The first official “Christmas” thing that I will do is that my family is going to ring the bell for the Salvation Army for an hour tomorrow at the local Walmart. And then, nearly every day between now and December 25th will have something to do with Christmas. As I said a few sentences ago- Christmas is a runaway train!

You know what I mean- between all of the church events, the office parties, the school concerts, the decorating, the shopping, the…well…you get the idea…it seems like a white-knuckle flight that, by the time you near the end, you simply can’t wait for it to get over.

And that, quite frankly, is a shame. This is Christmas we’re talking about. Without Christmas, there is no Jesus. Sure, there are a TON of Christmas traditions and events that we look forward to that don’t really have anything to do with the birth of Jesus. But at its core, this holiday celebrates the moment when God chose…CHOSE…to wrap our injured flesh around Him, breathe our air and walk our sod. At the moment of His birth, Jesus set into motion a plan that had been on the heavenly drawing board since before the dawn of time. And that plan culminates with your salvation and your eternity with Him. Now THAT’S god stuff.

This season, try…try…try as hard as you can…to find moments to slow down and take a big, deep breath. Make sure that the runaway train doesn’t get you so far afield that you lose track of the reason for this season. Keep your focus on Him. Keep the main thing…the main 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- What is Advent?

Thursday, November 27- Forever

forever    Today is the big day! For many, it’s the 2nd best holiday of the year! (After Christmas…of course!) It’s the day we gather with family and/or friends, we gorge ourselves on WAY too much food, and then we sit around and either A. talk, B. watch football or C. SLEEP! Ah…the holiday season in the good ‘ol US of A!
So, what are YOU doing for Thanksgiving? Our tradition is to spend it with family…family that we don’t get to see often enough throughout the year. I love white meat turkey, with homemade gravy and stuffing. I love my sister’s mashed potatoes, which sadly I won’t get to eat! I love sweet potatoes. I love my sister-in-law’s green bean casserole…which I ALSO won’t get to eat!  But nothing…let me say that again for special emphasis…NOTHING…beats my wife’s pumpkin cheesecake!
I remember SO many Thanksgivings past. I remember one year my aunt brought an exchange student from I believe it was Italy with her. All of us “backwoods farmer” types thought she was quite exotic, and I had a bit of a crush on her! (Hey, I was 10…give me a break!) I remember a bad snow storm on Thanksgiving day. I remember the year my mom tried to buck tradition and fix something OTHER than the traditional turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving. It was THE closest thing to a full-blown mutiny I had EVER seen!
One of my most enduring Thanksgiving memories is also one of the oddest. I was about 8 years old. Many family members came to eat with us. The house smelled WONDERFUL. The food looked great! And…I had a loose tooth. It NEEDED to come out, but I was being a big wuss (that is, by the way, a technical term!) and didn’t want to pull it. My mom, tired of hearing me whine about it while being completely unwilling to actually DO anything about it (a typical response for the 8-year old me!), said she was going to pull it FOR me at the end of the day if it wasn’t out. That didn’t sound good. Remember how your mom brushed your hair when she was mad at your dad? (Point to head) This is the result of that! I…don’t…think…so! Well, I fretted and stewed over that tooth all day, too big of a chicken to actually pull it. Then, we sat down to eat. Now, you know that, when you have a loose tooth, it is a challenge to eat. You try and work the food AROUND that tooth, without actually hitting it. So I sat down, excitedly  and expectantly filled my plate, waited impatiently for “grace” to be said (a once-a-year occurrence at my house growing up) and then…dug in! The first thing I took a bite of was the turkey. It looked and smelled SO good that I couldn’t contain myself. It got a big bite on my fork, quickly shoved it in my mouth, and bit down…forgetting all about the tooth! The turkey hit that tooth and POP…it came out. It hurt enough and surprised me enough that tears came to my eyes. And as I pulled the tooth out of my mouth, blinking back those tears, I held it up and said, “Now mom won’t have to pull it!” My day was made!
The Bible is FULL of Scripture that is appropriate for Thanksgiving. If you can’t find a Scripture reference about being thankful…you’re just not trying very hard! And while it is hard to choose just one to focus on, I turned to the Psalms for a bit of thankfulness on this Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Psalm 136:1-9 Give thanks to the LORD, because he is good. His faithful love continues forever. Give thanks to the greatest God of all. His faithful love continues forever. Give thanks to the most powerful Lord of all. His faithful love continues forever. Give thanks to the only one who can do great miracles. His faithful love continues forever. By his understanding he made the heavens. His faithful love continues forever. He spread out the earth on the waters. His faithful love continues forever. He made the great lights in the sky. His faithful love continues forever. He made the sun to rule over the day. His faithful love continues forever. He made the moon and stars to rule over the night. His faithful love continues forever.
I am a big fan of the Peanuts cartoons. I especially like the actual comic strips, but also like the TV specials…or at least SOME of the TV specials! The best one of all, of course, is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I mean, where else can you watch a great cartoon AND hear the Gospel of Luke account of Jesus’ birth recited? Gotta love it!
Another Peanuts TV special that’s good is the Thanksgiving special. Early in the show, Charlie Brown says, “We’ve got ANOTHER holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.” His sister Sally responds, “I haven’t even finished eating all of my Halloween candy!”
I connect with Sally’s sentiment all too well! It is so easy to get so caught up in the “busyness” of the holidays that we lose them entirely and end up saying things like, “Happy Hallowthanksmas!” Charlie Brown’s sister Sally captures that concept when she says, “Do you know what we have to do? We have to write an essay on Stanley Miles.” Charlie Brown responds, “You mean Miles Standish.” To which Sally says, “I can’t keep track of all those names!”
But later in the episode, resident philosopher and consistent voice of reason Linus sums up the true understanding of Thanksgiving, “In the year 1621, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought ninety of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food. Governor William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish were honored guests. Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: ‘We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice.’” There’s a moment of silence, and then Peppermint Patty, who is usually the resident “bull in a china shop”, simply says, “Amen.”
I DO thank God for my home and my food the safety in my land. I thank God for the opportunity for freedom and justice. But it is SO easy to take those things for granted, isn’t it? Later in the episode, Charlie Brown is feeling low and Marcie tells him, “Don’t feel bad, Chuck. Peppermint Patty didn’t mean all those things she said. Actually, she really likes you.” Charlie Brown replies, “I don’t feel bad for myself, I just feel bad because I’ve ruined everyone’s Thanksgiving.” Marcie says, “But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by ‘Thanksgiving,’ Charlie Brown.”
We SHOULD be thankful for being together this…as the body of Christ. Not everyone has a biological family. And not everybody who DOES have one has a functional, healthy one. But we can ALL have a CHURCH family that will love us and support us- a family for which we can be thankful.
Maybe what I remember most about Thanksgiving is being with family. My wife and I have been together for…oh my GOSH…37 years! (We of course started dating when we were in Kindergarten!) So the majority of my life has been spent dividing Thanksgiving dinner between two, and sometimes more, places. And while that’s tough, the upside to that reality is that you get to spend time with more family! I genuinely look more forward to that aspect of the holiday than any other. hanging with people that I dearly love and yet don’t get to spend much time with is a true blessing! Give thanks to the Lord for He is good- His love endures forever.
What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? I’m thankful that I get to spend time with my family. I’m thankful to serve such an awesome church. I’m thankful for a God Who loves me…regardless. And this year especially, I’m thankful for another day to be upright, breathing and about His business. This has been a whirlwind 18 months. May 28th of last year, a golf ball-sized tumor was found in my head, between the skull and the brain, just about and in front of my right ear. In June of last year, they took off my right ear, got a biopsy of the tumor and then put my ear back on! It turned out to be a type of tumor that is SO rare- I am only the 19th recorded case in history! A drug therapy taken as a nasal spray twice a day proved ineffective- the tumor continued to grow. Three months of a different drug therapy, delivered through a self-administered hypodermic needle three times a week, also proved ineffective- all if did was make me very sick! The tumor continued to grow. It destroyed the bones of my right inner ear- I am now completely deaf in that ear. And then, on Thursday, April 17th, the day before my 53rd birthday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, I spent 11 hours in the operating room! They cut out a portion of my skull, safely removed ALMOST all of the tumor, replaced the missing skull with titanium mesh and screws and then put the whole thing back together! I spent Good Friday, my 53rd birthday, in Intensive Care. I was moved to a regular room on Saturday, the day before Easter. And I was released from the hospital on Easter morning! Six weeks later…six WEEKS…I was back at church…drivin’ ’em all crazy! I have since found out that I have a nearly equally rare genetic mutation that is, at some level, the root of all this.
I’m not going to lie- I wish I never had this tumor. I would have just as soon NOT had the events of the past year and a half happen. And yet, in some odd, mystery, wonderful way..the whole thing has been a true blessing. That…THING…in my head has made me SO much more appreciative of…life. Things I took for granted before now matter. I no longer have time to hate. I no longer have time to worry or complain. I no longer have time to waste. Life is simply TOO short and TOO precious to NOT live it to the fullest.
Through it all, I am most thankful for my faith. I love my family more than life itself and would literally do anything for them. But without the underpinning of my faith, I don’t know if that would be true or not…or at least to the degree that it IS true! People say, “Pastor, how can I possibly serve God if I don’t first take care of my family?” My reply? “How can I possibly take care of my family if I don’t first serve God?” Give thanks to the Lord for He is good- His love endures forever.
Without my faith, I’m just a self-centered, selfish jerk who focuses on good ‘ol Numero Uno! Don’t me wrong- I’m NOT going to mistaken for a saint any time soon! But I AM a much more giving person now that I have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
So…that is what I’m thankful for this year! What…about…you? This holiday season- give thanks, with a grateful heart! This holiday season- don’t waste a moment. Don’t take your days for granted. Don’t leave things undone. Don’t leave relationships unmended. Why? Because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. So make the most of today. As that great theologian from Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway, says; “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” Happy Thanksgiving! Give thanks to the Lord for He is good- His love endures forever.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Tomorrow- Runaway Train

Wednesday, November 26- The Burning Heart

Burning Heart

Sunday, November 23The Burning Heart (Deuteronomy 6:3-6)

Women- does this ring true to you? “If love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was (and always will be) yours. If it never returns, then it was never yours. And if it just sits in the living room, messes up your stuff, eats all your food, uses your telephone, takes your money and never once behaves as if was even set free in the first place…then you probably either married it or gave birth to it”!
Tonight, we wrap up our current Sunday evening sermon series- Burning Heart: The Unmistakable Fire. This series has been aimed at reigniting our hearts. The 1st week, we talked about the Lost Heart. The 2nd week, it was the Turned Heart. Week three, we focused on the Disciplined Heart. Week four, it was the Giving Heart. And today, we finish things up with the Burning Heart. And all along this journey of the heart, I have asked where you find YOURSELF along the way?

Love is a “hot topic”. It is often in the midst of conversations..one way or another. So…do you love God…with all your heart? Consider that question as you read these words-

Deuteronomy 6:3-6- “Hear, O Israel and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and you may increase greatly in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the God of your fathers promised you.  Hear, O Israel: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

There was a couple who was in the middle of a terrible fight and weren’t speaking to each other. At bedtime, the husband realized that he needed his wife to wake him up at  5AM so that he could catch a flight. He didn’t want to speak to her, however, and “lose the fight”, so he left her a note- “Please wake me up at 5AM.” The next morning, he woke up and it was…9AM! He had missed his flight! He was furious…that is, until he noticed the note on his bedside table, “It’s 5AM. Wake up!” Ah, such heart!
Word “heart” refers to the center of an object. In Hebrew, the word translates to “the kernel of the nut”. The heart has to do with the feelings, the will and the intellect. Did you know that more die from heart attacks than any other killer? The same is true spiritually.  God always begins with the heart and then works His way outward- but the heart comes 1st. The heart has to be guarded at all cost. And the reason there are so many spiritual casualties is that, all too often, the heart is ignored.

The heart should receive the greatest effort and the most attention. We protect our homes with security systems, deadbolts and motion detector lights. Yet we tend to ignore our hearts. Too many of us try to live a Christian life while making no effort. But life is a constant warfare and it requires great spiritual energy.

“OK, Pastor- that sounds great and it makes sense…but just how do you propose we DO that?” Here are 5 guidelines 5 things that we need to keep right:

  1. Keep your mouth right- what comes out your mouth has a profound bearing on what’s in your heart. Mean-spirited speech is an indicator of a mean-spirited heart. I love it when people cuss in front of me, get a horrified look on their face and say, “pardon my French, Reverend!” My response? “I had NO idea that was French?!”

There is a huge connection between our mouths and our hearts. Our mouths can do more heart damage than anything else is capable of. Keeping your heart right means keeping your mouth in check. The wrong mouth and the right heart simply can’t occupy the same body. Don’t let your let mouth overload your heart.

  1. Keep your eyes right- what your eyes see affects your heart. Keep your eyes straight ahead, or as we said in school…on your OWN paper! Much temptation is brought into our heart through our eyes- they are incredibly influential on our body. Most memories are formed by the eyes. Most of us remember more than 80% of what we see. But we only remember 11% of what we hear. What your eyes see…your heart wants. And when you allow your eyes to run freely without control, you risk a “heart attack”.
  2. Keep your feet right- where your feet go, your heart goes as well. Don’t turn your feet lose to simply go anywhere they want to go. Don’t make rash decisions. Be careful with whom you walk. Use wisdom in choosing the right path.
  1. Keep your ears right- your ears hear things that they should hear, to be sure. But there are times when we should plug our ears if we are going to serve God.

5. Keep your heart right- if you don’t keep your heart protected, then you face potentially serious spiritual injury.

Has your heart become sluggish in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Have you lost that personal connection? Or as those great theologians Hall and Oates would say, have you lost that lovin’ feeling?

One thing that would help you repair and regain that connection is revival. Why? Because revival has one chief aim- to cleanse us of sin and purify us. Revival is God’s surgery for those who have grown spiritually hard of hearing. Revival creates in us a burning heart- it burns out complacency, discouragement and despair. Burning hearts are filled with the presence, power, purpose and protection of God.

So how do you turn up the flame on our heart? How do you regain that bright flame you once had? If you want your heart to burn brightly for God- you have to stoke it…feed it. Getting closer to Jesus sets hearts aflame. And the closer you get, the brighter and hotter your heart burns.

Ask Jesus to completely take over the leadership of your life. Give your life to the One who gave you life; the One Who gave His life for you. Rather than have a heart that is as cold as ice, wouldn’t you rather have a heart that is burning with passion for God? The choice is truly yours.

John Bisagno is the former Pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church. When he came to that church to interview for the job of pastor, he entered the sanctuary. It was dimly lit, with just a few people huddled together, singing an old, slow funeral song- it was depressing. Later, he took a walk through downtown Houston. He came upon a jewelry store that was having a grand opening. They had bright lights and a greeter at the door who welcomed everybody with a warm smile.

Inside, a celebration was going on- there were refreshments and people were  talking and laughing. He was welcomed and given a cup of punch. Later, after attending both the church and the jewelry store grand opening, he said, “If the jewelry store would have offered me a job, I would have joined them!”

United Methodist founder John Wesley said, “If I had 300 people who feared nothing but God, hated nothing but sin, and were determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ…I could set the world on fire!”

When you’re offered a job, you don’t just consider the salary- you also look at the benefits: insurance, vacation, pension, etc. And if you look at all the benefits of faith, I am  confident you will say, “God, I’ve looked over the whole benefits package You offer- I ACCEPT!” Here we are, each of us on our own road, heading somewhere. Jesus has one desire- to meet us on that road to somewhere and make something very clear- that He died and rose again to set OUR hearts on fire. Where is your heart today? Are you in the middle of a depressing spiritual walk? Do you have all the information, the head knowledge, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference? Is your heart on fire because of Jesus or has your “PILOT” light gone out? Life is short. And Jesus is here, ready to re-ignite you! Will meet Him on your road to somewhere? Do you love God with all your heart?

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

Tomorrow- Forever

Tuesday, November 25- My Doppelganger!

doppelganger

Are you familiar with the term “doppelganger”? According to dictionary.com, “doppelganger” is- “a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person”. Being a lifelong fan of Superman, I can tell you that he has a doppelganger- Bizarro. He is also sometimes called Bizarro Superman. His “back story” has been changed over the years, but he is always some sort of alternate Superman.

Now, that is an overview of the classic definition of the word. But in the “real world”, the term “doppelganger” applies to anyone who is a “twin” to someone else. And I, apparently, have a doppelganger in the congregation I currently serve!

I preached the Community Thanksgiving Service at a neighboring church on Sunday night. About 30 folks from the church I currently serve came to be a part of the event. After the service, the host church had a reception- cookies, cake and punch.

My wife and I sat with some of the folks from the church I serve- there were too many of us to sit at just one table! When we were done, we said our “goodbyes” and then headed to a couple of other tables to say goodbye to the rest of “our folks”.

As I neared one of the other tables, a gentleman from the church I serve caught my attention and motioned for me to come over to him. I went around the table, walked up to him and leaned in. (In a noisy setting, my deafness insists that I lean in to people if I want to have any hope of actually hearing them!) He smiled and said, “You got a compliment tonight.” I said, “I did?” “Yes- a lady walked up to me and said ‘you did a good job tonight’.” I replied, “That’s sweet of her to say.” He smiled bigger and said, “No- she said to ME, ‘YOU did a good job tonight’!”

Picture this- I have a shaved head, a goatee, glasses and was wearing, at the time, a blue dress shirt. This man from my congregation who got the compliment intended for me has…a shaved head, a goatee, glasses and was wearing…a blue dress shirt! Apparently…wait for it…we all look alike! After I got my laughter under control, I leaned back in and said, “Tell me you looked her in the eye and said, ‘Thank you’!” He assured me that he did!

I’ll be honest- I know pastors who would find that whole story offensive. They would be mad that someone else got their accolades. But, good or bad, I am not like a lot of other pastors. I found it hysterical! Those things are fun. And part of the reason they’re fun is that I could easily see myself doing the EXACT same thing that woman did!

Life’s simply too short to not be able to laugh at yourself. If you are so serious that you can’t laugh at yourself…you are simply TOO serious! Lighten up. Take a big, deep breath, loosen your collar and have some fun! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plan that is hatching! I am going to see if my doppelganger wants to have some REAL fun!

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

Tomorrow- The Burning Heart

Monday, November 24- Worlds Collide!

worlds-collide

I am a fan of the TV show Seinfeld.While I admit that it is sometimes a bit…MUCH…for “general audiences”, it is a very funny show. There is an episode where Jerry’s best friend George is in a relationship that he grows more and more unhappy about. He feels that the woman he is dating is trying to change him. He is worried that he will no longer be able to be “himself”. He talks about worlds colliding. At one point in the episode, Jerry and George are talking. George says, “If Relationship George walks through that door…he will KILL Independent George!”

I had a “worlds collide” moment last Friday and Saturday! I wrote about the fact that the church I currently serve hosted what we call the Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar. I also mentioned that one of the “attractions” of that event is A Star is Born. We turn our choir loft into a photography studio and take pictures of individuals and families in Nativity-themed costumes.

If you remember, I worked in the photography industry for 8 years before entering the ministry. I spent 2 years doing school photography (which is akin to “combat pay”!) and then 6 years managing studios or regions for two different companies. I not only DID portrait photography but I TAUGHT portrait photography! I had 20 studios and 100 employees spread out over 4 states by the time I got out. And over those 8 years, including school pictures, senior pictures, family pictures, sports pictures and group pictures, I estimate that I have photographed about 250,000 people! (NO exaggeration!)

AS you might imagine, I haven’t had any great opportunity to use those skills since I went into the ministry. Oh sure, the “people skills” I developed over those years help. And the business management lessons I learned have been very helpful. But I haven’t shot a ton of portrait pictures since then! And then…along comes A Star is Born!

Over the run of the event- 3PM-7PM on Friday and 8AM-11AM Saturday- I got to turn back the clock and revisit my old career. Friday night, I got to photograph a family with a fairly young kid AND a couple with 2 dogs! I have photographed a TON of kids in my day, but I have NOT photographed very many animals. (They weren’t allowed in the studio where I worked…although I brought my OWN dog in after hours and got shots of him with my older son!)

Both the kid AND the dogs did a really good job! But I DID remember some tricks I learned over the years that I was able to put to good use on Saturday morning. Some of the regular tools that I always carried in my briefcase when I managed studios was A. a ball, B. a squeaky toy and C. a feather duster. (No foolin’!) With those three things, I could make ALMOST any kid smile and get almost ANY dog to pay attention!

I didn’t have a new, pristine feather duster available to me, but I DID get a ball and a noisy toy to use for Saturday. And they came in VERY handy! I had a group of three kids, with the youngest being pretty young. And he did NOT want to sit with his sisters and get photographed! BUT…this was NOT my first rodeo. So I got his mom to sit in a chair, put her foot on a stool and put him out on her knee. I then posed the two girls around him, used the ball to get him comfortable and smiley, got some great pictures…and then cropped Mom out of the shot! Mission accomplished!

I had fun doing doing that! Would I want to go back and do that for a living again? Not on your Nellie! I LOVE what I do! But I DID have fun getting in the DeLorean, getting it up to 88 MPH and going back in time 20 years for just a bit! Worlds collided…and it wasn’t bad at all!

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 Doppelganger

Sunday, November 23- Vista Five: The Tree of Life

Growing Spiritual Redwoods Vista Five Logo   A tiny little guy applies for a job as a lumberjack. “Sorry”, says the head lumberjack, eying the man up and down, “You’re just too small.” “Give me a chance to show you what I can do,” the guy pleads. “You won’t regret it.” “Okay,” says the boss. “See that giant oak over there? Let’s see if you can chop it down.” Half an hour later, the mighty oak is felled, amazing the boss. “Where’d you learn to cut trees like that?” he asks. “The Sahara Forest.” “You mean the Sahara Desert?” “Well sure…that’s what they call it NOW!”
Today we wrap our current Sunday sermon series- Growing Spiritual Redwoods- based on the book by Bill Easum and Tom Bandy. The series starts from the premise that “the way we’ve always done it” often keeps churches from successfully ministering to the unchurched.
Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed are those who heed wisdom’s instruction.
Terrence Malick, director of such films as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, directed a movie called The Tree of Life. It’s the story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The movie follows the life of the oldest son, Jack, from the innocence of his childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile the relationship with his dad, played by Brad Pitt. Jack finds himself lost in the modern world, looking for answers to the meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. The movie shows us how both unforgiveness AND spiritual grace shape our lives.
Trees are a powerful symbol of growth- the only living things that continue to grow throughout their lifetime. There’s a great forest of important trees throughout history. In fact, the word “temple” comes from the ancient word for “sacred grove.” The Bible is full of tree tales. There are broom trees, green olive trees, trees planted by the water, palms trees in the desert, and trees in the garden. There are fig trees, good trees known by their fruit, the Great Cedars of Lebanon, and Zacchaeus’ favorite sycamore. With their height, depth and breadth, trees give life three dimensions. Imagine how flat the world would be without trees.
The Tree of Life symbolizes wisdom, protection, strength, bounty, beauty…and redemption. It provides provide shelter, has deep roots and reaches toward the sky. It bears fruit and gives shelter. With nurture and care, it lives for generations. It sustains creation with its abundant fruit, protection and regeneration. It also represents us- we develop roots, strengthen our trunk and branch out to a wider vision of life as we grow. The Tree of Life links heaven and earth. This is perhaps best illustrated in the very LAST book of the Bible…the Book of Revelation.
Revelation 22:1-6- Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
Apparently tree-cutting habits are hereditary. When I was a kid, my dad and my grandpa were cutting down a tree in our yard…and LARGE tree. My grandpa insisted on being the one to use the chainsaw…that SHOULD have been the big warning sign! So, there we were- my mom, my siblings and I standing off to the side watching, my dad standing over my grandpa watching, and my grandpa on his knees, LARGE chainsaw in hand, cutting the tree down. What he really hadn’t calculated was WHERE the tree would fall. Suddenly, the tree is falling…right on top of him! My dad grabbed him by the shirt and literally yanked him off the ground and out of the way AS the tree came crashing down on the spot where he was kneeling! Now, fast-forward about 42 years. My sons and I cutting down a good-sized pine tree at my father-in-law’s house. My older son is manning the saw, “topping” the tree about halfway up, I’m on the other side of the tree…pulling, and my younger son is off to the side watching. At one point, my younger son said, “Am I standing in the right spot?” I answered, “Sure! The tree is going to fall right on me!” To which my son replied, “Really? What are YOU going to do?” I replied, “Run as fast as I can out of the way!” A couple of minutes later, the tree started to fall and I ran as fast as I could, feeling the tree brush me on the top of my head as I ran!” Grandpa would have been proud!
Every December we succumb to a combination of nostalgia, our children’s pesterings and cultural peer pressure and we venture out to some “cut-your-own” tree farm and get a Christmas tree. Million of evergreens are sacrificed for a few weeks of decoration. In 2011, American consumers spent $3.4 billion on Christmas trees– $800 million on real ones and $2.6 billion on the fake ones! I spent part of one summer trimming Christmas trees with a machete- that is A. hard work and B. TOTALLY trashes your arm and shoulder! Growing Christmas trees is a huge industry, dedicated to producing acre after acre of perfectly symmetrical, closely-clipped, firm and bushy trees. Finding the endearingly scruffy “Charlie Brown” tree has become virtually impossible. Every tree has been pinched and pruned into a perfect isosceles triangle, like the way we drew Christmas trees when we were kids.
Trees have always fascinated people throughout history, representing something that is both larger and more enduring. A tree can easily watch three or more generations of humans live and die. There’s a bristlecone pine in California estimated to be 4,600 years old- it was alive during the heydays of the Ancient Egyptian empire. Is it any wonder that trees evoke such a sense of awe and wonder?
How good are you with Bible quotes? Here are some famous quotes- see if you recognize them as coming from the Bible or not. And if not, then see if you recognize where it DID come from!
“There is method to my madness.” Shakespeare/Hamlet.
“There is no new thing under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
“A plague on both your houses.” Shakespeare/Romeo and Juliet
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Aesop’s Fables
“As pure as the driven snow.” Shakespeare/Macbeth.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Gandhi
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain
“God helps those who help themselves.” Benjamin Franklin/Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” 1 Chronicles 16:9
Job 14:7 says “There is hope for a tree- if it’s cut down, it will sprout again, and its shoots won’t stop.” The Bible also tells us that from the apparently dead and withered stump of Jesse shoots forth the green, supple new growth of a completely new being – the 2nd Adam, the Messiah, Emmanuel- God with us…Jesus. Jesus is the living incarnation the Tree of Life and He brings the offer of eternal life to everybody. Trees, like the great redwood, bear seeds. And those seeds contain within in them the very essence of the tree. This continuous regeneration is a powerful symbol of eternity. As we grow and develop spiritually, a more mature personality emerges and begins to flower and fruit, sharing its gifts with the wider world.
Jesus is calling us to become Spiritual Redwoods- both individually and as a church. He encourages us to grow a faith that features the powerful qualities of a great redwood. Here are three qualities of becoming a Spiritual Redwood that we will take a moment to focus on:
1. being a Spiritual Redwood isn’t a boring, flat existence…but a four-dimensional faith. The three dimensions are the ones we see every day- height, depth and breadth. The vital, continually growing and ever-intertwining relationship between the human and the Divine is a reality that occupies space and time, transforming a flat, one-dimensional existence into a fully formed three-dimensional expression of love. But that elusive 4th dimension is found underground- the root system. There’s as much of each of us, or more, that’s invisible as there is visible. Our root system feeds and nourishes our soul. That invisible part beneath is what helps shape the visible part above- who we are, the part that others can see. For us to have a vibrant, three-dimensional life that others can see, we first have to create a vibrant 4th-dimensional life that most people will never see.

2. a Spiritual Redwood grows fastest and deepest in the winter. When it looks like the tree is most dormant, maybe even dead, struggling against the wind, rain, snow and sleet, that’s exactly the time when the tree is deepening and widening its root structure and talking a new, better, stronger hold of the earth. How well a tree functions in the winter determines how well it will flourish in the spring, summer and fall. We can look at times of suffering, pain, rejection and discouragement as setbacks…or we can see them as opportunities for us to grow deeper root systems and find new sources of nourishment and strength. Roots, flowers, fruit- that’s the order a Spiritual Redwood follows. Strong roots are necessary to produce beautiful flowers. And beautiful flowers are necessary to generate ripe fruit to nourish a hungry world. That’s why lives that offer the most delicious fruit are often those that have endured the greatest hardships.

3. a Spiritual Redwood provides windbreaks for others. Amazingly, the Sahara desert used to be a dense forest…until the climate changed. Early American settlers cut down large sections of North American old-growth forest, proudly stating that when they finished cutting down a forest, they “didn’t leave a stick standing”. But we often overlook the importance of those “sticks” to our lives. After the great dust bowl of the 1930s, the federal government provided money for planting hedgerows so that farms would have protection from blowing topsoil and drifting snow, and animals would have shelter where they could live and raise families. In similar fashion, Spiritual Redwoods serve as human hedgerows, helping others put food on their spiritual table.
A guy is sitting in a sidewalk cafe when he notices a couple of guys from the public works department working across the street. One of them digs a hole, and then the other guy comes along behind her and shovels the dirt back in the hole. They go up and down the entire block like this. Finally, as they stop to work in front of the cafe, the man speaks up. “I’ve been watching the two of you work, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is that you’re doing.” One of the guys looks at him and says, “Oh, well normally there’s three of us, but the guy who PLANTS the trees is out sick today.”
There’s a legend that when Adam was dying, he sent his son Seth back to the Garden of Eden to get the Oil of Mercy. But no matter how much Seth begged, the guardian angel wouldn’t give him any. Instead, the angel gave Seth a seed from the tree of life and told him to plant it on his father’s grave. When Adam died, Seth did what the angel said. That seed grew into a tree that, years later, gave Moses the wood for his miracle-working staff. Later the tree was cut down and tossed in the reject pile, where it was later picked up and used . . . to make the cross on which Jesus was crucified. It was truly the tree of life. The best vision of growth is seen from the tallest of trees.
Acts 18:9-11 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision:’Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
Botanists have made an interesting discovery about trees. They’ve found that when the roots of two trees touch, there is a substance present that reduces competition. A yet unknown fungus helps link roots of various trees, even dissimilar species. Because of this, a whole forest can act as one. Some trees have better access to nutrients. Some trees have better access to water. Still other trees have better access to sunlight. What happens is that they cooperate with each other, and that cooperation enables them to not just survive…but thrive! New birth and shared cooperation are essential to the health of a Spiritual Redwood. Will you become a Spiritual Redwood for those around you?

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

Tomorrow- Worlds Collide!

Saturday, November 22- How Bazaar!

Bazaar

The church I currently serve is a busy place. And that is not automatically a good thing in a church. I have seen churches that are very busy places…but they are really doing MINISTRY. Instead, they are all about things that make them more like the local country club or social organization than the local church. So “busy” isn’t always good in a church.

HOWEVER…if a church is busy doing things that help connect people to Jesus Christ, then busy is STILL not a good thing…it’s a GREAT thing! And the church I currently serve is busy doing JUST that- connecting people to Jesus Christ.

At the end of October, we welcomed over 50 people from the community to the street outside the church for Trunk or Treat. Then, 2 weeks ago, we hosted over 100 women from the greater area to a simulcast of Women of Faith. And yesterday and today, we have again opened our doors for the Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar. This is an amazing event that just grows and improves every year.

The event is 3PM-7PM on Friday and 8AM-11AM on Saturday. There is just about anything you can think of there. The first rom you come to holds somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 Nativity sets. As someone who has a (small) collection of Nativities, I always enjoy seeing the wide variety of types and styles.

There is the Candy Cane Café, the Country Store, the Sweet Shoppe, Love Notes, Deck the Halls, Creative Hands, Pampered Pets, Razzle Dazzle, Kitchen Korner. Dinner-To-Go, Secret Shoppers, A Star is Born and the Fellowship Café- featuring soups and savory muffins on Friday and biscuits and gravy and Saturday.

Starting last year, my job is A Star is Born. We turn the choir loft in the sanctuary into a photography studio! The choir chairs come out, a backdrop goes up and the Nativity-themed

costumes come out. Folks come in, gets “costumed” as shepherds, wise men, angels and/or Mary and Joseph. I then pose them, climb the 8-foot ladder and “shoot” them! We have fun and in the end, they get a CD with their cropped, edited pictures burn on, ready for them to take home and make a Christmas card out of.

The cool thing about the Bazaar is that SO many folks from the church work SO hard to make it happen. Then, SO many people from the community…and beyond…come to be a part of it. And in the end, three GREAT things happen. 1. Church members get to roll up their sleeved and be the hands and feet of God in a real, tangible way. 2. We get to show hospitality, grace and the love of Jesus Christ to a LOT of people. 3. a LOT of money is raised that is ALL used for local ministries. And for my money- it just 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- Vista Five: The Tree of Life

Friday, November 21- Early Turkey Day

Turkey_dinner

I have mentioned before that the church I currently serve does a Wednesday Night event, like many churches do. And like many churches, the evening is built upon the foundation of an all-church dinner. A variety of groups and individuals from the congregation “take turns” planning, preparing and serving the meals. And they are always great! (Frankly, food I DIDN’T have to cook tends to be great!)

Since the event is on Wednesday evening, and since Wednesday evening next week is “Thanksgiving Eve” (“…twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house…!”), we don’t have our regular Wednesday evening event on the week of Thanksgiving. That means that on Wednesday, the week BEFORE Thanksgiving…the day before yesterday in this case…we have a Thanksgiving dinner as our meal. And this year was no exception!

A gentleman in the church came to me a few weeks ago and asked if anyone was signed up to cook this week. The answer was, “No.” He said, “Put me down. We’re going to do Thanksgiving dinner!” Sounds good to me! So he began his preparations- ingredients were purchased and plans were made. He also lined up a BOATLOAD of folks to help make the dinner happen, which is awesome!

He was in on Tuesday and the turkey was cooked and some other things prepared ahead. Then, on Wednesday, help descended on the church like a plague of locust! There were people in and out ALL DAY LONG, working on that dinner.

Now, the hard part about cooking ANY Wednesday night dinner, let alone a Wednesday night Thanksgiving dinner, is that you simply don’t know how many people are coming. And in case you are currently saying, “Well, why don’t you just have people sign up and/or make reservation? Simple!” That may SOUND simple…but it’s NOT. Someone has to try and manage all of those reservations. Plus, when people have to commit in advance, one of three things invariably happens: 1. they don’t sign up and don’t come because they don’t know that far in advance if they will be available, 2. they don’t sign up but come anyway or 3. they sign up yet don’t come! So in the end, taking reservations is a LOT of work and it doesn’t end up helping in the end anyway!

So what do you do? You guess! You look at history. You consider anything else special going on that might draw people away. You consider a special event at church that might draw more people in. And then…you make the most educated guess you can on how much food to fix…and you pray a lot!

In the end, we served turkey, homemade cornbread dressing, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, raw veggies, rolls, pumpkin pie and drinks to at least 100 people. And it was GREAT! The food was outstanding and the attendance and fellowship were even better! Someone who has only been attending the dinner for a couple of months came up to me and said, “I hope it’s OK- I brought some new people!” I looked at him, smiled and said, “We LOVE new people! In fact, we love OLD people, too!”

The meals cost the church money- any bills people turn in for supplies for the dinners is paid for from a budget line item. But even though there is no charge for the meal, we put out a donation basket. The basket states that 100% of any donations got to A. fund a food kitchen we run in South America and then B. fund other international missions with any money that is left over. It is a labor of love for this church- and it pays off HUGE “kingdom dividends”!

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

Tomorrow- How Bazaar!

Thursday, November 20- What Brings God Joy?

joy

I talk a LOT about the difference between happiness and joy. And for my money, there is a HUGE difference between the two! Happiness is dependent upon your circumstance. Happiness is dependent on someone or something else. Happiness is fleeting. It’s like trying to grab ahold of mist. And other people or your circumstances can take it away from you.

Joy, on quite the other hand, is NOT dependent upon circumstance. It is NOT provided by someone or something else. And no one…NO ONE…can take it away from you. Joy is God-given, impervious to outside influence and the only way you can lose it…is to willingly give it up.

I have been thinking about joy a lot lately because of a devotional that was given at our recent United Methodist Men’s dinner. The gist of the devotional was this question, “What brings God joy?” The devotional was well thought out and well presented. It talked about joy, what it is and what bring God joy. One of the examples of something that brings God joy was a father…a FATHER…making breakfast for their children. Guess what? I do that basically EVERY day! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I bring God joy! Just sayin’!

Seriously, the bottom line for this devotional was that what bring joy to Go is when we do things for other people. When we act as His hands and feet, His eyes and ears in this world, we bring Him joy. And so I wonder- how are YOU doing at bringing joy to God? How are you doing at doing things for other people?

Think through the past week. Walk through it in your mind, day by day. What kinds of things did you do for other people? Some people might say, “Well, Pastor- it’s easy for you to ask about that. You get LOTS of opportunities to do things for other people!” And you know what? You’re right! I DO get lots of opportunities to do things for other people. It’s one of the best things about what I do.

But to be honest- you get JUST as many chances to do things for other people as I do. WE are constantly presented with opportunities to bring God joy through our interactions with others. The question is- do we take advantage of those opportunities, do things for other people and bring joy to God? Or do we instead turn a blind eye, choosing to not get involved?

God wants us to bring Him joy. He wants nothing more than to have a great, solid, loving relationship with Him. We are His children. And what parent doesn’t want their kids to bring them joy? Step out in faith, watch for opportunities to do things for others…do them…and bring God joy!

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

Tomorrow- Early Turkey Day

Wednesday, November 19- The Giving Heart

Love

The Pastor got up in front of the church one Sunday and told the congregation that they simply needed more money. He said that, in an effort to encourage them to be more generous, the person with the largest single gift that day would be able to pick 3 hymns. The plates were passed and they raised a good amount of money. The largest single gift was $1,000 given by a sweet little white-haired lady. The Pastor invited her up to the front of the congregation to personally thank her. “Thank you SO much, Eunice, for your incredibly generous gift. Now, true to my word, please pick your 3 hymns. Eunice’s eyes brightened , she looked out at the congregation and she said, “I’ll take him…and him…and him!”

We are in the 4th week of our current Sunday evening sermon series- Burning Heart: The Unmistakable Fire…a series designed to reignite our hearts for God. The 1st week, we looked at the lost heart. The 2nd week, it was the turned heart. Last week, we focused on the disciplined heart. Today, we talk about the giving heart. And as we walk along the journey the heart makes, I want you to consider- where will you find YOURSELF on the journey?

Here’s a riddle for you- what is the easiest way to make a small fortune these days? Start with a large one! I want to make it clear that talk about giving is NOT just about money. It’s about the membership vows of the United Methodist Church- the giving of our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. It ALMOST makes you want to go back to giving just being about money, doesn’t it?! So, what does the Bible have to say about all this? What does the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy specifically, as that is the book on which we are focused at the moment, have to say? What wisdom can we gain from it?

         Deuteronomy 15:7-11–  7 If there is any poor man among you in any of the towns of the land God is giving you, don’t be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this, God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people. Therefore I command you to be be open handed toward your brothers, toward the poor and needy in your land.

There is a deeply-rooted problem in our society today- a lack of charity. And for our purposes, I would define charity as “giving without any thought or expectation of return”. There are too few Americans these days who really, truly live to serve others. Our society has developed a STRONG “what’s in it for me?” mentality.

But the beauty part is that we DON’T have to be like the culture around us. “What’s in it for me?” doesn’t have to be the norm under which we operate. God wants us to take a different path than the world. He wants us to give. He wants us to help others. Why? Because a firm commitment to giving not only helps others…it helps US grow in our faith as well.

Do you know who the 1st billionaire was? John D. Rockefeller. He was a millionaire by the time he was 23 years old and a billionaire by the time he was 50. And basically every decision he made, every attitude he worked from and every relationship he developed was tailored to create great personal power and wealth. Then, at the age of 53…he was dying. Here was the world’s only billionaire, who could buy anything he wanted, and he was dying.

The doctors predicted that he wouldn’t last more than a year. And Rockefeller quickly figured out that he couldn’t take his huge successes and his vast wealth with him when he died. The man who controlled the business world realized that he had no control over his own life. So he made the choice that he wanted to channel his assets to hospitals, research and mission work. From that decision, he establishing the John D. Rockefeller Foundation. And the work that foundation did helped lead to the discovery of penicillin, as well as cures for malaria, TB and diphtheria. Frankly, the list is enormous, but the most amazing part is that the moment he began to give…he also began to get better! The man who almost died at the age of 53 went on to live to the ripe old age of 98- all because he learned a strong lesson on gratitude and generosity. That lesson made him whole- and while it is one thing to be healed, it is quite another to be made whole.

There are 3 realizations that are made by generous, gracious people:

  1. What I have doesn’t really belong to me- God owns it all. It’s not about what we have- it never was and it never will be. Instead, it’s about what God gives to us to manage, because all of it is only on loan. God holds the rights and we get the responsibilities. Every minute I live, every ability I have and every dollar I have comes from God. We HAVE much…but we OWN nothing. Think about your house- how long has the GROUND been there? Ask yourself- do I REALLY own it, or do I simply possess it? The title reflects temporary possession. And if we really believe those things, then we are free to give God’s resources generously for His purposes.
  2. I shouldn’t complain about what I don’t have- in the Bible is the story about one who was 5 talents, another who has 2 and another who has 1, each according to their ability. Are you a 5 talent person or a 2 talent person? God gives us opportunities for service in accordance with our ability to make use of the talents He has given us. Therefore, since we don’t all have the same abilities, we all don’t don’t have same opportunities, either.
  3. I should invest what I have in God’s kingdom, not hide it. One of the distinguishing characteristics of a Christian should be their service, their giving. Katie Fisher was 17 when she brought her prize lamb to the Madison County, Ohio Junior Livestock sale. She was also battling cancer, and between hospital stays and chemotherapy, her family had amassed a lot of debt. The auctioneer told the audience about Katie. He also told them that he hoped they could push the price of her lamb above the current $2/lb. avg. Well, they did that…and so much more. The price rose until it peaked at $11.50/lb. Then, the buyer did something remarkable- he gave the lamb back, to be re-sold. That one action started a chain reaction. People continued buying the lamb and then giving it back. In the end, the lamb was sold 36 times that day and they raised $16,000.

When we support the church through our the giving of our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness, the truth is that many do a little with a lot, while some do a lot with a little. We tend to think: “I have fewer gifts and blessings from God, therefore I am less accountable.”

But the Bible is full of people who refute that notion. The Bible is full of people who did a lot with a little- the widow and her coins, the boy with his 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread.

But there’s an obstacle that we have to overcome before we are able to take a little and do a lot with it. And that obstacle is the way we think. “My little bit won’t amount to much in this big world. I barely have enough to care for me!” But Ephesians 3:20 says, “God is able to do exceedingly abundantly- beyond all that we can ask or think!” We forget- little is much when God’s in it! He can do SO much with our little!
There was a little girl who gave everything that she had- which was one single penny- to a woman who was preparing supplies to send to missionaries in India. And once those supplies arrived, a Gospel tract ended up in the hands of a Burmese chief. That tract led the chief to Jesus. And he was so moved by the experience that he shared his faith with his tribe. Out of that a church was established and soon, there were 1,500 people coming- all because a little girl let God do much with her little. Giving has nothing to do with whether we have a lot or a little; no gift is too small for God to use.
What’s the best way you can use your gifts and graces for God? Commit to helping connect other people to Jesus Christ, that they might become passionate followers. Concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost the all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, I still possess.” We should be faithful in using any and all opportunities for service to God.

I have heard it said that there are 3 kinds of givers- the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of flint, you have to hammer it, and even then- all you get are chips and sparks. To get water from sponge, you have to squeeze it- the more you want, the more pressure you have to apply. But the honeycomb simply overflows with its own sweetness and goodness.

Our Church vision and mission statement encourages us to be honeycomb givers. It reflects the focused, balanced, evangelizing, discipling, on-fire” kind of church that God wants. “We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ.” Simple. Straightforward. Life-changing. The best way to give our life to God is to commit to helping people become passionate followers of Jesus Christ. You need to give up what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose.

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

Tomorrow- What Brings God Joy?

Tuesday, November 18- Celebrating Ministry

Celebrating ministry

OK- let me just say it right up front; I am NOT a huge fan of meetings! And if you know ANYTHING about that job, you might well be thinking, “Then why oh WHY did you go into the ministry…especially in a mainline denomination church? What were you THINKING?!” And to that I say…good question!

The truth is I love serving in the United Methodist Church. I don’t always agree with everything we do…but to agree with everything the Church does, I would have to pastor the First Church of Rev. Mark! (And I do NOT see that happening any time soon!)

But despite my love of the Church, I am not so enamored of meetings. They are important, to be sure. You have to plan some things before you can go and do them. I get that. But let’s be honest- DOING ministry is a WHOLE lot better than talking about doing it!

One of the interesting dynamics in the United Methodist system is the Administrative Council- or to those “in the know”…Ad Council. It is the governing body of the local church. It is made up of the pastor, a chairperson and the chairs or representatives of the other committees and ministries in the church. Certain positions HAVE to be members of the Ad Council, but the body itself can make pretty much ANYBODY a member, if they so choose.

Over the years, I have seen pretty much ALL of it when it comes to Ad Councils. I have seen ones that were highly functional, ones that were somewhat functional and then those that were…dysfunctional! Dysfunctional Ad Councils focus on things like jockeying for position and arguing over who gets the credit. They also are very territorial and often not at all supportive of any ministry that is A. new, B. not theirs or C. all of the above!

Let me assure you that is not a fun place to do ministry. It is also decidedly un-Christian. (Sorry if that offends, but I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em!) It seems much more like a unhealthy social club and much LESS like the 50,000 red-hot poppin’ Church of Jesus Christ.

Last Sunday evening, the church I currently serve had their monthly Ad Council meeting. And with all of that as a preface, you are now thinking, “Oh, Lord! What’s he going to say now?!” What I’m going to say now is that the church I currently serve is HIGHLY functional when it comes to these things! Ad Council meetings are NOT painful, gut-wrenching nightmares. Instead, they are marvelous, upbeat, positive celebrations of ministry. They are uplifting conversations about what we are doing, what we COULD be doing and where we are headed. And THAT, my fine-feathered friend, makes meetings ALMOST palatable!

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 Giving Heart

Monday, November 17- The Busy Season

Busy-or-Productive

When I announced to my older son, when he was in 2nd Grade, that I was going into the ministry, he said, “That’s awesome- you’ll only have to work one day a week!” Over the years, I have had folks- well-intentioned folks- who have asked, “So, you’re minister? What’s your other job…your ‘regular’ job?” There is an understanding in this country that clergy are bi-vocational- they have to have another job to supplement their ministry work. And for many, that is exactly how they live their lives.

I am fortunate that I have been able to avoid bi-vocation since I graduated from seminary. (During the three years that I was a full-time Master’s Degree student, I also worked part-time…nearly full-time at a church and worked part-time beyond that, to help bring a few extra bucks in every month!) In fact, as a full-time Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church, I am technically not even allowed to have another job.

But within that full-time designation, there is a lot of variation. Some churches and some pastors are a 30-35 hour/week sort of gig, while others are more of a 40+ hour/week experience. I am delighted to serve a church that is busy all the time. They aren’t busy simply for the sake of being busy- which is easier than it sounds. Instead, they are busy connecting people to Jesus Christ in a wide variety of creative, imaginative ways. I personally need that sort of stimulation- I don’t do well with “quiet and slow”!

Recently, my wife pointed out that I had not gotten a ton of sleep in the past few days and that perhaps I should take a nap. (She has always taken good care of me and does an even better job…if that’s possible…since my tumor and cranial surgery!) She added, “You need to rest up- you are entering your busy season!” And while I FULLY understand what she meant- from mid-November to the end of the year is truly one of the busiest times of the year in a church- I responded with, “You mean as opposed to the PAST several months?!”

God doesn’t take a vacation from us…thank…Him…so why would we want to take a vacation from Him? For me, the “busy season” in a church should be 24/7/365. It’s a “pedal to the metal”, “if you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly”, “if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch” kind of thing. Is this the busy season for the church? Yep? Is February? You bet! How about July? Uh huh! As Christians, we are called to be the 50,000 red-hot poppin’ watt Church of Jesus Christ. And for my money, it doesn’t get a whole lot 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- Celebrating Ministry

Sunday, November 16- Vista Four: Birthing the Fruits of Life

Growing Spiritual Redwoods Vista 4

There is an overarching theme when it comes to being an actor, and that theme is…lie if you have to! If the casting director says, “Can you ride a horse?” Your answer, regardless of the truth, is, “SURE! Why, I was practically BORN on a horse!” And then, if you get the part, you immediately go out and learn how to ride a horse!

Well, when I was in college, I had major back surgery between my Junior and Senior years. After surgery, I was trying to find a job that I could physically do for the rest of the summer…picking up hay was out! And then I saw a newspaper ad- a new restaurant was opening and looking for…magicians. Well, I’m an actor…I could ACT like a magician! I hadn’t done really any magic to speak of, but I had always been fascinated by it. So…I went and applied. When I got there, a man was sitting at a card table in front of the restaurant, which was still under construction. He had  with him a deck of TV Magic Cards (special playing card that do the tricks for you…no talent required)! He did a few “tricks” for me, then asked if I did magic. “Sure!” Then came the response I didn’t want to hear. “Show me.” Um…I…er…um…that is to say…I didn’t bring anything with me.” Lame, unacceptable excuse, right? But the amazing thing is…he bought it! I got the job…and then set out to learn some magic!

In my first year of college, freshmen weren’t allowed to audition for acting roles. They wanted you instead to “pay your dues” and do the grunt work- manage props, run lights, handle costumes, apply makeup, usher, whatever. The first show of my freshman year was a musical- Candide. Since I couldn’t audition for it, I thought it would be fun to play drums in the pit orchestra, so I got “special dispensation” to trade the grunt work for the pit orchestra. It was great! The next play was Death of a Salesman. The director wanted odd percussion sounds to happen when the main character was kind of losing it. I again got to skip the grunt work and play drums. By the end of the year, I had played drums for all 4 main stage productions, the mainstage Children’s Theater production, the Dance Show AND a show produced at a restaurant in town. Oh, and I NEVER did the grunt work. (It was pretty awesome…not gonna lie!) Most people at the university thought I was a music major that first year- I even had REAL music majors asking me why I wasn’t in any of their classes! When it comes to talents, skills, gifts…whatever you want to call it…I have a very odd skill set! When I was 6 years old, I played Snoopy in front of hundreds of people and won the Talent Show. In 3rd grade I did a Bill Cosby routine (which I STILL remember…42 years later!) and won the Talent Show. In 4th grade, I did a Flip Wilson routine, complete with a full Geraldine costume (“The devil made me do it!”)…and won the Talent Show! I acted in plays and played in bands all through high school, college and beyond. I did some TV work. I portrayed a variety of witnesses in courtrooms in Springfield while participating in a lawyer training session. I do voices and impersonations. I have been the warm-up act for the Miss Illinois pageant. Just…weird…stuff! And I figure that if God can use…this (point to self)…then God can certainly use you!

Today we continue our current Sunday sermon series Growing Spiritual Redwoods, based on the book by Bill Easum and Tom Bandy. The series starts from the premise that “the way we’ve always done it” often keeps churches from successfully ministering to the unchurched.

    1John 1:7-9 But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The “beauty” business is BIG business. Primping ourselves, perfecting every perceived imperfection, curling what’s straight, straightening what’s curly, bleaching this, highlighting that- products designed to make the younger look older and the older look younger. Low-tech squished fruit and high-tech spliced genes- all promising to transform our faces, save our skin, and sanctify our souls…if only we’d buy that ONE magic product. An Arizona-based cosmetics company called Philosophy actually sells a moisturizer called “Hope in a Jar”! The label on the jar promises, “where there’s hope…there can be faith. And where there’s faith…miracles can occur.” So…undoubtedly for a hefty price tag…you can have “hope in a jar”! But obviously the consumer has to provide their own “faith”…if, that is, they expect a “miracle” to occur. The reality is that nothing we smear on our face, rub through our hair…or scalp, or massage into our cellulite is really going to defy the space-time continuum and fix everything that’s wrinkled, grey, or sagging. Deep down, we all KNOW that if anything being hawked on a late-night infomercial could REALLY do what it claimed…then it wouldn’t have to be hawked on a late-night infomercial! The problem with that kind of hope is that it’s too often rooted in…hype: unlikely, unprovable, unrepeatable, unreliable…hype. Hope based on hype leads nowhere…at best. Hope is like a nice arrangement of cut flowers. They’re beautiful, uplifting, and colorful. But like cut flowers, hope can’t keep blooming, can’t keep living, once disconnected from its life source. It takes more than hope to sustain us…and that something more is…faith. According to the Sandra Bullock movie…hope floats. But things float because they’re full of air. So hope DOES float- on currents of hospitality, momentary dreams and desires. While on quite the other hand faith has roots that hold it steady and feed it fully, no matter what the circumstance. Faith has wings that keep it soaring- sending it forward, giving it freedom, no matter how bad the present surroundings may be. Faith gives hope a reason to BE. Faith is the reality of things HOPED for, the proof of things not seen. Faith doesn’t float on the hot air of half-baked human assertions. God doesn’t simply offer His spiritually thirsty congregations a message of hope based on hype. He doesn’t weave us a yarn about a perfect life that’s just around the next corner. Instead, he speaks about faith- faith that stands firm even as the years pass the promised land seems to lie in fallow.

    2Corinthians 5:14-18 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

    An elderly woman walked up to a little old man rocking in a chair on his porch. Though he looked weathered and feeble, he had a contented smile on his face. “I couldn’t help noticing how happy you look,” she said. “What’s your secret for a happy life?” “Well, I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day,” he said, waving a wrinkled hand through the air, with a smoldering cigarette between his thumb and finger. “I also eat fatty foods and never exercise.” “That’s amazing!” said the woman. “How old are you?” The answer? “26!”

Any parent who has traveled is aware of the “traveling parent disease.” This rarely discussed disease kicks in the moment you enter the airport for your flight home. Suddenly, visions of tiny offspring, sadly pining for mom or dad, spring to mind, and you become obsessed with the unshakable need to buy them an “I’m back” gift. This is a clear and definable malady- if you don’t believe me, just look at the gift ship the next time you’re in the airport! Why else would airport gift shops be stocked to the gills with ridiculously-priced stuffed animals, felt-tip marker sets,T-shirts and replicas of every Disney creature ever created? The unfortunate side effect of this gift-giving syndrome is not only the huge dent it makes in your wallet, but also the fact that your little darlings no longer greet you with “Welcome home, Mommy,” or “We missed you, Daddy” but “What did you bring me?”


    Often, we childishly accost God with the same question…and with about the same amount of grace…as our kids. We expect God to present us with some fully developed, nicely wrapped package. We envision God saying, “I’ve given you the gift of teaching…so take it and go teach!” Or perhaps “For you, I’ve brought the gift of leadership. From this moment forward, you shall stand at the head of the church and…lead!”

The problem with having such a literal expectation of God’s gifts is that we often end up standing around waiting for a “special delivery” package that never comes. Instead, God’s gifts to us are almost always surprise packages.

Romans 12:4-13 says, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Spiritual gifts- there are LOTS of resources out there about spiritual gifts, to be sure. But the problem with many of them is that they still focus on finding that specially wrapped, little box hidden somewhere in Daddy’s or Mommy’s luggage. For many of these resources, a spiritual gift is something we can hang onto and claim as our own personal possession. But any spiritual gift that conforms fully to those standards is about as spiritual as a Big Mac and fries.

At their best, spiritual gifts need to be a

  1. constantly recyclable resource that take on different forms and fulfill different tasks depending on the circumstances.

Right now, each of us is nurturing a profound spiritual gift inside…and we don’t even know it. Most of us are just flat too scared to try out the gift we have. In fact, we tend to conscientiously avoid situations where our gift might accidentally get recognized and put to use. Are you a leader? Then whatever you do…don’t volunteer to help organize a new ministry! Are you a speaker? Then by all means don’t speak those words that keep landing on the tip of your tongue. Are you compassionate? Then great heavens above don’t offer to shelter the homeless and feed the hungry. Are you a teacher? Then I can’t stress enough- don’t you dare use those gifts to communicate ideas and reveal information to others. Are you a prophet? Then I better not see you sharing anything that might make a difference!

  1. something we have to work at

Sometimes, the spiritual gifts God gives us may not be what we think we’re any good at or what we find particularly pleasing or enjoyable to do. Our spiritual gift might be something we have to work long and hard at before we feel any scrap of comfort…let alone expertise.

But as Christians, we can rest assured that we are constantly receiving God’s gifts in our lives. Even during spiritual dry spells, the giftedness is still there; God never approaches us empty-handed. But we need to be bold enough look for those spiritual gifts. When we try new things that enable us to find and claim new spiritual gifts for ourselves, we are renewed. And

God offers us these gifts not to glorify our abilities or highlight our weaknesses, but to help maintain the Body of Christ. Fitness experts preach, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” We need to flex our spiritual muscles in order to keep the Body of Christ fit and strong.

  1. something that makes us unique.

God has given each one of us a special gift that sets us apart from others. Like snowflakes, no two of us are alike and each one of us has something special to share. And if we regularly use our spiritual gifts, they will help us have the strength we need- both in the here and now AND in the great about-to-be.

Bud Wilkinson, one-time coach of both the University of Oklahoma and the St. Louis football Cardinals once described football as “50,000 people who desperately need exercise watching 22 people who desperately need rest.” That might well describe how many churches operate- a few dedicated people exhaust themselves trying to do the work of the church while many others sit in the stands, munching hot dogs and wondering why more isn’t being done? Imagine if all who are able exercised their particular gifts so that the whole body would be built up, strengthened and enriched. Spiritual leadership helps others give birth to the potential which God has created in every person.

    Ezekiel 11:19-20 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

All too often we look at Christianity as a duty… an obligation. Imagine if we saw faith as a gift to be received with gratitude and expressed with joy. Then our attitude would not be to anticipate what’s required of us but instead what opportunities will open up for us to use the gifts God’s given us.

There’s a denominational church magazine that includes a section of church “help wanted” Some of the ads use high-sounding language to describe what they are looking for: “Dynamic, energy-filled, imaginative, innovative, enthusiastic, with unrelenting desire …” And they often describe themselves in glowing terms as well: “Rapidly growing, historic, in a beautiful community, with excellent facilities …” But recently and ad ran that was a bit more…honest: “Imperfect church, imperfect pastor, seeks imperfect Director of Christian Education…in order that grace may abound.” And they were swamped with applicants! Maybe we should put an ad in the local newspaper: “Imperfect church, imperfect pastor, imperfect members, invites imperfect visitors…so that grace may abound!

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? If you want to fulfill the purpose for which you were created, come to Jesus…today. Surrender your life to Him and say, “Lord, from this moment on…here I am to worship.” 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- “The Busy Season”

Saturday, November 15- The Lifesaver

life-saver

I make NO bones about it- I am a proud parent. Christians always say that pride is a bad thing, and if that pride is all based on me…then pride IS a bad thing. But I fully believe that God delights when I am proud of my kids! And…I am proud of my kids! When I tell my kids how smart, funny, intelligent, caring and loving they are, I always follow it up with, “You MUST take after your mother!”

I’ve know some dads who seem to live by the guideline that everything is about them. They don’t seem to want their kids to overshadow them. And I, for one, don’t get that! I tell my sons that God made me as the prototype. He then observed the prototype and made the necessary modifications, fixing design flaws along the way. And once He felt the design had been perfected…He made my boys- Mark 2.0!

I am genuinely and sincerely proud of my kids every day, but something happened Thursday evening that just brought that home again. My older son was leaving work for the day in downtown Chicago. It was cold outside. As he left the building in which he works, he noticed something next to the adjacent building. It was a woman, sitting on the ground, leaning forward and seemingly unresponsive. He stopped to check on her. In downtown Chicago, in the cold, with people walking by every second and ignoring her…he stopped to check on her.

She continued to be non-responsive. She then vomited. She seemed like she was in real danger. And no one else was doing…anything. So my son tried to sit her up a bit more, fearing that she was not breathing. She couldn’t even sit up by herself. So he did what he felt he had to do- he called 911 and had an ambulance dispatched.

He waited while the ambulance came, checked her out briefly, loaded her up in the ambulance and drove away. Then…he went on his way. The whole event was probably not more than 30 minutes. But in that 30 minutes, he saved that woman’s life. Now, to be sure, we have NO idea what happened to her once she left the scene. But based on how he found her and based on the EMT’s…he saved her life.

The easy thing is ALWAYS to turn the other way, pretend you don’t see, cross the street and walk on your merry way. And hundreds of Chicagoans were doing just that on Thursday. But my son…MY SON…stopped and helped- made a difference AND saved a life. God doesn’t call us to do the EASY thing- He calls us to do the RIGHT thing! And when we DO the right thing, it not only makes a difference in the life of someone else…it makes a difference in OUR life! To quote that great theologian Sheriff Andy Taylor, “Proud, proud, proud!”

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 Four: Birthing the Fruits of Life

Friday, November 14- True Colors- Redone

true-colors-web1

Every week, I produce an original video that is used as a “call to worship” at our Contemporary Worship Service. The video is always at or very nearly 2 minutes and thirty seconds long. It is also always…ALWAYS…based around a non-Christian song. “Gasp! What? Pastor- what are you THINKING?!” Here’s my thought- one of my goals in ministry is to help people see God in the everyday. It’s one thing to see God in Scripture, prayer, worship or hymnody. It is another thing altogether to see Him in literature, conversation, daily life and secular music.

Over the many months I have been doing this approach, I have used a WIDE variety of music. I have used Louis Armstrong, Chicago, Hall and Oates, The Eagles, Huey Lewis and the News, The Steve Miller Band…the list goes on and on. The “message” of the video is always tied to the sermon for the day. And, thanks to some pretty “user-friendly” software, the videos have a relatively professional look and feel!

The video for this week is based on a song that I have used in “church” settings before. In the Classic Rock musical I wrote that I have produced three times and a former cast member has also produced, the song True Colors by Cyndi Lauper is sung by Mary to Jesus at the wedding at Cana of Galilee. In the show, it has always been done in the same style that Cyndi Lauper recorded it- with that kind of slow, lyrical almost soulful feel that she captures so well.

But as I worked on the video for this week, I started where I always start- picking the song that best tells the story I want to tell. After some digging, I decided that the lyrics to True Colors were the best choice. But that marvelously soulful style of Ms. Lauper just didn’t fit the feel I was looking for in the video. Then…I found the recording by Phil Collins.

I had TOTALLY forgotten that he had even recorded that song. But when I listened to it…it was perfect! Those great words AND the simply, upbeat, almost unplugged version that Collins provided melded perfectly. From there, the video nearly created itself!

One of the many things I love about music is just how versatile and personal it can be. Cyndi Lauper does True Colors and it brings tears to my eyes. Phil Collins does the same song and it makes me smile and tap my toes. The late Judy Garland does Somewhere Over the Rainbow and and I am swept up in the simple power of her voice. The late Israel Kamakawiwoole does the same song, with his tenor voice and ukulele, and I am suddenly standing on a beach with the ocean breeze blowing across my face. Van Morrison sings Wild Night and his raspy voice, along with the funky blues/jazz electric bass riffs, create a marvelous symphony of syncopation. John Mellencamp does that same song and it is a marvelous pop/rock mishmash with a driving guitar riff.

Music allows both the performer and the listener to make the music and extremely personal experience. When I play the drums, I get so “lost” in the music that I rock back and forth, nod my head and roll my eyes like I am having some sort of neurological episode! I used to play with a bass player who couldn’t help but hop while he played. Likewise, I watch folks in worship who are so clearly caught up in the moment that they seem completely unaware of anything going on around them. I LOVE it!

Music speaks to me like very few things in the world can. I feel God in the music- in the rhythms, in the deeply-rooted mathematics that are the foundation of music. And when I lift myself up in worship to Him through music, I feel His pleasure. Look for God in music…you will find Him!

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

Tomorrow- The Lifesaver

Thursday, November 13- On What Are YOU Dependent?

glasses   I wear glasses. I never had a pair of glasses, however, until I was about 40 years old. A young woman who attended to church I was serving at the time was a tech at a local eyeglass place. I clearly needed glasses, so I decided to go to where she worked. I got an appointment, came in and had an eye exam. They sent the results over to her so that the lenses could be created. She look at the prescription for my glasses, looked at me and said, “How did you even see to GET here?!”

I apparently decided that if I was going to be a bear…I was going to be a grizzly! I started, right out of the gate, with bifocals. Yeah, baby! I was t

old all of the horror stories about how the curb would look like it was 47’ high and stuff like that. However, I found NONE of that to be the truth for me. I adjusted to bifocals really well.

Over the next few years, I switched glasses every couple of years- my prescription changed that quickly. The last new pair I got was in 2011. And then…the decline of my eyesight seemed to slow. And that brings me to last March. In anticipation of the major surgery I had last April, I went and had a new eye exam. I was concerned that I would not be able to wear my glasses, post-surgery, so I wanted to have contacts waiting in the wings…just in case. That eye exam showed that, since the last exam I had in 2011, my eyesight hadn’t changed at all! Good stuff! I got a pair of contacts, to “test drive”, and kept those in reserve in case I needed them post-surgery. (I had worn them briefly before, so I knew how that whole thing worked!) In the end, I COULD wear my glasses and DIDN’T need the contacts.

Fast-forward to this past Monday. I was cleaning my glasses with my t-shirt (my glass cleaner of choice MOST of the time) when I felt something move. I looked…only to find the entire nose piece (NOT just the pad but the entire assembly) in my hand! Aaawww SNAP, son! And do you know what my first reaction was? Panic! Seriously! Now, no one in the room saw that panic…but it was there. I immediately went into “worst-case scenario” mode. I can read without my glasses. I shouldn’t drive without my glasses. Do I even know where my “back-up” glasses ARE? For someone who spends a LOT of their time reading and writing, not being able to read would be a REALLY bad thing!

But I decided that I could still wear the glasses without too much difficulty, so I got over the initial panic. On Tuesday, we went to the eye care place that had my current eye exam on file and ordered new glasses. (And, by the way, those ads that say “new glasses for $79…they lie like a R

UG!)

As I thought through the whole scenario, I thought about how dependent I am on these glasses. With them, I can take on the world. Without them…different story! And it got me to thinking- upon what are YOU dependent? What is it that you basically can’t live without? For some, it might be major things like medication or medical procedures and treatments that are literally keeping you alive. For others, it might be more earthly things like money, power, fame, attention…etc. And for still others, it might be more basic things like alcohol, drugs, food and any number of other possibilities.

The bottom line is that ANYTHING upon which you are dependent should pale in comparison to your dependence upon Jesus Christ. The should be nothing…NOTHING…that is more important to you than your relationship with Christ. Ask yourself- upon WHAT am I dependent? If Jesus isn’t at the top of that list…not NEAR the top but AT the top…then you need to re-imagine your priorities. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and put another little Band-Aid on the side of my nose to protect it from the broken glasses- only 10 more days before the new ones come!

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

Tomorrow- True Colors…Redone

Wednesday, November 12- The Disciplined Heart

    3 friends die in a car crash and go to heaven. The 1st finds himself handcuffed to a decidedly…ugly woman. He asks St. Peter, “Why am I handcuffed to her?” St. Peter replied, ”When you were 9 years old, you killed a bird with a rock. This is your punishment.” The 2nd man also found himself handcuffed to an ugly woman and when he asked St. Peter why, he was told the exact same story. But the 3rd guy, on quite the other hand, found himself handcuffed to the prettiest girl in heaven! He said to his buddies, ”Well, thank goodness I didn’t do anything horrible like you guys did!” The first two guys were amazed and more than a little upset about the situation. They asked St. Peter, ”Why is he chained to a beautiful woman while we are chained to…these women?” St. Peter pointed to the beautiful woman and said, ”Well, when she 9, she killed a bird with a rock!”

We are in the 3rd week of our current Sunday evening series- Burning Heart: The Unmistakable Fire. This series is aimed at reigniting hearts for God. The 1st week, we looked at the Lost Heart. Last week, we considered the Turned Heart. Tonight, we will focus on the Disciplined Heart. And as we continue our journey through the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, we will also continue to experience the journey the heart makes. Where will you find YOURSELF along the way?

You are, of course, familiar with the term, “This is going to hurt me a lot more than it will you.” Has that line ever been used on you? Have you ever been used it on someone else? Have you ever believed it? I remember as a kid hearing my parents say it and thinking, “That’s the dumbest thing I have EVER heard!” And I thought that…right up until the moment I heard it come out of MY mouth! Don’t you hate that- when you become your parents?! When did THAT happen?

But now I realize that my parents may have been right after all- it DOES hurt to discipline your children. But, when you are struggling with your children, take comfort- even God struggled with His children. Don’t believe me? This about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Don’t!””Don’t what?” “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” “Forbidden fruit? Awesome!” “DON’T eat the fruit!” “Why?” “Because I’m your Father and I said so!” At that moment, God was probably wondering why He didn’t stop with the animals! Later, God comes along and sees Adam and Eve taking an apple break…and He is ticked! “Didn’t I tell you not to do that?” “Uh huh.” “Then why did you do it?”  “I don’t know! She started it! Did not! Did too! DID NOT!” “Enough!” And the punishment that God gave them for disobeying? He let them have children of their own! And the pattern was set!

The truth is that we discipline our kids because we love them and want them to learn right from wrong. We want to help them make good choices. We discipline our kids so that they can develop self-discipline. But when was the last time you heard or said, “That discipline felt SO good!”? Discipline comes from going against a parent’s will. I have a pastor friend whose dad was also a pastor and one day the kid misbehaved in church because he knew his dad, who was preaching, couldn’t do anything about it. But his dad stopped preaching, scooped him and headed out the back of the sanctuary! My friend said that on that day, he learned that God’s justice is swift…AND it comes from the right side!

It hurts to receive discipline, to be sure. ut it honestly can hurt more to give it…if it is truly discipline and not simply punishment. Is there a difference discipline and punishment. In our society. they seem very much the same from our viewpoint. But there IS a diference. Discipline is done out of love  and is temporary. On the other hand, punishment is done out of anger and has a sense of finality to it.
Deuteronomy 8:1-51 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and that you may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on an oath to your forefathers. Remember how God led you all the way in the desert these 40 years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Your clothes didn’t wear out and your feet didn’t swell during these 40 years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so God disciplines you.

The pastor decided that the weather was simply TOO nice- he called in sick for Sunday worship and instead went fishing. As he headed toward the lake, an angel was watching the event unfold. She said to God, “You’re going t let him do this?” God just smiled and said, “Don’t worry.” The pastor got to the lake, got the boat in the water and set out. Again, the angel said, “Why are you letting him do this- skip CHURCH…of all things…to go fishing?” Again, God smiled and said, “I’ve got this.” Within a few short minutes, the pastor got a ite. He fought and fought before finally pulling in a HUGE bass- the biggest he had EVER caught. AS he fought it into the boat, the angel simply couldn’t take it any more. “I just can’t believe You let him do this!” God turned to the angel, smiled and said, “I have one question for you.” The angel say, “what’s that?” God replied, “Who’s he going to tell?”

With our actions, we say, “God I want to be JUST like You- but not yet! I want to live a life of holiness- but not yet. I want to live a life of purity- but not yet. I want to be Godly- but not yet!” We can’t shorten our time in the wilderness….but we certainly CAN lengthen it! The greatest peaks are only achieved after the steepest and most difficult climbs. And if you only focus on the difficulty, then the steepness tires you out and you become discouraged. But when you are able to focus instead on the goal, you are able to better put it in perspective and see the discipline as the loving action that it is.

God hurts to see us out of His will. Are you out of God’s will? Are you hurting? How long will you let it continue? You have the opportunity to refocus and return to God’s will. If you accept God’s discipline and let Him do His work, then He will mold you and make you into what He wants you to be. But you have to be careful- it’s a slippery slope, because there are lots things that happen which are NOT part of God’s discipline. Often, what we identify as a result of God’s discipline is in all actuality a result of our own actions and/or the natural order of things.

The purpose of God’s discipline is not to crush us, but to create in us a right heart, a disciplined heart. God’s discipline is designed to deliver us from potentially destructive behavior. God can reverse our situation, but that only starts with our own change of heart;

Here are 3 truths about God’s discipline:

  1. It is sorrowful. God actually thinks, “This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.” The purpose of His discipline is not to make us hurt, but to help us repent. God’s discipline can cause us sorrow and discomfort, but if you do the crime, you have to be willing to do the time. God loves us and His discipline is intended to keep us from potentially irreversible consequences
  2. It is timely. Did you ever jump to conclusions and discipline your children when you really shouldn’t have? Likewise, was there ever a time when you SHOULD have disciplined them, but you waited too long? God is never too early and He’s never too late. Proverbs 3 says, “Don’t reject God’s discipline, don’t be upset when He corrects you. God corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects the child in whom he delights.” God encourages us to stay away from temptation. But if we choose not to, there will be discipline…because He loves us. Maybe you’re struggling with temptation and the gravitational pull against God’s will is almost unbearable. Be assured that God is working hard to keep you from falling.
  3. It is therapeutic. God’s discipline is the equivalent of divine intention. It’s not intended to keep us from enjoying life. It’s not intended to hurt us. It is therapeutic- it is intended to turn us from sin and encourage us to repent and live in God’s will. Discipline is no picnic for us OR God- it can be unpleasant to administer AND to endure. But it’s not meant to be pleasant- if it were, it would have no corrective power. Things like surgery and physical therapy are uncomfortable, inconvenient and downright painful to endure. But we endure them because of the end result- better health. How much more, then, should we be willing to endure God’s treatment of our spiritual needs? In the end, God’s discipline yields righteousness, peace and joy.

How do you perceive God’s discipline? Some see it as surrendering- they experience it and instantly want to wave the white flag and give up. Some see it as resignation- they experience it as just was to get it over with, just do it, give in. Some see it as self pity- “I’m suffering for God…again!” Some see it as punishment- “I’ve been bad and now I’m grounded. But the healthy Christian sees it as correction and teaching- God wants the best for us.
What can God’s discipline bring out in us? It can bring out:

  1. Demands- “Who do You think You are? Who gave You permission to d this to me? Stop it!”
  2. Denial- “My life is not that bad. There are LOTS of people worse than me. I don’t deserve this!”
  3. Remembrance- we are reminded at that which we already know- God’s power and His love.
  4. Belief- we see all that Jesus Christ has done for us and we see His discipline as caring concern. And that leads to deeper belief.

This evening, there are 2 things that Jesus DOESN’T want from us and 2 things that He DOES want. He doesn’t want demands and denials. But He DOES want us to remember…and believe. Which will you choose today? Will you remember and believe?

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

Tomorrow- Upon What Are YOU Dependent?

Tuesday, November 11- Time to Make the Fries!

Yesterday, I focused on Veteran’s Day. I pray you are having a GREAT Veteran’s Day and that you have had a moment to say a prayer thanking God for the service personnel and their commitment to this country and our freedom. I also mentioned that having a day off in the middle of the week is both a blessing and a curse!

The blessing part is obvious- I get to hang with my family, which is always a good thing. But the curse part is a bit harder to see…at least on the surface. Here’s the deal- in a church office, there is a certain amount of work that simply HAS to be done every week…,period. It doesn’t matter what else happens- those essential things have to get done, one way or another.

Then there are those things that have to get done, just not necessarily in a given week. Perhaps they will be done this week. Perhaps they will be done next week. But they have to be done. There is just some leeway in the time frame.

Then there are the things that you had  NO idea were going to happen and require attention. And let me assure you that those things happen ALL the time in the ministry. No two days are EVER alike. And OFTEN, the day ends up VERY different than the way you planned it to be. And to be entirely honest, that is one of the many things I love about being in the ministry. There is a fluidity, a spontaneity to the ministry that really feeds well into my ADHD. It’s never boring. It’s never dull. It’s never predictable.

And when you put all of that together- the things that HAVE to get done now, the things that need to get done soon and the things you didn’t see coming that require attention- a missed day puts you behind the proverbial 8-ball. In high school and early college, I worked fast food. And the truth was, when I was at work, I made tons and tons of french fries. But when I was NOT at work…someone else made the fries. That work got done without me.But in the ministry, there is no one else making the fries when the office is closed. Those “fry orders” simply back up until you get back in, at which time you have to try and make THOSE fries while still keeping up with the orders that are currently coming in!  And that means a little extra work on the days you are in the office. It means a little more work in the evening at home. It means doing some extra triage regarding those things that need to be done but not necessarily immediately.

So, my Office Administrator and I both have a love/hate relationship with days off in the middle of the week. WE both LOVE having some time to do something ELSE. But we both know what that means when we get back to work!So I, for one, am going to enjoy today to the fullest. I am going to hang with my family and do…whatever. And I am NOT going to worry about the extra “fries”  that are waiting to be cooked tomorrow. Focus on today and leave tomorrow’s worries…for tomorrow! Happy Veteran’s Day!

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

Tomorrow- The Disciplined Heart