Wednesday, December 31- Pick a Word

words

Two years ago, my wife read an article that encouraged the reader to choose a word. And not just any word, but THE word. A word that would be your one word for the year. A word that would be what you focused on for the year. That year we chose obey and courage. That was at the beginning of the year, and then 5 months later, on May 28th, we found out about the golf ball-sized tumor in my head. And BOY was “obey” and “courage” both put to the test in major ways!

As we drove home from a short vacation, we talked about what words we were going to pick for the new year. We laughed that, after the “follow through” of obey and courage, we thought “not involved” and “status quo” might be good choices! But we DID, instead, pick actual GOOD words for the year. My wife chose “transform”.

I thought a lot about what word to choose. In fact, I found a website with an alphabetical list of verbs…as I wanted my word to be an action word. I literally read through about 400 verbs. And then, it hit me. I had actually seen the word already and was several letters past it. But for some reason, it came back to me. My word for the year is “dream”.

I have always been a bit of a dreamer. I tend to live by the George Bernard Shaw quote, “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” I tend to think outside the box and like to imagine “what if?” And I think that word- dream- is going to play a BIG part this year in the ministry of the church I currently serve.

THE hardest step for a growing church to make, statistically, is consistently breaking the “200 in weekly worship attendance” barrier. It’s one thing to occasionally tiptoe over that border and then slide back down into the comfort of the 180’s and 190’s. But to consistently break that barrier is a REALLY hard hurdle to cross. But for the 2nd year in a row, we ended the year WELL over that barrier. We have now proven that we can not only cross that threshold- we can STAY past it.

That is a GREAT thing. But it also has big implications. God has blessed this congregation in powerful ways. But like that great theologian from the Spiderman comics Uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” My experience with growing congregations is that if you are faithful with a little, God will give you more. But once you are no longer being faithful with what God has given you, it starts to contract. And eventually you will slide back to your previous comfort level.

The church I currently serve has space issues. We have more ministries going on than we have room for. The 80% Rule says that once you pass the 80% mark in capacity, people start getting uncomfortable and whatever you are measuring will start to dwindle until you get back below 80%. Churches tend to measure space in four main areas- worship, Christian Education, parking and nursery. At one of our 3 worship services, we are pushing the 80% mark. On Sunday mornings, we are over 80% in Christian Education. Some Sundays, we are pushing 80% in the nursery. And nearly every day, we are WAY past 80% in parking.

So we sit at a crossroads. We stand at the threshold. What we were is behind us. What we could be is in front of us. And we stand in the middle. And so, this year is going to require a lot of…dreaming. (“AH! You finally came back to it, didn’t you, Pastor?!”) And in this particular setting, dreaming doesn’t mean daydreaming. It means thinking outside the box. It means not throwing out ideas and possibilities simply because they seem a bit far-fetched on the surface. And most of all, it means being open to what God is calling us to do and then dreaming how that might look in real time.

Here’s my question for you- what word will YOU pick?

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 Look Back

Tuesday, December 30- The Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies

Ugly Sweater cookies

My wife has this tradition at Christmas. Cookies. Sugar cookies. Christmas sugar cookies. We have done them for years and years. This year, however, was just a bit different. We did…ugly Christmas sweater cookies!

She got a sweater cookie cutter, different icings and a variety of Christmas-themed sprinkles. Then she and our older son rolled them out, cut them out and baked them. When they were ready, we set up an “icing station” on the dining room table. Everybody (that would be 6 of us- my wife, her parents, our boys and me) came to the table. We each had a generous sheet of wax paper with a sweater sugar cookie on it. (They weren’t, you see, UGLY…yet!)

We then all set to work decorating our sweaters. Icing was passed around the table. Sprinkles were liberally applied. Cookies were decorated. And, in the end, we ended up with 8 ugly Christmas sweater cookies. (Both boys did two!) The other sweater cookies just got…you know…eaten!)

The fun thing about this annual event isn’t the decorating. It isn’t the competitive nature of whose cookie looks the best. It isn’t even getting to eat our finished product. No, the true fun of the whole event is the conversation…and laughter…that accompanies it!

As we decorate, we comment on each others cookies. (Some are of a complementary nature and some…not so much!) We laugh about sprinkles getting spilled or icing ending up on someone’s face. We reminisce and tell stories about “Christmases long, long ago”. We joke about previous years’ endeavors- especially the ones that didn’t turn out quite as well!

We don’t have a lot of money. (I mean, I’m a preacher and my wife is a teacher- we CLEARLY didn’t go into for the money!) We don’t travel a lot. We don’t spend thousands of dollars at Christmas and birthdays. We don’t drive an expensive car. We don’t even own the home in which we live. (Methodist preacher and all!) But what we DO have is fun! What we DO have is joy. What we DO have is a true desire to be with each other.

I have known my wife since we were 15 years old. (Which means, of course, that we have only known each other for 15 years! The math, however, would beg to differ!) And even though we have been together all those years, we never run out of things to talk about. There are never those awkward silences. We don’t sit across the restaurant table from each and read a book or dig on our phones.

Likewise, I like being around my kids. Oh sure, I love my kids. But I also genuinely like them. I see so many parents who don’t seem to really like their kids much at all. My boys are awesome and I love spending time with them. So events like driving out to cut down a Christmas tree or dragging all the Christmas decorations out or making ugly Christmas sweater cookies aren’t really about trees or decorations or cookies at all. They are about loving each other, enjoying each other’s company and wanting…truly WANTING…to spend time together. And that, for my money, is the true measure of a family! Now if you’ll excuse me…I have an ugly Christmas sweater cookie to eat!

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 Water Park…in Late December?!

Monday, December 29

Psalm 17:15 But as for me, my hope is to see Your face. When I am vindicated, I will look upon the holy face of God,   and when I awake, the longing of my soul will be satisfied in the glow of Your presence.

Hope is a fascinating thing. For many, hope is like a Christmas wish list: they hope for things that should not be of great importance. They hope for a nicer car, a bigger house, a promotion at work. Hope tends to fall into the realm of what THEY want. But hope…TRUE hope…is founded in Me. Hope, at its best, is prayer. To Me. Put your trust in Me. Put your hope in Me. Pray to Me. NOT strictly for what you want, either, Pray for My will to be done. Trust that My plan for your life is the best choice. Understand that I have your best interests at heart because I love you. You are My beloved child. Place your hope in that.

Monday, December 29- The Vacation Conundrum

vacation

What is vacation? It seems to be that time when you stay away from work and do “leisure activities”. People negotiate vacation time as part of their “employment package”. They plan in advance to get away from their job, completely disassociate themselves from work and head to Disney World…or wherever. And for many folks, there is a very clear line of demarcation between work and personal. It’s a big deal that work is left behind and play comes to the forefront.

So what about me? What does vacation look like for me? Well, as a fully ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I am entitled 31 vacation days each year, including 4 Sundays. That means that, over the course of a year, I can be gone for a total of a month. A MONTH! That’s a long time, it seems to me!

“And how, may I ask, do you DO with taking vacation, Pastor?” Well, it depends on how you count it! I was off several weeks this year! “Yeah, but 6 weeks of that was recovery from major surgery! That doesn’t count as vacation!” Oh, well if that doesn’t count as vacation…then I don’t do very well! Counting the three days of vacation (plus holidays) I am in the middle of right now, I have taken a grand total of…7 days, including 2 Sundays!!

Now, before you chastise me too much, let me say a few things. One- I knew that I would be having surgery, so I tried to not take vacation early in the year. Two- I wasn’t in very good health earlier in the year and so true vacation didn’t sound all that appealing. And three, I so love what I do and my personal and professional lives are so intertwined, it doesn’t even feel like “work” most of the time!

I don’t know that there are very many jobs where the professional and personal are so inexplicably connected as they are in the ministry. I live on the church grounds. I walk 20 steps out my back door and I’m at the church. The folks who make up the congregation I currently serve are not simply people I go to church with- they are, in the best sense of the word, family. I go to Bible study with them. I eat with them multiple times each week. I worship with them. They have embraced my family as their own. So to think, “I have to get away from the job for a while” simply doesn’t cross my mind.

Now, I DO understand the need to step back, take a big breath, get some rest and have some fun sometimes. And I will admit that I struggle with doing that. But I don’t dread going to work. (And there have been times in my life when I DID!) I don’t think, “Oh, when will the end of the work day finally come?!” Instead, I find myself saying to my Office Manager, “How could it ALREADY be time to go home?!”

So as I write this, I am on vacation. And I am happy to spend more time with my family. I’m happy to get out of town for a bit and let my hair down…metaphorically speaking, of course! I’m thankful that I get the opportunity. But I am NOT saying, “Oh, only X number of days left and then I HAVE to go back to work!” Instead, I’m already thinking ahead about what the new year will bring. I wait with great anticipation to see what God has in store for the congregation I currently serve! God is good, all the time!

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

Tomorrow- Ugly Sweater Cookies

Sunday, December 28- Sermon? What Sermon?

shock

There are many things that are unique to being in the ministry. And one of those is sermon writing. And if you are the sole or lead pastor of a church, weekly sermon writing is simply part of your life. Regardless of what else may or may not happen during the week, you have a sermon to write for Sunday.

The are about as many approaches to sermon writing as there are pastors. Some work well ahead. Some work throughout the week the sermon is due. Some work as the last minute. And some…well…I had a pastor friend in seminary who had a unique approach to sermon prep. He subscribed to some service and would buy and download his sermon every week. Yep, that’s right- he didn’t WRITE a sermon, he bought it. And his version of “sermon prep” was when he actually bothered to READ the sermon before he actually “presented” it to his congregation! (That was NOT how they taught us to prepare sermons in seminary!)

Sermon prep is such a part of the rhythm of any given week that when you don’t have to write one…well…it almost makes you feel lost! I felt that for the 9 weeks I was recovering from surgery in April-June. And I have felt that this week because I’m on vacation! That’s the interesting dynamic this time of year. Many pastors take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. And this year, because of the day of the week Christmas fell on, the timing was very…interesting.

You had to do the “regular” prep for Sunday, December 21. And then you had to be ready again 3 days later for Christmas Eve. And even though you start the Christmas Eve prep early, there is still a crush around the 23rd as you try you get ready. And you have to also get everything ready for the days AFTER Christmas when you are gone.

So as I write this, on Saturday night, I have NO sermon written. Oh, there will BE a sermon preached on Sunday in the church I currently serve, but it won’t be me. And it feels REALLY weird! In fact, it is SO weird that I have had dreams each of the past two nights that revolved around getting ready to start the worship service and suddenly realizing that I HAD NO SERMON! (One night, I was also dressed in nearly Pope-like robes for the service! And if you know me at all, that is SO unlikely!)

So Sunday’s blog is normally my sermon for the day. BUT…no sermon today! So I thought instead I would share with you the way that weekly sermon impacts the pastor!

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 Vacation Conundrum

Saturday, December 27- The Christmas Chili

chili

Ah, the holidays! Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. They run right into each other, helter skelter. And they are all…ALL…built around food in this country. Ham. Turkey. Pork roast. Beef roast. Those tend to be the staples of our American tables at the holidays.

Along with those delicious main dishes, we tend to lean toward awesome…and rather involved…side dishes. Fancy vegetable dishes. Amazingly complicated potato and/or pasta dishes. Fancy breads.

And that has always been my family’s approach to the holidays. My wife and I both like to cook. And she LOVES the “big meals” with the out-of-the-ordinary dishes. And they are always (did I mention “always”?!) amazing. But they take a LOT of time, ingredients and effort. Which means they tend to be stress points when your day is already busy.

So this year, we took a different approach. We have gone for “good but easy”. At Thanksgiving, we did turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, BOXED stuffing mix (which my wife supplemented with sauteed onions and craisins…it was GOOD!) and a pot of good ol’ fresh green beans. The meal was super easy to make and just as good to eat. We had a great meal and got to spend more time enjoying the family!

We kept that tradition going at Christmas. Christmas Eve is a busy night for us, with two worship services. So we bought frozen finger foods- egg rolls, pizza bread, chicken fries, etc. We popped them into the oven, ate them and were done by 6PM, when I left for church. Between services that evening, we cooked sausage and hamburger. The sausage went into a breakfast casserole that got refrigerated for Christmas morning. The hamburger went into a roaster full of chili that was for Christmas afternoon/evening.

We baked the breakfast casserole Christmas morning and added it to AWESOME cinnamon rolls/tea ring made by parishioners. We had a GREAT breakfast and didn’t have to spend much time in the kitchen. After breakfast, we put the roaster of chili back on and it was ready to eat mid-afternoon. All in all, a new tradition was born!

Spending time with the people you love is SO much more important than just about any other way you can spend your time. Spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen, or on the golf course, or at any number of sports practices or games, or whatever, should pale in comparison to building relationships. There;s NOTHING wrong with those other things- they simply need to be put in perspective. And my perspective is pretty clear- God, family, church…everything else!

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

Tomorrow- Sermon? What Sermon?

Friday, December 26- The Collective Sigh

sigh

There is a phenomenon that is unique to major events. I call it The Collective Sigh. Whether it’s a wedding, a baby coming, a huge project at work…or Christmas, The Collective Sigh goes up as soon as the event is done. You’ve worked SO hard on something that, when it is finally time to “put it to bed”, you can’t HELP but offer up a sigh. It is, primarily, a sigh of relief. There is some sense of satisfaction. There is so sense of “a job well done”. There is sometimes even a sense of regret or sentimentality because the event, as challenging as it was, is over. But The Collective Sigh is commonplace this time of year.

Christmas is over. Oh, sure- there are still “the 12 days of Christmas”, which doesn’t end until January 6th. But really- who pays much attention to that?! After weeks and weeks of preparation and expectation…it’s over. The decorations are still up. They’ll probably be up for a few more days and come done sometime around New Year’s Day. So the SIGNS of Christmas are still around. But Christmas itself is over.

This Christmas season seemed really short to me. I attribute that to two things, primarily. The season is busy by nature, and the church I currently serve is just busy. So that tends to make the time fly by- there’s not a lot of time to sit around and “contemplate your navel”, as my mom would say. The other reason the season seemed to fly by is much more personal in nature. After almost six months of not having to think about doctors, scans, blood work and hospitals, I suddenly HAD to think about those things. As we drew closer and closer to my December 15th and 16th appointments, my thoughts were drawn more and more to the outcome of those appointments. Basically, one of two things was going to happen: they would either SEE the tumor or NOT see the tumor. If they saw it, then the question would be, “How much has it grown and what, if anything, do we need to do about it?” If they didn’t see it…well…there would be MUCH rejoicing!

As you probably already know by now, they did NOT see it. There had been NO change in the MRI from the one I had almost 6 months ago. And as the neurosurgeon delivered that news, very simply and plainly, a collective sigh went up- first between my wife and me and then from lots of other people! But I realized that day that I had been metaphorically holding my breath in anticipation of that news. The weight that was lifted was enormous…and wonderful!

Have you let out The Collective Sigh over the end of the Christmas season yet? And further, is there something hanging over you that weighs you down? If so, identify it and then, to quote those great theologians over at Frozen, let it go! And once it’s gone, once you have given it fully over to God, then let a collective sigh!

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 Christmas Chili

Thursday, December 25- The Tipping Point

tipping point       Three sons left home, went out on their own and prospered. Getting together for Christmas one year, they discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother. The first said, “I built a big house for our mother.” The second said, “I sent her a Mercedes.” The third smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beat. You remember how mom enjoyed reading the Bible? And you know she can’t see very well. Well, I sent her a remarkable parrot who is able to recite the entire Bible. It took the elders of the church 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. All Mom has to do is name a chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.” Soon thereafter, their mother sent out “thank you” notes to her sons: “Dear Milton,” she wrote the oldest son, “The house you built is too big. I only live in one room, but I have to keep the whole house clean!” To the middle son, she wrote, “Dear Gerald, I’m too old to travel. I stay at home most of the time, so I rarely use the Mercedes.” And to the youngest son, she wrote, “Dearest Donald, You have the good sense to know exactly what your Mother likes. The chicken was delicious!”
It’s Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve…and Easter…are to the pastor what the Super Bowl is to the NFL quarterback or the World Series is to the Major League pitcher. They are the highlights of the Christian year. And they are both of great importance to our faith. Without Easter, there is no Christ. But without Christmas, there is no Jesus. On Christmas, we recognize that fact that God decided, after 400 years of seeming silence between the Old and New Testaments, to break into time and space and interact with His people in a new and powerful way. He chose…CHOSE…to enter into the world in the most vulnerable form possible. He chose to warp our injured flesh around Himself, breathe our air and walk our sod. Why? Why would He do that? In a rational world…it makes NO sense. Let’s look.
Those of you who know me know that I don’t tend to be a King James type of preacher- it’s just not my style. However…there are some passages of Scripture that just need to be heard in that marvelously poetic language. The 23rd Psalm. John 3:16. And the Christmas Gospel as it is found in the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 2:1-20 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 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. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not:for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom as the children drew Christmas pictures. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork. As she came to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
This Christmas, God offers us freedom, joy and peace. God sent His one and only begotten Son to be born in in a lowly manger in a backwater town to so that we might have these special gifts- freedom from fear, the joy of salvation and a peace that endures. And the beauty part? You don’t have to wait any longer to open those gifts- you can come tonight, right here and right now, hold out your empty hands…and He will fill them. That’s the true power of Christmas. Christmas informs culture. Christmas transforms culture. And Christmas creates a new culture.
I did some reading this week about what are considered the greatest moments in human history. Frankly, every website I found had an either slightly or radically different perspective on this topic. But here is an overview of what MIGHT be the top 10:
10. the invention of gunpowder- attributed to the Chinese Tang Dynasty, somewhere around the 9th Century AD, the invention of gunpowder radically changed the nature of both warfare and hunting.
9. manned flight- on December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made 4 brief flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, including one lasting 12 seconds. That 12 seconds has changed the way we travel.
8. The invention of the printing press- in 1440, Johannes Gutenberg created the invention that would revolutionize communication. It remains one of the biggest inventions of all time.
7. Penicillin- on November 26, 1941, Alexander Fleming perfected penicillin. During World War 2, prices dropped from $20 a dose to $.20 a dose. With a viable way to fight infection, millions of lives were saved.
6. Neil Armstrong walking on the moon- on July 29, 1969, for the first time in history, a human stepped foot on another celestial body. The implications will be felt for the rest of recorded time.
5. the assassination of Julius Caesar- his murder, by the so-called liberators, had a long-lasting effect on the whole of the Roman Empire. It led to a series of civil wars in Rome and ultimately the ascent of Caesar Augustus, the grand nephew of Caesar. Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
4. the signing of the Declaration of Independence- on July 4, 1776, 56 delegates of the Continental Congress, representing thirteen colonies, announced their intention to free themselves from the British rule.
3. the two World Wars- The world witnessed two major wars between 1914 and 1945.  The lasting impact these two World Wars had the world is still being felt.
2. the first written text- The Sumerians, around 3,000 BC, are credited with the first standardized written language. It was created so that the government could keep better track of the public giving. Some things never change!
1. the “discovery” of fire- somewhere back in prehistoric time, a lightning strike started a fire. Early man realized the benefits. And over time, they figured out how to not only capitalize on natural occurrences but to produce fire on their own.
These 10, plus about 50 more I COULD name, were major events in the history of humanity. They are tipping points. A tipping point is defined as, “the point at which an issue, idea, or product crosses a certain threshold and gains significant momentum, triggered by some minor factor or change.” Simply put, a tipping point is a critical moment or event that leads to a new and irreversible development. And these 10 are major tipping points.
But of all the events that have shaped human history, one moment stands above the rest. The moment was not filled with fanfare or frills…but it was fantastic nonetheless. It’s a watershed moment when the temporal and the eternal came together. It’s a moment that seems so utterly absurd that it couldn’t possibly be real…but it is. It’s that magical moment when two worlds came together to create a hope that has never died. It’s the day when God became man.
All of humankind’s wildest dreams came true the night that Jesus was born. He came to mend the rift that existed between God and His people. He came to do what no one else COULD do- bring us back into right relationship with God. And for my money, in a world so inundated with BAD news, the Good News of Jesus Christ just keeps getting better and better.

Tomorrow is Christmas. By now, all the plans have been made. Every year, we ask the same question: “What are we going to do for Christmas?” Most answers fall into a couple of categories: either we’re going somewhere to spend time with someone or someone is coming to spend time with us! The truth is that, no matter how you actually approach that question, the answer doesn’t usually don’t get much deeper than that. We have an inherent expectation that at Christmas, what we do is spend time with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts.
It’s what the holiday season is all about…right? But did you know that the word “holiday” is an Old English word that translates “holy day”? Even our language defines what Christmas REALLY is, but we’ve changed the meaning.
So what IS Christmas? Is it more than just giving…and expecting…gifts? Is it more than spending too much time and money going places to buy those presents? What IS it…really?
Don’t misunderstand- visiting family and friends, giving and receiving gifts…those are good things. But they aren’t the MAIN thing. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Christmas is SO much more. Christmas is a major tipping point in the history of the world.
Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In the book, Gladwell invites us to look at the world around us. He says that, while it may seem like an immovable, implacable place, it’s not. He says that, with the slightest push, in just the right place- the world can be tipped. He says, “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior…you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.” That is the very essence of a church family- a community around which new beliefs can be practiced, expressed and nurtured. We are NOT hundreds of individuals, totally disconnected to each other, who happen to show up at the same place and the same time periodically. We are hundreds of individuals who, collectively, make up one body…the body of Christ. Some of those parts might be more readily visible than others, but ALL are welcomed. All are important.
Gladwell, in his book, also says, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.” I couldn’t agree more. And this congregation has found that exceptional person who is capable of starting an epidemic…of joy and peace. And it is HIS birth that we celebrate this evening and tomorrow. Jesus Christ is the center of who we are and what we do. We are an imperfect congregation, with an imperfect pastor and imperfect members, who are, collectively, at this moment, with the overwhelming help, support and love of Jesus Christ…perfect.
A tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a trend that can take off like wildfire. God is moving in powerful ways in this congregation. We have crossed the threshold, tipped, and His love and forgiveness are spreading like wildfire. And I can’t think of a better place to be than in the middle of this tipping point. Because, in the end, tipping points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of action.
Have you ever been in a situation where your life’s busyness collided with your priorities? When this happens the important is snuffed out, allowing the unimportant to move into first place? Something happens that brings you to the truth you were too busy to see.  One crisp December day, a kindergarten teacher and her class were packing up their Christmas art. One cute 5-year-old girl caught the teacher’s eye. “Know what I want under my tree this Christmas?”
“What,” the teacher said, pulling tape off of the back of a picture, “what do you want under your tree this Christmas?” In the midst of the busyness, the little girl’s answer stung like a bee. “You. I want you under my tree this year.” The teacher stopped dead in her tracks. The glittering paper angels, the cotton ball Santa beards and the joyful laughter from the other kids watching the Christmas DVD all melted away for a moment. All the teacher saw was the little girl’s heart and all she heard was that sweet little voice. She reached out to the little girl. “You want me, Abby? You want me under your tree?” It was the nicest compliment she had ever received.  A small child wanted this frazzled, hurried, harried teacher under her tree! And she never quite got over what the little girl said. On her worst days it haunted her and on her best days it challenged her. And every time she reflected on the little girl’s request, it caused the teacher to ask God what He might want under HIS tree. Every Christmas, his answer was the same. “I want you- I want you under My tree.”
I wonder: Can I chop off enough personal pride to make myself small enough to be a gift under God’s tree?  Can I pinch off enough of my ego to be able to fit there? Is it possible to shave off the gray shadows of past hurts, irreconcilable conflicts, and worn-out grudges to be under His tree? Can I become transparent, vulnerable and able to survive the challenges of dying to broken dreams, heartaches, and unmet goals? Will God want me as a gift under His tree if I insist on being full of myself, always having to be right, unable to admit my own lapses in judgment, my own struggles with sin, my own indulgent nature?
This Christmas, we need to ask God to shave off the rough edges. We need to ask Him to trim us down, pinch us off, correct us and teach us until we are the people He wants us to be. And even if we don’t quite fit, even if we don’t quite deserve it, we need to ask Him to keep us there, under His Christmas tree, as the gift we want to be for Him. That little girl reminds us that the best gift we can offer God is a loving relationship. We should want to be His best gift. We should pray that He saves a spot for us under His tree. We should not just hope…but choose…to be a gift to God this Christmas.
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky has faded, when the kings and princes have all gone home, when the shepherds are back tending their flocks…then the real work of Christmas begins. When the songs of the season are stilled, when the tree in the living room has faded, when the aunts and uncles have all gone home, when the kids are back to playing with their toys…then the real work of Christmas begins. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to bring peace your fellow humans, to help connect people to Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world- that is the real work of Christmas.

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 Collective Sigh

Wednesday, December 24- Tonight’s the Night!

ChristmasEve2_slide1x_365_y_273

Tonight’s the night. After a long “season” and a LOT of “busyness”, Christmas Eve is here! I have ALWAYS been a fan of Christmas Eve. As a kid, it was for the obvious reason- the excitement of Christmas and presents! As an adult, my enjoyment of the day was found in the joy it brought…and still beings…my sons. And as a pastor, Christmas Eve, along with Easter Sunday, is the Super Bowl and the World Series, all rolled into one. (Or at least it SHOULD be! Frankly, if you’re a pastor and you don’t get jazzed about Christmas Eve and Easter…you may want to re-think you commitment to the call!)

Tonight,  get the extreme pleasure of bringing good tidings of great joy to a lot of people. Along with the members of my “church family” and THEIR extended families, we will have visitors in our midst. Folks who don’t regularly attend church will come tonight. And for some pastors, there is a jaded sense of “so what?” about the “C and E” folks who come. (“C and E” stands for Christmas and Easter!)

I look at it a different way, however. (I’m sure you are SHOCKED by that fact!) Do I want those folks to come to church more often? Of course. But is making them feel like “C and E people” going to make that happen? No. Is pointing out that they rarely come, or that their attendance is unusual, going to make them feel more welcome? Nope. Instead, I want to applaud their effort to come. I want to make them feel welcome as possible. I want them to leave saying, “You know, that wasn’t too bad, after all! I might just come back!” I fear that many pastors, hopefully unintentionally, make those C and E visitors feel like the “regulars” have it all together and, if they want to be like “them”, they’d better step up their game.

The church I currently serve recently ran a quarter-page ad in the local paper. It was intentionally designed to look like your standard Personal Ad. It said, “Personal. Imperfect church, with imperfect pastor and imperfect members, invites imperfect visitors…so that grace may abound!” The church’s web address, as well as this web address, were the only other things in the ad.

People don’t want to hear about how perfect your church is. They don’t want to be hit over the head with what stinking sinners they are. They don’t care how well you can quote the Bible- chapter and verse. “Then what do they want, Pastor?” They want to hear how Jesus has changed your life…period. They want to know what difference being a Christian makes in your life. They want to be welcomed, loved and accepted. If we can do that tonight, at 7PM and 11PM, then I will go to sleep about 1AM Christmas morning one happy pastor!

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 Tipping Point

Tuesday, December 23- Are You Ready?

ready

It’s almost here. Two days. 48 hours. 2,880 minutes. You get the idea. After all the hoopla and the fanfare…it is NEARLY upon us. And my question is…are you ready? Shopping is NOT my favorite thing. On New Years Eve, I rate the overall quality of the year based on how FEW times I had to step foot in the mall! (Don’t believe me? Ask my family! It’s NO accident that “mal-” is a prefix meaning “bad”- it’s a derivative of the world “mall”!)

But the rise of things like Amazon.com have made the whole shopping thing a WHOLE lot easier and more palatable.

So a need for last-minute shopping isn’t much of an issue for me anymore. I certainly have to write a sermon for Christmas Eve. (And since Christmas Eve, like Easter, is the “Super Bowl” for pastors…or it SHOULD be…then it better be a darn good sermon!!) There are always a few “leftover” things to tidy up. But for the most part, by the time we reach today- December 23- the bulk of my “getting ready” is done.

So, again- are you ready? And before you answer that, I want you to give it a good “look see”. I am NOT really asking about shopping, wrapping (Wrapping? Shoot! I am NOT ready!), cooking or cleaning. I’m not talking about anything you can do in a store or to your house. Instead, I’m talking about something you do…in your heart.

If you are stressed beyond the breaking point right now…I would like to gently suggest that perhaps you are not looking at Christmas through the proper lens. The truth is that whether or not you have all your shopping or cooking done, Christmas is GOING to come. In fact, the day AFTER Christmas is going to come.(Rapture notwithstanding!) Which means that those things, as enjoyable as they can be, really don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things.

But the REAL meaning of Christmas not only amounts to a LOT- it is everything. Without Easter, there is no Christ. But without Christmas, there is no Jesus. Regardless of whether or not we celebrate it on the ACTUAL birthdate of Jesus or not (and the odds are GREAT that we don’t!), Christmas is the foundation of our beliefs as Christians- foundational beliefs that are brought to fruition through the events of Easter.

As we race toward Thursday…and beyond, don’t lose track of what this season is really al about. Take some time to look for yourself. Don’t take anybody else’s word for it this Christmas (even mine!!)- look into the manger and see the infant Who came as the embodiment of God Almighty. He came to split time in half. He came to break into time and space and change the world. He came to change you and me.

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

Tomorrow- Tonight’s the Night

Monday, December 22- Caroling

carolers

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in one of the BEST things I do every Christmas. A group from the church went…Christmas caroling. My family and I have gone Christmas caroling for the past 18 years…not coincidentally the number of years I have been in the ministry. We pick a Sunday in December, based on A. it’s proximity to Christmas Day and B. other things on the church calendar. We have played with what time we start the event- as early as 1PM and as late as 3PM. Over the years, we have settled on 2PM!

We meet at the church and carpool to the caroling sites. Depending on the church and the year, we have gone to the individual homes of church members who couldn’t get out much anymore or we have gone to nursing homes and senior centers.

At the church I currently serve, the best choice is to go to places where we can interact with more people at one time. In town, within a couple of minutes of the church, there is a senior living center, a nursing home and a senior rehab center.

We congregated (which is a logical thing for a congregation to do!) in the church lobby, then split up into various personal vehicles to make the short jaunt to the senior living center. When we arrived there, we gathered in the lobby, with residents both on the main floor in front of us and on the 2nd floor balcony above us. We sang about 5 songs, chosen from a larger list of available lyrics. We ended with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, then circulated among the residents, greeting them and talking with them.

When we were done there, we left (through the “back door” that a church member who is also a resident graciously showed us!) and headed to the nursing home. As we walked up to the front doors of the building, we saw that there was a caroling group already there, singing in the lobby of the building. I turned to our group and said, “Uh oh- there’s a rival gang here. I fear there’s going to be a rumble!” They, of course, just rolled their eyes! (They’re used to me by now!) We again sang about 5 songs, ended with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and then talked to the residents. Before we left, we went to a specific room- a member of our church is a resident there and she wasn’t able to come to the lobby…so we came to her! After we sang to her and visited with her, we left.

Our last stop was the senior rehab facility. Ironically, we met the SAME caroling group in the doorway- they were leaving as we were arriving. We joked about following them! We then went to the dining room, where we sang to those gathered there. After visiting with them, we headed for home.

I am always touched by the way the residents love to sing along with us. Some know th lyrics really well, while others only remember bits and pieces. But they all seem so connected to the music. And as much as I would like to think it was our singing, the reality is that music has that power. Even folks who have a hard time communicating seem to “come alive” when the music starts. It’s awesome to see!

The bottom line on an event like this is that folks who go to carol do so with the intention of bringing a bit of cheer to others. And they do! BUT…in the process, they are blessed even more than they are a blessing. I never cease to be amazed by that fact- doing something for someone else blesses you more than it does them. Incredible!

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

Tomorrow- Are You Ready?

Sunday, December 21- The IMDb Cast of Characters: No Room

IMDb Cast of Characters Logo     A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW screeched to a stop. A young man in an expensive suit leaned out the window, “If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have, will you give me one?” The shepherd thought and said, “Why not?” The yuppie whipped out his laptop, connected it to his iPhone, got on the NASA website and linked to their GPS satellite navigation system. He got an exact fix on their location and created a high-resolution photo. He emailed the photo to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he received back an email with a link to a newly created database, which he printed out on his miniaturized HP LaserJet printer. Triumphantly, he turned to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep.” The shepherd nodded, “You’re right. I guess you can take one of my sheep.” The young man selected an animal and stuffed it into the trunk. The shepherd said, “If I can tell you what your occupation is, will you give me back my animal?” The young man grinned, “Why not?” The shepherd smiled back and said, “You’re a consultant.” “Wow! You’re right,” said the yuppie, “but how did you know that?” The shepherd replied, “You showed up here even though nobody called you. You want to get paid for an answer I already knew…to a question I never asked. AND…you don’t know anything about sheep! Now, open the trunk and give me back my dog!”
Today, we wrap up our Sunday morning Advent sermon series- The IMDb Cast of Characters. A reminder-  “IMDb is The Internet Movie Database, an online database of information related to films and television programs. Taking a page from the IMDb website, we’ve spent Sunday mornings during Advent looking at a few of the “featured players” in the Christmas story- their “past roles”, how they got the role in which they are cast in THIS story and what lies ahead for them.
Today, we look at a group of characters who are often misunderstood. They’re overlooked, misinterpreted…and barely appear in the story! We don’t know where they came from, what they were like or even how old they were. And yet they’re absolutely vital to the Christmas story. So, let’s consider a group of supporting players who almost hijack the whole story.
     Luke 2:8-18 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not:for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
So T. Smelly Shepherd and his buddies are cast as extras in this story. T. Smelly had a rather inauspicious career. He had a series of bit roles- always the grungy guy in the background. When he wasn’t around, even his agent referred to him as “set dressing”. So when he got the call to do a story about a baby born in a manger, it sounded like every other gig he had ever done. “Shepherd, abiding in the fields, watching over his flock by night”. It had “walk-on extra” written all over it. But he was used to it. So he took the job. Little did he know it would change his life.
Here’s the $64 question for the day- why, out of all the people God could have chosen to send the angel to, did he choose…the shepherds? He could have chosen men of great esteem, men of great wealth or men of great honor! But He didn’t. He chose…shepherds! These were guys who slept out in the open, guarding their sheep from predators. They were physically AND ritually unclean. They handled dead animals. They couldn’t follow the orthodox rules of the day. They couldn’t obey the Sabbath laws. They were, in the eyes of most “religious Jews”, the lowest of the low.
Imagine you’re God and you want to announce the most amazing, incredible, joyous news ever; an event which will literally change the course of history- the birth of your only Son, Jesus…Savior of the world. The One for Whom people had been waiting, hoping and praying for millennia. Finally, He’s come! Who do you announce it to? Who do you tell? Who do you invite to come and see?
Unlike basically everybody else on the planet, God esteemed the shepherds. He honored them. There is only one announcement of Jesus’ birth recorded in the Scriptures- only one express invitation from God to anyone to come visit Mary,  Joseph and the baby. And that ONE invitation goes to a bunch of uneducated, smelly, low-class, social and religious outcasts- a bunch of… shepherds? He chose THEM to be the first to receive the news? Why? Why did God send the angels to the shepherds?
Several possible answers have been proposed, such as the fact that Jesus Himself is later called the Good Shepherd, caring for us as His flock. But I prefer a simpler explanation. God wanted to show that His love doesn’t discriminate on the basis of class, or wealth, or social standing. He doesn’t respect kings and princes more than hourly laborers, he doesn’t value priests and pastors above the people in the pews. He doesn’t show favoritism; He doesn’t give preferential treatment. His love is available to all on the same basis.
God was demonstrating, through His choice of these humble shepherds, that His Son wasn’t going to be the Savior of just the political, social and religious elite. Jesus didn’t come only for kings and governors, popes and priests. Jesus is the Savior of all…equally. He doesn’t discriminate on the basis of intelligence, education, wealth, profession, political power, social standing, or any of the other qualities by which we judge others. His love is offered indiscriminately to anyone willing to repent, believe and trust in Him as their Savior.
The frost of forty winters had etched deep lines into the shepherd’s face. Having spent his entire life outdoors on Bethlehem’s hills, he was old at forty- and cold. Every so often he would shift position, not out of discomfort so much, but from a sense of unease, anxiety, crowdedness. Instead of hundreds of sheep, the hillside was packed with people- thousands of them- listening attentively to a man.
Tobias ben David (pronounced da-VEED) was the shepherd’s name, but people called him Toby. His flocks were being cared for by his grown sons while Toby went to listen to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was talking about salvation, and His illustration turned to sheep. Toby felt better. He knew a lot more about sheep than people. “The good shepherd,” Jesus was saying, “lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand who doesn’t own the flock runs away when he sees the wolf coming, but not the good shepherd….” One night, years ago, the men Toby had hired to watch the flock with him fled when they saw a mountain lion roaming the hills. But Toby had stayed. Shepherding was his livelihood. He knew the sacrifices that good shepherding required. He knew about putting his life on the line for the sheep. That’s what good shepherds did.
Jesus continued, “Suppose you have 100 sheep and when night comes one is missing. What do you do? You leave the 99 sheep all safe together and then climb the hills, looking, searching until you find the lost sheep. Then you pick him up, put him on your shoulders, bring him down the hill to the camp, and ask your fellow shepherds to rejoice with you. Your heavenly Father is like that,” Jesus said. “When you have lost your way, he will rescue you and save you and never give up on you until he finds you- and you find him.”
Toby’s heart was racing. He felt a lump in his throat. He understood. He knew the joy of discovery, of rescuing a sheep from a thicket, bringing it back and celebrating with his friends. He was that kind of shepherd.
But he also knew how it felt to wander off, feeling lost, aimless, trapped. Clueless about where he was and where he was going. That’s why he came today to hear the Teacher, hoping to regain the faith he had felt as a child.
His mind spun back to the evening of his 10th birthday. He was out on the hills with the others, caring for the sheep. The stars were brilliant, dancing in the black sky. But suddenly an overpowering bright light flooded the hillside. A voice boomed out, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”
A savior, a rescuer- shepherds’ work. He often wondered about the boy-child lying in a manger. What had become of him, that baby? By now he must be thirty-something. Had this Savior actually saved anybody yet? “Could He save me from my aimless existence?” Toby wondered.
Just then, Jesus’ words rang in his ears. “I am the Good Shepherd, Who lays down his life for the sheep. Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
“I wonder?” thought Toby as he felt big tears begin to roll down his cheeks. “I wonder?” thought Toby as the certainty of God’s love began to fill his heart. “I wonder?” thought Toby, “if this Jesus…is the little baby I saw that night? Yes, He must be. His words found me and, frankly, He sounds just like…God’s shepherd.”
A visit by angels changed the lives of a group of shepherds on a cold night more than 2,000 years ago. The events of that night made a difference in their lives. What difference has the coming of Christ made in our lives? They had a once-in-several lifetimes experience. But you know what? We can have that, too.
God is inviting you today, just like He invited the shepherds. Will you receive His love? Will you believe what He says and do what He asks? Will you acknowledge your need of forgiveness and put your trust in Jesus Christ for salvation? You don’t need to be a genius or a member of the “in” crowd. You just need to believe and obey.

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

Tomorrow- Caroling

Friday, December 19- A Diamond in the Rough

diamond in the rough

My mom was an antique dealer. And she was good at what she did. She had an innate ability to go to an auction, peruse the available “merchandise”, isolate those pieces that were of the most interest to her, win the bid and get them at a decent price, “spruce them up”, put them in her shop and then…sell them for a profit. In fact, she was so good at it that she would buy a piece that she liked, put it in her house and sell the piece it replaced. Then, when she grew tired of it or found something else, it would also go to the shop and get sold.

If you had to sum that behavior up in a few words, what my mom was REALLY good at was finding the diamond in the rough. She could see the potential behind the extra coats of paint, rust and years of dirt and grime. She could imagine what the piece COULD be, not just what is was.

It seems to me- God is much like my mom in that respect. He looks at us and doesn’t see the extra coats of paint, the rust and the years of dirt and grime. He doesn’t see the failures and the backsliding. He doesn’t see the “one step forward and two steps back” that we seemed destined to repeat.

Instead, he sees what COULD be. He sees the beautiful new creation BENEATH all the years of neglect. And He is committed to helping that beauty shine through. God wants the best for you. The BEST. He KNOWS what you can be…He is your best cheerleader. Trust that He has your best interests at heart. Let Him do what He does best- remake people into new creations. Become the person you were created to be. Forget what the world says. Listen to what God says. You are His diamond in the rough.

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

Tomorrow- Avalanche!

Thursday, December 18- Now What?

question mark

Yesterday, I shared with you the amazing news I received- no sign of the tumor, 8 months after surgery. Does that guarantee that it will never come back? No. But it DOES mean that I don’t have to see any of my “specialty doctors” (as much as I like each of them as people and as thankful as I am for what they’ve done for me) for another 12 months! Good stuff!

But the reality is that a lot of the last 19 months has been driven by the tumor that was in my head. I said right up front…OK, I quoted my WIFE right up front…”I may have IT, but it doesn’t have ME”. And I meant that. I tried really hard not to wallow in the pain and the attention. I tried hard not to let the tumor be the horse that pulled the wagon. But it was impossible not to have the tumor be a constant part of life. It impacted how I felt every day. It impacted what I could…and couldn’t…get done. It dictated when we were home and when we had to drive 9 hours round trip for doctor’s appointments. So as much as I tried NOT to let it impact my life…it impacted my life.

So the question is this- since the tumor is gone….now what? What do you do when the thing that has, at some level, defined you for the last 19 months…is gone? Well, sit right down and I’ll TELL you what I’m going to do! I’m going to do exactly what I said in a sermon a few weeks back. I am going to go wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, pedal to the metal, unhook the governor and let the motor run full out- THAT’S what I’m going to do!

God called me to the ministry. I didn’t want to do it. I thought it was the WORST idea I had ever heard! But God was persistent. And finally…FINALLY…I couldn’t take the hammering any more and I gave in. And it was one of the BEST things I ever did! (Getting my wife to marry was the BEST thing!!) I told someone recently, “If you are thinking about going into the ministry, look at it this way- if you can do anything else…ANYTHING else…do it! Only go into the ministry if you simply can’t find satisfaction doing anything else.” The bottom line for me is this- I can’t do anything else. Oh sure, I could go out and find a job- I have a COUPLE of marketable skills! But I could DO anything else. This is what I was created to do. And I have been given a big ‘ol 2nd chance at life. AND…I have been put in THIS place, at THIS time, with THESE people…for such a time as this. And amazing things are happening. God is moving. Lives are changing. Miracles are occurring. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

So, look out! Look out, church. Look out, community. Look out, region. Look out world! All the chips are pushed into the middle of the table. There is no back-up plan. There is no “what if”. We are going to see where God leads us. We are going to strap in, hang on and enjoy ride! I can’t wait…can’t WAIT…to see where we are headed.

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 Diamond in the Rough

Wednesday, December 17- What a Day!! Yet Another Health Update

Medical-Update-for-web

Yesterday’s chain of events:

4:30AM- the alarm goes off

5:15AM- my wife and I are packed and in the car, headed for St. Louis

5:55AM- right rear tire blows…while doing 70 miles/hour in the far left lane of the interstate at the beginning of rush hour, 4 miles on the Illinois side of the St. Louis riverfront!

6:45AM- my CT scan is supposed to happen (I called them)…but we are still on the side of the interstate, waiting for AAA

7:18AM- AAA arrives and begins to change the tire

7:50AM- pulling back out into full-blown rush hour traffic, still 4 miles from the St. Louis riverfront, with a “donut” where the right rear tire should be

8AM- my MRI is supposed to happen (I called them)…but we are just across the Poplar Street Bridge and in the downtown St. Louis area.

8:10AM- we walk into the MRI lab

8:30AM- I get the IV inserted for the MRI

10AM- the MRI is done and we head, IV still intact, down to the CT lab

10:20AM- my appointment with the neurosurgeon is supposed to happen (I called them)…but we are in the CT lab

10:40AM- I am taken back for the CT scan

11AM- CT scan is done, IV is out and we are headed all the way across the Barnes Hospital campus (it’s so big, some people take a shuttle to get from one side to the other!) to meet with my neurosurgeon and get the results of the MRI and CT scans

11:25AM- we are sitting in an exam room, waiting for the doctor

11:30AM- the neurosurgeon comes in, shakes my hand, sits down, crosses his legs, smiles and says the words we have been waiting 6 months to hear, “The scans look great- no sign of the tumor!”

11:31AM- a great “huzzah” of praise is raised up in the exam room! He tells us that everything looks good and he doesn’t need to see us for a year. A YEAR! I was seeing him every MONTH for a while!! He also says that I am such a “special snowflake” (our words, NOT is!) that my case is being presented at the North American Skull Base Society, “a professional medical society that facilitates communication worldwide between individuals pursuing clinical and research excellence in skull base surgery.” I finally made the big time!

11:50AM- we are in the car, heading to a Walmart Supercenter to get two new tires so that we can go home

12:10PM- Walmart does HAVE that tire, but they can order it- it would take 24 hours!

12:15PM- we are in the car, in the Walmart parking lot, making phone calls. Sam’s Club doesn’t have the tire. Neither of the Toyota dealers in the area (we drive a Toyota) have it. BUT…they can ALL order…24 hours! JUst when we think we are going to have to spend the night in St. Louis, National Tire and Battery- NTB- comes through like a champ! They not only have the tire in stock, they have two different choices!

1:25PM- We arrive at NTB and have them get started- 1½ – 2 hours. Longer than I wanted to wait, but WAY better than 24 hours!

1:45PM- we walk across the street to a little neighborhood pub/restaurant because neither of us has eaten all day. We have a simply spectacular lunch (I had Cajun shrimp and grits and my wife had fish tacos), drank LOTS of coffee, talked a lot and basked in the glow of the good news

3:15PM- we walk back over to NTB

3:30PM- 2 new tires…and a healthy chunk of change…later, we are back on the road

7:45PM- we pull into the driveway, anxious to see our family AND get out of the car!

It was a LONG day. It was a CRAZY day. AND…it was one of the best days of my life! After the devastating news of the tumor, the debilitating effects of the drug therapies, the profound hearing loss, the complete loss of facial muscle control on the right side, the 11-hour surgery the day before my 53rd birthday and 3 days before Easter, the 6 weeks of recovery, the weeks and weeks of electric shock therapy and exercises to try and regain the facial muscles and the excruciating wait to have the 6-month follow-up, wondering/fearing that the tumor was coming back, to hear him say those magic words, “No sign of the tumor” was among the highlights of my life!

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

Tomorrow- What’s Next?

Tuesday, December 16- Another Health Update

Medical-Update-for-web

First of all, let me apologize for the fact that there was no post yesterday. I work HARD to make sure there is a daily post. BUT…Sunday was a REALLY long day followed by a 4+ hour drive. By the time I could have spent time at the keyboard…I was toast!! Having said that…here we go!

Yesterday was Day One of what I am calling my “60,000 mile checkup”! It had be nearly six months since I was checked to see if the tumor in my head is coming back or not. So Sunday evening, my wife and I drove to St. Louis so that we could be in the area first thing yesterday morning. We were at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes/Washington University Hospital at 9:15AM to get blood work done. Then, it was across the hall to meet with the oncologist.

He said that my blood work was good. (Gotta love that!) He looked me over well and commented that my “facial symmetry is perfect”! Let me say two things about that:

  1. that refers to the fact that I had substantial facial paralysis on the right side of my face as a result of the tumor. There were varying opinions as to whether I would gain all, some or none of that back. He feels that the two sides of my face match perfectly.
  2. He’s wrong! (I snowed HIM, Dude!) The right corner of my mouth still doesn’t come up like it should. BUT…I have learned to compensate by flexing the muscles in my cheek, causing the right side of my face to come up AS IF that side is smiling. And I figure- if I can fool a (literally) world-renown oncologist who is the head of the department…I can fool anybody, Baby!

We also talked about the JAK2 genetic mutation that they found when doing extensive genetic testing of the tumor they took out of my head. Once again, my case is VERY rare! (That just KEEPS coming up!) They think that the mutation is only in the tumor, because it is NOT in my blood. In fact, they were shocked to find it as they were looking for a totally different mutation when they started searching!

Ultimately, the bottom line is that the oncologist doesn’t need to see me for six months if today’s tests show that the tumor is coming back AND…he doesn’t need to see me for a YEAR if the tumor doesn’t show up today!

Today started at 6:45AM with a CT scan, followed by an MRI. Then it is to the neurosurgeon’s office to get the results of those scans. After that, it’s out to the otolaryngologist’s office to see how my (deaf) ear is doing. We are praying that today’s tests show NO tumor- I would LOVE to go a whole year without going to doctors!!

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 Verdict Is In

Sunday, December 14- Beginnings

Today’s devotional is called Beginnings, and it deals with the 1st 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books, the writing of which is attributed to Moses, are the foundation upon which the rest of the Bible rests- they are very important books.
The Bible is 66 books that tell the story of God and His people. But here is the Bible…in only 50 words! God made, Adam bit, Noah arked, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, Bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, Promise landed, Saul freaked, David peeked, Prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked,  Love talked, anger crucified, hope died, Love rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained.
The Bible is an ancient writing- the last author, John, died about 2,000 years ago. There are 2 divisions- The Old Testament and The New Testament. The Old Testament has 39 books, 929 chapters and 23,214 verses and the New Testament has 27 books, 260 chapters and 7,956 verses. There are a total of 66 books; 1,189 chapters and 31,170 verses. It is the monumental best-seller of all time. And it starts at the very beginning (a very good place to start!). There are 3 types of books in the Old Testament: historic, poetic and prophetic.
The rock group Chicago (one of my all-time favorites!) did a sing called Beginnings. In that song, it says, “When I’m with you, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing. I’m with you, that’s all that matters. Only the beginning of what I want to feel forever. Only just the start, I’ve got to get you into my life.” Today, we start with life…before the Promised Land. In Hebrew, this section of the Bible is called The Torah- meaning “instruction or law”. It’s also know as The Pentateuch-  which in Greek means: pente- “5”, teuxos- “case”. The 1st 5 books of the Old Testament is a continuous story…a story that starts with Genesis-
Genesis 1- 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
Genesis- in the beginning, is the primeval history of Creation, of Adam and Eve, of the Garden of Eden, of their descendants. It also talks about Noah, the flood and HIS descendants. We learn about the Tower of Babel, about Abraham and God’s covenant, about Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. We read about how Jacob’s sons leave Canaan for Egypt  because of a famine. The book sets the rest of the story in motion.
Next comes Exodus- a story of redemption. We see Moses as a baby in the bulrushes. We meet Pharaoh. Moses accidentally murders someone and flees, only to return. The plagues come, and then Moses leads his people out of Egypt. They end up at Mt. Sinai, where Moses receives the 10 Commandments. But the people violate God’s law by building a golden calf. They also build the Ark of the Covenant.
Leviticus-  This book is about worship, about how to use the tabernacle, about cleanliness rules and about how to get back on track.
Then we get the book of Numbers- the people wander in the wilderness. Through 2 census, the Hebrews are counted. because of their disobedience, the people have to spend 40 more years wandering through the wilderness, and Moses is told that he will not see the Promised Land. There are battles in the land near Canaan, and finally the people are ready to enter the Promised Land.
The next book is Deuteronomy- it is a book full of teaching, including a series of Moses’ speeches about obeying God and His laws. These 5 books, collectively, are the backbone of both the Old and New Testaments. Remember when you 1st learned how to ride a bike? 1remember your 1st pet? Your 1st day of school? When you lost your 1st tooth? When you went to Senior prom? Your High School graduation? Your 1st love? Your wedding? Your children? How about when you 1st met Jesus Christ? These 1st 5 books ARE the story of Moses and the Hebrews…but they are more than that- much more. They are OUR story- about beginning, and redemption, and worship, about wilderness and teaching…about remembering.
    Deuteronomy 34:1-12 says- “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—as far as the western sea, 4 Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do.“
Moses sees the Promised Land from the top of a mountain…then he dies. He is buried by God, and the stage is set. These books are a tale of beginnings, redemption, worship, wilderness, teaching. And if Jesus is the heart of the Bible, then these 5 books are its feet, its foundation. They are “only the beginning of what I want to feel forever. Only just the start. I’ve got to get you into my life.”

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

Tomorrow- They Don’t Make Them as Big as They Used To!

Saturday, December 13- The 21-Soup Salute

soup_2    Tomorrow, a great event happens at the church I currently serve. Well, actually TWO great events happen. First, our choir will present this year’s Cantata. Our choir runs about 20 people, give or take. And for my money, they produce more sound and better sound that most 40-50 member choirs I have heard! (I’m partial, but then…shouldn’t I be?!) They will present this marvelous piece three times tomorrow- 8AM, 10:15 AM and 6PM. THREE TIMES! That is god stuff, no matter how you measure it. I have known choirs who weren’t sure they wanted to do it ONCE, let alone three times. I am both proud of and impressed with these folks!

And in the middle of all that, our United Methodist Men will host what has become known as the 21-Soup Salute. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 different soups, made by the men of the church, will be “on display”. The congregation will be invited to try any of the soups they want to try. Then can then go back and get a bowl of one of them for lunch. Rolls and desserts will also be offered.

Men’s ministries are a hard nut to crack.  And I’m not going to lie- we would live to have more men involved in our Men’s Ministries. But pound for pound, the men of this congregation are more active, more committed, more dedicated to the ministries of the church than most of the churches in our conference.

A gentleman in this congregation told me about the fact that, for a long time, he had been what he lovingly calls a “pew sitter”. His definition is someone who is a perfectly decent person. They come to church regularly…and that’s it. They don’t get involved in the ministries of the church beyond Sunday morning worship. He said that, somewhere along the way, his faith grew to the point that he wanted to do more. It seems that many men in this congregation have had a similar experience!

Over and over again, I have said that women are the backbone of any United Methodist church…or at least any UM church I have been a part of. But having strong, dedicated men in the mix just ramps up the whole thing about 3 notches! And that’s what I am fortunate enough to find when I go to work every day!

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

Tomorrow- Beginings

Friday, December 12- Tree Hunting

Christmas Trees

Tomorrow’s the day. Tomorrow morning, my family will do something that we have down every year for the past 26. We will go out and cut down a Christmas tree! We started the tradition on land that once belonged my family- my dad’s dad, to be exact.

Before I was born, my parents bought about 2.5 acres off of the front corner of my grandpa’s 150-acre farm and built a house. I grew up there, which means I spent a LOT of time back on my grandpa’s property. He dies when I was about 13 years old and the farm was sold. It was bought by brothers who wanted to turn it into a Christmas tree farm. So once we had a kid and were looking for a Christmas tree, the logical choice was to go out to my grandpa’s old farm and get one.

It was awesome to be there. Two of the buildings that stood for over a 100 years are still there and it was very nostalgic to go into those building, remembering all the hours I spent playing and exploring in those buildings as a kid. So we got our trees from that farm until we moved 45  minutes away and it was no longer reasonable to go that far.

We immediately found another “cut your own” tree farm where we moved and the tradition continued. While we were in that community, our 2nd son was born. So, he was plugged into the equation, going out in the field in a snowsuit!

A few years later, we moved to Central Illinois. We, of course, found another tree farm and continued the tradition. Then, 2½ years ago, we moved to where we are now- Northwestern Illinois. We, of course, found a new tree farm- would you expect anything else?But last year, when we got our tree, the man told us that it would be the last year for cutting your own tree. So we are, once again, looking for a place to cut a Christmas tree! And it turns out that appears to be a dying art!

Our older son comes in from Chicago tonight so that he can go with us. And I have to tell you, I am SO glad that my boys still like to do those things- they still like hanging around with us! By tomorrow morning, I will have found a new tree farm, one way or another, and we will head out. When we first started doing this, my wife held our older son AND the tree while I got on the ground and cut it down. Over time, my older son took over holding the tree. Then he took over cutting the tree. Then my younger son took over holding the tree. Now, I go along for moral support and to pay!

Family traditions are important. WHAT they are isn’t nearly as important as THAT they are. They build memories. They build bonds. They build relationships! I wouldn’t trade the traditions my family looks forward to for all the money in the world. Money is fleeting, transitory. My career as a minister won’t last forever. BUT…my family will ALWAYS be my family!

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 21-Soup Salute

Thursday, December 11- Cleaning the Air Ducts

vacuum

The parsonage that we live in is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old- give or take. It was built by the church…back in the day…RIGHT next to the church. It has, over the years, served as the home for the pastor’s family and, at times, as a Sunday School building! (In fact, the Master bedroom is HUGE…and I’m talkin’ HUGE…because somewhere in the history of the house/church, when the building was being used for Sunday School, a larger room was needed for a class that was rather big, so they knocked the wall out between two of the bedrooms, making it one big room. Did I mention HUGE?!)

The house is very “old school” and very attractive. It has lots of beautiful woodwork, leaded glass windows, built-in buffet in the dining room with a sliding pass-through into the kitchen. It even has a (now non-functioning) dumbwaiter. (And in case that term is not familiar to you and you think I am disparaging some employee we have, a dumbwaiter is the thing you see in old movies where people open a little door in the wall, put something in and then pull the rope to take the dumbwaiter either up or down to the next floor. Basically, it’s a manual elevator for stuff!) We have a decent amount of antique furniture, and this is the first house we’ve ever lived in where the furniture actually looked like it belonged!

You might imagine that a house this old has its own unique charms AND its own unique problems. One problem was that the ductwork in the house was never been professionally cleaned out. Never…as in never! So the Trustees, the committee responsible for the “physical plant”- all the real property the church owns- scheduled a man to come in and do just that.

He came Monday and Tuesday of this week to “do the deed”. It was an interesting process. In a “normal” house, vent covers come off and part of the machine gets stuck down the vent to vacuum out all the gunk. (And yes- that IS a technical term!) But this house is not “normal” and the vent and vent opening are oddly sized and odd shaped and angled. So the machine doesn’t really want to do what it is designed to do in this kind of setting. The answer turned out to be to do the entire job from the basement, sucking everything down and letting gravity lend a hand!

So for two days, this nice gentleman inhabited our basement- which, by the way is a VERY “old-school” basement with for large rooms, one right after the other. Some have a concrete floor and some have a rather uneven brick floor. Overall, the back two rooms (which are actually under the front of the house) like like a set from a Hannibal Lecter movie! (Google it!)

The guy doing the work was great. Like I said- nice guy, very friendly. And did his level best to not disrupt the household any more than he had to. Often, you couldn’t even tell he was there. Then you’d hear a “bang” on a air duct and say, “Oh yeah…there’s someone in the basement!” But when the machine itself was turned on, you KNEW he was in the house! It sounded like a 747 was gearing up for takeoff from our basement!

As he worked, I thought about the metaphor his job created. What he was doing to our house is what God does to us on an ongoing basis. God is always working on us, cleaning out the dirt and cobwebs that accumulate in our souls. That experience is NOT always pleasant, but the end result is awesome! Once God gets the crud out of our lives, He is able to fill the void that is created with His light and His love. And the more filled we are with Him, the less room the is for the darkness to creep in.

So what about you? Does your life need a good, thorough vacuuming? Let it happen. Encourage it to happen. You may not enjoy the process, but you will LOVE the end result!

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

Tomorrow- Tree Hunting