Faithfulness

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In my Wednesday evening Bible Study, we are looking at the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Last night’s topic was faithfulness. And in the context of that topic, I asked the class how they had seen God’s faithfulness in their lives. People shared some stories about how God had been faithful to them.

I them asked for examples of how God has been faithful to our church. People then shared some powerful stories. One person shared that they felt God had brought them to this church intentionally…to help them through a tough time.

As I listened to the story, it really touched my heart. Not only because of the conviction that was evident as they shared with us, but also because it brought back some pretty powerful emotions and remembrances for me.

I am absolutely convinced that God orchestrated our move to the church we currently serve…knowing that there was a tumor growing quietly in my head that was going to become a HUGE problem. There are SO many things about that story that simply wouldn’t have happened…or at least not happened like they did…were it not for this church.

Before (and after) the surgery, they set up rotating groups of people to come 4 times a day and check on my wife’s parents (who live with us), bring them food and take their dog out every time we made a trip to St. Louis. (And we made a LOT of trips to St. Louis!) They had an offer of an interim pastor while I was out. Their response? “We’ve got this!” And they ran the church for 6 weeks! (My District Superintendent told me, after the fact, “That is QUITE a congregation. I have churches that HAVE a pastor who call me all the time. Your church went 6 weeks with NO pastor…and they never called me one time!”)

During surgery, they had a several-hour prayer vigil for our family. After surgery, they let me be off work for 6 weeks- paid- and didn’t even bat an eye when that decision was up for consideration. They also brought lunch and dinner every day for over 3 weeks. And when I came back (The doctor had said 6-8 weeks- you will probably find it NO surprise that I was back in 6!), they seemed genuinely glad to see me!

Words will never be enough to express my gratitude and love for this congregation. I am incredibly thankful for their faithfulness in tending to me and my family when we needed it the most. They model God’s faithfulness to us. Today, say a prayer that covers two things: 1. all the people for who you are thankful and 2. how much you appreciate God’s faithfulness.

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

Tomorrow- 38 Years (And 2 Days) Ago

From the Vault

Beginnings     Wednesdays are normally reserved for the past Sunday EVENING sermon.  (Sunday is reserved for the Sunday MORNING sermon!) Well, this past Sunday I din’t WRITE a Sunday evening sermon because I didn’t preach Sunday evening. So I went back a few years and pulled a sermon “out of the vault”!

Today we begin a new Wednesday devotional series called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible. Each Wednesday we will look at a section of books from the Bible- this will literally be an overview of the Bible as a whole. 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.
Author Douglas Adams was on a trip to Europe. And as he lay and looked up at the galaxy, he dreamed up Englishman Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, an alien writer researching a “wholly remarkable book” called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book, a bureaucratic alien race is building a galactic interstate highway and the earth is in the way…so they destroy it! But Arthur and Ford are saved by the part-time Galactic President who travels around space in a ship called The Heart of Gold searching for The Question to the Ultimate Answer. There are 5 (yes, that’s right…5!) books in the TRILOGY: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. As I read these books, it struck me that someone needed to write the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Bible!
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- worship, how to use tabernacle/cleanliness rules/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 st pet? Your 1st day of school? When you lost your 1st tooth? When you went to Senior prom? Your High School grad? 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!

Crucified

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The miniseries “A.D. The Bible Continues” is currently running on Sundays nights on NBC. It is covering the events of the early church as found in the New Testament Book of Acts. The Crucifixion is certainly an often-referenced event in this miniseries, even though the event itself doesn’t happen in this sequel. And it’s understandable- it’s a pivotal point in the story.

This past Sunday evening, the story centered around (in part) the Romans responding to the murder of one of theirs by having several Jewish people crucified. They seemed to have been picked somewhat at random. And there was a scene where a man enters and laments the fact that a young man close to him was, as they spoke, on the cross…paying a debt he did not owe.

Three things about that scene stuck me.

  1. I can’t imagine the heartache of seeing someone being tortured and killed…period. Let alone it being done for something they had nothing to do with. It is beyond my ability to comprehend.
  2. The fact that the young man in the movie was “paying a debt he did not owe” points directly…DIRECTLY…the event of Good Friday. Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, was beaten, tortured and murdered for sins He did not commit. The fact that those sins are ones that WE committed makes it even harder to wrap your head around.
  3. At the end of all things, we not only are we blessed by the Crucifixion- we are asked to repeat it, at some level, every day.

Think about it- by accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are making a huge commitment. And part of that commitment is to be crucified daily. Oh, maybe not being nailed to a cross. OK…NOT being nailed to a cross. But we ARE asked to die to the things that keep us from a more complete relationship with Him.

So, my question for the day- what ARE the things that keep you from a more complete relationship with Him? Yours are bound to be different from mine. But if we’re honest…we all have them. And we are asked to die to that part of ourselves, so that we may be reborn as new beings in Him. Sounds GREAT. REALLY hard to do. BUT…the BEST thing I EVER did! What about 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- From the Vault

The Drumsticks

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I’m a drummer. (“No- DUH! We KNOW that, Pastor! Your website tells us that EVERY day!”) I have been a drummer since I was 10 years old- 44 years! (You do the math- it’s REALLY easy!) And I can still remember, like it was yesterday, the day I became a drummer.

There were 4 Junior Highs in the school district of which I was a part. When I was in 5th Grade, the Band Director at the Junior High where I would be attending came to our Grade School. With him, he brought some Junior High band students and some instruments. He then, using the Junior High students as the musicians, gave us demonstrations of many of the main instruments found in the band.

After the demonstrations, he went instrument by instrument, asking who in the crowd wanted to play that instrument. My older sister had been in Chorus for years and my older brother had been in Orchestra as well, so I as very familiar with live music. One by one, he went through the instruments: trumpet? No. Trombone? No. Flute? No. Clarinet? No. On and on the list went. Until, that is, he got to percussion! He asked if anybody wanted to be a drummer and my hand shot up SO fast it would make your head spin!

I went home that night and did something I honestly think I had never done before- told my mom that I signed up for something without first asking her about it. I knew that was somewhat dangerous territory, but doggone it…I wanted to play those drums! Fortunately, she was supportive…even though it was the DRUMS..and let me start.

I remember a pair of drumsticks I had in Junior High. At that time, aluminum drumsticks with a solid plastic top/head on one end and a plastic knob at the other end were very popular. They came in a variety of colors and where all that AND a bag of chips! I saved my money and bought them. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven! Those sticks went everywhere with me.

I was reminded of those sticks yesterday. After our 10:15AM worship service, one of our Junior High youth was standing next to me, talking to someone. I looked over and saw a pair of drumsticks sticking out of his pocket. I commented on them. We talked about being a drummer and how excited he was to BE a drummer. And then…I thought about those sticks I had. The sticks are LONG gone, but the joy of having them lingers.

I asked him if he had a couple of minutes. He said he did, so I led him up onto the altar area, where my drumset sits. Next to my set is my gig bag- where I keep all of my sticks. And I have a LOT of sticks! Mallets. Wire brushes. Nylon brushes. Bamboo brushes. And about 8 different sizes and styles of drumsticks. I easily have 10 pair of just drumsticks. He looked at them and then said what any self-respecting 6th Grade drummer would say under such circumstances- “Could I have a pair?!”

I again thought of my joy over those “cool” sticks. And so I reached in, picked out a pair…and gave them to him. I explained how they were made. (They are a special stick called a dip stick…insert your joke here!…that are DIPPED  in a black rubber to make them easier to grip!) I explained why I like the nylon tip better than the wooden tip. I told him about their size and what type of playing they were best suited for. And he was ecstatic! “These are SO cool!” He then ran across the street to a friend’s house (who are also church members) to show them the sticks!

We are called to encourage others to grow as people. Grow in their faith, to be sure. But also to just grow as a person. And my prayer for that kid is that he will continue to have a great love for music. I pray that, regardless of what he does with his life, music will always be a part of it. There is a transformative power i musi that simply isn’t found in many other places!

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

Tomorrow- Crucified

Sunday, April 26- The Greatest Story Never Told: The Song of Wind

Greatest Story Never Told Song of Wind

Tom arrived at a hotel in a Scottish village on a cold, grey, windy day. And for the next two weeks, the wind blew non-stop. Finally, on his 15th day there, as Tom fought to make his way up the street, imitating the famous mime “walking against the wind” routine, he happened upon a little boy. Over the roar of the wind, he yelled, “Does the wind EVER stop blowing here?” The little boy looked the tourist in the eye, put his hands on his hips and yelled back, “I don’t know….I’m only six years old!”
Zechariah 4:6 So he said to me, “A message came to Zerubbabel from the LORD. He said, ‘Your strength will not get my temple rebuilt. Your power will not do it either. Only the power of my Spirit will do it,’ says the LORD who rules over all.
Today, we continue our current, 4-week sermon series- The Greatest Story Never Told. Based on the book by author and United Methodist minister Leonard Sweet, this series asks the question, “What makes a United Methodist?” Sweet claims that the essence of United Methodism’s genius is found in two famous phrases by United Methodist founder John Wesley: “heart strangely warmed”, which points to inward experiences with the Holy Spirit and “the world is our parish”, which points to outward experiences of taking Jesus Christ to the people. For Wesley, internal combustion led to external combustion.
Week 1, we started with The Song of Water and we talked about both baptism and the power of sound and the power of music in the United Methodist Church. Last week, we looked at The Song of Fire as we looked at a rather unlikely conversion story that would literally change history. Today, we consider the work of the Holy Spirit as we look at The Song of Wind.
There is a fancy seminary word. Well, there is about a metric TON of fancy seminary words! But the one we’re going to look at today is pneumatology. In the Greek, “ology” means “the study of” and “pneuma” means “wind” or “spirit”. So pneumatology is the study of God’s Holy Spirit- the fresh wind that blows from God through Jesus Christ to us.
The person and work of the Holy Spirit played a significant role in the theological thought of United Methodist founder John Wesley. Wesley saw that the primary role of God’s Holy Spirit was redemptive- saving us from sin. And he tied that to what he knew as prevenient grace- God’s changing and saving grace that’s specifically working on us before we are even aware of it. That prevenient grace leads to preliminary grace- the work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of life. And that leads to purifying grace- the fresh “Spirit” wind that blows through us, changing who we are and how we live our lives .
John Wesley insisted that God’s grace couldn’t be simply considered- we HAVE to do more than simply think about it. We have to actually experience it. He called that the “witness of the Spirit.” But when he talked about how to experience that “witness of the Spirit,” he talked about relationships and entry points: going to church, joining a Bible Study, participating in an outreach ministry, etc. In other words, the “witness of the Spirit” is a relational witness, in the middle of “where two or more are gathered together”. The witness of the Spirit is often found in the ordinary, but it ALWAYS allows for the possibility of the EXTRAORDINARY.
For Wesley, it wasn’t enough to be passionate about your faith. Early Methodists sought out those who NEEDED the Gospel the most- not those that simply wanted it the most or could most afford to pay for it. To be United Methodist is to be passionate about the way your faith connects with others, embraces others, includes others and loves others. John Wesley expected all United Methodists to be lifelong learners. Spiritual growth is the very definition of what it means to be United Methodist.
Acts 1:4-8 One day Jesus was eating with them. He gave them a command. “Do not leave Jerusalem,” he said. “Wait for the gift my Father promised. You have heard me talk about it. John baptized with water. But in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When the apostles met together, they asked Jesus a question. “Lord,” they said, “are you going to give the kingdom back to Israel now?” He said to them, “You should not be concerned about times or dates. The Father has set them by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem. You will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria. And you will be my witnesses from one end of the earth to the other.”
When we first moved to Champaign County, we were given a “tour” of the town and the area around it. After seeing all there was to see (the person giving the “tour” joked that we got the $20 tour which takes 20 minutes, versus the $5 tour, which takes 10 minutes!), the “tour guide” turned to us and said, “Welcome to Champaign County! We hope you like flat and we hope you like wind…’cause we have lots of BOTH of them!” We had literally NEVER seen “wind advisories” that didn’t connect to a large storm system until we moved there. Due to the high water table in that part of the state, ours was one of the only houses in the neighborhood that had a basement. So we were pretty popular when there was a tornado warning! And there were a LOT of them! Once, a tornado warning came while I was at the church and our older son had taken our younger son to Tae Kwan Do class. My wife was at home by herself, worrying about her family, when suddenly a car pulled up. Several Tae Kwan Do students, in their doboks- their uniforms- jumped out and ran for our house! She said it looked like a ninja clown car had pulled up! The “ninjas” ended up riding the storm out in our basement!
Methodism, at its core, is about living together in community. It’s about sharing life together. It’s about facing common daily problems together. It’s about being accountable to each other. A true United Methodist is never a solo act. Instead, we are all part of a web of “withness”- a network of relationships that ripple out into the larger world. At its best, United Methodist worship is built around that same “withness”. Our very understanding of God the Trinity- Father, Son, Holy Spirit- is, by its very nature, relational.
Healthy United Methodist churches are constantly trying to create places of “withness” that help enable conversations where we can hear each other’s stories. In fact, I would argue that two of the most holy places in this church building are the Fellowship Cafe’ and the kitchen!
United Methodists are a “connectional” people, but if we’re not careful, the connection increasingly becomes more about structure, bureaucracies and programs and less about people, mission and places. And I wonder- have too many churches across the country made faith a hand-folding, hand-wringing affair when it was meant to be a hand-holding, hand-raising experience?
We SO easily get SO caught up in rules that we lose track of relationship. Look at it this way: The Pythagorean Theorem can be stated in 24 words. The Lord’s Prayer is only 70 words long. The Ten Commandments cover a relatively small 179 words. But the 1964 Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church required no less than…ready?…a quarter of a MILLION words!
All around the world, “command-and-control” is being replaced with “connect-and-collaborate”. That shift is going full steam in almost every sector of society…with the notable exception of the Church. Out in the world, the consumer is in control. But all too often in the Church, it’s “rules” and “we’ve never done it that way” that are the order of the day. Many churches have managed to reduce their clergy to social workers instead of pastors, motivational speakers instead of preachers, marketers instead of evangelists, cultural architects instead of priests and CEO’s instead of prophets.
But over the years, one of the most revolutionary features of the United Methodist revival has been the equipping of the laity- the folks in the pews- for leadership. When that happens, it intentionally blurs the lines between pastor and parishioner. And that approach helps establish a new standard of excellence- it’s no longer the quality of the performance that matter but the quality of the participation.
Churches that don’t transition from regulation to resource, from “command-and-control” to “connect-and-collaborate” tend to have a less than rosy future. Churches that don’t make that shift want to build everything around rules and regulations. And rules and regulations are the religious equivalent of cement shoes- they weigh you down and hold you in place, eventually causes you to sink completely.
John 14:25-26 I have spoken all these things while I am still with you. But the Father will send the Friend in my name to help you. The Friend is the Holy Spirit. He will teach you all things. He will remind you of everything I have said to you.
A primary task of the Holy Spirit is to reveal, testify, and defend the truth of Jesus Christ. A Christian men’s group from Texas went to St. Louis to ministry. While there, they were preparing a barbecue for the seminarians at Concordia Seminary. The Texans were in the seminary kitchen, trimming the fat off the meat before cooking it. One of the seminarians walked in, watched them for a moment, then asked why they didn’t just cook it with the fat on and let the seminarians trim off their own fat. One of the Texans took the young man by the arm and led him outside the kitchen. He then told the young man to stop for a minute, listen and then tell him what he heard from the men in the kitchen cutting meat. The young seminarian listened for a minute, then pointed out that the men were talking, joking, laughing and swapping stories. The Texan smiled and said, “Son, THAT’S why we cut the fat off the meat.”
There are times in my life when I can’t quite hold on to Jesus…but I can hold on to YOU while you hold on to Him. And when that happens, I can feel His hold on me THROUGH you, since He never lets go of either of us. Jesus can only fully live in MY life if He also lives in OUR lives.

Saturday, April 25- These Kids Today!

These Kids Today

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the youth at the church I currently serve being in charge of the weekly Wednesday evening dinner this past Wednesday. I bragged on them. They did a GREAT job! That event, and the subsequent blog, have made me think more about the children and youth in this church. And all of that thinking brings me to some conclusions, which I would like to share with you.

Growing up, I thought that my generation must be the WORST generation…ever! I always heard, “OH! Your generation is horrible! Lazy! Selfish! Bad manners! And the drugs and alcohol!” In other words, we were HORRIBLE!Or so it seemed.

But as I got older, I began to understand something- EVERY generation thinks that the next generation is the worst ever. EVERY generation! Don’t believe me? Check this out! An Assyrian clay tablet, dating to around 2800 BC, bears the following inscription: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents.” “Children no longer obey their parents!”

And Socrates, somewhere around 425 BC. , said this, “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

So it is clear that this whole “the next generation is scum” thing is simply nothing new! I’m nearly sure that Adam and Eve complained about Cain and Abel. (And quite frankly, from Cain’s perspective, they were probably justified!) For as long as there have been parents and children, parents have been stating that “these kids” are going to bring civilization to a grinding halt in one generation!

Are there crummy kids out there today? Of course there are- there have ALWAYS been crummy kids! But you know what I think? If you are sure that “these kids today” are going to be the ruin of us all, then you must not know the same kids I know! Seriously! The kids at the church I currently serve are awesome! And for that matter, the kids at each of the last two churches I have served are awesome as well! They are fun to be around. They are smart. They are caring. They ask really good questions. They are full of life. And it’s that last one that is often the sticking point, isn’t it?!

Here’s the bottom line- kids are going to be messy sometimes. (Shoot- ADULTS are messy sometimes!) They have a lot of energy- they are going to run in the building sometimes. They make noise- there are going to be times when they say something at a less than appropriate time. If you have kids in your building, they are going to break the occasional thing. But you know what? When I stand before God on Judgement Day, I want to be able to say more than, “I kept the carpets clean!”

There are lots of churches around the country that are just DYING- literally- to hear the sound of kids in their building. Would I rather have kids in the building, making noise and spilling the occasional drink than NOT have them? Every day…and twice on Sunday!

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 Greatest Story Never Told: The Song of Wind

Friday, April 24′ Goodness

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My Wednesday night Bible Study is currently focused on the fruits of the Spirit. This Wednesday’s topic was goodness. So my question to you is- what IS goodness? Well, your friend and mine, dictionary.com, says this, “noun: 1. the state or quality of being good. (That is a COMPLETE copout! Using a form of the word in the definition of the word! Please! How outre’!) 2. moral excellence; virtue. (OK- getting better!) 3. kindly feeling; kindness; generosity. 4. excellence of quality. 5. the best part of anything; essence; strength. 6. a euphemism for God: thank goodness!

So what out of that definition is the most helpful to us? Well, “moral excellence” is a little tough. It is certainly something to strive for, but it is NOT something that we’re actually going to achieve this side of Heaven. “Excellence of quality” is also a bit of a challenge. Again, a good thing to shoot for but it sets the bar way higher than we are going to be able to actually jump. I like the “a euphemism for God” one a lot! But it probably doesn’t really inform this conversation terribly much.

So after weeding all of those out,  that leaves “kindly feeling; kindness; generosity” and “the best part of anything; essence; strength.” And for my money, it is that portion of the definition that has the most to offer us as we consider “goodness”. Why? Because goodness, at its core, is a feeling of kindness and generosity. It also centers around the best part of something- its essence.

What is the best part…of you? Seriously- what is it that is your essence? If you boil it ALL down, what’s left of you? Is it kindness and generosity? If you’re honest…and like me…then your answer is, “It depends on the day…or time of day.” And that’s it, isn’t it? There are days, or times of day, when we have goodness oozing out of every pore. And then there are days, or times of day, where people couldn’t find goodness in you with a cattle prod! (I don’t really even know what that means..but you GET the idea!”)

So, if we can’t maintain goodness all the time, shouldn’t we just cash it all in and quit trying? Not on your Nellie! We are humans- fearfully and wonderfully made. We are far from perfect…FAR! But God loves us. And He wants the best for us. AND…He has amazing patience. So He doesn’t measure our progress with a stopwatch but with a calendar. He KNOWS that we are going to take two steps forward followed almost immediately by one step back. And He’s willing to wait. He’s willing to encourage. He’s willing to be our number one Cheerleader.

So how are you doing on the whole goodness thing? Are you making progress? Do you want to make MORE progress? Then stick with it. Stay the course. Try to take one step…one step…closer to goodness, closer to God, 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- These Kids Today!

Thursday, April 23- A Growing Youth Ministry

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The first week that my family was at the church we currently serve, there was a big, grand, whopping total of 2 kids- TWO KIDS- at the weekly youth group meeting…and one of them was the kid we brought with us when we moved in! The Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries had barely been there longer than we had. And she had inherited a program that was, for all intent and purpose, non-existent.

She and I had lots of conversations about Youth Ministry over the weeks and months ahead. LOTS! And the overarching theme of all of those conversations was two-fold: patience and consistency. The consistency is obvious- set a standard for what your Youth Ministry will look like and stick to it. Don’t waver. Oh sure- be flexible as things happen and the group grows. But the core of the ministry should be steadfast. Deep down in those place they don’t like to talk about at parties, kids like consistency, They want to know what the parameters are, and if you don’t tell them…they’ll keep pushing until they find them!

But the patience might be a little harder to wrap your head around. People tend to push hard for instant results when they hire and Youth Director. But the truth is that…it takes patience. Junior High kids are not going to come pouring in the first week you are “open for business”. It takes time to build relationships and develop programs. But over time, they will come if you are consistent and persistent. Oh yeah…and patient!

High School kids, on the other hand, basically WON’T come if there is no program for them when they reach High School. It really doesn’t work that way. If you don’t have them when they get to High School…you probably won’t get them. Oh, you can run a “let’s go crazy and threaten to tear the building down every week” kind of program and get some in the door, but they won’t last if the program tries to move beyond that.

So I told our Youth Director to not worry about Senior High. That doesn’t mean don’t care about them and don’t love them if they come. It just means don’t try to build around them…yet. Instead, work hard…HARD…to develop that Junior High group. And in 2 or 3 years…guess what? You have a High School group!

So- fast-forward nearly three years. (We’ve actually been here 2 years and 10 months!) Last night, the Senior and Junior High Youth Groups cooked and served our Wednesday Night Fellowship all-church dinner. The food was awesome! But what was better was the number of kids! On any given week, we have 25-30 Junior High kids that meet on Tuesday evenings and 12-15 Senior High youth that meet on Sunday evenings. So every week, somewhere between 37-45 youth come through our doors and participate in the ministries of the church. 37-45! And remember, 2 Years and 10 months ago, it was 2…period! 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- Goodness

Wednesday, April 22- 3 D.O.T.S. (Difficult Old Testament Stories) A Donkey…Talks?

Three Dots Talking Donkey An elderly lady, recently widowed, decided she would get a pet to help ease her loneliness. She went to the pet store, looked around but no animal really caught her attention. As she was leaving, she hears a voice saying, “My, but you DO look lovely this afternoon, madam.” She turned around to see who had spoken, but there was no one. No one, that is, except a big green parrot. “Did you say that?” she asked. “Why, yes, I did!” the parrot replied. “And may I add- that dress is a very nice color for you.” The woman immediately decided that it would be very nice to not only have a talking parrot, but one that paid such nice compliments. So she bought the bird and took him home. But when they got there, the parrot immediately started complaining, swearing like a sailor and even biting her. The woman was stunned! And…the parrot continued with his horrible behavior. Finally, she grabbed the parrot, marched down to the basement…and stuffed the parrot in the freezer. She left him there for five long minutes before taking him back out. She then said to him, “Well? Have you learned your lesson? I will NOT tolerate such behavior in my house!” The parrot bowed his head and said, “I am SO sorry, Madam. I am embarrassed by my behavior and I promise that I will endeavor to rectify said behavior immediately.” The woman replied, “Well, I HOPE so!” There was a moment of silence, interrupted by the parrot, “I do have one question though.” “What?” The parrot pointed to the freezer, “I am curious- what did the chicken do?”
Tonight, we continue our short, 3-week sermon series called Three D.O.T.S. (Difficult Old Testament Stories). Rather than avoid the really hard stories, we’re facing a few of them head-on and see what’s what about you know what! Tonight we look at a story that is so “out there” and so obscure, a decent amount of Christians don’t even know it. Or if they have some vague recollection of it, they think it’s found in one of the books that AREN’T in the Bible- the ones that didn’t “make the cut”!
Tonight, we look at a story that is straight from…the donkey’s mouth. There’s this guy named Balam. Balaam was a pagan prophet who was a practitioner of divination and other magic arts. He was not a great guy. He helped lead Israel to abandon God and turn toward idol worship. He is identified as a false prophet in the New Testament by both Peter and Jude.
The Israelites were beginning to encroach on neighboring countries. In an effort to stem that tide, King Balak of Moab sent for Balaam to have him curse the Israelites. God intervened, telling Balaam to refuse to go to Balak. After some discussion, God gave in a bit, letting Balaam go under the condition that he would only speak God’s words. So Balaam saddled his donkey and went King to Balak.
Numbers 22:21-33- Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’ Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’ The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’ ‘No,’ he said. Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the LORD asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.’
So Balaam set out on his journey. But the problem was this- God knew Balaam’s heart. He knew that Balaam would continue to rebel. So God sent an angel, complete with a drawn sword, to block Balaam’s path. Balaam couldn’t see the angel…but his donkey could. In the Ancient Near Eastern world, donkeys were the all-purpose, SUV’s, They were used for transportation, carrying loads, grinding grain, and plowing fields.
They were highly dependable, very gentle and extremely friendly to people. Even their perceived major drawback- “mule headedness”- isn’t such a bad thing. The infamous donkey stubbornness often kept both animal and rider out of danger, because when the donkey sensed danger, they would simply freeze and refuse to move.
Balaam’s donkey tried to abort the trip by going off the path, crushing Balaam’s foot against the wall and even lying down on the path. All of that just made Balaam mad and he used his staff to beat the donkey not once, not twice but three times. And then…the unimaginable happens- the donkey talks! “What did I do to deserve THIS?” Balaam seems rather non-plussed by the fact that donkey can talk. “You made me look bad! If I had a sword, I’d kill you right here, right now!” The donkey responds, “Think this through, Big Boy! I’m a DONKEY! Do I NORMALLY talk to you?” Balaam relents a bit, “Well…no.” Once Balaam admits this, God opens his eyes and lets him see the angel. The angel then explains why Balaam’s journey was stopped.
So did Balaam’s donkey speak to him? Yep! Did the the donkey suddenly gain both the power of speech AND reason? It IS absolutely possible…but I don’t think that’s what happened. Instead, I think God opened the donkey’s mouth and spoke through him.
So why wasn’t Balaam shocked silent by a donkey talking to him? I mean, it HAD to come as a surprise…right? Under normal circumstances, his obvious response would be shock…followed by demanding to know how the donkey learned to talk! Well, the Bible doesn’t address that, but let’s think about it a moment. Balam was already in full-bore rebellion against God. Then this darn donkey refuses to do what Balaam wants him to do. Balaam becomes so enraged that he beats the donkey half senseless.
Balaam had long since passed rational thought. He completely lost the ability to think clearly. It wasn’t until the angel opened his eyes to reality that his anger abated. In the end, Balaam goes to King Balak and tells him that he can ONLY speak what God has put in his mouth.
One of the most intriguing promises Jesus ever made was this: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12). Think about that for a moment- Jesus said we will be able to do even greater things than He did in His earthly ministry. Really? Greater things? I mean, Jesus healed people, fed thousands with 5 loaves and two fish, walked on water, calmed storms….raised the dead. Now I can do a lot of different things…but I sure can’t do THOSE things! And yet Jesus says we can do even greater things that those.
How could we POSSIBLY do greater things than what Jesus did?
Look at it this way- During His 33 years on this earth, Jesus never led anyone to salvation. It’s true. Salvation happened…happens…as a result of the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. When Saul was confronted by a resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, he could have been “saved” right then and there. Instead, Jesus sends him on to Damascus to wait for Ananias, who shows up and offers Saul salvation through Jesus. Jesus COULD have led Paul to salvation, but He didn’t. Instead, He left that awesome task to some obscure man named Ananias. Why? Because He promised that we would do even greater things!
We’ve been given an incredible privilege. But to take full advantage of that privilege, we have to first realize that the only way we can do what God wants us to do is to imitate Balaam’s donkey. God used the donkey because it was something Balaam trusted. He used the donkey because it was something Balaam depended upon. He used the donkey because it was a mule-headed creature that would do whatever it needed to do- regardless of the cost.
That’s who God wants us to be. He wants us to talk to people who trust us. He wants us to talk with people who depend on us. He wants us to be mule-headed enough to stick with it until that person listens.
God can use anyone, even a donkey and a rebellious prophet, to do His will and speak His truth. All of Creation is at God’s disposal. He can…and does…use whatever He wants. But the ultimate tool God wants to use….is you.

Tuesday, April 21- Hurdles to Ministry

Georganne Moline - DIN

There is one hurdle that is consistently lifted up as THE hardest one for a church to get over. Oh sure- there are a TON (literally!) of hurdles to ministry. But this one is THE one that is seen as the watershed. Most churches can’t get past it. But for those that cross this particular hurdle…well…often the sky’s the limit!

If you are paying attention at ALL at this point, you are saying one of two things: 1. “I already know what that hurdle is, Pastor!” or 2. “OK! OK! Stopping talking ABOUT it and tell us what it IS already!” Alrighty then, here it is. THE hardest hurdle for a church to get over is the “200 in weekly attendance” hurdle.

And at this point you might be asking, “Why? With all of the challenges out there, why is THAT one THE one?” It’s the hardest one because it requires a complete shift in how a church sees themselves, how they go about the daily work of ministry.

A church that averages under 200/week in attendance can expect that the pastor does the bulk of the heavy lifting. Their numbers are such that he or she can do that. The pastor is seen as a shepherd, watching out over the existing flock.

On the other hand, a church that breaks the 200/week barrier has to expand their horizons if they hope to stay above that breakpoint. The pastor can no longer be a shepherd, but instead has to become a rancher. A shepherd is everything to their flock. But a rancher is more of a CEO, managing a group of “hands” who have different tasks delegated to them.

As a pastor, I don’t have a gear for ministry that doesn’t include growth. Living things grow. I have had the extreme pleasure of being a part of a church that grew exponentially while I was there…and has done even MORE since I left! I have also had the pleasure of pastoring a church that stepped way out of their comfort zone and bumped up hard against (and at times surpassed) that 200 plateau while I was there.

And now, I am in the middle of it again. The church I currently serve has ended the past two years well above that 200 mark. And so far this year, we are knocking on the door of the 300 mark. Things are happening. New ministries are springing up. And most importantly…lives are being changed.

That’s the key right there- lives being changed. Numbers are great. And I will be the FIRST to claim that I’m a numbers guy. Every week, I crunch attendance numbers, Christian Education numbers and giving numbers. I can tell you where we are at any given moment and how that compares to last year at this time. Why? Because it’s a very real, tangible way to evaluate how your ministry is doing at connecting people to Jesus Christ. But there is an INTANGIBLE that has to go hand in hand with those tangible numbers- lives being changed. And while the numbers might point toward that, it’s something you can see in how people live their lives. More people want to step up into greater involvement in ministry. And as more people step up, more ministries are born. People begin to take ownership of ministries. And when that happens, things start to REALLY explode!

God is moving in powerful ways in the church I currently serve. I feel amazingly blessed to be a part of such a movement of the Spirit. I pray that we can keep ourselves open to His leanings. I pray that we can continue to be committed to connecting people to Jesus Christ. And I pray that we are able to hang on tight and enjoy the ride!

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

Tomorrow- 3 D.O.T.S. (Difficult Old Testament Stories): A Donkey…Talks?

Monday, April 20- Who’s Ministering to Whom?

Ministry-Certificate      There are two nursing home facilities in the town in which I serve. One is a more “traditional” nursing home and the other is billed as a “rehab center”. The churches in the area take turns providing the Sunday afternoon worship services at those facilities. So, every few months, it is my church’s turn.
The first of the two services starts at the nursing home at 1:30PM. Our choir director (who is a marvelous pianist), her husband, our Youth Director (who leads singing with a marvelous voice) and I arrive about 1:15PM. There are about 10 people in the room where we meet. Over the next 15 minutes, we set up and make some final plans while about 20 more people arrive. By 1:30PM, there are 30-35 people gathered and we begin.
The plan is pretty simple- sing a few hymns, spend some time in prayer, preach a message, sing another hymn or two, shake some hands and them move on to the next service at the next location- Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show! (Google it- you’ll be surprised!) At the next location- the rehab center- the crowd was a lot smaller but the approach was much the same. The services went well and the people seemed spiritually well-fed. Home again, home again, jiggedy jig!
I’ll be honest- I go expecting to give. We give of ourselves, give the Word of God, for the benefit of the people gathered. And…we do. BUT, as I think through the event, something powerful dawns on me. I go there expecting to give. And I do. But I receive MUCH…MUCH more than I give! The residents of those two facilities are so gracious, so welcoming, so appreciative of our presence that I leave feeling like they minister to me- not the other way around!
My experience is that ministry is that way quite often. I give a lot in my vocation. I don’t say that to brag or toot my own horn; I just state a fact. But I also receive a LOT in my vocation. In fact, most days I receive more than I give. Not EVERY day…but MOST days! And that is the beauty of ministry- whether as a vocation or a volunteer. If you are giving for the right reason, if you are simply trying your best to do God’s work, if you are working hard to love God and love neighbor…great things happen! And more often than not, even though you are trying to help others, they happen to you. God has an amazing way of making that happen!
So step out in faith. Jump into the deep water. Be willing to risk for God. Not only will He be there to catch you and energize you. And He will also bless you in ways you never thought possible!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Hurdles to Ministry

Sunday, April 19- The Greatest Story Never Told: The Song of Fire

Greatest Story Never Told Song of Fire

In a car repair shop, where a famous heart surgeon was waiting for someone to take a look at his Mercedes, there was a rather outspoken mechanic who was removing the cylinder heads from the motor of a car. He saw the surgeon waiting and lured him into an argument. “Look at this car I’m working on. I also open hearts, take valves out, grind them, put in new parts, and when I finish this baby will purr like a kitten. So how come you get the big bucks, when you and I are doing basically the same work?” The surgeon very calmly leaned over and whispered to the mechanic, “Try doing it with the engine running…THEN talk to me!”
Psalm 73:25-26 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you. I don’t want anything on earth besides you. My body and my heart may grow weak. God, you give strength to my heart. You are everything I will ever need.
Today, we continue our current, 4-week sermon series- The Greatest Story Never Told. Based on the book by author and United Methodist minister Leonard Sweet, this series asks the question, “What makes a United Methodist?” Sweet claims that the essence of United Methodism’s genius is found in two famous phrases by United Methodist founder John Wesley: “heart strangely warmed”, which points to inward experiences with the Holy Spirit and “the world is our parish”, which points to outward experiences of taking Jesus Christ to the people. For Wesley, internal combustion led to external combustion.
Last week, we started with The Song of Water and we talked about both baptism and the power of sound and the power of music in the United Methodist Church. Today we look at The Song of Fire as we look at a rather unlikely conversion story that would literally change history.
United Methodist founder John Wesley was born in Epworth, England, on June 28, 1703 and lived just shy of 88 years before he died on March 2, 1791. And during those nearly 88 years…simply put…he changed the world. He was the 15th of 19 children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Samuel was an Anglican priest and Susanna was the daughter…and 25th child…of a minister. Of those 19 children Susanna bore, 9 lived beyond infancy.
Samuel and Susanna taught their kids to read as soon as they could walk and talk. They were expected to become proficient in Latin and Greek and to learn major portions of the New Testament by heart. Susanna tested each of her kids before lunch and before evening prayers…every day! Then, in 1714, at the age of 11, John was sent to live at the Charterhouse School in London, where he continued the methodical religious training he had received at home.
But on February 9, 1709, when Wesley was just five years old, he had an experience that would forever change his life. In the middle of the night, the roof of the rectory, the church-owned home in which they lived, caught fire. Sparks fell through and onto the children’s beds. Samuel and Susanna managed to shepherd all their kids out to safety- all, that is, except John. He was accidentally left stranded on the second floor. With the stairs fully engulfed and the roof about to collapse, there seemed no hope for 5-year old John. But suddenly, he was lifted out of the second floor window to safety by a parishioner who was standing on another man’s shoulders. Wesley would later describe himself as “a brand plucked from the burning”. This childhood deliverance eventually became part of the Wesley legend, pointing to his special destiny and extraordinary work.
He went on to earn both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees and was then ordained into the Church of England. Later, he and his brother Charles decided to go to Savannah, Georgia. They arrived there is February of 1736. Wesley’s primary task was to minister to the Native Americans, but a shortage of clergy in the colony had him spend most of his time ministering to colonists. Along the way, he fell in love with a young woman who apparently didn’t reciprocate the feeling- she married someone else. Crushed, Wesley refused her Communion after that. A lawsuit was filed and in December of 1737, Wesley left Georgia…never again to step foot on North American soil.
It was on the way TO Georgia that Wesley had an encounter that would eventually play a big part in his spiritual development- an encounter that was mentioned briefly in last week’s sermon. During the passage over from England, a huge storm hit, threatening to sink the boat. The mainsail was split and the mast broke in two. And while all of the other passengers were panicking and scrambling for cover, 26 German Moravians were calmly singing. And the stronger the winds howled, the louder they sang. And the louder they sang, the stronger their faith grew. What moved Wesley was not the fierceness of the storm but the singing through the storm. It drew him to a deeper faith. And that experience would come full circle 2½ years later.
On May 24, 1738, Wesley- remember, he was ALREADY an Anglican priest- went to a Moravian meetinghouse on Aldersgate Street in London. There, he heard a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Let’s be honest- interesting enough…but PRETTY dry! But even the midst of that intellectual, scholarly presentation, Wesley was…changed. He would later describe the event this way, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” He went on to say, “ I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” That day, at a Moravian meetinghouse on Aldersgate Street in London, John Wesley gave himself fully to Jesus Christ.
Philippians 4:11b-13 I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me. I know what it’s like not to have what I need. I also know what it’s like to have more than I need. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. I am content whether I am well fed or hungry. I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough. I can do everything by the power of Christ. He gives me strength.
A man suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the nearest hospital, where he had open-heart surgery. After the surgery, he woke up to find that he was in a Catholic hospital, under the care of nuns. One of the nuns came up to him and asked him how he was going to pay for services. “Do you have insurance?” He replied in a raspy, weak voice, “No,” “Do you have any money in the bank?” Again, the answer was, “No.” “Well, do you have any relatives who could help you financially?” “Not really- I only have one spinster sister who is also a nun.” The nun was a bit perturbed and announced loudly, “Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to the Lord!” The patient thought about that for a moment, then replied, “Oh well, then just send the bill to my brother-in-law!”
So if we are seeking a heart that is strangely warmed, how do we know if our heart has instead grown cold? What are the warning signs? Here are 6 signs that your heart has grown cold:
1. When your desire for the world is greater than your desire for God. What are your priorities in life? Do you regularly put the world ahead of God? If so, your heart may be colder than you would like. We need to change the way we think. The more “heaven” there is in our lives, the less “earth” we think we have to have.
2. When church becomes an inconvenience. I’m probably not going to make everybody happy with what I’m about to say, but if “church” has become something you do when there is nothing else scheduled on Sunday…there’s a problem. Weekly corporate worship- “church”- is our opportunity to gather together as the body of Christ and uplift each other as we recharge our spiritual battery for the week ahead. The church isn’t for people who think they’re better than everybody else. Instea, the church is for people who want to be better…than they currently are.
3. When connecting people to Jesus Christ no longer motivates us. Our mission as a congregation is simple- we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. We measure EVERYTHING we do by that yardstick. And the second…the absolute second…that we stop using that as our litmus test…our hearts are starting to drop in temperature.
4. When the Word of God starts to lose its grip in us. A Yellowstone Park ranger was leading a group of hikers to a lookout tower. The ranger was so intent on telling the hikers about the flowers and animals along the way that he he turned off his two-way radio because he felt it was distracting. Suddenly, an out-of-breath co-worker ran up and asked why the ranger hadn’t been responding to the messages on his radio. They had been trying to warn him that a spotter had seen a grizzly bear stalking his group. When we start to tune out God’s messages, we put not only ourselves at risk but also those around us. It’s important that we keep in constant connection with God.
5. When we start find more things wrong with each other than right. It’s SO easy to look for the negative. It’s SO easy to tell someone how they are being hateful, judgmental and prejudice…and exhibit those exact same traits yourself as you tell them! It so easy to focus on what’s WRONG. But as that great theologian Johnny Mercer said, you’ve got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. I could find something wrong with every one of you. And conversely, you could each find about 100 things wrong with me! But we are all children of God, walking the same path, trying to help each other get one step closer every day. Therefore, our glass should always be half-full. As a former boss of mine use to say, “If everybody you meet in a day is an idiot…you may need to re-evaluate who the idiot actually is!”
6. When we become satisfied and complacent. My mom would call it “fat and sassy”! As soon as…as SOON as…we start thinking that we have “made it”, that we’re where we need to be, our hearts start to cool. And once you start down that road, it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. It builds up steam pretty easily and becomes harder and harder to turn around.
John 14:12 What I’m about to tell you is true. Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. In fact, he will do even greater things. That is because I am going to the Father.
John Wesley’s is a great story of someone who was brought back to hope by an encounter with Jesus Christ. And e need ALL the stories of people brought back to hope that we can find. We live in a world with plenty of despair to go around. Therefore, we should want to pray for each other, and everybody…everywhere…who struggles with hope. We should pray that Jesus will strangely warm their hearts…our hearts. I’m talking about hearts SO strangely warmed that they HAVE to tell, HAVE to share the Good News. And NOT my oh my i the great by and by…but immediately- in the here and the now. We need to go out and share with those living in darkness so that God will strangely warm their hearts. We need to never forget, never let our hearts grow cold, never sucumb to doubt and fear.
Don’t fear if you find yourself walking through despair and hopelessness. Don’t lose heart if you sometimes fear you are on the road to nowhere. Instead, reach out to Jesus and let His love and grace touch you…and strangely warm your heart. Once e do that, THEN we will begin to see healing…in our hearts, in our lives, in our families, in our nation, in the world.

Saturday, April 18- What Now?

what-now-big1

The following was written by my wife and posted in this space exactly one year ago today.

“Today we went over, and Mark was sitting in a recliner, alert and trying to smile.  Still has some jaw pain and the facial nerve in the mouth is not working as well as he would like.  His eyes were clear and even though he was glad to see us, he was tired and sleepy.  He is eating soft foods and had a tasty lunch consisting of mashed potatoes and pudding.  We decided to leave and let him rest.  When we left he was in the recliner and watching Cardinal baseball.  Couldn’t get much better than that for him!  They called around three today and he is now in a regular room.  No step down unit for my husband!  Thank you once again for your support of Mark!  He so appreciates all of you who are following his journey!  Our God has been and will continue to be faithful, so I hope you all will continue to stick with Jesus!”

What a difference a year makes! That was written on my 53rd birthday, which makes today my 54th birthday! The last year has been remarkable. On one hand, it seems like only yesterday that I had the surgery and yet on the other hand…it seems like a lifetime ago! My life was forever changed by the tumor, the treatment, the surgery and the recovery. Is the tumor gone? So far! Will it come back? Don’t know!

But what I DO know is that I have NO control over the tumor. No whatsoever. What I DO have control over…the ONLY thing any of us really has any control over…is how I react to life. And if the past two years have taught me anything, it is that life is short and life is precious. Therefore, I refuse to waste any of it.

The amazing gift that grew out of all this, over and above the amazing revelatory gift I just mentioned, is that the church I currently serve is exploding! It felt like they were just on the verge of that when my health went south. And then it felt like most things kind of got put on “pause”.

When I got back from surgery and 6 weeks off work (the hardest part of the whole gig, by the way!), I wondered where we, as a church, would be. Would it takes some time for the momentum we had to gear back up? Would we have to kind of “start over again” and re-build that momentum? Was our “for just such a time as this” now in the past? I just didn’t know.

But the church was pretty quick to let me know! Basically as I walked back in the door, people wanting to schedule baptisms and/or become new members of the church seemed to be lined up…waiting! And the worship attendance has been on a steady upswing ever since. In addition, we are finding more and more ways to reach out to more and more people. A good, steady church has become a snowball rolling down a hill- it can’t…won’t…be stopped!

I thank God for all that He has done in my life, the lives of my family and the life of this church. It is truly an honor and a blessing to serve a church that doesn’t focus on “we’ve never done it that way” or “what’s in it for me?” but instead seems steadfast on connecting people to Jesus Christ…period! 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- The Greatest Story Never Told: The Song of Fire

Friday, April 17- One Year Ago Today

april17

One year ago today- Thursday, April 17, 2014. Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, to be exact. It is a day I will NEVER forget. One year ago today- 365 short days ago- I walked into Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, MO. At 5:30AM that day, my wife, younger son, brother and sister arrived at the hospital. It was a SHORT wait before they took me back to begin the prep- almost TOO short!

They did the usual things- got me out of my clothes and jewelry…even the earring!…and into one of those LOVELY gowns! They got the IV in. Thwn the neurosurgeon came in. He told me that he wasn’t happy with the most recent CT scan they had on me- it was done at a different hospital and the technology of that hospital didn’t completely “jive” with the technology at THIS hospital. So one last CT scan was in order. Unlike MRI’s, CT’s are quick. They had already given me the initial dose of the “relaxation” meds, so I was on my way. They TOLD me they would let me know before they put me under. They LIED!

The next thing I knew, if was some time after dinner. I was waking up to see my wife and younger son standing at the foot of the gurney I was on. I was also aware that, of all things, my right arm hurt. Bad! I mean, what’s up with that? They cut a decent part of my skull away…and my ARM hurts? Turns out that, due to the position I was in during the surgery, my arm was basically pinned under me and the blood supply was impeded. Once I complained enough and my wife insisted enough, they got my arm out from under me and slid a pillow under it. It INSTANTLY felt better!

Over the next few hours, I found out more of the details of my “lost hours”. After I was under, they did ALL sorts of things to me that I am SO glad I was not aware of! The put a catheter in. They put a main arterial line in my wrist. They put another arterial access point up by my neck. They attached sensors and drains to my head. (I can still see the remnants of the one they put right square in the middle of my forehead!) And then…let the game begin!

For somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-10 hours, they worked on me. Bone was drilled out. Bone was cut out. Then they began the slow, laborious task of getting the tumor out. In the end, they got an estimated 99% of it. The remaining part was attached to the dura- the “sac” that protects the brain. They didn’t want to compromise the dura- a choice I am VERY grateful for- so they cauterized the remaining tumor in an attempt to cut off its blood supply. They also used titanium mesh and screws to rebuild the “cap” that connects your lower jaw to your skull. The tumor had destroyed it.

After they were done but before they buttoned everything back up, they tested the facial nerve that had been compromised- it still worked. Therefore, they had some hope that I would regain use of the facial muscles on the right side of my face. I have- about 80-90%. Then more titanium mesh and screws covered the whole thing back up again!

I spent the rest of that evening and a bit of the next day…Good Friday…my birthday- in ICU. That’s right- I turned 53 years old in the ICU with my head bandaged and wires coming out of me! The ICU staff brought me a HUGE cupcake and sang “Happy Birthday” to me!

Later that day, I was doing so well that they moved me from ICU into a regular room. So I spent Saturday…Low Saturday…the day before Easter…in a regular room, eating real food and feeling surprisingly good!

Easter morning dawned…and I was ready to get out! A pastor friend of mine- who, by the way, is one of THE finest preachers I have EVER had the pleasure of listening to- was preaching Easter Sunday at the church I currently serve. So they were in good hands. (In fact, when I got back, I told them that, on Easter, they got a fully loaded Cadillac Escalade. But now they were going to have to get used to a Ford Escort again!) Soon after lunch, on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, I walked out of the hospital- about 80 hours after I walked in! Amazing! That afternoon, my brother, who lives in the St. Louis area, hosted an Easter dinner that I got to participate in. The next day, Monday, April 21, 2014, we drove the 3½ hours home. It was GREAT to sleep in my own bed that night!

I’m completely deaf in one ear. I have constant ringing in BOTH ears (oddly enough) that comes in 4 distinctly different pitches, tones and rhythms and makes it hard to hear quiet things. I have learned to read lips and I always have to figure out where to sit or stand to optimize my ability to communicate. I have MOST of the use of the right side of my face back, but not all of it. And the rest, at this point, probably isn’t coming back. But I am alive! And since I am alive and can still live my life, be with my family and serve God through the church, the rest of that is simply inconvenience! A year ago today started with me not knowing for sure if I was going to survive. And a year ago Monday…I was reborn!

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 Now?

Thursday, April 16- Kindness

kindness-620

Kindness: noun, 1. the state or quality of being kind: 2. a kind act; favor: 3. kind behavior:

  1. friendly feeling; liking. (Don’t you just HATE it when  they use a part of the word in the definition FOR the word?!) What does that mean to you? Last night, in our Wednesday Night Bible Study, we talked about kindness. We are in the middle of a study on The Fruits of the Spirit and that was the topic for evening.

One of the things we talked about was the motives that cause us to show kindness. We said that sometimes we show kindness because we are reflecting the kindness we have been shown. Sometimes we show kindness because God calls us to do so. Sometimes we show it because that’s what we were taught to do. And sometimes we show it…because we have ulterior motives.

We also talked about showing kindness to people who don’t normally receive it. In other words, reaching out to people that society would dictate we should probably steer clear of. We decided that we shouldn’t care what society says but should instead seek God’s will in this area.

Then we talked about times when WE have received kindness from someone who we didn’t expect would show it. That’s a powerful…and humbling…experience. It’s always great to receive kindness, but it is an even bigger blessing when it is so unexpected.

In the context of that discussion, my wife and I shared a story of unexpected kindness that we received. We were serving our first church, part time while I was going to seminary, and therefore…NO parsonage. (The house the church provides for the pastor and his or her family.) We were at a point when it was time to move from the house we were renting in our home town to the community we were serving. But again…no house! AND…and much higher cost of living. So we had NO idea where we were going to live and how we could afford wherever that was.

Along came a United Methodist Church that, while in the same we were serving, was NOT the church we were serving. They had a parsonage that they weren’t using- their pastor was part-time and lived with her husband, who was in the Air Force, in base housing. They offered to let us live i their 4-bedroom house, complete with a two-car attached garage and a good-sized lot…for NOTHING! No rent! We simply had to pay the utilities. It was one of the most amazing things anyone had ever done for us!

How have others shown you kindness? How have YOU shown OTHERS kindness? God calls us to show kindness to everyone we meet. Why? Because out in “the world”, we are NOT equal. Let’s be honest- it’s true. The world judges us on ALL sorts of things- age, gender, color, race, background, economic status, orientation, size…the list goes on. And the world also decides what our value is BASED on all of that.

But in God’s eyes, we are not only equal- we are radically equal. God doesn’t see all of those things that divide and separate us. Instead, he sees us for who we really are- His children, made in His image and of great value. And since He sees us that way…we should see ourselves that way, too. And when we do, we begin to see others that way as well. And then God’s kindness can truly flow from Him, through us. to others.

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

Tomorrow- One Year Ago Today

Wednesday, April 15- 3 D.O.T.S. (Difficult Old Testament Stories): Don’t Poke the Bald Guy!

Three Dots Bald Guy

About two years after we got married, I was standing at the mirror that was on the back of our closet door, tying a tie. The closet doors were hinged instead of sliders. And there was a mirror on the back of BOTH doors. Well, the doors- and therefore the mirrors- just happened to be in the exact right place for me to see the back of my head. “Honey? I have a BALD spot!” “Yeah?” “You KNEW?” “Kinda hard to miss!” “Why didn’t you tell me?!” And then came the question that ground the whole conversation to a halt, “Would it have helped?”
Tonight, we start a short, 3-week sermon series called Three D.O.T.S. (Difficult Old Testament Stories). Rather than avoid the really hard stories, we’re going to face a few of them head-on and see what’s what about you know what! Tonight we start with a story that is so “out there” and so obscure, most Christians don’t even know it’s in the Bible. Or if they have some vague recollection of it, they think it’s found in one of the books that AREN’T in the Bible- the ones that didn’t “make the cut”!
Do you remember Sy Sperling? What if I showed you a picture? What if I said, “Remember, I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client”? Aahhh, THAT guy! His livelihood is built on the premise that there are three ways a man wears his hair: parted, unparted…or departed. But I remember even as a teenage farm boy seeing his commercials and thinking, “What IS that thing on his head- a small dog?!” Well, after all of the bald jokes and bad toupee jokes that guys like Cy Sperling have had to endure, tonight…the Sy Sperlings of the world get their revenge!
2Kings 2:23-25 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty- two of the boys. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.
Elisha was SO bald…you could see what was on his mind! He was so bald that when he took a shower…he was brainwashed! He was SO bald that, when he got a comb for his birthday, his reply was, “I’ll never part with it!” Elisha went to the doctor and said, “My hair keeps falling out. Can you give me anything to keep it in?” The doctor said, “Sure!”, and handed him a paper bag! In reality, he wasn’t bald…he was follicly-challenged!
So there are LOTS of difficult passages in the Bible. Christians struggle with them…and non-Christians use them as ammunition to show that either there IS no God and/or Christians AND their God are both nothing but mean, vindictive and judgemental. We read some of these tough stories and we find ourselves asking things like, “Why would God allow this?”
And sometimes, people offer up what they think are helpful answers to those questions. But we have to be really careful about offering up dogmatic pronouncements about the hard “whys” of life. So what DO we do to help better understand tough texts in the Bible? Well, a good starting place is to consider the text in context as we seek answers.
So here’s the context. We’ve got Elisha, God’s brand new prophet/messenger to the corrupt Northern Kingdom of Israel. He’s just getting back from telling his mentor and predecessor Elijah goodbye. If you remember the story, Elijah and Elisha left Jericho and as they walked, a chariot of fire came down from above, picked up Elijah and took him to Heaven. Elijah left Elisha to counsel the wicked people of Israel to turn away from idolatry. He was taking over Elijah’s job and he needed credibility with the king and the people. And in the midst of all that, you get one of the oddest, and most awful, stories in the Bible.
It happens near Bethel, one of two main centers for idolatrous worship in Israel. Israel’s first king, Jeroboam, instituted idolatrous worship as a way to try and keep his people from visiting Jerusalem. He had golden calves placed at both Bethel and a place called Dan, instituting idol worship.
Fast-forward eight kings and several dynasties later. Bethel has become a thriving city AND a major center of idol worship- the Las Vegas of the Ancient Near Eastern World. Elisha was going to need the same level of credibility that Elijah had in order to lead the people of Israel back to God. But many were already doubtful of him.
So Elisha is approaching Bethel when somewhere north of 42 “boys”- some translations say “little children”- show up and begin mocking him. And what they say is actually rather funny, “Get out of here, Baldy!” So Elisha turns, looks at them and calls down a curse upon them! And then….what? Two bears- some versions make a special mention that they are females- come out of the woods and…MAUL 42 of them!! What a gruesome, NON-“feel good” story!
Where to start? Well, one of the key questions underlying this passage is the age of these “little children.” We’re horrified at the thought of bears mauling a bunch of preschoolers. On the other hand, we don’t even blink at “little boy” David killing giant Goliath with a rock between the eyes. But the Bible actually says that David was “a mighty, valiant man” who had already killed a bear and a lion before anybody ever heard of Goliath. So let’s look at the language used in this story.
The Hebrew word “qatan” (kaw-tawn) translates as “little”. It means small in quantity, size, number, age, status, or importance. At various spots in the Old Testament, it’s used to describe a cake, a cloud, a room, a city, and a finger.
The Hebrew word “na’ar” (nah-ar) translates as “children” the first time that word is used in this story. It means a boy or girl, a servant, or a young man. It’s a word that can cover a range of ages from infant to young adult.
Then there’s the Hebrew word “yeled” (yeh-led) also translates as “children” the 2nd time the word is used…when the bears come out! It also means a boy, child, son, or young man- basically, somebody’s offspring.
Now, you put all that together and this story can easily refer to the immaturity of fully grown men. There’s plenty of Old Testament precedent for using the phrase “little children” to emphasize the immaturity of the subjects instead of their age. It seems clear that for those who created the King James translation, the phrase “little child” refers more to immaturity than chronological age.
What else can we figure out about these…people who showed up? Well, their reference to Elisha’s baldness was a rather common, ordinary insult. Historically, baldness was considered a flaw by both the Israelites and the Romans. Also, in other translations, these “little children” don’t say, “Get out of here!” Instead, they say, “Go up!” That seems to point to a decent amount of theological understanding. It was a reference to Elijah’s fiery ascent to heaven. They were challenging Elisha’s right to follow in Elijah’s footsteps as God’s representative to Israel. By telling him to join Elijah, they were also letting Elisha know that they might just be willing to help him meet His Maker that day!
One more question- did the 42 die? The Hebrew word is baqa (baw-kah), and it refers to the breaking open of mountains and city walls, dividing the Red Sea, splitting wood, breaking bottles, making a way through a line of soldiers, getting a group of citizens to disavow their nation, and—in a prophetic metaphor for the destruction of a nation- tearing by wild beasts. The Bible simply isn’t specific regarding the fate of the 42. Maybe there were 42 funerals, maybe not. We simply don’t know. But what we DO know is that everyone who survived that day learned a lesson- God’s message is serious and Elisha is God’s new, hand-picked messenger. The false gods of the idol worshippers failed to protect the 42 from the God whose messenger they challenged.
So, there seems to be plenty of Biblical evidence that the events in Bethel that day involved an unprovoked verbal assault by a group of young, idol-worshipping hoodlums. They were delighted to be rid of one man- Elijah- telling them what they should and shouldn’t do and didn’t want another one- Elisha- to start things back up. They were old enough to know better. They were challenging the credibility of God’s prophet. And in that act, they were also challenging the credibility of God Himself.
God calls us to things that we’re excited about. God also calls us to things that scare the living bejabbers out of us! But my experience is this- if God REALLY wants you to do something, He isn’t going to let up until you accept. And ONCE you accept, He is going to make sure that every door that needs to be open is flung WIDE open and, conversely, every door that needs to be shut is SLAMMED shut and locked tight!

Tuesday, April 14- Taste of Jazz

jazz    I am a band geek. I started playing drums when I was 10 years old. I have been in band, in some form or another, ever since. Concert band. Symphonic band. Orchestra. Professional band. Rock band. Jazz band. Marching band. Pep band. Church band. Pit orchestra. You name it, I have played in it. I would probably be shocked to find out how many hours of my life have been spent rehearsing or presenting music. Add to that how many hours of my life have been spent with music playing…and the numbers skyrocket even higher!

My wife was in band as well. She played the bassoon during concert season and cymbals and bells during marching season. (I personally thought it was GREAT that she was also a part of the drum line!) We logged countless hours in band together.

When our older son was getting closer to the age of starting a musical instrument, we decided that, at our house, the question WASN’T “ARE you going to be in band?” The question would be, “Which instrument will you play?!” He chose the trumpet, which he played from 6th – 12th Grade. He also did pretty much every band there was to be in. But for his junior high graduation, we got him a used electric guitar and amp…and he never looked back! He fell head over heels for the guitar, taught himself how to play it and…partial though I am…is VERY good!

So when our younger son came along, it was a given that he would play an instrument. He also chose the trumpet…which was great because we already had one! He started when he was in 5th Grade and is now in his 5th year of playing.

Last Saturday night, we had the extreme pleasure of attending his most recent concert. It was called Taste of Jazz. The evening started at 6PM. About 140 folks gathered in tables of 8. Salad was served. After that, dinner (either chicken or pork. along with potatoes and green beans) was served. And then, of course, dessert. The whole thing was served by the members of the high school Jazz Band. During dinner, the band director’s own band played. They were quite good!

Then, after dinner, the high school Jazz Band performed. They too were quite good. Both individually and collectively, they demonstrated both a high skill level and a passion for the music. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed the food and the music and by 7:30PM, we were heading home- which was, by the way, RIGHT across the street! Quite convenient!

Music is a powerful thing. It has shaped my life in ways I could have never imagined. I would be lost if music was suddenly taken out of my life- a consideration I have been faced with after the loss of hearing in my right ear. I hear music a bit differently now…but I can still HEAR it! And I am SO thankful to God for that fact!

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

3 D.O.T.S.- Don’t Poke the Bald Guy!

Monday, April 13- I Have a REALLY Odd Skillset!

Juggler

On Friday, I wrote about an event that the church I currently serve was about to host on Saturday. The Journey, a women;s event, is in its 6th year. Women from the region- and, quite frankly, beyond- come together for a day of worship, fellowship and powerful speakers. This year, 206 women gathered. It was, in a word, amazing!

One of the interesting, and awesome, things about the church I serve is that, regardless of “women’s event” or “men’s event”, everybody comes together to make it happen. There were literally dozens (and dozens!) of people who worked to bring The Journey to fruition. I would like to tell you about MY involvement in the event. It points DIRECTLY to just how ODD my skillset is!

I got to church about 7:20AM on Saturday. I needed to load one last Powerpoint presentation into our Easy Worship software. At a few minutes before 8AM, I got my “stuff” ready for the band sound check. By a couple of minutes after 8, I was behind the drums, gleefully playing the music for the day. From 8:30 to 9AM, I got a refill on coffee, got a bottle of water and visited with several people. At 9AM…it all began!

I spent the first 15-ish minutes of the event watching an awesome video that shows a man “speed painting” a huge portrait of Jesus…upside down…on a stage in front of a live audience (I had used that video during our Sunday evening service- The Point.) and then playing three opening songs with the band. After the music was done, I “snuck out” and went home (next door) to get the things ready that I would need for lunchtime.

At about 11:15AM, I was back in the church, behind the sanctuary in a hallway, with my “stuff” waiting. When the last morning speaker was finished, I brought two large cases and a portable table in the sanctuary. THe table got set up, the black tablecloth went on and the cases were opened. And then…the madness began!

For the next 35+ minutes, I put my Bachelor’s Degree in Acting to good use. I juggled. I did a variety of magic tricks. And then…I stole from Jimmy Fallon! I do a variety of impersonations, and I did them last year. Well, I needed some new material for the (basically) same audience this year. And yet, I am (again, basically) a one-trick pony!

But I recently saw a YouTube video of the Tonight Show and decided to “borrow” the idea! I called it One From Column A and One From Column B. Column A was a list of famous people/characters that I “do”. Column B was a list of nursery rhymes. The audience got to pick…wait for it…one from Column A and one from Column B! In other words, they chose a person/character and then a nursery rhyme. I then had to “do” that person/character reciting that nursery rhyme!

The second half of the “game” involved famous singers in Column A and classic children’s songs in Column B. Same idea- they picked a singer and I had to sing their chosen children’s song in that voice! I told them before we started that One From Column A and One From Column B had the possibility of being a big hit. It also had the possibility to be SO bad that it would make the Hindenburg crashing INTO the Titanic seem like a picnic at the beach!

IN the end, two things happened: 1. due to some scheduling issues, I ended up doing almost twice as much material as I had planned for and 2. they seemed to thoroughly enjoy it! (In fact, one woman talked to me about another “gig”! If this whole “pastoring” thing doesn’t pan out, I can always go from church to church, town to town, peddling my wares!)

Later in the afternoon, I played some more music with the band. I then had the extreme honor of serving Communion! The afternoon ended with a benediction and a bit more music!

I look at a day like that and I think 2 things: 1. what other job would allow me to

play the drums, juggle, do magic, do stand-up comedy and impressions AND serve Communion, all in the span of about 6 hours? and 2. if God can use my odd and off-kilter skillset, then how much MORE could He use…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- A Taste of Jazz

Sunday, April 12- The Greatest Story Never Told: The Song of Water

Greatest Story Never Told Song of WaterYou might be United Methodist if…
No one has to say that there will be food at a church function—it’s just a given.
You forgive trespasses, not debts.
You think someone who says “amen” while the pastor is preaching might be a little TOO charismatic.
Someone raises their hand in praise during church and the pastor asks if they have a question
You need a committee to start a committee.
You know why it takes a thousand tongues to sing the song- because it has a thousand verses!
You sit while singing “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”.
You’ve ever sipped Welch’s grape juice out of a plastic shot glass
You think God’s presence is strongest in the back 3 pews
You’re watching Star Wars, Obi Wan Kenobi says “May the force be with you” and you automatically respond “and also with you”.
Ezekiel 36:24-26 I will take you out of the nations. I will gather you together from all of the countries. I will bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle pure water on you. Then you will be clean. I will make you completely pure and clean. I will take all of the statues of your gods away from you. I will give you new hearts. I will give you a new spirit that is faithful to me. I will remove your stubborn hearts from you. I will give you hearts that obey me.
Today, we start a new, 4-week sermon series- The Greatest Story Never Told. Based on the book by author and United Methodist minister Leonard Sweet, this series asks the question, “What makes a United Methodist?” Sweet claims that the essence of United Methodism’s genius is found in two famous phrases by United Methodist founder John Wesley: “heart strangely warmed”, which points to inward experiences with the Holy Spirit and “the world is our parish”, which points to outward experiences of taking Jesus Christ to the people. For Wesley, internal combustion led to external combustion.
The phrase “Bell, Book, and Candle” refers to a Latin Christian ritual that once symbolized complete and absolute exclusion from the Church. But what symbolizes full inclusion into the United Methodist Church? For United Methodists, it’s the sacraments- baptism and Communion. These two pillars of United Methodist theology aren’t magic. Instead, they are conduits of membership and a deeper connection to Christ. And at the core is baptism- the music of water.
Water is cleansing. That makes baptism both a sacramental AND a covenantal ritual for United Methodists. John Wesley said that, whether we offer it through washing, dipping, or sprinkling, through baptism we enter into more a complete covenant with God as we are admitted into the church. Through the water of baptism, we’re renewed, born again. It’s no wonder, then, that water is a favorite symbol in Wesley hymns.
Romans 6:1-5 What should we say then? Should we keep on sinning so that God’s grace can increase? Not at all! As far as sin is concerned, we are dead. So how can we keep on sinning? All of us were baptized into Christ Jesus. Don’t you know that we were baptized into his death? By being baptized, we were buried with Christ into his death. Christ has been raised from the dead by the Father’s glory. And like Christ we also can live a new life. By being baptized, we have been joined with him in his death. We will certainly also be joined with him in his resurrection.
The United Methodist minister went the local bar, approached the first man he saw and said, “Do you want to go to Heaven?” The man replied, “Indeed I do, Pastor.” “Then for God’s sake,” commanded the minister, “leave this bar right now.” He then went to the next man, “Do you want to go to Heaven?” And the man answered, “Yes Pastor, I want to do that very thing.” “Then get out of this bar right now!” The pastor continued that approach throughout the bar until he came to the last man. “Do you want to go to Heaven?!” The man looked at the pastor and said, “No, I don’t, Pastor.” The pastor as shocked, “You mean to tell me that, when you die, you don’t want to go to Heaven?” “Oh, when I DIE! I certainly do. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!”
Along with baptism, water has a more practical meaning for United Methodists. Early Methodist preachers were circuit riders- they traveled on horseback from town to town, place to place. And as they did, they followed the water as it flowed through America, because they knew that’s where the people would be. Water is perhaps the lifeblood of United Methodism.
And movement THROUGH the water and communication IN the water are both accomplished predominantly through sound. Sonar and echo location guide both ships and animals through the water. Likewise, the large groups that flocked into the early United Methodist waters were drawn by the reverberation of Christ’s voice and the offer of a new life that echoed through the sound waves of a growing denomination.
United Methodist founder John Wesley first discovered the power of music while on a ship to Georgia in 1735. A huge storm hit that threatened to sink the boat The mainsail was split and the mast broke in two. And while all of the other passengers were panicking and scrambling for cover, 26 German Moravians were calmly singing. And the stronger the winds howled, the louder they sang. And the louder they sang, the stronger their faith grew. What moved Wesley was not the fierceness of the storm but the singing through the storm. It drew him to a deeper faith. Later, at a Moravian meetinghouse in London, John Wesley, already an Anglican priest, would give himself fully to Jesus.
United Methodists are a people of sound. We know what David the psalmist knew: sound has healing powers and music can change who you are. It’s no wonder that Josef Stalin banned the saxophone in the Soviet Union in 1949. He was scared of jazz music’s spirit of free expression and liberation. Good music is good medicine.
Writer and painter D. H. Lawrence once reminisced about the power of the songs he learned in church as a boy. He said that those songs “live and glisten in the depths of his consciousness in undimmed wonder.” Lawrence’s comments not only testify to the shaping power of music but also to the way in which faith is made real in the imagination first, long before any of it’s been fully explained or illuminated.
Author David Hempton says that United Methodism is built on an acoustical architecture and atmosphere. He acknowledges that United Methodism has largely been an oral movement. He goes on to say that, because of that fact, it’s hard for historians, whose instruments are primarily written, to grasp the oral character of the United Methodist movement. We tend to remember music more than we do the written word. The human brain is wired for sound. For United Methodists, baptism is the foundation of who we are and the ears are the gateways to the soul. Wherever there are United Methodists, there is the song of water. United Methodism has created an acoustic imprint on Christianity.
Acts 22:15-16 Now you will give witness to all people about what you have seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and call on his name. Be baptized. Have your sins washed away.’
The song of water is one of the the primary ways of experiencing the Divine. United Methodism has created a soundscape for experiencing the Christian life that has not been equaled, much less exceeded. And the legacy of that soundscape is still with us when we lift up our voices and sing- whether it’s one of the classic hymns of the faith or one of the awesome Scripture-referenced contemporary songs.
The pealing of church bells and the high-powered intonations of street corner preachers might have been replaced by contemporary music and video clips, but the core of who we are as United Methodists remains the same. The secret that unlocks the power of United Methodism is its willingness to change the delivery of the Word with the times while keeping the core of the Word- the theology- rock-solid. Good United Methodist worship communicates at an emotional level that’s beyond mere words. If you get the music right, then you capture the crowd. But when the congregation, the musicians, the music and the Word become one…you have a full-blown revival.

Saturday, April 11- Unity or Uniformity?

unity    Remember Junior High? Everybody wanted to be like “the cool kids”…and I was NOT one of the cool kids! We all wanted to wear the right clothes, have the right hair style, say the right things. We wanted to be…alike! The funny thing about that it that even people who want to be different than the mainstream folk end up looking JUST LIKE the people they run with. I once heard someone ask a guy who was wearing all black with eye liner and spikes and chains everywhere, “Why do you dress like that?” The response? “I want to be different.” The irony? They were surrounded by about a dozen people who all looked JUST like them!

I once taught a Bible Study on the New Testament book of Romans. (An aside- that is one TOUGH book to get through! Some of the folks in the class said, “We enjoyed that…but could we pick an easier book for the next study?!”) Late in the book, the Apostle Paul talks about unity. I challenged the class to consider what exactly “unity” means. We kicked around several possible definitions, and the ensuing discussion led to exactly the point I was hoping to get to- the difference between unity and uniformity.
Uniformity is being just like everybody else. Uniformity is wearing the same things, doing the same things, saying the same things, thinking the same things, believing the same things! Uniformity is one small goose step away from the kind of mentality that got Nazi German in so much trouble. Uniformity takes away individuality and replaces it with mindless adherence to rules and norms. Whether we are talking about faith or just…life…uniformity is something that I just can’t stomach.
Unity, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame. Unity has NOTHING to do with lock-step adherence to a convoluted group of rules. Instead, it has everything to do with being an individual AND a part of something larger than yourself. It means having a kinship and a symbiosis with a group of people while still being able to hang on to who you are as an individual. Unity is a body of unique individuals united in a common cause.
Unity over and against uniformity is one thing I appreciate about the United Methodist Church. I have to look no further than myself to see it at work. I am about to go to Annual Conference, where all the clergy and representatives of the laity gather together once a year to both worship together and have the Church’s “business meeting”. When I attend the clergy session, there will be young clergy and old clergy, male clergy and female clergy, clergy of all colors, races and nationalities, urban clergy, suburban clergy and rural clergy. And in the midst of them will be…ME…a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister…and I am accepted and welcomed into that gathering. We are NOT uniform, in an way, shape or form…but we have great unity in our goal to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to always seek unity with the people around you…while holding tightly to your uniqueness. Reject uniformity…but covet unity! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!