Toy Box Leadership” LEGOS- Relationships

Toy Box Leadership Legos Relationships Bob was in trouble. He had forgotten his wedding anniversary…and his wife was MAD! She grabbed him by the shirt and said, “Tomorrow morning, there had better be a gift in the driveway. And that gift, my friend, had BETTER go from zero to 200 in less than 6 seconds…if you get catch my drift! Hear me now- it BETTER BE THERE!!” The next morning when his wife got up, Bob was gone. And on the driveway was a gift-wrapped box. She thought to herself, “I’ll bet it’s the keys!” She went out, picked up the gift-wrapped box and read the attached note, “Here you go- it goes from zero to 200 in less than 6 seconds.” She excitedly opened the box and found…a brand new bathroom scale! Bob has been missing ever since!
Matthew 18:21-22 Peter came to Jesus. He asked, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times.”
We are in the 3rd week of our current Sunday morning sermon series- Toy Box Leadership. Based on the book by Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell, this series focuses on lessons of Christian leadership based around the toys from our childhood toy box. The 1st week, we looked at the Slinky Dog and we talked about vision. Last week, we looked at Little Green Army Men and we talked about strategy. Today, we look at LEGOS as we talk about relationships.
In 2004, at the age of 31, a high-powered, highly-paid attorney by the name of Nathan Sawaya won a contest. And winning that contest gave Nathan the privilege to give up his lucrative career and take a $13/hour job with…guess who? The LEGO company! His new title? Master Builder! Now I don’t know about a 31-year old well-paid attorney, but 5 years ago, I KNOW I had a nine-year old 4th grader in my house who would have thought he had died and gone to heaven if he could have been a LEGO Master Builder!
LEGOs got their start in 1932 in Billund, Denmark. A guy by the name of Ole Kirk Christiansen was a carpenter who specialized in handmade step ladders, ironing boards and…small wooden toys. The original LEGOS were made of wood. The LEGO name is made from the first two letters of the Danish words LEG GODT, meaning “play well”. In 1942, the wood-filled factory burned to the ground. Christiansen rebuilt, but this time he switched from the wood and installed a plastic-injection molding machine. In 1961, LEGOS made their way to North America and the rest, as they say, is history!
In 2012, 45.7 billion LEGO bricks were produced at a rate of 5.2 million per hour. Laid end to end, the number of LEGO bricks sold in 2012 would stretch round the world more than 18 times. Their annual sales topped $4 billion last year. On average, every person on the earth owns 86 LEGO bricks! To reach the moon you would need to build a column of around 40 billion LEGO bricks. In the year 2000, LEGOS were voted the toy of the century!
Remember the original Home Alone movie? In that movie, McCauley Culkins’ character, Kevin McAllister, is accidentally left behind when the family goes to France for Christmas. At first, Kevin is delighted- he has full run of the house! He jumps on the beds. He rides a toboggan down the stairs. He has…a blast! But fairly soon, he comes to the conclusion that, without people to share his life with, he feels empty and sad. And because of his loneliness, he overcomes his fear and reaches out to Old Man Marley- the reclusive neighbor whom the kids think is…literally…a monster. Through the course of the movie, these two unlikely neighbors encounter each other and pretty quickly develop an appreciation for togetherness, for relationship. Relationships are vital. What does the Bible have to say about relationships?
Matthew 22:37 – Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest command. And the second one is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’
A group of kids were asked a series of relationship questions. The first question they were asked was, “How do you decide who to marry?” Kirsten, age 10, said, “Nobody
really decides before they grow up who they are going to marry. God decides that WAY before…and we get to find out later who we’re stuck with!” The second question was, “What’s the right age to get married?” Freddie, age 6, said, “No age is good because you have got to be a fool to get married!” The third question was, “How can a stranger tell if two people are married?” Derrick, age 8, said, “They might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids or not.” The fourth question was, “What do you think your mom and dad have in common?” Lori, age 8, said, “Well…neither of them want more kids.” The fifth question was, “What do most people do on a date?” Martin, age 10, said, “On the first date- most people tell each other lies. That usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” The sixth question was, “When is it OK to kiss someone?” Pam, age 7, said, “When they’re rich.” And the seventh question was, “How do you make a marriage work?” Ricky, age 10, said, “Tell your wife she’s pretty…even if she looks like a truck!”
A little boy was in the family room with his dad, who was tired after a hard day on the job. Dad was sitting in his favorite recliner, reading the paper. The boy inched up alongside the chair and said, “Daddy- I love you.” The dad, without even looking, offered, “I love you, too, son,” and continued reading his paper. Well, that simply didn’t satisfy the boy, so he went around to the other side of the chair and started rubbing his dad’s arm. “Daddy- I love you.” With just the slightest amount of impatience, the dad replied, “I love, too, Son,” and went on reading. The boy was still not satisfied. Suddenly, he came crashing through the paper, landed on his dad’s chest and gave him a big hug around the neck, “Daddy- I love you..,.and I HAD to do something about it!”
Love, true Christian love, is about selflessness. It’s about thinking about those you love more than about yourself. We are most like God when we offer true Christian love to one another. Why? Because if we are going to relate to each other as God intended for us to, then our relationships have to be built on a solid foundation of Christian love. And the truth of the matter is that, sometimes, loving those closest to us can be the hardest thing to do! We can give money to feed starving people on the other side of the world, but to deal kindly with someone at work or next door can be a different matter entirely. LEGOS teach us that each person is dependent upon the interconnectedness of the whole.
Connection is vital to building relationships. Here are three aspects of connection that LEGOS help us recognize:
1. Connectional value- How do you build with LEGOS? You build from the bottom up! The same is true of relationships. Relationships are ultimately more important that power or position. Connection has a great value- it is crucial to every stage of our spiritual life. Through that connection, we are able to better partner with others. And partnering with others is about treating them with value and respect. How do we best do that? We best do it by working alongside our brothers and sisters Christ. We best do it by placing value on those connections.
When we make a connection, it helps build the foundation. And the more good relationships we can foster, the stronger our foundation becomes. And the stronger our foundation is, the higher we can build. Connecting with others helps foster unity- over and above uniformity. Unity occurs when we are willing to set aside our personal agendas in an effort to support the greater good. Often, when a group makes a decision, the majority vote FOR it while the minority vote AGAINST it. True unity occurs when the minority support the outcome…regardless. Unity occurs through connection.
2. Connectional ability- LEGOS are reliable- only 18 out of every million produced don’t pass inspection. LEGOS are compatible- they fit well together because they are designed to: studs on the top and tubes on the bottom. LEGO makes 33,000 different pieces…that all fit together. A LEGO brick made yesterday will fit perfectly with one made in 1958. But simply pouring a box of LEGOS out on the floor doesn’t produce a castle- it produces a pile of LEGOS! They don’t come together by accident- you have to intentionally join them together. Likewise, the best relationships don’t happen by accident. Relationships, at their best, are designed, intentional and connected. They are built. Bringing all of that together requires the ability to connect others AND to connect WITH others. LEGOS are also reusable. You can build something, completely disassemble it, then build something else. Relationships need to be flexible. They CANNOT stay the same. You have to be willing to adapt, to change, to rebuild.
3. Connectional failures- Nothing is as frustrating as a cell phone call that loses service or an internet connection that fails to connect. When communication fails, then tasks go undone and frustration reigns. When connections fail, relationships fail. I am a huge fan of the Peanuts cartoons. I remember one strip where Lucy is talking to Snoopy, “There are times when you really bug me. But there are times when I feel like giving you a hug.” Snoopy says, “That’s the way I am- huggable…and buggable.” That is the situation many of us find ourselves in when we try to connect with others. We find them both huggable and buggable. But in the church, if we fail to connect with others…then we’re out of business. That fact is a good reminder that relationships are more important than accomplishments.
Ask 100 people what makes them happy. Many will say things like money, success, fame, good looks, popularity, prestige and power. But the truth is that LOTS of people have most, if not all, of those things…and they still have a void in their lives- a need for something more. And just what IS that “something more” that we crave to fill our emptiness? It is, simply put, relationship…with both God and others. Just imagine all the ways you can connect with other people through this church- worship, Sunday School, United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, musical groups, Wednesday Night Fellowship, a WIDE variety of Bible Studies and Sunday School classes, Youth Groups, Children’s ministries, Children’s Church, missions, folding bulletins and newsletters, Caring Hearts cooking, visitation team…the list goes on and on.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two people are better than one. They can help each other in everything they do. Suppose someone falls down. Then his friend can help him up. But suppose the man who falls down doesn’t have anyone to help him up.”
If you found out today that you were dying soon and you could make one phone call…just one…who would you call and what would you say? If that is who you would call and if that is what you would say…then what are you waiting for? The true value of a relationship is in direct proportion to the time invested.
Gertrude always bought her stamps at the Post Office. One day the line was extra long, but she stood there anyway. Someone else in line said, “Are you just buying stamps? You DO know that there is an automated stamp machine in the lobby, don’t you?” Gertrude turned to them and said, “I DO know that, but the machine doesn’t ask me about my arthritis!” For Gertrude, buying stamps wasn’t about speed and efficiency…but about personal contact and
human relationship. Actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein once said, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, success and achievement in life grows.” There is a tremendous value in planning, but the real strength is found in relationships.
1Corinthians 13:4-8a Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not want what belongs to others. It does not brag. It is not proud. It is not rude. It does not look out for its own interests. It does not easily become angry. It does not keep track of other people’s wrongs. Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up. Love never fails.
Carl Printz, who was the Swedish consul in Toronto, was interviewed on his 99th birthday. The interviewer said, “Give us the rule that you followed during your long and useful life.” Printz thought about it and replied, “There has been one definite rule I have lived by- be temperate in all things. Perhaps I should say be temperate in all things…except one- love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Those are the ONLY things you can rightly do to excess.”
It is impossible to love God too much. And the more we love Him, the more we love others. Those two things go hand-in-hand. To love the Father is to also love His children…ALL of them.
Have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle and you got to the VERY end…only to find that one piece was missing? It’s SO frustrating, because you will NEVER complete the puzzle without that missing piece. We are all a part of the body of Christ. We are more than friends…we are family, joined together in the household of God. It is the love of Jesus Christ that unites our hearts as brothers and sisters. Anything less than that and we are nothing more than a social club. We are NOT a social club- we are the church. And we are called to be IN the world but not of it. God is putting a living jigsaw puzzle together and we are the pieces. I pray that He continues to knit our hearts together so that the beauty of His Body can be seen in us.

Perception is Reality

     At my first church, I was the Associate Pastor. From the moment I stepped in the door until 7 years later when I left…that was my title. It never changed. My DUTIES, on the other hand, changed pretty dramatically during that time. At first, regardless of my title, I was ‘the youth and children” guy. That’s what I did! And that leads me to today’s story.

It was probably fall of 2000. It was a Friday night and I was leading a Senior High lock-in. I had learned the HARD way that if you don’t schedule things for the kids to do…they’ll FIND things to do (and that’s NOT always a good thing!), so I had planned several events that evening. The biggest of these events was a video scavenger hunt. I divided the youth group into 4 smaller groups and had an adult that was assigned to each group. We had a series of riddles that each team got. They had to solve the riddle by figuring out what geographic location in the area was being referenced, and then drive to that location and videotape it, preferably with the team out of the vehicle and in the video. Then, everybody came back and watched the videos…which were a hoot, by the way!
My group got the church van, a big old 15-passenger jobbie that was impossible to miss when it was on the road- the church name and logo where plastered all over it and it was just…big! One of the places we figured out we had to go was a tanning salon that was about 10 minutes from the church, on the other side of the interstate. We feared we were behind in the race to get back to church, so we didn’t get out at that stop- we simply pulled up in front, shot a little video of the place, and drove off. When we pulled up, they were closed (it was pretty late at night) but we could see an employee in the store…and he saw us. We videoed and left. Simple, right? Not so much, as it all turned out! We went down to the end of that particular strip mall, turned, drove over the interstate and onto a surface road on the other side, where we were pretty immediately stopped by a red light. As we sat at the light, this car comes SCREAMING up alongside of us ans screeches to a halt! The driver’s door FLIES open and the guy from the tanning salon hops out, absolutely frothing at the mouth! He was nearly apoplectic (Google it) as he screamed at us about videotaping his store while he stood there and counted money and what did we think we were doing and who did we think we were and he was going to call the cops! All the while he somehow seems to fail to notice that we are sitting in a CHURCH VAN! (I understand…that doesn’t guarantee anything, but it would AT LEAST have given me pause to reflect!)
Once I was able to talk him down off the ledge and inform him (in no uncertain terms) that he needed to STOP shouting profanities at these high school boys or he was going to find out that the Lord’s justice is swift…and comes from the right, I explained to him what we were doing. He stood there (remember…we’re in the middle of the road, at a dead stop, while all of this is going on!) for a second, then got all apologetic and embarrassed, shuffled his feet a bit, and drove off. Let me assure you- when we all got back to church, regardless of anybody’s video…we had the BEST story!
Perception is an interesting thing. What YOU perceive is NOT always going to be what I perceive. But at the end of the day, I am convinced that perception is reality- if you genuinely perceive something to be true, then it is…to you. And I fear we all too often lose sight of that fact. We forget that others don’t always see things the way we do, and so we are shocked, or surprised, or angered when they don’t agree with us. And that sometimes leads to consequences that are both unfortunate and avoidable. The next time someone sees something in a way that you do NOT… stop for a second, consider things from their perspective, and try to react accordingly. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, just be willing to consider their perception of things. Try it…you’ll be surprised!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Ever Happened to Those Niebuhr Boys?!

niebuhr

I went to seminary in St. Louis. I think every seminary has a theologian (or two, or three, or four…) that seem to be their “favorites”. For any number of reasons, they focus much of their attention on that (or those) theologian(s). Nothing wrong with that, by the way. You can’t focus on ALL of them; why not pick a small handful who seem to lift up a theology that is congruent with the theology espoused by the seminary? Well, at my seminary, two of the theologians who were lifted up quite often were brothers Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr. Now, let me qualify- they were NOT the only theologians we focused on, by any means. But they are revered in the hallowed halls of my seminary, to the point that they are forever memorialized in the stained glass of the chapel there. (I SERIOUSLY doubt I will EVER see me memorialized in stained glass. A DC comic book perhaps, but never stained glass!) You might ask, “Why them?” If you are like most people who haven’t attended seminary, you probably haven’t even heard of them. Here’s why- both brothers are graduates of this seminary, and Richard also taught there. They went on to be among the “giants” of 20th century theologians and Christian thinkers. They impacted and influenced a generation of national and world leaders. Pretty big stuff! Or so one would think! But read on, MacDuff!
The Niebuhrs grew up in a small town outside St. Louis called Wright City. So, one day, two of my seminary professors decided to take a run out to Wright City and see where the Niebuhrs grew up. They found the town and drove around. They went to the house where the brothers had lived as kids. Then, they decided to go see the church the Niebuhrs had attended. They found the church, and they also found an elderly lady out in the church yard pulling weeds and planting flowers. They stopped and struck up a conversation with her. They asked her if she remembered Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr. Well…YES…of course…she absolutely remembered them! They told her they had come out to see where the Niebuhrs had grown up- to see their house, their church, their town. She listened to them, and when they were done, she looked them in the eye, and with a straight face asked, “What ever happened to those Niebuhr boys? Did they amount to much?”
Let me say right up front- YES, the “Niebuhr boys” DID amount to much! But how often do we get to feeling full of ourselves, thinking we are all that AND a bag of chips, only to be knocked down a peg or two…or three…or twelve? I don’t know about you, but every time I start feeling like the world owes me something, that GOD owes me something, I get a great big heaping tablespoon of reality shoved down my throat! I sadly cannot count the times that has happened in my life! (I’m a bit on the slow, thick-headed side- it takes A LOT to get through to me!) Why do you suppose that happens? I have a thought. (Now THERE’S a surprise!) At least for me, I think that when I am getting a little “too big for my britches” (to quote my mother!), God has a way of stepping in and taking me down a notch or two- putting me in my place, as it were! That used to REALLY make me mad! But finally (remember, I’m hard-headed!) I recognized it for what it was- the correction or discipline I needed in my life at that moment to be a better, more productive, more loving Christian. When I am able to put it in those terms, suddenly it becomes much more palatable! So, next time you start having trouble getting your big ‘ol swelled head through the doorway…keep an eye out. My guess is…the correction is coming. It may not be pleasant. It may not be fun. It may not be ego-boosting. But it WILL be just the thing you need to re-align your perspective!
Thanks for stopping by today- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back by tomorrow…and stick with Jesus!

Crazy Labeling

McDonalds cup

I drove through McDonald’s the other day and was reminded of the signage that deals with the fact that the HOT coffee is HOT. Now, I personally don’t blame McDonald’s for feeling the need to plaster that information everywhere they can think of- if I had been sued by someone who didn’t realize that HOT coffee was HOT until they dumped it on themselves…I would be a bit gun-shy as well! But it got me to thinking about other advertising that seems a bit…obvious…redundant…goofy! Here are some examples:

-printed on a carton of sleeping pills: “Warning: May cause drowsiness”. A SLEEPING PILL, causing DROWSINESS…what ARE those people thinking?!
– printed on a car steering wheel lock: “Warning — remove lock before driving.” Whew! Barely dodged THAT bullet! (Explains why I crashed the car 3 times, though!)
– printed on a pudding cup: “Warning: product will be hot after heating.” Wait…AFTER heating it will be hot? OH…I get it now!
– printed ON THE BOTTOM of a cup of Tesco’s Tiramisu dessert: Do not flip over! Huh?!
– printed on a package of Christmas lights: “Warning! For indoor or outdoor use only!” I may be missing something…but where else is there to use them?
printed on a bottle of baby oil: “Keep out of reach of children” Then HOW do I use it?!
– printed on the packaging for a Wet-Nap: “Directions: Tear open packet and use.” Slow down…you’re losing me!
-printed on a package of Dial Soap: “Directions: Use like regular soap.” So Dial ISN’T “regular” soap? Then what IS it?
-printed on a package of Old Spice Red Zone deodorant: “Use only on underarms.” I don’t know about YOU, but I never even IMAGINED using it anywhere else! Have I been missing something all these years?
– printed on a bottle of Zantac 75: “Do not take if allergic to Zantac.” Insert own joke here!
– printed on a bottle of pepper spray: “Caution: Never aim spray at your own eyes.” Does this thing work? I’ll stare directly into it while I spray it to find out!
-printed on a car shade/windshield visor: “Warning: Do not drive with sunshade in place.” I see now…explains why, after I took my steering wheel lock off, I STILL kept crashing!
– printed on a package of Pine Mountain Fire Logs: “Caution: Risk of fire” Who’d a’ thunk that?!
– printed on a road sign: “Caution- water on road during rain.” I bet there’s snow on the road when it snows, too!
– printed on another road sign: “Cemetery Road. Dead End” Makes sense.
– printed on the packaging for a Children’s Superman costume: “Wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.” Goes even further in explaining my multiple head injuries.
– printed on a bag of American Airlines Peanuts: “Instructions: open packet, eat nuts.” Did we even need TWO steps?
– printed on a can of Nabisco Easy Cheese: “For best results, remove cap.” The cheese-like substance squirts out a WHOLE lot better when you do!
– printed on the box for a 500-piece puzzle: “Some assembly required.” I want a REFUND!
– printed on a bag of Frito’s: “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.” So…I could…wait…I…
-printed on a bottle of children’s cough syrup: “Do not drive car or operate machinery.” SHOOT! And I was going to have my nine-year old grade the driveway a bit later!
– printed on a wheelbarrow: “Not intended for highway use.” Then how am I going to get to town?
– printed on a box of rat poison: “Warning: has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice.” Is that REALLY my biggest concern when I am trying to euthanize rodents?
– printed on the packaging for an electric thermometer: “Do not use orally after using rectally.” I…they…never mind!
– printed on a bus stop sign: “No stopping or standing.” So…should I run in circles until the bus comes?
– printed on a hammer: “Caution – Do not use this hammer to strike any solid object.” Maybe my dad lied to me all those years, but…
– printed on the box for a VCR: :Instructional video on hooking up VCR included.” What can I say but , “Duh!”
– printed on the packaging for a toilet brush: “Do not use for personal hygiene.” I think I just threw up a tiny bit in my mouth!
– and printed on a container of bathtub cleaner: “For best results, start with clean bathtub before use.” I guess that’s ALWAYS true, isn’t it?
Seen any stupid advertising lately? If you DO, email me and share it with me! (I love a good chuckle!)

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

6 Di.N.T.S. (Difficult New Testament Stories)- Dead Man Preaching!

6 DiNTS Dead Man Preaching If I said “Magic Eye”, would you know to what I am referring? Did an image jump into your head when I said that? Magic Eye pictures are those…things…that became popular a while back. (As I wrote this, I started to write, “became popular a few years ago”. But then I wondered…how many is “a few”? So I Googled it. In this case, “a few” is somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years! For my money, that’s a bit more than a few!) You know- at first glance, it looks like a jumbled mess of…mess…but if you get your eyes focused in JUST the right way and hold your mouth in JUST the right way, a 3D image appears.
I can remember standing in a store, looking at a framed Magic Eye picture. My wife and I stared at it for a bit and then she pronounced, “I see it! It’s a whale!” AS she turned to walk away, she tossed over her shoulder, “Do you see it? You see it, don’t you?” “Umm…yeah…a whale…a whale? Really? I gotta be honest…I don’t see Jack Squat!” I have since learned how to see them. Seriously!
As I recall, everybody had a theory about how to see the hidden picture. You know- squint your eyes, cross your eyes, uncross your eyes, focus your eyes, unfocus your eyes. You name it, everybody had “the way”. Everybody had THE tip that would guarantee you would see and understand that Magic Eye picture.
Scripture passages can often be like one of those Magic Eye pictures- you look at it and you look at it, and it seems like you’re just not getting the message. And then, all of a sudden, you take a step back, look at at the big picture- consider the story in context of the larger story- consider what the writer meant for you to see and BOOM- you understand what the passage is saying. You see the 3D whale in the Magic Eye picture, jumping out at you!
Tonight, we continue our Sunday evening service- a bit of a sequel to our last series- 3 Difficult Old Testament Stories. This series is 6 Difficult New Testament Stories. We are looking at 6 stories from the New Testament that are hard to wrap your head around. Last week, we started with a doozy- God condemns angels to eternity…in Hell!
Tonight’s Scripture passage is one of those Magic Eye passages. Some have identified it as one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. But if we look at it from the right perspective, we can gain some purchase and begin to see what it means in context of the larger narrative.
1Peter 3:17-20a It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits- to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.
An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked politely. “The front row please.” she answered. “You really don’t want to do that”, the usher said. “The pastor is really boring.” “Do you happen to know who I am?” the woman inquired. “No.” he said. “I’m the pastor’s mother,” she replied indignantly. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. “No.” she said. “Good”, he answered and walked away!
There are several interpretations of the passage we just read. One of the commentaries I read about this passage focused on the Greek words that are used. The author pointed to the fact that there are two primary words for speaking about the Bible in the Greek. His take was that if you’re preaching the Gospel, the Greek word is “euangelizo”- evangelize. On the other hand, if you’re proclaiming a message, the Greek word is “kerusso”- “to be a herald, to announce a message publicly and with conviction”. He builds his whole argument around the fact that Jesus is not preaching in this passage because the Greek word that is used is “kerusso”. That’s all well and good…but not quite accurate. If you go to Strong’s Greek dictionary, it says that “kerusso” means “to herald, to proclaim…to preach”. Slice it any way you want- Jesus is preaching the Word, proclaiming a message, acting as herald for God the Father.
There is also some disagreement about who exactly Jesus is…or isn’t…preaching to. Some think it was the ⅓ of the angels who were cast from Heaven along with Satan and banished to the lowest depths of hell. Some think it was the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6 who came down to Earth and took the daughters of man as their wives. (Seriously, look it up!)
But I. for one, don’t have to go any further than the text itself to tell me who I think Jesus preached to. “He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. In that state he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits- to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
So, if you DON’T try to read tons of hidden imagery into the text and instead…read the text, it seems pretty clear. Jesus died on the cross- “was put to death in the body”- but His Soul continued on- “made alive in the Spirit.” Once that happened- “in that state”- He went to Hell and preached- “went and made proclamation”- to the folks who messed things up SO badly that God flooded the Earth- “those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built”.
Last week, when we looked at the angels who were cast into the deepest corners of Hell with Satan, we talked about how they weren’t just there- they were bound in chains and imprisoned. Well, apparently so are these people- “imprisoned spirits”. They are bound and shackled, waiting for the final dispensation- the white throne judgement.
So why would Jesus choose to go to Hell, after experiencing the Hell of such a painful and humiliating death on the cross, to preach to these people who were SO bad that they caused God to…oh, I don’t know…destroy the world?!!
My wife and I have this theory that God gives everybody…EVERYBODY…a 2nd chance. No matter what, when you stand before God on Judgement Day, you have one more opportunity to confess your sins, repent, accept His forgiveness and be ushered into an eternity with Him. That’s how we see that. Is it possible that this is simply Jesus going out of His way to give these people, who have been imprisoned for a LONG time, another shot at redemption?
For my money, there are two main topics that grow out of this passage:
1. Do we REALLY get one last chance to repent?
2. Why are believers often called to suffering?
So, first things first- what do you think? Do we get that last chance? To be honest, there is no definitive Scripture that points directly to that notion. This passage suggests it, but doesn’t confirm it. Ultimately, there is no real way to know this side of Heaven. BUT…what do YOU think?
And then there is the suffering question. In this passage, Peter wades right into a difficult topic- why are believers called to suffering? The Christians to whom Peter was writing were in the middle of it and didn’t understand. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there.
You might say, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You might say, “Why do Christians have to suffer?” You might say…a lot of things. But you cannot deny that fact that there is more than enough suffering in the world to go around AND Christians are NOT exempt from it. In fact, you could make a case that once you accept Christ, the suffering quotient actually increases.
Why do people suffer? Why do Christians suffer? Do Christians suffer more than non-Christians?
In the end, Jesus Christ, the sinless One, suffered at the hands of sin-filled men. And not just at their hands…but for their sake…and for the sake of all sinners. He suffered ALL so that we could be forgiven for our sins. And He will go anywhere…ANYWHERE…to find us and save us. We are NEVER too far from His love. No matter how far you might think you are, no matter how unlovable or un-savable you might think you are, He is right there, waiting for you. He wants you to turn back to Him. He wants you to turn back to Him. He wants you to come to Him. He wants you to confess your sins, repent of them and come fully into His embrace.

Memorial Day Events

MemorialDayFlag

Yesterday was quite the day! It started at 6:35AM…when my cell phone alarm went off because I forgot to shut it off for the holiday! I managed to go back to sleep for a bit, then got up, started the coffee brewing and took the dogs out.

At 9AM, I had to run our younger son to the high school to pick up his marching band uniform and trumpet. At 10AM, he had to be at the staging area for the Memorial Day parade…which was about 30 feet from our house!!

At 10:30AM, my wife and I walked about a block up the street. From there, we watched the marching band go by. We then walked the 4 blocks or so up to Central park, where the town’s Memorial Day remembrance is held. It was a very well-done and meaningful event.

After walking back home and getting a few things done (including running my son BACK to the high school to return the uniform!), we had lunch. The  I got dressed and left for another Memorial Day event.

I had been asked to speak at an event being held at an old church next to an old community cemetery. The church is literally out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, when I punched it into Mapquest, the app just looked at me and said, “You have GOT to be kidding!” I did, however, find the location in Google, so I was able to look at a map and figure out how to get there.

I had been told that it would take me about 20 minutes to get there, but since I had never been there before, I allowed 35 minutes. (I am OBSESSIVE about not being late!) The event was to start at 1:30PM, so I left the house at 12:55PM. At the 20-minute mark…1:15PM…I was NOT there. In fact, I knew I was at least 5 or more minutes away. But I allowed for extra time, so…no sweat!

By about 1:18PM, I was on the road I needed to be on to find the road the church is on. (Got that?!) Great! All I need to do is watch for the sign on the right side of the road, turn there and drive to the church. Again…no sweat! 1:20PM came and went. 1:21PM came and went. 1:22. 1:23. By 1:24PM- only 6 minutes before the event was to start, I decided I had missed the turn. Did I miss the sign? Was there NO sign? I got my phone out and asked Siri where the cemetery was. I was too far out to have enough cell service! I was simply NOT going to make it!

At exactly the moment I decided that last sentence, I passed…a sign with the name of the cemetery on it! Hallelujah! I did a quick U-turn, drove up the road and found it! I parked, walked to the church and met the woman who had invited me. Three minutes to spare! Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Being out in the middle of nowhere, in a 140-year old church that has never had electricity and hasn’t had a regular, weekly Sunday service for a long time, I expected a small but dedicated crowd. Boy was I wrong! Based on how many pews were in the sanctuary (I counted!) and how many people a pew held, there were 90 people there! 90 people! Amazing!

We ended by walking through the cemetery and putting flowers on the grave of veterans. Then there was a 21-gun salute, followed by a bugler playing Taps. And then…everybody went home. The event, from start to finish, was very powerful and meaningful.

I am, at heart, a farm boy. I grew up…well…out in the middle of nowhere. I spent my “growing up” years working on farms. We raised animals. We had a MASSIVE garden. We canned. The whole nine yards. But as a college student, I lived “in town”. Then, as an adult, that continued. My first appointment as a pastor was in a very suburban/urban area. And I liked it! But my next two appointments, including the church I currently serve, have been in more rural, farming communities. And, although it took me a while to realize, I have come to understand that old adage- you can take the boy out of the country…but you can’t take the country out of the boy!

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

Tomorrow- 6 Di.N.T.S. (Difficult New Testament Stories): Dead Man Preaching

It’s Not a Watch…It’s a Warning

radar

Last night, we were JUST wrapping up our Sunday evening worship service when I saw someone hand their cell phone to someone else. A look of concern was on BOTH faces. Based on the time of year, I had a feel what it was…and I was right. It was a tornado warning.

It had been just a watch. But right about 7PM, it turned into a warning. A tornado had actually been sighted. The town sirens were going off. We were being told to seek shelter immediately.

Now, there was a time in my life when I would have responded to that with a hearty, “Blah…blah…blah!” I have always lived in Illinois. The first 18 years were in Southern Illinois. The next 4 were in Central. Then 21 more years in Southern. 8 more in central. And now 3 in Northwestern. And one of the consistent things about this state (other than our trouble with Governors!) is tornado watches and warnings. There are a decent amount in Southern Illinois and there are a decent amount where I live now. And Central Illinois? They might as well just stick that warning logo on the TV in late April and leave it up- 24/7- until September!

In fact, I remember once as a kid, we had a tornado warning. (OK- I remember about a jillion times! But this one time in particular!) My dad had us go to the basement. He wanted us to gather against a particular wall because of where it was in relation to the rest of the house and because there were no windows. While everybody else was crowded against the wall…I was riding a tricycle around the room! (Oddly, I was 17 years old at the time! NO…not really!)

So basically, tornado warnings were just a whole lot of nothing! Until, that is, until my family led a mission trip to Joplin, MO just 5 weeks after the town was devastated by a tornado. Late in the afternoon of Sunday, May 22, 2011, an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck Joplin with a force that has not been seen many times before. In it’s wake, it left a path of destruction 1 mile wide and 5 miles long. ONE MILE wide and FIVE MILES long. Then, 5 weeks later, on Sunday, June 26, 17 of us from the church I was serving at the time pulled into Carl’s Junction, MO…just outside of Joplin. We lived in a Baptist Church there for the week while we worked in Joplin. The first full day, Monday, June 27- as we stood at Ground Zero and surveyed the damage- none of us could even speak. I have never seen devastation like that in my life…and there we were, standing in the middle of it.

No city block in sight had more that 1 or 2 trees still standing, and none of those trees had any limbs…or bark. Houses were just foundations, littered with what used to be the houses above those foundations. It was overwhelming to begin clearing the rubble from what was once someone’s yard- you didn’t even know where to begin. All of us were changed that week.

And that is why, last night, when the sirens went off while we were in the church, my wife went to the church basement to seek shelter and be with our younger son (who had gone over to the house, got our dogs and brought them over!) and the Senior High Youth Group. Meanwhile I went to our house (next door) to get my wife’s parents, who live with us. And it wasn’t an ask…it was a tell. “The sirens went off. Let’s head over to the church basement!”

In the end, it was a tempest in a teapot- a whole lot of nothing. But after seeing a path of devastation 1 mile wide and 5 miles long…we just don’t take chances anymore!

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

Tomorrow- Memorial Day Events

Toy Box Leadership: Little Green Army Men- Strategy

Toy Box Leadership Little Green Army Men Strategy     Albert Einstein was once riding a train to New York City. Soon after the train left the station, the conductor came, validating tickets. Einstein couldn’t find his ticket and was frantically searching for it when the conductor got to him. The conductor was especially kind, “Don’t worry, Mr. Einstein. I know who you are. You’re fine.” And he walked away. 20 minutes the conductor came back through the train car…only to find Einstein on all fours on the floor, still frantically searching. “The conductor shook his head, “Really, Mr. Einstein, I trust you…and that’s good enough!” Exasperated, Einstein looked up and said, “Sir, it isn’t a matter of trust. It’s a matter of direction. I need that ticket…because I don’t remember where I’m going!”
Luke 14:28-35 “Suppose someone wants to build a tower. Won ‘t he sit down first and figure out how much it will cost? Then he will see whether he has enough money to finish it. Suppose he starts building and is not able to finish. Then everyone who sees what he has done will laugh at him. They will say,’ This fellow started to build. But he wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. And suppose he has 10, 000 men, while the other has 20, 000 coming against him. Won’t he first sit down and think about whether he can win? “And suppose he decides he can’t win. Then he will send some men to ask how peace can be made. He will do this while the other king is still far away. ” In the same way, you must give up everything you have. If you don ‘t, you can’ t be my disciple. “Salt is good. But suppose it loses its saltiness. How can it be made salty again? It is not good for the soil. And it is not good for the trash pile. It will be thrown out. ” Those who have ears should listen. 
Today is our 2nd week of Toy Box Leadership, based on the book by Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell. We are focusing on lessons about Christian leadership that we have learned from our toys. Last week, we looked at the Slinky Dog as we talked about vision. Today, we consider Little Green Army Men as we talk about strategy. So we are talking about little green army men…not to be confused with little green…men!
I would argue that one of the few times you will see a boy slow down is when you pour a bag of little green army men out the bag. But when you do that…sit back and watch them work! Their sharp little minds offer up strategic consideration as they meticulous place each soldier in JUST the right spot. The time spent setting up those little green army men greatly outweighs the time given to the actual battle. And in the midst of all of that, those little green men prove that true success is often found in the setup.
Toy soldiers have been the “go to” toy for centuries. Miniature military figures have even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. But in the 17th Century, army men began being mass produced. Interestingly, it was the pastime of the aristocracy to amuse themselves with toy soldiers. They have been made of clay, of flour and water, of wood, of paper and of various metals. But in the 1940’s, plastic became all the rage. As a result of World War 2, toy soldiers took on their current form.
As kids use the little green army men to set up their elaborate scenes, they begin to formulate strategic plans. And as they do that, they learn something important- good plans take careful thought, contain multiple steps and create endless scenarios.
There was a woman who was having her portrait painted. She told the portrait artist, “Paint me with diamond rings, a necklace, emerald bracelets, a ruby broach and a Rolex.” The artist replied, “But you’re not wearing and of those things.” The woman replied, “If I die before my husband, I know he will remarry.” The artist said, “Yes?” The woman responded, “ If that happens, I want his new wife to go crazy looking for all the jewelry!” That is NOT our purpose. Our purpose is the big picture…but we can’t stop there. We have to not only see that big picture but also connect our purpose with our daily life. And that is the exact point where strategy comes in! Bobby Knight, one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history, once said, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to PREPARE to win.” Do you have a clear sense of where you want to go in life? Are you headed in that direction? Or are you moving in the OTHER direction? Do you sometimes feel you are simply standing still? What about your church? Do WE have a plan for future? What does the Bible have to say about planning?

Mark 14:12-16- On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Where do You want us to go and make preparations for You to eat the Passover?” So He sent two disciples, saying, “Go into the city- a man carrying jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is My guest room, where I may eat Passover with My disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
So Jesus sent Peter and John to look for a place to celebrate the Passover. I want to focus for a moment about what Jesus actually said to the disciples. 3 of the 4 Gospels contain this description, so it MUST be important. Before the Passover Feast, there needed to be a place where Jesus and the boys could gather together for Passover.
The disciples, who often seemed to struggle to understand what was going on, had no concrete plans for something as important as the Feast of Passover. Fortunately, Jesus has done His strategic planning- to the point that He foretold exactly what would happen when they searched for a place. Jesus knew exactly what would happen. The disciples would meet a man with a water pot. They were to follow him to a house. Then, they were to ask where the Master’s room was. The man they followed to the house was clearly a follower of Jesus. And Jesus had clearly made arrangements ahead of time. He engaged in substantial strategic planning.
Strategic planning is more than merely a to-do list or a calendar. It involves calculated design and intentional planning. Christians should have a sense of their God-given destination…and they should be making plans on how to get there. We should know where we want to go in our spiritual life AND we should have a plan for getting there.
With that in mind, here are five steps- five checkpoints that will help lead us to greater proficiency in the strategy phase of growing in spiritual leadership:
1. The checkpoint of involvement- when kids pour a bag of little green army men on the floor…what next? Well, you should get down on the floor with them and play! You can’t play with little green army men from a distance- you have be right there, hands on. And the same is true for strategic planning in the church- you have to be able to see things from the “ground level”. Strategic planning focuses on the big picture…but the place to start is on the ground floor. You have to pay attention to what others see when they walk in door. Are they greeted? Is the building convenient and welcoming? Are WE convenient and welcoming? Are we connecting people to Jesus Christ? We have to look at things from the ground floor!
2. The checkpoint of assessment- when kids play with little green army men, the 1st thing they do is see what…or who…they have. There are the cool army men- the gunner guy, the flamethrower guy, the crawling guy and the kneeling guy. Then there are the lame ones- the minesweeper guy, the radio guy and the binoculars guy. They are the Aquaman of the little green army men. Nobody wants them! BUT…they serve a vital purpose. Likewise, you can’t know a church’s collective potential until you know the potential of the people. Why? Because every kid knows that, when it comes to little green army men, there is purpose in the differences.
How do you do that? How do you assess the potential of a church? You do the SWOT analysis. SWOT- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. First, there are strengths and weaknesses. In other words, what do we well? Where are our growing edges? These tend to be internal descriptions- what’s going on in the inside.
Opportunities and threats are those things that come up that we can capitalize on…as well as those things that can hinder our forward progress. Those things tend to be external. So. what are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? Many churches say they are friendly. But what they REALLY mean is that they are friendly…to each other. How do we welcome strangers when they walk in the door? What holds us back? There are four primary measuring tools when it comes to church capacity: worship space, Sunday School space, parking space and nursery space. And if a church is at or over 80% capacity on ANY of those areas, it can hinder that church’s ability to connect people to Jesus Christ. We are consistently beyond 80% capacity in 2 of those areas- Sunday School and parking- and we push against capacity in both worship and nursery somewhat regularly. I contend that the biggest single thing that has the potential to hinder our ability to connect people to Jesus Christ as we move forward is space.
3. The checkpoint of placement- this checkpoint is specifically about the positioning of people. There are 3 aspects of this checkpoint: who, where and when. The who is crucial- it’s about finding someone who is passionate about serving and not just another warm body. But the who is irrelevant if they are not correctly matched with the where. We all have gifts and graces, but the right person in the wrong place is not helpful. It’s crucial to match the gifts and graces of the person with the needs of the position. Once those 2 things are in place, then comes the last piece- knowing the right time to put the right person in the right place. Your church works really hard at that- trying, through prayer and discernment, to help enable people to serve God to the fullness of their ability.
4. The checkpoint of development- it never fails- once you have all the little green army men in place and you are completely ready to commence battle…something happens. Your kid brother runs through. The dog runs through. The VACUUM CLEANER runs through! And then you have to regroup and adapt. I have heard it said, “A leader who’s not willing to revise their plan will rarely reach their destination.” So many times, churches put grand plans into action and yet, at the first hint of a bump in the road, they get cold feet and scrap the whole thing. To paraphrase Pres. George H. W. Bush, when you hit bumps in the road, you need to “stay the course, stay the course”. If we believe that God has called us to the ministries in which we are involved, then we need to be confident of that fact and stay the course, seeking new ministries to add to our “portfolio”.
5. The checkpoint of refinement- the little green army men wouldn’t use the word “refinement”. They would call it by a military name- debriefing. But whatever you call it, refinement focuses on establishing specific points when the church intentionally gathers to review what’s been done, assess progress thus far and then refine the plan going forward. It’s important to periodically check the compass and then make the necessary course adjustments to ensure that you are still on the right track.
Little green army men are amazingly simple in their form. They have no moving parts, no batteries and no microprocessors. And yet…they can teach us some rather profound things. Like the little green army men, the core of strategic planning in the church is pretty simple- where are we, what do we want to be and how do we get there? When we implement these 5 checkpoints- involvement, assessment, placement, development and refinement- we find that we win a whole lot more spiritual battles than we lose.
Proverbs 16:1-3 People make plans in their hearts. But the Lord controls what they say. Everything a man does might seem right to him. But the Lord knows what that man is thinking. Commit to the Lord everything you do. Then your plans will succeed.
A full half of the population of the United States said that faith was a critical resource in helping them respond to the 911 terrorist attacks. But more recent polls suggest that religious beliefs and practices haven’t really changed since then. If you remember, immediately after the attacks, church attendance shot up dramatically…for several weeks. But then it fell back to normal pretty quickly afterwards.
And since then, there has been no statistically lasting change in people’s religious practices. And that says something profound about spiritual complacency. There is a story about an atheist. When he died and his will was read, it was found that he left his farm…to the devil. The legal system was dumbfounded. But finally it was decided that the best way to honor his will was to simply let the weeds take over the place. And so…they did. And the house, the barn and everything else just slowly crumbled. Even the soil eroded and washed away. The court’s final ruling stated- “The best way to let the devil have possession of anything…is to do nothing.”
Life is ultimately a composite of the decisions we make. Every decision either moves us closer to our goals…or further away. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, you WILL end up somewhere- you just might not like where that is.
Are you moving toward your goals? Or are you moving away? Sometimes we need to work smarter, not harder. Sometimes we need to cut back on some of our “busyness”. We sometimes need to commit to doing a few things WELL instead of a lot things not so well.
We do that by setting the right priorities. We do that by taking take control of our lives. It always amazes me when people say they want to be strong in their faith and deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ..and then spend a big, grand, whopping total of 60 minutes a week on that relationship. They want their kids to think that Jesus is important in their lives…but they treat sports and band and TV and whatever as if it were more important that Jesus. They want to be committed…if it doesn’t interfere with all of their other stuff.
     Jeremiah 29:11-13 I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
We need to not just LIVE life, not just let life happen around us. Instead, need to set priorities and do some strategic planning. Henry Ford once said, “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success.” If you want to live a more abundant life in Jesus Christ, it’s NOT going to happen by accident. Instead, it takes planning and a commitment to the goals that God has established for our lives…both individually and collectively. If we want Godly children, Godly marriages, Godly lives and a Godly church, then we have to identify the plan that God has for our lives. We have to plan our work…and work our plan. Success in the setup.

Bless Your Heart!

billy bob teeth

There is a comedian named Jon Reep (very funny, by the way!) who does a bit about how you can say ANYTHING to/about ANYONE…as long as you end the sentence with “…bless their heart!” Some examples would be: “That man is the biggest idiot on the planet…bless his heart!” “She is the fattest woman I’ve ever seen…bless her heart!” “That is the ugliest baby EVER…bless its heart!” And while we laugh at that…it’s TRUE! And we do it all the time! We talk about people…ESPECIALLY when their back is turned (literally and/or figuratively) …all the time, and we try to couch the bad things we say by adding “…bless their heart” or some other similar platitude.

As I have thought through this, another…similar…phrase comes to mind that hits a bit closer to home. That phrase is “…God love them!” You know what I mean- “I just can’t STAND to be around that person- he is SO annoying…God love him!” “Did you SEE that dress Mildred had on today? It was HIDEOUS…God love her!” “Our minister couldn’t preach his way out of a paper bag…God love him!”

The implication, when we use one of these “qualifiers”, is two-fold: 1. we don’t REALLY have much respect for our fellow humans, and 2. we think we are better than them! Now that may seem a bit…um…harsh…but if you really think it through- it’s true. And I can say that because, frighteningly human as I am< I catch myself saying those things sometimes! So I am NOT just casting stones at others- I’m out there getting hit by the rocks as well!

The interesting thing about all of this is that, at least with the 2 examples I’ve given, there is a fairly overt Christian undertone to them: “bless their heart” and “God love them”. So it’s almost like we hide behind the mantle of religion when we speak ill of others. And that’s a shame, because if we’re going to behave that way, we should at least have the decency to accept responsibility for it.

The truth of the matter is that, even though we often use them in sarcastic ways, those two statements are dead-on true. God DOES bless our hearts…and God DOES love us…warts and all! We are NOT Number One with a bullet on God’s Top Ten Hit  Parade because we’re so smart, talented funny or good-looking (and speaking personally…thank goodness for that!); instead we are at the top of God’s “chart” because we are His- plain and simple. God loves us and blesses us because we are His children…literally. And we are ALL worthy of that love and blessing.

So…next time you catch yourself about to use one of these phrases in this capacity….stop! Think about what you’re REALLY saying and then change it to be a positive blessing- both on the person of whom you speak AND on yourself!

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

Marathon John…Wesley!

sermon on the  mount

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 of us guys that meet at 6:30AM on Wednesdays for coffee, Casey’s breakfast pizza and doughnuts. Oh yeah…we do a book study, too! (I forgot!) It is all part of a Wednesday morning men’s study that I lead. We seem to truly enjoy each other’s company and have some really good discussions. (We also occasionally backtrack to things like fishing and baseball…but cut us some slack- we ARE guys, after all!)

Well, back in October of 2013, we started a new “book study”. It was a book on United Methodist founder John Wesley’s sermons about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (Did you get that? A book about sermons that were based on another sermon!) We had decided that it might be good to look at a Wesleyan perspective on life as he IS the founder of our denomination and all!

So I dutifully ordered the books. The guys picked them up and paid for them. And off we went! We quickly (like the FIRST day!) realized two things: 1. this is REALLY challenging stuff! and 2. we’d better slow down if we have ANY hope of any of this actually sinking in! So we unanimously agreed to not work about “getting through a chapter” each week and instead just get as far as we get. We were curious right off the bat how long that approach would take us. Little did ANY of us know!

Next Wednesday, we wrap up that book. NEXT WEDNESDAY! That means that we spent…ready?…19 months on the book! 19 MONTHS! There are, on average, 4.33 weeks in a month. If you do the math, that means we met for 82 class sessions to study this book. EIGHTY-TWO! 82 hours of eating Casey’s breakfast pizza and doughnuts, drinking coffee and digging into our faith. Pretty amazing!

Along the way, people have gone on vacations. People been out for medical procedures. (I personally missed 6 straight weeks recovering from my surgery last year.) But we just kept on plugging. In fact, during that time I was gone, I gave them every opportunity to put the class “on hold”, but they would hear none of it. They just kept right on playing!

We have all joked about how long it took us to finish the book. But as I told them, look on the bright side. In the other classes I teach, people pay $8-$10 for a book and it lasts them 6-8 week. In this case, they spent $12 on the book…and it lasted them more than a year and a half! Now THAT is a bargain!

When we FINALLY began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (and were fairly confident it wasn’t simply another train coming!), we started the conversation of “What next?” Some joked that they wanted a book with LARGE print, few words and each page and LOTS of pictures. I suggested that we look for a good United Methodist-themed coloring book! But in the end, we chose a study on what happened to the disciples AFTER the resurrection and ascension. Those books are in and we will start that study a week from this coming Wednesday.

I never realized, when I finally succumbed to “the call” and entered the ministry, just how much teaching there would be. I also never realized…how much I would enjoy it! I currently teach 4 separate classes every week, with 4 separate curriculum (curriculi?), and I enjoy every minute of it! It’s an opportunity to spend some time with a group of people and share our ideas. It’s not all about me lecturing. Instead, we discuss the topic at hand and offer up what we think. There is lots of discussion and I, quite frankly, learn something every time I teach!

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

Tomorrow- Divide and Conquer

The Greatest Voice of the Rock Era

Perry Mercury

The greatest voice of the rock era- that’s a loaded topic! I am (NO surprise) a HUGE fan of classic rock. For ME, “classic rock” means from 1974-1983…give or take a year here and there! I grew up the baby of the family (I suppose that means I am STILL the baby of the family! Some people would heartily agree with that!), and so I “cut my teeth” musically on what my siblings and parents listened to. Because of that, I have an incredibly varied taste in music. My parents listened to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Julie Andrews, Jim Nabors, Frank Sinatra…like that. My siblings listened to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Iron Butterfly, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Three Dog Night, Joni Mitchell…you get the idea. I knew the extended drum solo from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida before I knew my ABC’s!

But then, I began to “come into my own”…musically. I started listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Chicago, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Head East, Boston, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Blue Oyster Cult, The Edgar Winter Group…the list could go on and on. And let me be clear…I LOVE all of those groups and their music…and many more! But two groups that always seemed to draw me in even more were Journey and Queen. Great music, to be sure, but over time, I began to realize that there was more to it than that. With all the REALLY good groups out there, Journey and Queen seemed to have something…special…different…than the others. I finally realized what that was- they had, in my humble opinion, the two greatest lead singers of the classic rock era. Steve Perry from Journey could hit notes that no human should be able to hit…and do it effortlessly. And Freddie Mercury from Queen…well…there has never been another singer quite like Freddie Mercury!
As a drummer, I realized LONG ago that, for the VAST majority of successful rock bands, once you get beyond the lead singer and MAYBE the lead guitarist, the rest of the band is basically a collection of interchangeable parts. NO offense intended to any drummers, keyboardists or bass players out there, but if a different musician sat in at that instrument for a recording session, the average fan would never know the difference. BUT…take away the lead singer…suddenly it’s a Tribute Band covering someone else’s songs! But, at least for me, that’s OK! I don’t play music for the glory (good thing!)- I play for the sheer joy of the creative process!
Who do YOU think is the greatest voice of the rock era? Admittedly, I “wussed out” a bit by choosing two, but who would YOU pick? Email me and let me know. I f I get enough responses, I will share the results in a future blog! In the meantime…rock on!
Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back for tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

6 Difficult New Testament Stories: Angels…in Hades?

6 DiNTS Angels in Hades

One day, God looked down at Earth and saw all of the evil that was going on. He decided to send an angel down to Earth to check it out. So He called one of His best angels and sent the angel to Earth to check things out. When she got back, she told God, “Yes, it’s bad on Earth. 95% of the people are bad and only 5% are good.” God thought for a moment and decided to send a second angel to get another point of view. So He called another angel and sent her to Earth for a time, too. When the angel returned, she went to God and said, “Yes, the Earth is in decline. 95% of the people are bad and only 5% of the people was good.” God decided that was not good, so He decided to email the 5% that were good to encourage them- give them a little something to help them keep going. And do you know what that email said? Yeah…neither do I!
Tonight, we start a new Sunday evening service that is a bit of a sequel to the one we just completed. That one was 3 Difficult Old Testament Stories and this new one is 6 Difficult New Testament Stories. We will look at 6 stories from the New Testament that are hard to wrap your head around. Tonight, we start a doozy- God condemns angels to eternity…in Hell!
2Peter 2:4-9 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)- if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
We all know Noah’s story. We all know about Sodom and Gomorrah, about Lot and his family. But what about these angels in Hell? (AS as sidebar- are you familiar with the Newsboys song Breakfast? It is a good song with a very catchy chorus, “When the toast is burned and all the milk has turned and Captain Crunch is waving farewell- when the Big One finds you may this song remind you that they don’t serve breakfast in Hell!”) As this story unfolds before us, it becomes painfully apparent that the Newsboys are absolutely correct- they DON’T serve breakfast in Hell! Who ARE these angels? Listen to what the Book of Jude says about them.
Jude 1:6 The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.
A middle aged woman had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she had a near-death experience. During that experience, she saw her guardian angel and asked if it was her time. The angel told her no and explained that she had another 30-40 years to live. Upon her recovery, she decided to just stay in the hospital for a few more days and have a facelift, liposuction and a tummy tuck. She even had someone come in and change her hair color. She figured since she had another 30 or 40 years, she might as well make the most of it. She walked out the hospital after the last operation and was killed by an ambulance speeding up to the hospital. She arrived in heaven and was met by her guardian angel. “I thought you said I had another 30-40 years!!”
The angel replied, “Sorry. I didn’t recognize you!”
This story refers to the initial sin of the angels who were under the guidance of Satan. And the New Testament Book of Jude says that these angels didn’t stay within their own position of authority. They didn’t know their roles. Angels have many functions: they praise God, they serve as messengers, they watch over God’s people and they are sometimes used as instruments of God’s judgment. The word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos” which means messenger. Angels are spiritual beings without flesh and blood bodies but with the ability to appear in human form. So fallen angels are created spiritual beings who have rebelled against God. They are specifically those angels who rebelled against God along with Lucifer, an archangel who became the devil. Because of their actions, they were cast into Hell. Actually, the Greek verb is tartaroo, which means “throw to Tartarus”. In ancient Greek mythology, Tartarus was the deep abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans. Tartarus was SO bad that is was seen to be as far below Hades as the earth is below the heavens. It is the place where souls were judged after death and where the wicked received divine punishment. It might be the very same “bottomless pit” referred to in the New Testament Book of Revelation. These fallen angels have been cast there and they are kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.
“So where EXACTLY in the Bible is the story of these fallen angels, Pastor? ‘Cause I looked…and I couldn’t find a passage that talks about it!” And that’s the problem- there is no passage…no one passage…that talks about this whole story. It’s scattered throughout the Bible and you have to piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle. We’ve already looked at two of those passages. Now, let’s look at the other passages that come together to tell this story.
First, there’s Ezekiel 28 12a-17, that talks about who Lucifer was, how important he was and, in general terms, what happened-
You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones.Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.
Then, in Isaiah 14:12, we get another brief look at his turn to Satan-
Isaiah 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
“But Pastor, how do the angels fit into this? I didn’t hear anything in there about angels going with him. And I read somewhere that ⅓ of ALL of the angels were sent to Hell with him. What about that?” That idea is based on Revelation 12:3-4a that, although offered in metaphoric language, seems to point to a cadre of angels being banished with Lucifer.
And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.
Consider the fall of these angels. First, notice that our original passage says “IF God did not spare…” The “if” clause in Greek is used in such a way that is is assumed to be true. In other words, “if” here doesn’t really mean “if”, as in “maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t”. “If” here really means “because”, “since”- it did happen.
Also, there are 4 verbs that paint a picture about what happened to these angels. First, they sinned. Then, they were cast down because of their actions. Next, they were bound in chains. Then, they were held for future judgement. This was not a static, quiet, boring event. It was full of action, movement and emotion.
Do we know every detail of what happened? No. In fact, we really don’t any detail about it. Instead, we get the sizzle and not the steak.

WHY?

But there IS a certainty in the middle of this story. And that certainty is judgement. There is a certainty to their judgment. They have been judged….and now they are imprisoned until the end times- the arrival of the final great white throne judgement. The truth is that Biblical judgement has consequences. Tonight’s passage makes it clear that one of those consequences is the punishment of the wicked. In this passage, God tells us of three different situations that included the judgment of the wicked: the angels, the human race during the Great Flood, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are examples of how God has punished, and will punish, the wicked.
The other potential consequence of God’s judgement is the deliverance of the righteous. And this passage offers us two examples of that deliverance. Noah is delivered from the old world through water, while Lot is delivered from Sodom and Gomorrah through fire. Neither was easy, but both were cleansing. God is still very much in the deliverance game. He delivers us from temptation, from trials and from persecutions. He will deliver the righteous and reserve the wicked for later judgment.
The bottom line here is this: right from the beginning, there has been rebellion against God! God’s creation has been rebelling against Him since Creation began.

Why IS that?

The reality is that, because we were given free will, there will always be a tendency to rebel against God- it’s in our nature.

SO WHY GIVE US FREE WILL THEN?

One of the important things this story reminds us about is that sin is inherent. It is inherent AND when it rears its ugly head, it binds…it ALWAYS binds…ALL of God’s creatures who give in to it, whether angels or humans. But were those angels FORCED to sin? Not even a little bit. They had a choice. And WE have a choice. We get to decide where our final reward is- Heaven everlasting or the fires of Hell. And I, for one, like to hang on to the Newsboys when I consider that choice- they don’t serve breakfast in Hell!

The Circle of Life

Circleoflife

One of the best animated movies of all time is The Lion King. Seriously. My favorite animated movie is probably The Prince of Egypt- good movie, GREAT music! But Lion King is right up there. Again, good movie…GREAT music!

One of my all-time favorite singers is Elton John. Not a huge fan of him personally…at least the “him” that we in the public see…but I have always really enjoyed his music. (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, as well as Madman Across the Water, are really good albums! I had both of them…on 8-track!)

So when you put The Lion King and Elton John together, you get good stuff. Namely, The Circle of Life. It may be a bit derivative, but it is a well-written song with a really good message. And that song has been running through my head lately.

I am about to wrap up my 18th year in the ministry. July 1 will be the end of 18 and the start of 19. And in that 18 years, I am only on my 3rd church. That’s the interesting thing about the United Methodist Church- from 1997 (the year I entered the ministry) to right now, I have served 3 churches. The first church was a 7-year stay. The 2nd church was an 8-year stay. And the current church has been 3 years so far. During that same time, I have colleagues who have served ONE church the whole time and colleagues who are on their 5th church. You just never know!

But regardless of how many churches you have served, there is one thing that is consistent in the ministry- you are neck-deep in The Circle of Life every day. You are with families as they prepare for and then welcome new life into their midst. You get the extreme honor of baptizing those new lives. (That is one of THE best parts of ministry!) You are with families as their kids start school. You are there when their kids go through Confirmation. Graduations. New jobs. Grandkids. Health issues. Surgeries. And deaths. You are there for it all.

I get to be a part of the highest highs and lowest lows of other people’s lives. Is it a great responsibility? You bet! But is it also an immeasurable privilege? Absolutely! Over the past few days alone, I have had a conversation with a family who lost their matriarch, preparing for her funeral. I have sat with family members as they prepare for what seems to be the imminent death of a loved one. I have prayed with 2 people who were heading into major surgeries. I have talked with 2 other people who are in the middle of difficult health issues- either theirs or a loved one’s. I have talked with a family wanting to join the church- an event that will include a baptism. I have spent time with someone who is in the midst of marital struggles.

Ministry is all about…as sappy as it may sound…the circle of life. And as hard as it can be some days, it is truly an honor to be invited into people’s lives. For me, a mediocre day of ministry is better than a great day of doing any other job I can think of!

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

Tomorrow- 6 Difficult New Testament Stories: Angels…in Hades?

Don’t Stop

Fleetwood_Mac_Don't_Stop

It is important that a worship service have its own personality. An awful lot of the time, pastors put forth a perfectly adequate service that starts, has some stuff in the middle…and then ends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it…there’s just not a lot that is totally RIGHT with it, either. A service that is too generic isn’t really in a position to find and build an audience. Ergo…personality.

One of the things I noticed when I arrived at the church I currently serve was that the 8AM Sunday service really didn’t have a personality. Don’t misunderstand- it was a perfectly good service. It just really had no specific definition. So we (the staff) set out to better define the personality of that service.

We changed or eliminated some of the more overtly “traditional” elements of the service. We made the service a bit less formal, a bit more…comfortable. And we began a deliberate shift in the music- moving to more contemporary and more unbeat. There are still slower, more contemplative songs. And there are still classic hymns of the faith included- they just tend to be incorporated through a more contemporary interpretation.

Another thing that was added was a video Call to Worship. Each week, a roughly 2½ minute “music video” is used to open the service…literally. I produce that video weekly- it is a labor of love. I choose the song to coordinate with the message/theme for the week. The song is ALWAYS a secular (non-Christian) song. It OFTEN falls into the genre of Classic Rock. In edit the song to fit within that roughly 2½ time frame, load into my movie-producing software and then take off! I go into it with a vision, but that vision pretty much always morphs as the video is produced. The music, the lyrics and the images that come up all help guide me to the finished product.

I mentioned that the video is LITERALLY usd to open the service. Not kidding! At exactly 8AM (I DO, after all, have OCD!), the folks in the Tech Booth launch the video. There is no announcement. There is no dimming of lights or whatever. People are talking (and that bunch like to talk!) and BLAMMO- the video starts! I intentionally build in about 10 seconds of instrumental intro before the lyrics start- that time serves as a way to draw people in. The lyric start, a story is told…almost exclusively through the lyrics themselves…and then the video is over!

When I started producing those videos, I knew it would be a work in progress. I knew it would have to grow on them. And I knew it had the potential to go a long way toward setting the tone for that service that I was looking for. Well, yesterday it became clear to me that the Call to Worship is now firmly established as an important part of that service!

The theme for the day was Vision. The song I chose was Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac. (You know- “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Don’t stop- it’ll soon be here!”) THose familiar open chords started and everybody stopped talking and started watching. And by the time the video was half-over…more than half of the people in the sanctuary were singing along! There was smiling. There was rocking back and forth. And there was head bobbing. It was awesome!

I absolutely love it when “ordinary things” can help connect people to Jesus Christ. I have built a great deal of my ministry through that notion. I want people to see God in the ordinary and the everyday. The more you can see Him there…the more you can see Him!

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

Tomorrow- The Circle of Life

Toy Box Leadership: Slinky Dog- Vision

Toy Box Leadership Slinky Dog Vision

A boy brought home his report card and hesitantly handed it to his mom. It was…bad. After his mom looked at the card for what seemed like an hour, she looked up at him and asked, “So- what do you have to say about this, young man?” The kid thought for a second, then grinned and responded, “Look on the bright side, Mom. At least you know I’m not cheating!”

Today, we begin a new Sunday morning series- Toy Box Leadership, based on the book by Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell. this series is going to invite us to forget all the latest trends and theories for just a moment and instead focus on the fact that everything we need to know about Christian leadership we learned from the toy box of our childhood. Today, we kick things off with the Slinky Dog, and he is going to help us better understand what it means to have vision in the church.

The Slinky- do you remember the jingle? “What walks down the stairs, alone or in pairs and it makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, everyone knows it’s Slinky!” I have to be honest- I remember it like it was yesterday. When I YouTubed it to see the commercial, I was struck with a HUGE wave of nostalgia! Did you know the “Slinky song” was the 1st toy jingle released as a pop single? Did you know that the Slinky is the 1st toy to be taken into outer space and used for zero-gravity experiments? Did you know that the Slinky is the 1st toy to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp? Did you know that the Slinky was created by accident? In 1945, Richard James was in the Navy and he was working on developing a method of measuring the horsepower of battleships. On his desk, he had a

tension spring that was part of his work. It accidentally rolled off the desk and started “walking” across the floor! Well Mrs. James didn’t raise no dummies, so he immediately saw the potential. He took it home and showed it to his wife. She loved it and recommended the name Slinky, which is a Swedish word that means sinuous- having many curves and turns. James also came up with the idea for the Slinky Dog, which would later be featured in the Toy Story movies.

Do you know about the law of physics that makes the Slinky work? It’s called Hooke’s Law, which says that when an elastic body is placed under stress, its shape changes in proportion to the applied stress. An example would be the scene in Toy Story 2 when the toys are trying get everybody back on the truck. Slinky Dog is stretched as far as he can. He turns and yells, “Buzz! My back end’s going to Baton Rouge!”

When Slinky Dog stretches it changes shape, becoming longer and sleeker. And when it has stretched far enough, Hooke’s Law kicks in and its back end catches up with its front end. It returns to its original shape…just farther down the road!

Habakkuk 2:1-3 I will go up to the lookout tower. I ‘ll station myself on the city wall. I’ll wait to see how the Lord will reply to me. Then I ‘ll try to figure out how to answer Him. The Lord replies, “Write down the message I am showing you in a vision. Write it clearly on the tablets you use. Then a messenger can read it and run to announce it. The message I give you waits for the time I have appointed. It speaks about what is going to happen. And all of it will come true. It might take a while. But wait for it. You can be sure it will come. It will happen when I want it to.

The Slinky Dog is the very model of our topic today- Vision. Why? Because the Slinky Dog is all about “pull”- leading from the front. Don’t believe me? Try pushing a Slinky Dog and see where that gets you! More than any other trait, vision pulls people forward by giving them direction. But the whole dynamic of “pulling and catching up” is a delicate balance. When vision pulls, potential energy get created and stored. And when the time is right, that potential energy gets transformed into kinetic energy which, by definition, HAS to be released…sometimes explosively…in movement, even the movement of people.

People with vision focus on possibilities instead of improbabilities. True leaders find it relatively easy to move because they are at the front end of the Slinky Dog. But the truth is that it is the BACK of the dog that is the hardest to budge! Malls are not my favorite place to go. You can ask my family. You could probably count on the fingers of ONE hand how many times I have been in a mall in the past…oh, say…10 years! But I DO know this- when you go to mall, there is always the ubiquitous map. You know the one- You Are Here. And I always laugh about that because the one thing I DON’T need to know at that moment is where I am. Instead, I need to to know where Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzel Stand is! But the truth of the matter is that, as important as it is to know where you are headed, it’s also vital to know where you are! Vision sets the direction for our lives. It’s like the Mapquest app on my phone- it starts with where I am and then calculates the best way to connect the dots and get where I’m going. Leaders need the courage to help others connect the dots between where they are and where they’re going.

 Romans 8:22-25- We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The 1st Grade Sunday School class was asked to go home and, after dark, go out into their backyard and try to count all the stars. The next Sunday, they came back with various numbers. One kid said he counted 100. Another said she had counted 1,000. One industrious kid even said he counted to 1 million! But there was one little boy who said nothing. Finally, the teacher asked, “How many stars did YOU count?” The boy sheepishly responded, “3.” The teacher was more than a little surprised, “How could you only see 3 stars?” The boy thought for a moment, then shrugged and said, “I guess we have a small backyard!” That is often our problem with vision- our backyard is too small. We restrict ourselves. And when we do that, we are unable to be out front, pulling. Here are 4 steps that are designed to help improve our visionary process of pulling:

We need to pull through communication- Simply HAVING a vision is not enough. We have to be able to clearly and rather forcefully articulate it. Truly and fully communicating our vision is only achieved when it is completely woven into our DNA. But even when we reach that stage, we can all too easily make a dangerous assumption. And that assumption is that once the message is heard and understood…it is embraced. Former White House aide David Gergen once said, “The leader’s role is to raise people’s aspirations for what they can become and then help release their energies so they will try to get there.” We have to be able to communicate our vision. Do you know your church’s vision? I bet at least most of you do- it’s right there on the wall and is spoken often. “We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ.”
Period.

We need to pull with courage- Vision can be a scary thing, because it points us toward places that we haven’t been. Therefore, it requires the courage to pull others…and ourselves…into new territory. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not follow where path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” One summer morning, Ray Blankenship was eating his breakfast and minding his own business when he noticed that a small girl had fallen into the rain-flooded drainage ditch behind his house. Ray Blankenship knew that a little bit farther downstream was a main culvert. If the girl got there…she didn’t stand a chance. So Ray dropped his fork and dashed out the door. He ran along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the little girl. Once he did, he dove into the deep, muddy, churning water. He surfaced and managed to grab her arm. And just 3’ shy of the massive culvert that would have been sure death for both of them, Ray Blankenship managed to use his free hand to grab the bank. By time rescuers arrived, Ray Blankenship had pulled the little girl, and himself, to safety. Amazing! But the even more amazing thing is that Ray Blankenship can’t swim. Courage is NOT the absence of fear. Courage is going forward in spite the fear.
We need to pull by example- If the head of the Slinky Dog doesn’t move in a definite, certain direction, then the rest of the body simply cannot and will not ever get there. Visionary leaders never send people out to places that they wouldn’t go to themselves. But when they step up and reach out beyond their normal duties…and their comfort zone…it sets the tone for others to see and emulate. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example isn’t the main thing in influencing others…it’s the only thing.”
We need to pull with determination- In 6th Century BC China, an archivist in the royal court named Lao Tzu Wrote a book called Tao Te Ching. In it, he pointed out that nothing is softer and weaker than water…and yet nothing is better at overcoming that which is hard and strong. Think of the Grand Canyon- it was carved by nothing more than water over millions of years. Determination is subtle, and yet it can have a compelling effect. The tail of the Slinky Dog is the last to move- only at the last minute will it spring forward. Often the people who fight the pull the most are the ones that need it the most. Therefore, leaders need to have determination.
 Matthew 28:16-20 Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee. They went to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him. But some still had their doubts. Then Jesus came to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. So you must go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And you can be sure that I am always with you, to the very end.”

Hundreds of years ago, a shipload of pilgrims landed on the northeastern coast of what is now America. Within the 1st year, they established a town. By the 2nd year, they had elected a government. By the 3rd year, that elected government proposed building a road 5 miles out into the wilderness. The 4th year, people tried to impeach the government because they thought it was a HUGE waste of money to build a road out into the wilderness.They thought, “Who needs to go there anyway?” Those people, who had the vision to see 3,000 miles across an ocean and the vision to overcome great hardships, within just a few short years were not able to see 5 miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.

When we fail to embrace God’s vision, we too lose that pioneering spirit. We become grumblers. Church becomes more about maintenance and less about mission. It becomes ineffective. We have to pull…and then be patient. But we HAVE to move before anyone will be willing to follow. And if we’re NOT moving like we wish we were, then I would respectfully submit that we haven’t stretched ourselves far enough. To do that, to adequately pull the Slinky Dog forward, we have to 1st find the pull string- the point of contact. For many in the world, that contact point is profit, power, reward and recognition. For us, that point of contact is purpose. We are faith-based people, and faith feeds vision.

Without faith, vision simply withers on the vine. But WITH faith, we pursue our purpose- to connect people to Jesus Christ. Without a clear vision of what we can become in Jesus, we can’t move beyond our current boundaries. But with a clear vision, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Without vision, we are like the rock that is skipped on the lake. We have no way of guiding ourselves- we are at the lake’s mercy. In the end, we simply sink- we have no control.

Helen Keller was once asked “What is worse than being blind?” Her response? “Sight without a vision.” That’s a pretty profound statement from someone who was born completely shut off from the world. She had no control over how she came into world, but she sure could impact how she left it. Without vision, the people perish. Vision is NOT about maintaining the status quo- instead it is a reflection of how God wants to impact the world through us.

Vision is born in the soul of a Christian who is driven by the tension between what is and what could be, between not merely something that could be done but something that should be done. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones. The nest is a great place for an egg to hatch, but it’s a lousy place to try to spread your wings and fly!

Martial arts expert Bruce Lee had a very unorthodox fighting style. His secret? He consistently aimed at a spot that was 6” BEYOND the target that was in front of him. Is that what we as Christians do? Sadly, all too often Christians tend to aim at at a spot that is 6” SHORT of the target! Just imagine what would happen if we adopted the Bruce Lee concept of aiming beyond the target? What would we accomplish? Having vision is more than looking on the bright side- it’s looking on God’s side. If we accept and understand how awesome God is, then we shouldn’t hesitate to believe that He’ll do great things…for us, in us and through us!

Little Kid Energy

Jumping kids, dressed colorful. Representing happiness and fun.

Jumping kids, dressed colorful. Representing happiness and fun.

There is a phenomenon I like to call “little kid energy”. While it is NOT isolated solely to little kids…they HAVE nearly cornered the market on it! I like to think that I am more than a little bit Tigger. I HAVE to keep moving. They say that sharks breathe by moving through the water and filtering the oxygen from the H2O. Supposedly, if they stop moving for too long…they drown! But put me alongside a 4 year old…and suddenly I’m a 3-toed sloth, barely able to even lift my head off the pillow!

We have a lot of kids in the church I currently serve. And that number just seems to continue to grow. And they amaze me! They are SO full of life! There is a time early in the service when everybody is encouraged to greet each other. And this church LOVES to do that! While they are greeting, I am moving up to the level of the room where the altar is…because it is ALSO the level where my drums are! And as I am getting settled in behind the drum set, some of those “Tigger” kids come bouncing up there to tell people in the band “Hi!”

When I was a kid (IF I had gone to church!), I would have been TERRIFIED to go up by the altar in the church and I would have been MORE terrified of talking to…GASP…the pastor! But these kids run up there, fist bump me and then go on to the next person. You just HAVE to love it!

Growing up, the old adage “children should be seen and not heard” was pretty much the norm. We were taught to respect our elders. We were taught to be polite. We were taught to mind our manners. And we were taught, as much through experience as by being told, that we really didn’t have any rights and we really shouldn’t be “seen” much at all.

Now don’t misunderstand- I LOVE the fact that I was taught to be polite, respect my elders and mind my manners. The “life lessons” my mom taught me are invaluable. But I have always had an issue with treating kids like they aren’t people. They DO need to behave. They DO need to know how “to act”. But they also need to feel like the matter!

I very regularly say that, while the youth and children of our church are very much the future of the church, they are also very much an important part of the PRESENT of the church. Kids matter. If you read the New Testament, that is hard to miss. “Let the little children come to me.”

I am thankful for MY kids. I am also thankful for the kids in the churches I have served am currently serving. And perhaps that is because, at heart, I am nothing more than a big kid myself!

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

Tomorrow- Toy Box Leadership: Slinky Dog- Vision

Award Ceremony

Awards

When I was in Junior High, we had a yearly Awards Assembly. In my 9th Grade, which in the school district I attended was the last year of Junior High, I was due for some decent awards. In fact, I was kind of looking forward to the Awards Assembly. That is..until lunch!

That day, I wore a school t-shirt. It was a white t-shirt with a green band around the end of the sleeve and the school logo about where your heart is. So if you can picture it, the VAST majority of the shirt was white. (Can you see it coming?)

Lunch that day was pizza. And while I can NOT speak of the pizza that is currently served in schools across America, I CAN speak to the pizza that was served in 1976. And THAT pizza sauce was NOT red…it was orange! (If you are over, say 45 years old…you KNOW what I’m talking about!) Well, I got the pizza because A. I have always liked pizza and B. we had no other choice! (Come on- it was 1976!)

As I ate my lunch…a horrible thing happened. I brought the slice up to my mouth- I think it was even the first bite- and the pizza collapsed, unceremoniously dumping the orange contents down the front of my white t-shirt!

So then I was faced with a very difficult situation- I was supposed to go up in front of the WHOLE school and accept these awards, but I looked like a total geekburger with cheese! (OK- I looked even MORE like a total geekburger with cheese than NORMAL!) What to do, what to do?

But I am nothing if not resourceful! So when the moment of truth came, I put my clever plan into full fruition. I carried my Trapper Keeper (Google it) with me…and used it to cover the front of my shirt! Brilliant! And of course NO ONE wondered why I was carrying my notebook with me as I accepted my awards!

This past Wednesday evening was the annual Awards Ceremony at my son’s High School. The way it works is that every kid who is receiving something gets a letter…a generic letter…telling them they are going to get an award or awards. They don’t know what award(s) or how many…all they know is THAT it’s happening.

In the end, my son got a award for scoring high on a national Spanish test and an award for academics. Awesome stuff for a Freshman! AND…he did NOT have to carry his Trapper Keeper with him when he went up to accept- he did NOT have orange pizza stains on his shirt! (By the way- that orange stain…whatever that orange stuff even is…NEVER came out of that shirt! For the rest of the time that shirt fit me, I wore it to mow the lawn and feed to chickens!)

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

Tomorrow- Little Kid Energy

Dinner Goes on Hiatus

WNfellowship

Last night was the LAST night of an important ministry within the church I currently serve. Fortunately, this ministry goes on hiatus EVERY Spring, only to fire back up, bigger and better, every Fall! The ministry is known as Wednesday Night Fellowship.

Wednesday Night Fellowship starts at 5:15PM every Wednesday evening during the school year. Dinner is the first order of business. A variety of groups within the church host the dinners. They plan the meal, do the shopping and cooking, serve the food and clean up afterward. The meals are pretty varied from week to week, but they are GREAT every week!

After dinner, people have choices. There is FUEL- a children’s ministry for kids from preschool through 6th Grade. There is a Bible Study for Junior and Senior High. There is an adult Bible Study that I teach. There is Bell Choir and Choir practice.

The centerpiece of the evening is the meal. Everyone is welcome and there is no cost. We budget money to help cover the cost of the meals and supplies so that we can provide this weekly meal to whoever wants to come. You don’t have to pay. You don’t have to cook. You don’t have to clean up. All you have to do is come and eat!

For the last meal of the season, we decided to, as my mother-in-law would say, put the big pot in the little pot! WE started with 4 large pork loins. They were cut into chops and grilled. Homemade mashed potatoes were next up on the menu. (And I’m talkin’ HOMEMADE! None of this “flakes out of box” stuff!) Green beans with onions were added. Then came an AWESOME fruit salad alongside an AWESOME lettuce salad. Rolls and drinks were next. And then…oh, then! We had caramel apple cheesecake, peanut butter chocolate cheesecake and Oreo cheesecake! The trifecta. It was amazing!

Just under 100 people ate dinner together last night. The food was great. The fellowship was even better. United Methodists get a lot of flack about being all about the potluck! (A kindergarten teacher gave her class a “show and tell” assignment. Each  student was instructed to bring in an object to share with the class that represented their religion. The first student got up in front of  the class and said, “My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish and this is a  Star of David.” The second student got up in front of the class and said, “My name is  Mary. I’m a Catholic and this is a Rosary.” The third student got in up front of the class and said, “My name is  Tommy. I am United Methodist, and this is a casserole.”) And we DO know how to eat! But the level of fellowship that is achieved during table sharing is one that is hard to achieve under other circumstances. Basic needs are being met and a sharing of life is happening at the same time!

So goodbye for now to Wednesday Night Fellowship. I look forward to the Fall when you start back up!

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

Tomorrow- The Award Ceremony

Famous Moms From the Bible

famous mom

Moms are incredibly well-rounded. They teach us things from a variety of disciplines:
1. My mom taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE.
“If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning.”
2. My mom taught me RELIGION.
“You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
3. My mom taught me about TIME TRAVEL.
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”
4. My mom taught me LOGIC.
“If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you’re not going to the store with me.”
5. My mom taught me FORESIGHT.
“Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”
6. My mom taught me about CONTORTIONISM.
“Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!”
7. My mom taught me about STAMINA.
“You’ll sit there until all that spinach is gone.”
8. My mom taught me about HYPOCRISY.
“If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate!”
9. My mom taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”
10. My mom taught me HUMOR.
“When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.”
The Rev. G. Campbell Morgan had four sons who all became ministers. At a family reunion, a friend asked one of the sons, “Which Morgan is the greatest preacher?” The sons answered in unison, “MOM!” There’s an old Spanish proverb that says, “An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.” Amen to that!
Tonight, we are going to do what, in the preaching business, is known as a “one and done”. No sermon series- that starts next week. Tonight, we are going to look at famous moms from the Bible, 6 Old or New Testament women who, in their own way, set the standard for motherhood, and see what they have to tell us today.
The first mom we’re going to look at is…well…the FIRST mom- Eve, the mother of Cain and Abel. The quintessential mom- the trailblazer- the original. It seems logical to start with Eve, the mother of us all. Of course we ALL know that she is credited with THE worst choice in history, bar none. Without her choice, none of the rest of this would have happened. But let’s remember this- she wasn’t in that story alone…she had some help! And look at it this way- she didn’t have a mom to look to for advice when she needed it. When Cain or Abel had a temperature or were teething…she had to figure it out on her own. On the other hand, there wasn’t a mother there to tell her why she was doing it wrong! She was also the first mom to have to bury a child.
What’s the BEST thing about Eve? Genesis 3:20 Adam named his wife Eve. She would become the mother of every living person.
Mother #2 is Sarah, the other of Isaac. If there was EVER a mother who gave others hope, it was Sarah! She was well into her AARP years before she had her first! God made a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. That meant that Sarah would be the MOTHER of many nations. She tried to jump-start that process with Hagar the handmaiden. That union produced A child- Ishmael- but it did NOT produce THE child- who would turn out to be Isaac. Eventually, Sarah…who once laughed when she heard she would have a baby…would become the mother of many nations. What’s the BEST thing about Sarah? Hebrews 11:11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.
Mother #3 is Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. Rebekah struggled with playing favorites, helping Jacob (whose name even means “trickster”!) steal Esau’s birthright. I mean, they WERE twins, separated by only a few moments. Why should Esau have the birthright over Jacob? Her decision, and her actions, caused a rift in the family that lasted quite some time. Rebekah reminds us of the power of a mother.
What’s the BEST thing about Rebekah? Genesis 25:21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
Mother #4 is Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon. If you remember, Bathsheba makes a rather inauspicious entrance into the Old Testament, bathing on the rooftop and being spied upon by King David. He sends for her and has a fling with her. He wants her bad enough that he eventually has her husband left alone to be killed on the front line in an effort to cover up his indiscretion. The result of the “fling” was Solomon, who grows up to be arguably the wisest man who ever lived. Bathsheba’s story is sordid and messy. But she also gives hope to women who have less than ideal circumstances- God can redeem any situation. What’s the BEST thing about Bathsheba? 2Samuel 11:26-27a When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son.
Mother #5 is one of my favorites- Jochebed, the mother of…? Moses, as well as Miriam and Aaron! Think about Jochebed’s story- Pharaoh has decreed that all baby boys be killed- thrown into the Nile River. Jochebed can’t bear the thought of losing her baby boy- Moses- so she does the unthinkable. She takes a basket, made of woven reeds and waterproofed with pitch, puts her precious cargo in, and sets him adrift in the VERY same river Pharaoh sentenced him to die in! Think about that- to keep him safe from dying in the Nile, she tossed him in…the Nile! Amazing! Miriam runs alongside the river, watching to see what happens to her baby brother. Because of that, she learns that he ends up at Pharaoh’s palace. The baby boy, sentenced by Pharaoh to die in the Nile, ends up as a son in the house of Pharaoh, brought there by that very same river! Jochebed shows us that determination and ingenuity can lead to surprising conclusions.
What’s the BEST thing about Jochebed? Exodus 6:20 Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years.
Mother #6 is Mary, he mother of Jesus. How could you possibly talk about famous moms from the Bible and NOT include Mary? This young girl is chosen by God to be the mother of Emmanuel- God with us. What an amazing gift! But few gifts come with absolutely no string attached. Mary still had to raise Jesus. She still had to change His diapers, rock Him to sleep when He was teething, teach Him to walk and wipe off His skinned knees. She had to cook, clean and do all the normal things that moms do. And she stood by Him all the way. Disciples might falter, followers may go into hiding, but a mom stands her ground when the rest of the world walks away. Mary is the epitome of real motherhood: bits of excitement mixed in the middle of years of work…and punctuated by moments of intense pain.
What’s the BEST thing about Mary? Luke 1:30-33 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Have you ever made a bad decision? Have you ever done something you’ve regretted and didn’t want other people to know about? Of course you have- we all have. All of these mothers did, too. That’s part of what makes their stories so powerful- they’re just like us. These 6 famous moms from the Bible help us understand lots of things. But one of the overarching themes is that the love of a mother is steadfast, fierce and unwavering.
Four scholars were arguing over which Bible translation was the best. One said he preferred the King James Version because of its beautiful, poetic Old English. Another said he preferred the American Standard Bible for its literalism and the way it moves the reader from passage to passage with confident feelings of accuracy from the original text. A third man preferred The Message because of its quaint, penetrating use of words, using the regular turn of a phrase to capture the attention of the reader. After giving it much thought, the fourth scholar admitted, ‘I personally prefer my mother’s translation.’ The other scholars chuckled and asked, “Your mother translated the Bible?” He responded, ‘Yes, she translated it. She translated each page of the Bible into her own daily life. It is the most convincing translation I ever saw.’
Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am or hope to be, I own to my angel mother.” The Rev. Dwight Moody said, “All that I have ever accomplished in life, I owe to my mother.” Mothers demonstrate a faith that allows them to trust Jesus with their most precious possession- their kids. And a Godly mother not only believes that – she also believes that if SHE has enough faith, God will meet the needs of her family. Do you remember Jesus’ first miracle? He changed water to wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. That day, Mary PROVED that she believed that Jesus could do anything. If your faith doesn’t work at home…it doesn’t work!
During the French Revolution, a mother wandered through the woods for three days with her two children, hiding from the soldiers and trying to survive on roots and leaves. On the third day, she heard some soldiers approaching and quickly hid herself and the children behind some bushes. The sergeant in charge noticed the movement and prodded the bushes to see what was behind them. When he saw the starving woman and children, he had compassion on them, and gave them a loaf of brown bread. The mother eagerly took the bread, broke it in half and gave half to each child. Later, the sergeant and his men talked. “She has kept none of the bread for herself.” One of the soldiers asked, “Was it because she wasn’t hungry?” “No,” the sergeant answered. “It was because she’s a mother.” Mothers write on the hearts of their children what the rough hand of the world cannot erase.

Garage Saling!

garage-sale-1

My wife and I used to go “garage saling” on a regular basis. We LOVED to go to garage sales. We made a little business out of it. We would buy things cheap and then have our own garage sale and sell them for more. Sometimes, if we got a really good deal on something, we would turn around and sell it at my mom’s antique shop! (One time, we bought a framed 8X10 photograph of Charles Lindbergh for one thin dime and sold it 3 days later at my mom’s shop for $20! I know- we only made $19.90! But if you consider it from a “percentage” standpoint, that’s basically a 200% profit!)

Over the intervening years, our garage saling has diminished. Kids, careers, etc…life simply gets in the way. But last Saturday, we got in the DeLorean, got her up to 88MPH and went back in time to our garage sale glory days!

A neighboring community had an event that they call Thrifty on 150. It’s “on 150” because…well…the town sits on State Highway 150. It’s “thrifty” because there are great bargains. The gist of the event is that there are vendors who set up “booths” and sell a variety of things. (A woman from the church I currently serve had a booth, selling “upcycled” furniture. She has REALLY cool stuff!)

Beyond those booths, the town was FULL…did I mention “full”?…of garage sales! If we went to one garage sale, we went to 20 of them! (And NO, that is NOT just hyperbole! WE probably went to 25 of them, actually!) And we had a really good time!

Our “plan of attack” was to find a neighborhood that had multiple garage sales. We would try to park in the middle of them and then walk from one to the next until we saw them all. (That was, of course, also EVERYBODY else’s strategy, so it didn’t work all that well!) And we are NOT “newbs”- we know our garage sales. As we drove past a house, I would say, “Well?” She would, in the blink of an eye, expertly scope out the goods and offer a “no” or a “let’s give it a try”.

So, what did we see? What did we buy? Well, we saw more baby clothes, baby furniture and baby toys than I thought existed! Apparently, 2 years and 9 months ago, there was a REALLY cold winter! (Think about it!) WE, of course, have no need for “baby stuff”, so we skimmed past those displays!

WE also saw a whole lot of chotskies. There are not enough shelves in all the living rooms in America to display all of the knicks OR knacks that were available for purchase. Let me assure you, we have MORE than our share of chotskies (Don’t believe me? Come and see my collect of St. Louis Cardinal memorabilia in my office!), so we stayed away from the chotsky department.

But we DID get some things. My wife got a couple of serving bowls, a basket and a pair of candlesticks. (The candlesticks each had a tag…piece of masking tape…on them that said $2. I asked my wife if that was each or for the pair. She didn’t know either. I took them to the sales counter…card table…and asked, “Is that each or for the pair?” Her reply” “Either…for the pair!” I smiled and said, “Wow! That was  TOUGH negotiation!” as I handed her the $2!) I got some baseball cards (to add to my Cardinal chotsky collection!), a pair of clip-on sunglasses (a whole quarter!) and a laptop case for $3.

The laptop case is a really nice one. It’s all black with all of the right pockets and compartments. It has literally never been used- there was still paper stuffed in a couple of the nooks and/or crannies! It also has “University of Illinois MBA Program” embossed into the side of it! So now I can start telling people I have an MBA from U of I!

In the end, we bought a few things, spent a FEW dollars, came home with a few “treasures”…and had a GREAT time! It’s pretty seldom that we get out of the house for something that’s not a church event, a doctor’s appointment or grocery shopping. We spent 3 hours doing a whole lot of nothing and just enjoyed each other’s company! God stuff! After almost 30 years of marriage and being together for 38 years, we still never run out of things to talk about!

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

Tomorrow- Famous Moms From the Bible