A Spirit of Fear?

church safety    Two pastors die tragically in just a few days of each other. One is gunned down in the church he serves, along with other church members, by a “stranger” they welcome into their midst. The other sets himself on fire, and dies as a result of his injuries, to “inspire justice”. Both stories are painful, tragic, heartbreaking. And yet, they seem to come from very different understandings and motivations.

As you might imagine, I am especially impacted by the tragic death of a pastor. It doesn’t mean I care more about those deaths than others- not at all. But it DOES mean that it “hits a little closer to home” when it’s a pastor that’s involved.

The gentleman who set himself on fire absolutely breaks my heart. I A. know nothing about the man and B. will NOT cast any stones about his decision. I don’t know why he did it. I know what I read…but I don’t really know why he did it. But I DO know that it is heartbreaking.

And then there are the folks in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. A total of 13 people, including the shooter who was unknown to the others, gathered for a Bible study. About an hour into the Bible study, the shooter opened fire. Ten people were shot- nine of them, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney, died while a tenth person survived. The other victims were  Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. The shooter escaped and was arrested the following day.

You may have noticed that, while I mentioned the names of all who lost their lives, I did NOT mention the shooter’s name. Not an accident. I refuse to give him any more publicity that he has already received. But the folks who lost their lives- well…that’s a different story. Those folks welcomed this man in their midst. They could have just as easily said, “We don’t know you, therefore you are not welcome here.” And in the current world climate, few would have blamed them for that choice. But…they didn’t. Instead, they welcomed him to their Bible study. And because of that choice, nine people lost their lives.

And while I didn’t know any of those folks, my gut tells me that, if given the opportunity, they would welcome a stranger into their midst all over again. Why? Because it’s the Christian thing to do. These folks gave their lives doing what they thought…felt in their hearts…to be the right thing. And their families publicly forgave the coward who took the lives of people they loved. Forgave him. Publicly. An amazing show of what it truly means to be a Christian.

It hurts my heart to think that I have to worry about some disturbed individual coming in the church I serve and doing something like this. And when I started in the ministry, it really wouldn’t have been much of a consideration at all. But now…it is a reality of life. Places that we have always considered safe are simply not that any longer.

But you know what? I don’t care. Oh, don’t get me wrong- I care GREATLY about those innocent folks who were just going about their lives, trying to be the best people they could be, not hurting a soul and died because of it. But I don’t really care about what COULD be. If I live my life, if I carry out ministry day to day, constantly worried about what the next person walking through the door might do…then I am of no earthly good to anyone.

Do I try to be careful? Yes. Have I been involved in training on what to do if something like that happens? Yes. Am I literally in the middle of setting up MORE training along those lines? Uh huh. But I refuse to live in fear. That is NOT the way God made us. Fear is not of God. So I, for one, will continue to do what God has called me to do…only I will do it with a greater understanding of what it really means to commit to God thanks to folks like those in South Carolina.

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

Tomorrow- Healing Rain: Sickness

Music is My Life

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It all started when I was 10 years old. The band director from the local Junior High (Middle School Fiddle School! Back in MY day, we had Junior High…and we LIKED it!) came to my Grade School to recruit new musicians. He brought some students and their instruments along and had each of them demonstrate what their particular instrument could do. He then went instrument by instrument and asked if there were kids who wanted to play that instrument.
Well, I had wanted to play the drums since I was old enough to know better! It just looked like it would be awesome! (Turns out…I was right!) So, when he got to the drums, my hand SHOT up! And just like that, I was a drummer! My mom was a little surprised when I got home from school and told her that I had signed up to play drums without asking, but she let me do it anyway.
I played in band all through Junior High and High School. I also was in the Marching Band and the Pep Band. (Honestly, while I loved them all…Pep Band was my favorite!) Then I went away to college, to be an actor. But Freshman actors at that particular university weren’t allowed to…act. But the first show of the year was a musical, so I asked if I could be in the pit orchestra instead of having to be an usher. That started a chain reaction that had me play drums for 5 shows that year plus a musical review (a PAYING gig!) at a local restaurant. In fact, I played drums so much that year, most people thought I was a music major! Along the way through late High School and College, I also played in a municipal orchestra (ALSO a paying gig, and one that got me into the musician’s union!) for several years.
Then, life got in the way and I went several years without really playing at all. That is, until I went into the ministry. Not long after I started, the church I was at wanted to start a Contemporary Service, but alas…they had no drummer. So I bought a cheap set and dove in. I played for about 6 years there before moving to my last church. I started a Contemporary Service there as well, so I played 8 years there.
And now I find myself at the current church. On the FIRST full day in this new town, I went to band practice. I really went just to listen, but I got the chance to sit on a couple of numbers. It was a blast! And as I sat at the drums, playing one song I have played a bunch of times and one that I have never even heard, I thought about the old saying about music being the universal language. And guess what? It is! I had never played with these particular musicians and singers before, but there we were, cranking good music out. We didn’t have to know all about each other- we just had to love music and love God! And both of those things were abundantly evident.
Without music, I would be an incomplete person. Music is a language that transcends race, color, age, gender and nationality. It reaches down, way past your brain, and touches your soul. There are few things that connect me to God AND others as powerfully as music does. That great theologian Don McLean asked the question, “Can music save your mortal soul?” For me, the answer is, “Yes!”
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

How Do I Pray?- The Prayer of Faith

How Do I Pray Prayer of Faith     A little boy was overheard praying: “Lord, I have not been a very good boy. I know that. So I would like to ask you to make me a better boy. But Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy…don’t worry about it. I’m having a pretty good time like I am!”
     Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways remember him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight.
Today, we start a brand new sermon series- How Do I Pray? Each week, we will focus on either a particular type of prayer of aspect of prayer. Today we focus on the fact that, when we pray, we should have faith in both God’s power and His goodness. But that is often easier said than done, For many, prayer is a bit of a mystery. For many, God is some kind of cosmic Santa Claus and prayer is ultimately a Christmas wish list. But at the end of the day, prayer isn’t simply asking for stuff. It’s SO much more. It’s a longing of the soul. It’s daily admission of our weakness. And in prayer, it’s not always about saying the right words. It’s better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
The Bible offers many different types of prayers and uses a variety of words to describe them. For example,1 Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” Here, all four of the main Greek words for prayer are mentioned in one verse.
supplication- deesis (deh’-ay-sis) – need, desire, seeking, asking
prayer- proseuche’ (pros-yoo-khay’) – prayer
Intercession- enteuxis (ent’-yook-sis) a falling in with, meeting with, coming together
thanksgiving- eucharistia (yoo-khar-is-tee’-ah) thankfulness, gratitude. (From this Greek word comes our word Eucharist, which is one of the names of Communion- an act of thanksgiving.)
James 5:13- 15 Are any of you in trouble? Then you should pray. Are any of you happy? Then sing songs of praise. Are any of you sick? Then send for the elders of the church to pray over you. Ask them to anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered by those who have faith will make you well. The Lord will heal you. If you have sinned, you will be forgiven.
The minister’s six-year-old girl had misbehaved SO badly during the week that her mom decided to give her the worst kind of punishment- she couldn’t go to the Sunday School Picnic. But as the day drew near, her mom began to feel that perhaps she had been too harsh. So the day of the picnic, she went to her daughter and told her that she could go. The girl’s reaction was a surprise- she started to cry! Her mom asked what in the world was wrong. “I thought you’d be glad to go to the picnic.” I was…but now it’s too late!” the little girl said. The mom was confused, “Too late? Why?” “I’ve already prayed for rain!”
We love stories about answered prayer. We get a genuine rush hearing about God’s miraculous interventions in people’s lives. And those stories motivate us to be more diligent in prayer. And so…we pray. We’re specific. We’re confident. We’re bold. And we are absolutely convinced that God will answer our prayer. We have a level of faith and enthusiasm that we’ve never experienced before. We ask. We seek. We knock. And yet…it seems as if God is silent. The thing that we wanted so desperately doesn’t happen. Our enthusiasm is first blunted and then crushed and we are left to wonder what happened. We ask ourselves, “Is it worth it? Does God even hear me? Does He even care?”
Remember the movie “The Santa Clause”? Tim Allen accidentally causes Santa to fall off of his roof and go to that great Toy Shop in the sky. Allen therefore becomes the new Santa Claus. As the movie unfolds, his ex-wife and her new husband think he is completely delusional. They both state that they no longer believe in Santa. And they can both name the event that caused them to stop believing. For both, it was when requests made to Santa were denied. The ex-wife wanted a special doll while the new husband wanted…a Weenie Whistle! And when they didn’t get what they asked for, their response was to simply close themselves off to the reality of Santa Claus.
Some folks respond to God that same way. Cable television mogul Ted Turner had a strict Christian upbringing. He even considered becoming a missionary at one point. But he became disenchanted with Christianity when despite, his prayers, his sister died. Turner is now one of the loudest anti-Christianity voices out there.
The truth is that, no matter how spiritual you might be, there are times when God says, “No” to your prayers. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve sacrificed or accomplished for Jesus. There are times when it feels like God has turned a deaf ear to your requests. The first response from many when God doesn’t seem to come through for them is that they give up on Him, they give up on prayer.
How do you respond when that happens to you? How do you make it through to the other side? Pray with faith- faith that God will ALWAYS answer your prayer…always. It won’t always be in the way that you want it or in the time that you want it, but He WILL answer it. When God doesn’t seem to be saying anything, rest your faith on what He’s already said. “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.”
Sometimes, God has to remove all the other noises from our lives before we can clearly hear His voice. We let so many things compete for our attention. We’re so busy. We often have neither the time OR nor the motivation to stop and just…listen. You have ALL kinds of voices telling you what you need to do. God might just be saying something to you but in all the noise and confusion, you simply can’t sort it all out.
But I just stopped by this morning to tell you to NOT limit where God’s voice might be found. If you’re always waiting for a “parting of the Red Sea” kind of miracle for God to use to communicate to you, you may have a long wait. God often uses the ordinary and everyday to reveal Himself to us. Some people lump prayer and meditation in the same category. I would argue that prayer is more than meditation. When you meditate, your source of strength is…you. But when you pray, you are leaning on a power source MUCH greater than yours. Have faith in God’s power, not your own. Have faith in God’s power…because the truth is you have NONE on your own.
Hebrews 11:1-3 Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. That is what the people of long ago were praised for. We have faith. So we understand that everything was made when God commanded it. That’s why we believe that what we see was not made out of what could be seen.
There are things we face that cause us to ask, “How am I ever going to make it through this? How am I ever going to be of use to God, to my family or to anyone else?” And God answers that question with this statement, “Have faith- My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”
When you have a nagging problem that just won’t go away- a medical condition that doesn’t seem to get any better, a child that won’t obey, a co-worker that doesn’t respect you, a loss that you just can’t seem to recover from– you find yourself wondering, “God, is Your power strong enough to enable me to handle this?” And God responds with, “My strength is greatest when you are at your weakest. I can get you through anything. Have faith.”
When it comes to pray, there should be an element of, “Believe you’ve got it before you get it.” Thank God in advance. Pray on rainy days as well as sunny days. Pray on bad days, when everything is going wrong, as much or more than you do when everything is all kittens and moonbeams. But there is also an element of, ultimately, “Thy will be done.” And if you trust God, if you believe that He has your best interests at heart, then you have to be willing to pray that His will would ultimately be done…even if it doesn’t match with what YOU want. The cure for worry is prayer. When prayer takes away distrust and doubt and replaces it with a level of certainty, it becomes faith. And the world is built on faith.
God is always looking for people to use to further His kingdom. And the truth of the matter is that if you show yourself to be usable…He will wear you out. And you will love EVERY minute of it! The best…and most dangerous…prayer you can pray is this, “Dear God…Use me.”
Prayer is the bedrock foundation of our relationship with God. It’s how we communicate and fellowship with Him. And yet a surprising number of people, young and old, new and long-time Christians alike, say they’re not satisfied with their prayer life. WE need to devote ourselves to prayer. We need to be earnest in prayer. We need to be persistent in prayer. We need to be active in prayer. Prayer should be the key to open the door of your morning and the lock to close it down at night. If you are committed to God and His unfailing love, then you need to pray with faith. You need to P.U.S.H.– Pray Until Something Happens. Prayer doesn’t change God…it changes us. Don’t give up praying until something happens that either changes your situation…or changes you.

Random Thoughts on Communion

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The church I currently serve celebrate Communion on the first Sunday of every month. (Every week at the Sunday evening service!) I have people ask, “So, is that when Methodists take Communion then…the 1st Sunday of the month?” And the answer is a decided…maybe! The reality is that there is no “set in stone” schedule for serving Communion by which individual United Methodist churches do it- it is left up to the discretion of each congregation. Some serve it weekly, some serve it month, some serve it quarterly…I would hazard a guess that none serve it less frequently…but I don’t know that for sure!

Communion is a fascinating topic- it has been around for about 2,000 years, and subject to interpretation for about 1,999 of those years! Some folks serve only unleaven bread, some serve other types of bread. Some serve only wine, some serve only grape juice, some make both available. In some denominations anyone can serve Communion while in others only clergy can serve. Some faith traditions have guidelines about how old one has to be before they can take Communion…others do not. Some churches only allow members to take Communion, others allow all to partake.
Frankly, just about ANY derivation of the basic “bread and cup” format that you can imagine is being done somewhere. For some, that is a cause of stress. They worry that theirs is the only way to serve Communion and if it is not taken that way…then it is flawed. I have a different view, which is frankly one of the reasons I chose United Methodism.
I feel that the example of Communion given to us in the Gospels was, like Jesus’ baptism and other things, contextual…that is, it happened in a certain setting, a particular time and place. And because of that contextual nature, it was done the way it was done. In other words, I feel that the specifics of Communion are NOT found so much in the HOW as in the WHY. For me, it is a representational meal that is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ- when I serve or take Communion, I am stating publicly that I choose to be a follower of Jesus. Further, by having an “open Communion” (anyone is welcome), I am reinforcing Jesus’ Gospel message that His grace and salvation are for everyone!
How do YOU take Communion? What is YOUR understanding of what it is, what it means? Notice I said “I feel” and “I think” in this article. Your thoughts are just as valid as mine. So…what are they? How do you view this rather mysterious rite of the Church? I’m curious to know! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Five-Dollar Seminary Words

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When I was going through the process of becoming ordained (And don’t EVEN ask me what THAT was like! It makes me want to use words that would make a sailor blush!), I had to write a LOT. And be interviewed a LOT! And at one of those interviews, the team that was handling the process was talking to me about what I had written for that round. The man in charge was clearly trying to say something specific…but was unwilling. Instead, he beat around the bush. I finally said, “So, what you are trying to say is that you want me to write in such a way that I can prove I went to seminary?!” There was a long pause and then he replied, “Uh…yes.”

The bottom line was that they wanted me to use big words and complex thoughts to show them that I had actually earned the Master’s Degree in Theology that was listed on my paperwork. So…I went back home and wrote a scholarly paper on…whatever it was I was supposed to be writing on! Done!

I know pastors who pepper their sermons with those big words and complex thoughts. And perhaps for them, that approach works. But for me, I prefer to use words, phrases and concepts that make sense to people who DIDN’T go to seminary, which would be pretty much everybody who sits in the pews on Sunday!

But knowing those words is not a bad thing. They can give you greater insight into the idea of faith. With that in mind, here is a VERY incomplete list of some of those “five-dollar words” for your perusal and edification!

Asceticism– the ethical view that holiness or purity is achieved by mandatory abstinence from bodily comforts and material pleasures.

Dispensation– a distinct administration of God’s covenantal relation with man or the age characterized by such.

Eschatology– the doctrine of the “last things” pertaining to the individual (death, afterlife) or to redemption (the coming, course, and consummation of Christ’s kingdom, the millennium) or to the world (Christ’s return, the resurrection, final judgment, the eternal state).

Exegesis- to draw out extracting what is in the text the way it was written. Finding the true meaning and explain the passages of scripture from their context.

Hermeneutics-The science of interpreting the written word, to find what the text actually meant.

Hypostatic union- The dual nature of Christ being both 100%God and 100% man dwelling together as one person.

Incarnation-God becoming flesh- the eternal Son.

Inerrant- the teaching of the Scriptures which are free without error, in doctrine, historicity, geographical and science, etc.

Isogesis-Reading into a text what isn’t there. Interpreting it by different rules than a consistent understanding from the Bible. Using a presupposition to arrive at the meaning, by ignoring the language and culture it was used in.

Justification- a legal declaration giving one right standing before God pronouncing a sinner righteous because of Christ’s merit.

Sanctification- ( to be set apart) holy-Anything set apart for God’s use can be sanctified.

Teleological– pertaining to a goal, aim, or purpose; teleological ethics emphasizes and makes decisions in terms of the proper goal of man or the kingdom of God as man’s highest good, etc. (cf. “consequential perspective”).

Theophany- A physical manifestation of God as a person or messenger (angel) a pre incarnate appearance of Christ in human form, called “the Angel of the Lord.”

There you go- just a FEW of those five-dollar words from seminary!

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

Tomorrow- Garage Saling

A Professional (14-Year Old) Painter

I grew up out in the country- my closest neighbor, geographically, was 1/4 of a mile away. Most of the money I made as a kid/youth was made doing some kind of manual labor: picking up hay, cleaning out barns, tending animals, mowing, etc. But the summer of my 14th year (sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it?), the widowed neighbor lady (the one who live 1/4 of a mile away) hired me to paint her house and garage. I had never painted a house before in my life, but assured her I could do it! She got all the paint and supplies (rollers, brushes and the like) and I was ready to go.

I started with the garage, because it was small and easy to get to. (Picture a building that would JUST hold a car…and nothing else…literally!) I scraped it (which, at least for me, is by FAR the worst part of painting!) and then started painting. I painted what I could reach from the ground first, then got the step ladder out and began painting the top half. I was about halfway through the top half when…disaster struck! I had a big container of paint on the ladder, and instead of taking it off first, I decided I could move the ladder with it on there!Oops! The container tipped over…right onto me! The paint hit me just below the chin (at least it missed the face!) and POURED down the front of me! The front of my shirt, my arms, and part of my legs were covered in white paint! I stood there for a moment, frozen, trying to decide if that REALLY happened or not! But ONE look down was all I needed to convince myself that, yes, it did indeed happen! So, I did what any self-respecting 14-year old would do…I ran! I actually ran to my bike, flew home, got cleaned up, washed the paint out of my clothes, got fresh clothes, and then pedaled back to keep painting.
Later on in the job, I got to a part of the house that was on the 2nd floor. The house had a loft-style 2nd floor that only covered part of the 1st floor. It wasn’t reachable with a ladder from the ground- the only was to get to it was the roof of the 1st floor. BUT…the roof of the 1st floor had such a steep pitch (the angle of the roof), that it was nearly impossible to stand on it at all, let alone actually paint something! What to do, what to do? Aha! I went home and got a long rope we had. I tied it to the front porch railing of the house I was painting. Then I threw the rope over the house, climbed up on the roof on that side, TIED myself to the house…and painted that part!
In the end, the neighbor lady was quite please with the job. (She told me, after the fact, that people told her she was CRAZY to let a 14-year old paint her house! Looking back…they MAY have been correct!) The paint job held up well for years, in fact. But what I took away from that job (other than the money I made!), was the need to be flexible and creative. And that awareness has served me well, in a VARIETY of settings, over the years. We so desperately want life to be cut and dried, black and white. But in the end…its just NOT! And if you try to FORCE things to fit into that cut and dried/black and white mold…you end up banging your head against the wall, over and over. If, on quite the other hand, you are willing to be flexible and creative, you will be so much more ready to meet what comes. Things may happen the way you thought they were going to…but you are READY for that! You bend, you shift, you adapt…and life is a whole lot more interesting and satisfying.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

6 Di.N.T.S. (Difficult New Testament Stories): Hate Your Family!

6 DiNTS Hate Your Family

A Scottish mother visits her 
son in his New York City apartment and asks, “How do you find the Americans, Donald?” “Mother,” says Donald, “they’re such noisy people. One neighbor won’t stop banging his head against the wall, while the other screams and screams all night long.” “Oh, Donald! How do you manage to put up with them?” “What can I do? I just lie in bed quietly, playing my bagpipes.”
Tonight, we wrap up our Sunday evening service- 6 Difficult New Testament Stories. We are looking at 6 stories from the New Testament that are hard to wrap your head around. The first week, we started with a doozy- God condemns angels to eternity…in Hell! Week 2, Jesus died and went to Hell to preach to those in bondage. Week 3 had us staying right here on Earth as we watched Jesus throw a temper tantrum…at a fig tree! Week 4, we were a fly on the wall as we listened to Jesus tell the people to NOT pray out loud. Last week, we were somewhat shocked to hear Jesus tell us to NOT defend ourselves and to give everything…to everybody! And tonight, we bring it all to a close as we consider the fact that Jesus tells us that, if we want to be His followers…we need to hate our family!!
A little background on this passage- Jesus has just eaten at the house of a very well-respected pharisee. Those temple leaders in attendance were watching Him closely. A man with a badly swollen body was there. Jesus, knowing the pharisees were testing Him, asked if it was against the Law to heal on the Sabbath. No one answered…so He healed the man. After that, Jesus offered some teaching to those in attendance. Immediately after that, Jesus is traveling and has a large entourage in tow. He turns to them and offers this challenge.
Luke 14:25-27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters– yes, even life itself– such a person cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.
Dear Dad,
$chool i$ really great. I am making lot$ of friend$ and $tudying very hard. With all my $tuff, I $imply can’t think of anything I need. $o if you would like, you can ju$t $end me a card, a$ I would love to hear from you.
Love, Your $on

The Reply:
Dear Son,

I kNOw that astroNOmy, ecoNOmics, and oceaNOgraphy are eNOugh to keep even an hoNOr student busy. Do NOt forget that the pursuit of kNOwledge is a NOble task, and you can never study eNOugh.
Love, Dad
So what do we make of this? And further, what do we DO with it? As a Christian, passages like this are a bit of an…embarrassment, aren’t they? We think we have all the answers to the naysayers…and then they question us about a passage like this and we are left to think, “Shoot! I was hoping they didn’t KNOW that one!!”
I mean, surely when He said “hate them”…He didn’t MEAN…HATE them…right? He HAD to mean something else…right? You have to admit, for those naysayers who read the DaVinci Code and are now certain that NONE of this Bible tripe is real but was instead written down long after Jesus’ time to “defend the realm”, so to speak…if there even WAS a “Jesus”…this passage actually works in our favor! I mean, who in the WORLD would have written this after the fact to DEFEND Christianity? Nobody I know! We’re pushing family values. This is NOT the passage we would write if we were just making all of this up as we went along!
Maybe they weren’t so “pro family” back in the Ancient Near Eastern world. No, that’s not going to fly! The Hebrew people were VERY tribal and intensely family-oriented. And 1st Century Romans idealized family to the point of obsession. Maybe that’s why Jesus felt He had to speak so directly on the subject. I am convinced that sometimes the wisdom of Jesus Christ isn’t aimed so much at helping us make sense of everything as much as it is aimed at help us better prioritize our lives.
The Bible is full of what is referred to as Wisdom Literature. In fact, Wisdom Literature is literally a genre of writing in the Bible- Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon or Song of Songs are Wisdom Literature. And the passage we’re looking at tonight is another example of wisdom teaching. But while the Old Testament Book of Proverbs says things that make pretty good sense and are rather simple…but not easy…to apply, many of the things Jesus says are cryptic, veiled, hard to wrap your head around!
Apparently, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you have to hate your mother and father, your wife and children, your brothers and sisters- even your own life! Hate them! Hate them all! God spends the entire Bible creating and perfecting the concept…the importance…of family. And then, He offers something like THIS up to us? Am I missing something? Where’s Allen Funt, because this MUST be Candid Camera?
Ultimately, I see this passage as hyperbole- an exaggerated statement or claim that is not meant to be taken literally. He offers it up to make a point- He should be our greatest love, and our love for anyone else should less than that. I have shared before that I hear people say, “But how can I love God if I don’t first take care of my family?” I would argue that the proper question is, “How can I take care of my family if I don’t first love God?”
What I read into this story is that even the most fundamental things- our relationships with those closest to us- get called into question by Jesus. Everything…EVERYTHING…has to be brought forward and laid at the altar. And some days…that just doesn’t seem fair. I mean, I give Him my Sundays. I give Him my 10%. I give Him what I can afford. Isn’t that enough? Let me gently suggest that…no…it’s not enough. Why? Because He wants it all. You have to be willing to trust Him with the whole thing- lock, stock and barrel. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. That is the definition of discipleship. And if you’re tempted to hold something back- a treasured possession…or even a treasured relationship…then you have to sit back and count the cost.
When it comes to Jesus, you’re either in…or you’re out. Give Him everything or give Him nothing. There is no real middle ground. He wants total commitment from us so that He can do all the wonderful, beautiful, life-giving things He has planned for us.
In the Gospels, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” But what does that mean? I mean- abundant life…nice cars, nice house…houses…sitting on a beach somewhere, sand between your toes, nice tropical breeze. Right? But that doesn’t seem to be the abundant life Jesus was talking about. Don’t you wish He had been more clear?
Well, perhaps He was clear all along and we have…intentionally or unintentionally…missed it. Maybe He is constantly explaining it and we just find it hard to understand. “Life abundantly” isn’t necessarily “life comfortable”. On the contrary, when Jesus gets involved and starts taking over our lives, everything is up for grabs, isn’t it? All our traditional hopes and dreams- quiet, stable life, peaceful suburban home with white picket fence, 2.4 insanely happy children, soccer mom van in the driveway and the intoxicating aroma of home-baked bread and apple-pie wafting through the air- they all get called into question, don’t they?
Jesus’ standard is radical! When you choose to be become a Christian, your allegiance changes! My genetics come from one place, but my grace comes from quite another. While my family bloodline matters a great deal, the bloodline that REALLY counts is the blood that was shed on the cross.
Jesus says, “Choose Me. And even if your family gets in the way of your relationship with Me, I should still be your ultimate choice!” We have a choice. And that choice is before each of us. Who will you choose? Will you choose the world? Or will you choose the One Who died to make us free?

Have…to…FOCUS!

Blurred text with a focus on success

Blurred text with a focus on success

Focus is an interesting thing. It is essential to producing good work and yet can be very difficult to actually achieve. And for someone like me, the poster boy for Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, focus can be a REALLY challenging thing!

I was reminded of that fact this past Sunday morning. Along with being the pastor, I am the drummer for the Praise Band. (If you have known me for very long at all…you will NOT find that surprising!) During the school year, we (the band) practice every Thursday evening. We then gather an hour before the Contemporary Service every Sunday to do a sound check and “brush up” a few things here and there. We then play for the entire Contemporary Service at 8AM and the opening of the Blended Service at 10:15AM.

But during the summer, we don’t practice during the week- a chance for the band members to “take a break”…without actually taking a break!! We still gather early on Sunday morning, and that time becomes much more about “practice” than “sound check” in the summer.

On Thursday evenings during the school year, I usually don’t have anything I need to focus on during band practice except band practice. HOWEVER…on Sunday mornings ALL year, well, it’s different story! AS you might imagine, I have several things to focus on during worship services. I firmly believe that transitions are very important during worship. We’ve all been to churches where something happens…then there is a painful pause…and then something else happens! I find that working hard to make those “in between times” as smooth and seamless as possible makes for a more complete worship experience.

So there I am, during the opening 3-song set at the Contemporary Service, behind the drumset. And I LOVE playing. I have been doing it for 44 years- longer than I’ve been doing just about anything else! But because I have been doing it so long, I can, if necessary, slip into “auto-pilot” mode. You know- think about something else and just let my arms, my legs and the drums do their collective thing! Often, that “something else” is along the lines of “What’s coming next?” or “Did I tell the ushers about that special thing?” or “Did I check the video clip that I’m showing later in the service?”

I also find, however, that if I do that for very long, my drumming gets pretty…boring. Oh sure, the tempo was maintained. Oh sure, the basics got done. But the really interesting things that allow the drums to help elevate the overall song are gone. It becomes rather rote and robotic.

So, probably BECAUSE of my ADHD, I have to work hard to focus on those drums during the worship service. For a few minutes, I have to shut everything else out and just connect with the instrument in front of me. And when I am successful at that, I find playing MUCH more satisfying!

The ability to focus is SO important. God calls us to certain things at certain times. And if we try to simply shoehorn them into everything else we’re doing…we might do just fine. But we WON’T do it to the degree that most pleases God. On the other hand, when we are able to identify that thing God is calling us to and actually prioritize it…FOCUS on it…then amazing things can happen.

To what is God calling YOU? Identify it. Then…focus on it. Give it the attention it deserves. God will be pleased. And really…could you want much more than that?!

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

The Atheistic, Agnostic…Preacher

conundrum5

I once read an article in the Christian Post entitled Preachers Who Don’t Believe – The Scandal of Apostate Pastors. The gist of the article was that there is a surprisingly high number of clergy in this country who…don’t…believe…in…God. Let me say that again (more for my own benefit than yours)- they DON’T believe in God! As I read the article, I thought to myself, “How can this be?” How can ANYBODY stand up in the pulpit every Sunday and profess Jesus Christ as their Savior and NOT mean it? How can anybody lead worship of God and be pretending?

Let me say a few things here: I understand pretending. I was a actor before going into the ministry. I have a degree in Theatre. I have spent much of my life play-acting- pretending. No problem getting my head around that one. Also, I understand hating your job and having to “fake it to make it”. I have certainly had jobs that I hated. And I pretended to love them and be good at them because I needed them. No problem getting my head around that one either. I even understand folks who don’t believe in God. I know LOTS of people, many of them good, decent, hard-working folk, who, for a myriad of reasons, claim there is no God. I fully understand that. I don’t AGREE with it…but I was once there myself- I can get my head around it.
My problem lies in combining these three things into one person. If I work the “self check-out” lanes at Wal-Mart, I may have days when I have to fake liking my job, fake liking the people who come through. But my faking it THERE has no real effect on the customers- they go about their merry way regardless. But if I am in a position of authority, of influence, of trust…and I PRETEND to believe something that I am trying to get others to also believe in…there is GREAT potential harm to be found there. Imagine the damage that is to be done by this approach- to the members of the church where you work, to your family, to other clergy.
Some of the “clergy” quoted in the article said basically that they continue the ruse for economic reasons- they need the job or cannot make as much money elsewhere. But where is the MORAL obligation here? The implication is that it’s perfectly OK to manipulate and lie to an entire group of people who TRUST you simply because the paycheck ain’t bad!! (And the oxymoronic value of that is NOT lost on me- NOBODY goes into preaching for the money!) The hypocrisy inherent in this construct is simply beyond my ability to fathom. If you don’t believe in God then OK for you…I’m sorry you haven’t had a genuine encounter with the Creator, but that’s your decision to make. But please, PLEASE don’t drag a congregation full of people down with you.
A pastor friend of mine, upon reading this article, replied, “I just vomited in my mouth after reading this!” And while that MAY be a bit more…direct…than I would tend to be, amen to Him! Pastors who don’t believe in God are like doctors who don’t believe in medicine…and I CERTAINLY don’t want one of them operating on me any time soon! If you are clergy and don’t believe in God…reconsider. I would LOVE to say reconsider your faith, but again- that’s your gig to decide. But AT LEAST reconsider your insistence to live a lie while collecting a paycheck from an unsuspecting congregation.
What do YOU think about all this? I would love to open some dialogue. If you have an opinion, simply post a comment just below this blog.

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

Toy Box Leadership: Weebles- Endurance

Toy Box Leadership Weebles Endurance

The new preacher was standing in the back of the sanctuary at the end of the service, greeting folks as they left. A man in the line walked up to him and said, “Well, that was THE most boring sermon I have ever heard.” And then he walked on. About 2 minutes, however, he was coming through through the line again, “You are the worst public speaker EVER!” And then he walked on. But sure enough, about 3 minutes later, he came through yet again, “I haven’t heard you say anything YET!” And he walked on. The pastor was getting pretty frustrated. But soon, a deacon of the church came through the line, so the pastor asked him about the man. “Brother Ralph, what’s the story on that guy over there?” Brother Ralph looked over, chuckled and said, Oh, don’t mind him, he’s a little…touched in the head. He’s harmless…he just repeats everything he hears!”

That minister was having a bad day! Do you ever have bad day? Have you ever felt like you had nothing left to give? Have you even thought to yourself, “I can’t even get up today”? Do you ever need that extra boost of endurance? We live in a Instamatic society. We are always looking for quick fixes, overnight successes, fast solutions and instant gratification. And if those expectations aren’t met immediately, then we have a tendency to simply quit and go somewhere else- move on to the next thing. We also tend to seek overnight spiritual maturity. In fact, we have a lot in common with Jesus’ disciples- they were all gung ho…but when it counted, they couldn’t even stay awake. Yep- when the going got tough, the tough…took a nap. And when the going gets tough for us, we often want to bail and run. But I just stopped by this morning to tell you that God wants so much more for us!

Isaiah 40:28-31 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Today, we wrap up our current Sunday morning sermon series- Toy Box Leadership, based on the book by Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell. This series was designed to focus on lessons of Christian leadership from the toys in our childhood toy boxes. The 1st week, we focused on the Slinky Dog as we considered vision. The 2nd week, we focuses on Little Green Army Men as we considered strategy. Week 3, we focused on LEGOS and considered relationships. The 4th week, we looked at Mr. Potato Head as we focused on communication. Last week, we looked at the Rubik’s Cube as we considered ethics. And today, we wrap it all up in a tidy little bow as we look at Weebles and consider endurance.

Do you remember the TV show Romper Room? I absolutely LOVED Romper Room. In fact, when I was 4 years old, I wanted to MARRY Miss Lois- that’s what the host was called in our TV market! I would wait every day for her to see me in her magic mirror! And not only was she the dream of a four-year old boy growing up in a dysfunctional house, she also introduced me to the Punching Clown. And although it sounds strangely like a bad guy from Walker, Texas Ranger OR a WWE wrestler, it was, in fact, an inflatable clown with a weighted bottom- insert your joke here! You know what I’m talking about- you would punch it, it would go over…and then pop right back up?

In 1969, Hasbro bought Romper Room and they wanted to market the Punching Clown. I mean, who wouldn’t?! But they felt it was too big, so they made it smaller! And on July 23, 1971, the world was introduced to…Weebles Do you remember their slogan? “Weebles wobble but…!” The truth of the matter is that Weebles DO fall down…they just don’t STAY down! And because of that, Weebles teach us a powerful lesson endurance- and endurance is, I would argue, a mandatory characteristic for any Christian. Weebles teach us that staying down is NOT an option. The late, great Nelson Mandela lived that fact. He was wrongly imprisoned from 1969 to 1990 and yet went on to be the president of his country from 1994 to 1999. And through it all, he refused to stay down. He once said, “The greatest glory in living lies NOT in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.”

    1Timothy 4:15-16- Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Soon after my family arrived at this church, I preached a sermon series that featured a weekly story about an old friend, we’ll call him Gary, who was always getting into one crazy situation or another. I want to lift up one of those stories in relation to today’s topic. It was raining REALLY hard and had been for some time. The creek behind Gary’s house flooded and overtook a brush pile, which was swept to the end of his yard, where the creek ran under the road through a HUGE culvert. This culvert was tall enough to stand in and ran under the 2-lane road that ran past his house. As the brush pile swept down the creek, it got stuck against the mouth of the culvert. Enough brush piled up that it caused the creek to back up to the point that the culvert was almost completely underwater. So Gary went out to try and pull some of the brush away to let the water get through and lower the level of the water that was backing up in his yard. He was right next to the road, standing at the edge of the rising water, pulling on limbs, when…the ground gave way and he fell in! The water, which was deep and fast, swept him against the brush at the mouth of the culvert. As he was sucked INTO the pipe, he grabbed ahold of the top edge. So there he is, hanging on for dear life, hands on the edge of the culvert, body entirely IN the culvert, water rushing around him, trying to pull him in. Finally, he couldn’t hang on anymore and got sucked into the culvert, which was full of limbs…and water! The current dragged him through the pipe, literally ripping him through the jagged limbs. One snag on one branch and he’s stuck in the culvert…drowning. Fortunately, he made it through the culvert and was SPIT out the other end, dropping 10’ into an ever-deepening pool. He hit the water, which was about 8’ deep, and the force of his fall caused him to go to the bottom…where his boot got wedged between two branches, trapping him UNDERWATER! He started to panic and wrenched his foot completely out of his boot. He pushed off, surfaced and swam to solid ground. He was cut up, bashed and bruised and had torn his foot and ankle to shreds. Meanwhile, his sister saw him fall in from the window and told their mom, who ran out, found him and IMMEDIATELY…took pictures of him! She did, however, take him to the hospital! The truth is that you don’t drown by falling in the water. You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by STAYING in the water.

Did you hear what Timothy said in the passage I read? “Be diligent…give yourself wholly…and persevere”. Boil that down and you get one word- endurance. And the message of endurance applies to every situation, no matter what you face. And that message is this- don’t run and don’t give up. No matter what you’re going through…go through it. There will be a blessing waiting for you on the other side.

Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of Nikes. I’m sorry if you would pick LeBron or Magic or Larry or Kareem or Wilt…but I’m right!! He was a 5-time Most Valuable Player and won 6 NBA Championships. Although he has done a LOT of TV commercials, I especially remember  one of his ads for Nike. He walks into a packed arena. All of the people are chanting his name. But then he shocks them as he steps right up to the microphone, “In my career, I have missed 9,000 shots. I’ve lost 300 games. I’ve missed 26 game-winning shots. I have failed over and over again. And THAT’S why I succeed!” Whether or not we fall down isn’t the issue. We are GOING to fall down. No, the issue is what we do AFTER we get knocked down. And the 1st step to getting back up is simply deciding that staying down is not option

I want to share two truths about endurance that are designed to help you get back up when you’ve been knocked down.

  1. Falling down is inevitable. It’s a fact of life. But it doesn’t have to be the final act. We can either let failure grip us…or we can get a grip on it. Failure is inevitable, but it’s not automatically a bad thing. Everybody falls- but how far you fall is in part determined by how prepared you are. You have to anticipate the fall. And you have to learn from the fall. But you do NOT have to duplicate the fall.
  2. Endurance requires a good center of balance. It’s no coincidence that Weebles are shaped like eggs. That design is one of nature’s best support structures. The shape allows the energy to be displaced throughout the toy instead of just one part of it. And that design acts in union with the intentional low sense of gravity. Weebles have an inner sense of balance AND an outer shape that allows for quicker and better recovery.

Like Weebles, we need a strong center of balance. And there are 3 important factors that go into a strong center of balance- determination, resilience and purpose. Determination is a wake-up call to the human will. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Purpose is what God calling you to. So when you fall, stop and remember your ultimate goal, your reason for being, your purpose.

In the New Testament Book of Hebrews 12: 1, Paul says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with endurance the race that is marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Paul’s appeal to run the race with endurance suggests that the Christian life is more a marathon than a sprint. We’re supposed to continue to press forward toward the mark. The verb “press” comes from the Greek and it literally means “to follow after or pursue.” The Greeks used it to describe a hunter who eagerly and relentlessly pursued his prey. You don’t become a winning athlete by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books or cheering at the games. You become a winner only when get into the race with a steadfast determination to win- to not quit, to not turn back, to not give in, to not throw in the towel, to not slow down.

When the world says, “Give up!”, God whispers, “Try one more time.” If want to be winner in the Christian race, you have to have a spirit of endurance. You have to be willing to pick yourself up. You have to decide that staying down is simply NOT an option.

During World War 2, England’s greatest nightmare was the German army taking over Europe. In the middle of that, the British people were bombed regularly. Also in the middle of that, Winston Churchill addressed his people. He said, “Never (7X) give up! This could be our finest hour!”

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us.

No matter what quitting point you might be facing today, I want you to take a lesson from Jesus. Regardless of your personal struggles, remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Remember that, at some level, He wanted out. Remember that part of Him didn’t want to face the coming day. Part of Him didn’t want to go through the ordeal. He prayed that God might take that “cup” away from Him. But He also made it clear that, regardless, he was in it for the long haul. He realized that He was part of a bigger picture. He realized that He had been called to a special task, an important task…a holy task. He could have SO easily slipped over the Mount of Olives and simply disappeared into the wilderness. But He didn’t. Instead, He persevered. Instead, He summoned his will power. Instead, He faced the coming day, head on.

Our greatest inspiration for enduring is found in the  One who endured Calvary’s cross for our sake. When I survey the wonderful cross, how He willingly died for OUR sins/ and for OUR forgiveness I am encouraged to endure. We all face times when we want to quit. But when you find yourself there, my earnest prayer for each of you is this- hear God’s voice calling you back to the race. So…will you be like the Weebles and refuse to stay down? Will you throw off everything that keeps you from running the race? Will you run with determination? Will you run with conviction? Will you run with endurance? Will you invite Jesus Christ into your heart so that He might more fully and completely fix your eyes upon the finish line of faith?

“Oh Look…a Tie!”

fathers-day-tie1

When I started in the ministry, we “robed” every Sunday. (You know- long black clergy robes with long stoles…scarves…hanging around the neck.) Over time, we transitioned to suits and ties. And for the next…several years, that was my “outfit du jour” on Sundays. Then, I transitioned to shirt and tie with no suit jacket. And that is where I still find myself on Sundays. But throughout that “fashion journey” (and BOY do I use THAT term loosely!), the necktie has been the constant. (Yes, I wore PANTS every week! I could see you thinking that, tight through the computer screen!)

I wear a tie on Sundays…and that’s about it. Oh, I wear a suit and tie when I perform a funeral. I wear either a suit and tie or a clergy robe and tie when I perform a wedding. But on a regular basis, the tie makes an appearance once a week…and no more. I had a woman in the congregation I currently serve say to me just last week, “You have such beautiful ties! And you never wear the same one twice! You must have 52 ties!” I thanked her for the compliment on the ties…and left it at that! But the truth is that A. I just might have 52 ties and B. I DO wear them more than once!

I say all of this because ties have been on my mind recently. Tomorrow is Father’s Day. And I, like many other dads, have received more than my share of ties as Father’s Day gifts. And I have loved all of them. In more recent years, the ties have transitioned into iTunes gift cards…and I love those, too!

But regardless of the gift, I love Father’s Day! In fact, the gifts, nice though they are, are secondary. I love Father’s Day because I LOVE being a dad. No matter what legacy I may or may not leave as a minister, I KNOW that the BEST legacy I will leave behind when I shuffle off this mortal coil and bring down the curtain will be my sons. I will admit right up front that I am partial…but I have awesome boys. I regularly tell them that I am the beta model. God made me, worked out all of the kinks and then made them- Version 2.0! And the awesome thing is that Version 2.0 comes in two choices: either a tall, muscular, smart, handsome, musician model OR an even taller, slender, smart, handsome, musician model!

I thank God every day for the gift of being a dad! It just doesn’t get any better than when my wife, my boys and I are all in the same place at the same time!

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: Weebles- Endurance

Peaches and Herb Are Back…and Better Than Ever!

peaches and herb

As you probably know by now (unless this is the very FIRST time you are reading this blog!), I am ALL about the music. Life is one big song cue just waiting to be mentioned! Not very much time goes by at my house without one of us referencing as song in some way. Therefore, today’s title can’t be much of a surprise!

I won’t bore you to tears with the “back story” of Peaches and Herb (I’ve already done that in a previous blog. If you REALLY want to read it, scroll down the left side until you see the “search” feature. Type in “peaches” and…go to town!), but their biggest hit was “Reunited”. I lift that up today because our family, in true Peaches and Herb fashion, will be “reunited” by the end of today!

Our younger son has been in New Orleans for the week. His High School Jazz Band got to go down there, tour the area AND play a few concerts! And he will be wheeling back into town somewhere in the 2PM vicinity. Then, somewhere in the nearly 9PM vicinity, our older son will be wheeling in as well…on a train from Chicago! He is coming home for the weekend for Father’s Day!

I have been asked, “What do you want for Father’s Day?” And the truth is that, when it comes to “stuff”, I don’t really need anything. Oh sure, I could ALWAYS use more credit on my iTunes account. But I’m at a point in my life where there simply isn’t a lot of stuff on my “wish list”. Frankly, what I REALLY want for Father’s Day…is happening tonight!

We ALWAYS make it clear to our older son that, as much as we LOVE to have him home, we fully understand that he has a life and that life doesn’t always allow him to come home. And that’s OK. We never want to be those parents who guilt-trip their kids into visiting them. I would be SO OK if he couldn’t come home for Father’s Day. BUT…he CAN! And he IS!

I miss my boys when they are not around and I have been missing them especially this week with BOTH of them gone. I will absolutely relish our time together this weekend. And I will offer nothing but thanksgiving for his being here when our older son has to head back to Chicago on Sunday. For us, it simply doesn’t get a whole lot better than family! Reunited…and it feels SO good!

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

Tomorrow- “Oh Look…a Tie!”

The Decision-Maker

church staff

“Back in the day”, I used to do school photography. During the Fall and Spring, I would coordinate people and equipment and also shoot pictures. In the Winter, I was on “sales patrol”- I would go to schools that we did NOT have under contract and…well…try to get the UNDER contract!

All of that combined meant I spent a lot of time in schools. And the truth of the matter is that, based on my experience, the teachers really didn’t want us there and the kids really didn’t want use there. But the administration seemed to have a much higher tolerance of us. My experience tells me that was because we had things to offer!

One day, I was standing in a school office waiting to meet with a principal when I noticed a poster on the wall. It was a cartoon rendering of a school office. In the drawing were two desks. One had a nameplate that said “principal” while the other had a nameplate that said “secretary”.

No one was at the secretary desk but a middle-aged man with Walter Mitty (Google it) glasses sat at the principal desk, talking on the phone. The caption was, “Could you call back when the decision maker is in?”

I have been thinking about that poster this week. While we have other staff at the church I currently serve (Treasurer, Organist, Bell Choir Director, Nursery Staff, Custodians, etc.), the portion of the staff that regularly meets together and works together is myself, our Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries, our Office Administrator and our Worship Director. Along with a basically ongoing conversation all week, we intentionally meet as a group of four once a week. We intentionally work together to help guide the congregation.

This week, both the Office Administrator and the Worship Director are on vacation. They both did an EXCELLENT job of getting everything ready before they left and lining folks up to pinch-hit for them while they are gone. But they are both missed greatly while they are gone!

I am so greatly appreciative of being able to serve with these folks. Not only are they very good at their jobs, but they are also just fun to work with! There is a strong, overarching sense that, while we each have our specific responsibilities, we are also there for each other when one of us needs a bit of extra help. In fact, the whole church has that mentality. And although they show every day in a variety of ways, perhaps the most obvious way they have demonstrated that mentality came when they all stepped into the fray and picked up the slack while I was out for 6 weeks last year recovering from major cranial surgery. I thank God regularly for the joy of serving here!

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

Tomorrow- Peaches and Herb Are Back…and Better Than Ever!

6 Di.N.T.S. (Difficult New Testament Stories): Give It ALL Away!

6 DiNTS Give It ALL Away“I’m a millionaire,” the boastful parishioner testified, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday: I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I had only a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give all that I had to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.” The congregation applauded, and as he took his seat a little old lady next to him leaned over and said, “That’s great, but…I dare you to do it again!”
Tonight, we continue our Sunday evening service- 6 Difficult New Testament Stories. We are looking at 6 stories from the New Testament that are hard to wrap your head around. The first week, we started with a doozy- God condemns angels to eternity…in Hell! Week 2, Jesus died and went to Hell to preach to those in bondage. Week 3 had us staying right here on Earth as we watched Jesus throw a temper tantrum…at a fig tree! Last week, Week 4, we were a fly on the wall as we listened to Jesus tell the people to NOT pray out loud. And tonight, we are somewhat shocked to hear Jesus tell us to NOT defend ourselves and to give everything…to everybody!
To give you some background to this passage, it falls JUST before last week’s Scripture. Jesus has just finished the meat of the great Sermon on the Mount. He then offered up a variety of topics that lead to last week’s subject- prayer. Tonight, however, we back up ONE space to see what He has to say about giving.
Matthew 5:38-42 ‘You have heard that it was said,’ Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. ‘ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
A man was walking along the beach, enjoying an afternoon vacation stroll, when he heard someone screaming. Looking around, he saw an obviously distraught woman kneeling next to a little girl. The man quickly determined the child had swallowed something that was blocking her airway. He immediately held her up by her heels and gave her a few quick thumps to the back. As quick as a wink, the child started to sputter and cough and then spit a quarter out onto the sand. “Oh, thank you sir!” cried the grateful mother. You seemed to know exactly what to do to get that money out of her. Are you a doctor?” “No, ma’am,” the man replied. “But I AM the chairperson of the stewardship committee at my church.”
So, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth- the gold standard for centuries- is no longer enough. Now, we’re supposed to turn the other cheek and let someone slap us on that side, too. And if someone asks us for our shirt, we are supposed to give them our coat, too. And if they force us to go one mile, we should just go ahead and go a second mile.
If a Roman soldier saw a Jewish man, the soldier could command him to carry his belongings for up to one mile. And by law, the Jewish man would have to do it. But most self-respecting Jewish men wouldn’t carry that burden one step more than the law required. So can you imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus said, “Go the second mile”? No doubt, they would have been shocked.
The Romans had conquered much of the known world. And one of the greatest advancements of their conquest was a vast system of roads, built to connect their conquered territories. In fact, there were more than 50,000 miles of roads stretching throughout the empire. And at each mile…EACH of those 50,000+ miles…was a stone marker. They were called “guidestones.” They served multiple purposes- they pointed direction, they determined distance and they warned of potential dangers. In addition, each stone listed the distance to Rome. All roads literally led to Rome.
Let’s be honest- nobody enjoys being forced to do somebody else’s work. We tend to complain, to argue, even refuse to comply. But here, Jesus turns that attitude on its head and tells us to not only take up the burden but to carry it twice as far as expected.
The focus here is NOT on the person wanting us to do something. The focus is on…us. We are called, by Jesus Himself, to go the extra mile. We are to display grace…radical grace….a grace that the world simply can’t wrap their collective head around. We are to give of our time. WE are to be servants. We are called to do more than is expected.
Ultimately, there are two types of people- those who will travel the second mile and those who won’t. Are you a second mile person? Or do you prefer to instead sit on the sidelines? If you find yourself comfortable with sideline sitting, think about this- you are causing other people to carry MORE that their second mile.
The first mile is what we’re supposed to do, what is expected of us. But that second mile is our choice. And the truth is that the second mile is not always a pleasant trip. But it is a LOT more palatable when we do it for God.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it- it can get pretty lonely sometimes out there on the second mile, because the second mile isn’t terribly crowded. In fact, sometimes it feels like it’s just you…and God. Like most marathons, the field may be packed at the beginning, but you often finish alone!
But we need to always remember that Jesus promises to be with us. He will go with us every step of that second mile. And that’s a good thing, because, for believers, the second mile never ends….this side of Heaven. There actually is a finish line- we just don’t know when and where it is.
When someone asks you how you’re doing on your Christian walk, respond with, “I’m on the second mile.” You’re no halfway there. You’re not three-quarters of the way there, because the second mile never ends. You’re ON the second mile. And if you ARE on the second mile, there is no turning back. Jesus commands us to, as those great theologians over at REO Speedwagon say, keep pushin’ on.
A Coast Guard crew was called out one stormy night to rescue survivors from a sinking ship. One young member of the crew was scared, “Captain, we’ll never get back! The Captain replied, “Son, our orders aren’t to come back, only to go.” Jesus says that same thing, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew- go. Be second mile people.
Now, there will be some obstacles along that second mile. There will be weekend warriors- those seated on the sidelines, refusing to participate- who will be MORE than happy to take a few pot shots at you. And there will be trained sniper fire from the devil and the forces of wickedness. And there will be things that look SO enticing as they try to lure you off the road of that second mile.
One big indicator of somebody who is walking that second mile is a willingness to seek God’s will, to listen for His voice, to be in His presence, to be transformed. We are called to carry each other’s burdens. And to not just CARRY them, but carry them longer than we’ve been asked to. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. And He calls each of us to have that same servant’s heart.
The second mile may be hard. And it may be lonely. BUT it always…ALWAYS…leads to joy. And that joy is clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is actively working in your life. And God’s joy is seeps into our very being, to the depths of our soul. True joy isn’t a by-product of life. It’s a choice that we each make. Just like going the second mile is a choice. When you serve God through others, you begin the process of emptying yourself out. And when You empty yourself out, God can begin to fill you anew- filled to overflowing.
I close with the words to a Harry Chapin song, written for the stage musical Cotton Patch Gospel and sung by Jesus and the Disciples:
“Turn It Around”
They tell you an eye for an eye. They tell you a tooth for a tooth.
Then they say, “It’s God’s way.” But I’m here to tell you the truth.
When somebody looks at you in anger and whomps you on the side of your head? Do you go whack? Do you hit ’em back? No, don’t fight ’em, invite ’em,
To whomp the other side instead.

Turn it around, turn it around. Surprise ’em a little, start shiftin’ the ground.
To get rightside-up, turn upside down. Now is the time to turn it around!

They tell you to worry ’bout yourself, before you help somebody else. “Look out for number one,” that’s what they say. But I’ve got a far better way.
When someone asks you for a ride to the bus-stop, I say “Well, don’t let ’em down.” Take ’em with a smile, go the extra mile. Don’t drop ’em at the bus stop. Drive ’em all the way to town!

Turn it around, turn it around. Surprise ’em a little, start shiftin’ the ground.
To get rightside-up, turn upside down Now is the time to turn it around!

They tell you “Hold on to what you got.” They say “Possession’s nine-tenths of the law.” And when they’re talking money, that’s not funny. They’ll tell you it’s worth dying for. I say when someone steals your shirt, let ’em go, say “Take it if you please!” Don’t let ’em down, just turn it around. Say “Take my shoes, take my pants!” “Take my B.V.D.s!”

Turn it around, turn it around. Surprise ’em a little, start shiftin’ the ground.
To get rightside-up, turn upside down. Now is the time to turn it around!
Turn it around. Turn it around. Surprise ’em a little, start shiftin’ the ground.
To get rightside-up, turn upside down. Now is the time to turn it around!
Now is the time to turn it around!

“And the Youth Shall Lead Them”

youth

We had a cool thing happen Sunday night at the church I currently serve. We have a Sunday evening worship called The Point. It just started in September and, like most new worship services, is still finding its audience and its “voice”. It features a much more casual, relaxed atmosphere, current Contemporary Christian hits, a sermon that is different from the morning one and weekly Communion. Those that attend seem very committed to it.

During the EXACT same time frame every Sunday evening, the Senior High Youth Group meets. They do dinner every week and then they do…you know…what Senior High youth groups do!

But our Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries came to me a few weeks back and asked if the Senior High group could come to The Point some Sunday evening and help lead it. Seriously? Is that a trick question? I said “yes” so fast her head spun!! She also asked me if they could host a “reception” before the service, offering snacks and fellowship to the adults that attend the service. Again…“yes”!

So this past Sunday evening was the night. My family usually eats Sunday dinner at about 4:45PM, so that I can leave by 5:15PM to get over to the church and get things opened and set up. But because they were doing the “reception”, I had to leave 30 minutes earlier than normal. So we decided to just wait and eat something after church.

Good thing! The “reception” the kids offered was baked spaghetti, garlic bread, cocktail franks in BBQ sauce, drinks and desserts. That’s not a reception…that’s DINNER! And I, for one, was extremely grateful for that fact!

The kids helped set up and serve. We all ate and visited. Then we went into the next room…the sanctuary…for the service. The youth did a variety of things during the service- help lead singing, read Scripture, help run the tech booth, take the microphone around for joys and concerns, pass the offering plates and help serve Communion. And then, when we were done, they went back into the Fellowship Cafe’ where we ate and helped clean up!

I get so frustrated when I hear people complain about “these kids today”. Are there bad kids out there who do lots of awful things? You bet! But you know what? There have ALWAYS been bad kids, in every generation since there have BEEN kids, who do bad things. But there are also a LOT of really good kids out there who aren’t stealing cars, growing pot and knocking old ladies down in the crosswalk. All modesty aside, I have awesome kids. Likewise, the kids in the churches I have served…and currently serve…have been awesome.

Next time you hear someone go off on “these kids today”, tell them something good about a kid. And next time YOU start to go off, stop yourself and remind yourself that if you are willing to jump on that bandwagon, frankly…you’re part of the problem and not the solution. Idf the kids I am around on a regular basis are any indication of what’s in store for the future of this country, then I would say we are in pretty good hands!

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

Tomorrow- 6DiNTS (Difficult New Testament Stories): Give It ALL Away

The Great Poncho Triangulation

poncho

Our younger son is leaving today. Not for good…just for the week! He is going to New Orleans (Yes, the one in Louisiana!) with his High School Jazz Band. (Lucky duck! I had to wait until I was an adult with a job that TOOK me to New Orleans for a convention! Not that I’m bitter or anything!!) So you might imagine that last night was devoted to…packing!

WE did the shopping we needed to do a few days ago, so we were set in that department…or so we thought! We all got home from Sunday evening worship. I walked up to my wife and said, “I have to go to Walmart.” “Why?” “One word…” And then we both said, at the very same moment, “Poncho!”

A disposable poncho had been a strongly suggested addition to the packing list. The weather forecast includes a decent chance of rain. And the truth is that those tours don’t really stop for rain. So…poncho.

But the problem is that we had not actually purchased a poncho. We meant to. We thought about it while we were shopping. But…it just didn’t happen. So…off to Walmart! My wife and I got there and went straight to the camping section. (A logical choice!) We looked both high AND low, in EVERY nook and cranny, to NO avail! We could NOT find a disposal poncho anywhere. And then…my wife saw it. (She IS, after all, the smart one!) The empty spot where the disposable ponchos were SUPPOSED to be! Darn it! All of those families whose kids just got back from a Show Choir tour to Branson, MO and all of those parents whose 8th graders are in Washington DC and all of those parents whose kids are also going to New Orleans but actually bought their poncho ahead of time got there before us! We are in some trouble!

I suggested a farm supply store in town. “THey MIGHT have one there! But…they are probably not open at 7:50PM on a Sunday night!” We drove by…they were not! Then my wife suggested the local Dollar General. Our last best hope! I went straight to the back of the store, where “that kind of stuff” would be. As I scoured the back of the store, I heard my wife call me from the FRONT of the store. I looked up the aisle and there she stood- poncho in hand!

She had done the SMART thing and asked the store clerk if they had any. (Guys NEVER ask for directions, do we?!) The clerk told her that they were out of the 99 cent ones- all they had left was the $5 ones. We bought one. On the way to the car, my wife said, “At this point, I would have paid a LOT more than that for a poncho!”

So, the great Poncho Triangulation has been put to bed, thanks to my wife. Our son is hopping on a bus this very day and heading south. They will drive all night, sleeping on the bus. They will spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in New Orleans. And then they will drive straight through coming back, getting in about 2PM on Friday. What  GREAT summer adventure!

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

Tomorrow- “And the Youth Shall Lead Them”

Toy Box Leadership: Rubik’s Cube- Ethics

Toy Box Leadership Rubiks Cube Ethics

John and his partner were the proud co-owners of a dry cleaners. One day, John’s 9-year old son came to him and asked, “Dad, what’s ethics?” John thought for a moment and then replied, “Suppose someone comes into the dry cleaners with a business suit that they want dry cleaned. And then suppose I find a $100 bill in the jacket pocket.” The son thought about it, “Yes?” John said, “If that happens, Son, I have to ask myself a very important ethical question.” “And what question is that, Dad?” “That question is- do I share the $100 with my partner?!”
We are in the 5th week of our current Sunday morning sermon series- Toy Box Leadership, based on the book by Ron Hunter Jr. and Michael Waddell. This series is designed to focus on lessons of Christian leadership from the toys in our childhood toy boxes. The 1st week, we focused on the Slinky Dog as we considered vision. The 2nd week, we focuses on Little Green Army Men as we considered strategy. Week 3, we focused on LEGOS and considered relationships. Last week, we looked at Mr. Potato Head as we focused on communication. Today, we look at the Rubik’s Cube as we consider ethics.
Psalm 25:20-22 Guard my life. Save me. Don ‘t let me be put to shame. I go to you for safety. May my honest and good life keep me safe. I have put my hope in you. God, set Israel free from all of their troubles!
So, what is ethics? Dictionary.com says this- “a system of moral principles and rules of conduct that are recognized in respect to human actions”. Ethics are a moral framework within which we choose to live our lives. And Ethics are essential to faith development.
The 80’s. How many of you remember the 80’s? That decade was all about parachute pants, Members Only jackets, fat hair, skinny ties, Ronald Reagan, Madonna, Cabbage Patch Kids and Trivial Pursuit. And yet, with all of those things to consider, I would argue that nothing defines the decade of the 80’s quite like Rubik’s Cube.
The colorful, complex, trendy and timeless/Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974 by a 29-year old Hungarian architecture teacher by the name of Erno Rubik. Once he invented it, it took 6 years for it to break out the marketing wasteland that was the Soviet Union of the later 70’s. But once it DID break out…boy howdy! In 1982, he sold over 100 million units, making Professor Rubik the 1st self-made millionaire in a Communist block country. In fact, some historians credit the capitalistic success of Rubik’s Cube with being the beginning of the end of the USSR!
Over the past 25 years, somewhere north of a quarter of a billion…with a B…Rubik’s Cubes have been sold, making it one of the best-selling toys of all time.
The current world speed record for solving the Rubik’s Cube was just set on April 29th of this year. A young man solved it in 5.25 seconds! The world record for solving it with your feet…yes, your FEET…is 25.14 seconds. The record for solving it one-handed is 8.75 seconds.
The record for solving it blindfolded is 21.17 seconds. Blindfolded. How do you even DO that?! The record for the most cubes solved in 1 hour is 254.
So why are we talking about ethics as we consider the Rubik’s Cube? Because solving the Rubik’s Cube is all about making the correct turns. What does the Bible have to say about ethics?
Exodus 20:1-17- God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself idols. You shall not bow down to them and worship them. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, their wife, their manservant or anything that belongs to them.
The Sunday School teacher was discussing the 10 Commandments with a group of 5 and 6-year olds. And after explaining the Commandment that says we should honor our father and mother, she asked if there was a Commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters. Without a moment’s hesitation, one little boy raised his hand and said, “I know- thou shall not kill!”
Would you believe me if I told you that, while 97% of Americans say that the 10 Commandments are important…only 5% can name more than 3 of them?! Let’s review them: no other gods, no idols, don’t take God’s name in vain, keep the Sabbath holy, honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie and don’t want what others have.
So here’s my question- why do we have the 10 Commandments? Why do we even need them? Well, look at it this way- a game without rules would be unthinkable. It would be anarchy. Try driving with no traffic rules. Would you be willing to submit to surgery from a doctor…with no medical degree?
The 10 Commandments aren’t a rule book as much as they are a relational contract- one that is committed to love and not just doing the right thing. They are about how to act in relationship with God and with each other. They are a blueprint for a fulfilling life. The 10 Commandments are moral principles which offer us the best hope for the future. They are universal biblical truths that don’t have an expiration date.
Did you know that some people will take a Rubik’s Cube apart…and then re-assemble it solved?! Some people will peel the stickers off and simply re-apply them so that it is solved. But to solve a Rubik’s Cube correctly takes work. It takes effort. And it takes ethics. I would argue, in fact , that an ethical parallel to life is found in the solution to the Rubik’s Cube. Here are three reasons why:
1. There is an acceptable standard of what is right. Just like the fact that the Cube isn’t solved until all 6 sides have a solid color, the acceptable standards of what’s right in the world are generally obvious rules. And there are expectations that help form those standards. What’s obviously right and wrong is easy to see…in other people.! But it can be a bit…less…obvious when we look at our own lives. But that obscurity doesn’t change the basic ethical principles. The ship The Queen Mary was converted into a hotel and permanently docked at Long Beach. CA. During the restoration, they took the 3 giant smokestacks off to repaint them…and they crumbled into dust. Over the years, the metal had eroded and the many coats of paint were all that was holding the smokestacks together. They looked great on the outside but had no substance or depth on the inside. When we do things correctly, it helps create order. But when we do things wrong, it helps create chaos. Policies may change, but right and wrong don’t. We need to offer a strong sense of what’s right through the example that we set. The rules we choose to live by…AND the ones that we choose to ignore…are what establishes our character. It’s one thing to be at a loss for words. It is quite another to be at a loss of values.
2. There are no shortcuts in ethics. One of earliest ads for the Rubik’s Cube boasted that there were 43 QUINTILLION possible moves…but only ONE solution. But despite that staggeringly high number, the truth is that ANY Rubik’s Cube can be solved in a maximum of 27 moves- IF you know the right moves to make because there are NO shortcuts. There are only right and wrong moves. And we see constant examples of that fact- unethical people or organizations who have, as their main goal, trying to figure out how many corners they can cut and how many rules they can break. Think about Enron vs. Johnson and Johnson. The stuff hit the fan at Enron in 2001 because they tried to cut corners and “cook the books”. As the trouble grew, their efforts to hide it grew as well. On the other side of the fence, you have Johnson and Johnson. In 1982, someone tampered with 8 bottles of Tylenol, causing the deaths of 7 people. 8 bottles. And how did Johnson and Johnson respond? They pulled 31 million bottles off the shelves. 31 MILLION. Enron imploded while Johnson and Johnson earned great trust from consumers. There are NO shortcuts.
3. Every move affects the whole cube. People who are good at solving Rubik’s Cube know that when they move one side, it affects EVERY side. Likewise, decisions that we make and actions that we take are like ripples on a pond- they continue to spread out, impacting everything in their wake. We don’t just wake up one morning and suddenly decide to be unethical- it’s a slow and steady progression. We justify an unethical decision and when we do- it makes the next one that much easier.
A businessman known for his ruthlessness once said to Mark Twain, “Before die, I want to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Once I get there, I want to climb Mt. Sinai and read the 10 Commandments!” Twain replied, “I have a better idea- why don’t you just stay here…and keep them!” Who here has broken at least one of the 10 Commandments? If you DIDN’T raise your hand…you just broke a Commandment- thou shalt not lie!
I will admit that I have issues with authority. The truth is that we tend to resist rules and regulations. We don’t really want to hear ‘thou shalt nots’. But let me assure you that God is not some cosmic buzzkill, out to spoil our fun. When God says. “Thou shalt not”, it’s because He knows that the particular behavior we are considering is destructive and will eventually bring us misery. Teddy Roosevelt owned a ranch. One day, his hired hand was branding cattle when a few head of the neighbor’s cattle crossed over onto Teddy’s land. Technically the steer now belonged to Roosevelt as it was on his land. The hired hand was preparing to put the Roosevelt brand on the neighbor’s cattle when Roosevelt stopped him. “It’s OK, Boss. No one will ever know.” Roosevelt immediately fired the man, saying, ”Someone who will steal FOR me will also steal FROM me!”
The 1st 4 commandments- no other gods, no idols, don’t take God’s name in vain and keep Sabbath- are about our relationship with God. The last 6 Commandments- honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie and don’t want what others have- are about our relationship with each other. So if you boil it ALL down- you get Jesus’ Reader’s Digest version of the New Testament. 4 simple words: love God, love others. That’s it-
it’s really pretty simple. It’s not EASY…but it’s simple. It was Will Rogers who said “The minute something is long and complicated, it confuses people. Whoever wrote the 10 Commandments made them short. They may not always be kept, but they are always understood!”
The Gettysburg Address is 286 words. The Declaration of Independence is 1,300 words. The United States Government’s regulations on cabbage sales…is 26, 911 words! The 10 Commandments are only 179 words. And yet, in those few words are all the ethical guidelines we need…and understanding them isn’t rocket science! They are succinct, elegant and simple. They don’t dance around the issues but instead get right to the point. And they don’t require a
.lot of interpretation They mean what they mean- the difficulty is NOT in the interpretation but in the application.
Imagine for a minute what would happen if everybody decided to actually live 10 Commandments. What would this country be like? What would happen? The crime rate would plummet and violence cease to exist. The prisons would be empty. Hate, racism and terrorism would be obliterated. You’d be able to/walk down any street in the country without fear. There would be a mighty revival. Churches would again be lighthouses on the hillsides, showing the way for all.
But instead, we’ve kicked God out of the schools and the government. It’s no wonder so many homes have no room for God. It was Ronald Reagan who said, “I have wondered at times what the 10 Commandments would have looked like if Moses had to run them past Congress.” In 1980, the Supreme Court deemed it unlawful to post the 10 Commandments on the wall of a public school. The Court said, “If posting copies the 10 Commandments have any effect at all, it would be to induce school children to read, meditate upon and perhaps obey the Commandments.” So we can’t have the 10 Commandments on the wall at school…because somebody might actually obey them?! And we wonder why there is violence in our schools!
If we look at the 10 Commandments as abstract concepts that we can apply to our lives in order to be better citizens then we run the danger of making them cold and lifeless. The 10 Commandments are relational- they only make sense and have any real power when they are applied in terms of relationship. Imagine if everybody decided to obey the command to remember the Sabbath- every church would have to have a building program. Imagine-
we would live differently. We would look at life differently. We would act differently. We would become powerful living testimonies!
In the movie Night at the Museum 2/Battle For the Smithsonian, Ben Stiller plays the main character- Larry Daley. In one scene, Larry is negotiating with the newly brought back to life Pharaoh Kahmunrah, played by Hank Azzaria, over a sacred tablet. Larry says, “Release my friends!” Kahmunrah replies, “After you give the tablet to me!” Suddenly and unexpectedly, Larry…does give it back! Kahmunrah says, “Wise decision, Mr. Larry Daley of Daley Devices.” But as the Pharaoh turned to leave, Larry says, “You probably don’t want the cube…do you?” Kahmunrah asks, “What…cube?” “You know, the Cube of Rubik. Your brother, Ahkmenrah, didn’t want to mess with it either. He wanted to play it safe. But you looked like a ‘next level’ kind of guy, so I just thought…never mind.” Kahmunrah asks, “What is this Cube of Rubik?” Larry says, “You know- the cube that can turn your enemies into dust!” The Pharaoh beams,
“Give me this Cube of Rubik!” Like the Cube, we have many possibly moves before us each day- but there is only one right turn. Remember the principle of the Cube- every turn affects the whole Cube.
Romans 6:1-4 What should we say then? Should we keep on sinning so that God’s grace can increase? Not at all! As far as sin is concerned, we are dead. So how can we keep on sinning? All of us were baptized into Christ Jesus. Don ‘t you know that we were baptized into his death? By being baptized, we were buried with Christ into his death. Christ has been raised from the dead by the Father’s glory. And like Christ we also can live a new life.
So as Christians, we need to make the turns that create an ethical atmosphere that positively impacts everyone around us, correctly blending truth, fairness, justice, patience, care and forgiveness to create a high…and Godly…standard of ethics.

The Magic Elevator

elevator_template

The country family heads to the city for the first time. They get to the the big, grand hotel…and it’s more amazing, more opulent than anything they have ever seen. While the mother goes to use “the powder room”, the father and his son walk, slack-jawed, through the nearly overwhelming lobby. They come to a pair of shiny golden doors. As they stand there, trying to figure out what they are looking at, an elderly woman makes her way to the doors. She reaches out and pushes a button marked “UP” that’s next to the golden doors. After a brief moment, the golden doors slide open and the elderly woman walks into the small room that is revealed. Then…the golden doors slide shut. The father and son look at each other, wondering what in the world they are witnessing. Then…it happens. A few moments later, the golden doors slide open again, and out walks a gorgeous young blonde woman. She passes the father and son, who watch her walk away. The son turns to the father and asks, “Daddy…what just happened?” The father, after a pause, says, “I’m not sure, son…but go and get your mother!!”

Have you ever given much thought to the elevator? They are really quite magical, when you think about it. You push a button, a door opens, you step into a small room, the door closes, and when it re-opens, you are in a TOTALLY different place, perhaps several stories higher…or lower…than you were when you started. And then of course there is Willie Wonka’s elevator- remember? It literally goes anywhere- up, down, sideways, whatever! It would be quite helpful to have such an elevator!
Elevators are directional- they go FROM a specific place TO a specific place. Unless you push the wrong button, you know exactly where you will end up when you start an elevator journey. It’s a shame that LIFE isn’t like that, huh? We have plans, and goals, but we really don’t know where we are headed at any given moment. (Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way- if you had said 25 years that I would be a minister…I would have laughed in your face! I’m the one who bragged about going to a United Methodist-related university and NEVER ONCE in four years stepping foot in the chapel!)
Life is simply NOT as predictable as the elevator is. We just kind of push our boat out into the stream and try and keep from sinking while we are carried along by the current. And if we don’t have a rudder…we are at the mercy of that current. I find a lot of folks don’t have a rudder. But I learned that God WANTS to be our rudder. He wants us to give our lives to Him. And when we do that, He becomes our rudder, helping us find direction in our lives. And let me assure you that direction, especially in these uncertain times, is a GREAT thing to have. I mean, God is NO elevator…but He is SO much better!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Lost Art of Leadership

Leadership-abstract-007

I have been thinking a lot lately about leadership. And the more I think about it, the more I realize the amazing leadership vacuum that seems to be happening in this country. At EVERY level of leadership, in EVERY conceivable setting and scenario, there seems to be a crucial shortage of good leaders.

Now, you may be saying, “I don’t know what HE’S talking about…my boss/preacher/congressman/whoever is a GREAT leader! What does HE know?” (And the answer would be…NOT much!) But to clarify, notice I didn’t say “absence of leadership”…I said “crucial shortage”. If you are still having trouble seeing it, look at it this way. Consider your workplace. Consider your kid’s school district. Consider your church, both locally and beyond. Consider the stores and restaurants you frequent. Consider the companies you do business with. If your experience is like mine, then good customer service is the exception…NOT the rule. For my wife and I, when we receive GOOD customer service, it stands out SO much that we almost always find the manager on duty and tell them…and sadly…we don’t have to do that very often.
Now, don’t perceive this as a veiled critique of my kid’s school or the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church. Not the case. My kid’s school is run by very competent, able folks who care about my kid…and all the other ones there. And my bishop is a great leader and motivator. I consider myself fortunate. But across the board, good leaders seem to be a hard to come by as lukewarm Cubs fans! You might be asking yourself, “So what? My life is OK like it is…why would I care if other people are good leaders or not?” Here’s my answer. Basically everything I learned about leadership I learned from someone who led ME- a boss, a teacher, a minister…whatever. They were good, solid folks who were good solid leaders, and they passed their wisdom on to me. However, if all we have (or if the majority of what we have) is poor leaders, then what kind of role models do we have to follow? What kind of leaders are being produced? What impact does this all have on our kids…and their kids?
The Bible says, “Where there is no leadership the people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) Think about that- without leadership…the people fall. Seems like there’s a WHOLE lot of falling going on right now. BUT…an abundance of counselors provide safety. And in that statement, I hear the inherent “QUALITY counselors”. So what then are we to say about these things? It seems to me, the approach is two-fold: 1. identify and praise the good leaders, and 2. put those good leaders into some kind of mentoring/training program so that they can replicate their good leadership traits in other emerging leaders. It would take intentionality and planning, as well as a willingness on the part of those leaders, but it would pay off with massive dividends. New leaders would be molded in such a way that they would lead with integrity, courage, intelligence and vision. (Doesn’t sound like too many of the leaders I currently know…how about you?) Imagine the impact that would have on our families, our communities, our nation, our world. Godly leaders committed to leading with integrity could/would literally change the world!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day!! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Annual Conference Update

Today’s post will be brief- I am writing it on Wednesday evening, between dinner and the evening session. Here is what today has been-

Arrived in Peoria about 12:15pm yesterday. 

Checked in at the Convention Center

Said “hi” to some people.

Got my hand-held electronic voting device.

Went to the afternoon clergy session, which started at 1pm.

Over the next nearly 4 hours, we A. met the candidates who are differnt stages of ministry and need to be “voted”, B. Voted on those folks, C. Voted on some other “business” they needs to be addressed every year and D. Elected delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences, as well as 3 alternates…in case the one who wears the crown is unable to fulfill all of their duties! (Or something like that!)

I then went about two blocks over to the little hole in the wall bar and grill I mentioned yesterday- Hoops. And yes- they STILL have the best ham and pineapple calzones on the planet!

The evening session, which starts at 7pm, will include a worship service with Communion, a few hours of “business” and Roll Call- a very important feature as it cements the fact that you were actually here! (And gust me- that is something you want to cement!)

I’ll be honest- I am NOT. A fan of sitting. My ADHD REALLY struggles with that! But it IS nice to see people is hardly ever see, so….!