The Consultation

consult_3

In the United Methodist Church, there is a structure. The structure begins, and is built upon, the local church. A group of local churches (I THINK the average number for us is 50-70 churches…maybe!) make up a District. A group of Districts (in our case that number is 10…I’m sure!) make up a Conference. (Ours is the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.) A group of Conferences make up a Jurisdiction and a group of Jurisdictions make up…the denomination! Each Conference is shepherded by a Bishop. All of the Bishops together make up the Council of Bishops. And while there IS a President of the Council of Bishops, there is no position akin to “Pope” in our denomination.

If you back that structure up a few steps, you get back to District. Each District has a District Superintendent- D.S. for short. They are clergy who are moved out of the local church into this position. They are “the pastor to the pastors”- responsible for all of the pastors in their District. All of the D.S.’s together, along with a few other folks and the Bishop, make up The Cabinet. One of the many things The Cabinet is responsible for is which pastor serves which church. And with somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 pastors and 900 churches, that must be a daunting task!

Part of the process for the D.S.’s is to meet yearly with each of the pastors in their District. We refer to that as…The Consultation. In anticipation of…The Consultation…the pastor fills out a multi-page self-evaluation. It asks very specific questions about things like your leadership and your spiritual life. It also asks why you should or shouldn’t be moved from the church you currently serve. The very last thing before you sign asks specifically if you are requesting to be moved or to stay. In the end, how you respond to that question is one of MANY things they take into account when “appointment season” comes around.

My annual Consultation was yesterday. My current D.S. is an old friend. We served in the same District, and in some of the same ministries, when I first started. He is truly one of the finest pulpit preachers I have ever seen. And now he is the closest thing I have to…a boss! (Actually, and the end of the day, every clergy member answers to the Bishop and, above him or her…God!)

His office is in a community that is about 45 minutes away from where I live. So about 9:30 yesterday morning, I got in the car and took off, arriving at his office about 5 minutes prior to my appointment. (I got stopped by both a train AND road construction!) He was ready for me so I went right in!

We spent the next hour having a great conversation. We talked about what great leadership there is among the laity of the church I currently serve. We talked about how much the church has grown. (Our average weekly attendance is up a full 15% over this point last year while our Christian Education average weekly attendance is up 25%!) We talked about where the church IS and where we are GOING. And we talked about the fact that I have NO desire to move to a new church. (Did I mention NO desire?!)

Statistics are clear that the ONE thing growing churches have in common, across the board, is longer clergy tenures. And it makes sense. It takes some time for a pastor and a congregation to figure each other out. It’s not uncommon that it is 2-3 years before the relationship is such that they can really start working together in tangible ways to help facilitate growth.

Does a longer tenure guarantee a growing church? Nope. Does a short tenure guarantee a church can’t grow? Nope. But to provide the best opportunity for growth, put the right pastor with the right congregation…and let them do God’s stuff! And I, for one, think that’s what’s happening here!

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

Tomorrow- Lock the Door!

Country Boy/City Boy

country city

I was talking to a church member this morning and, in the context of the conversation, he mentioned hedge apples. If that term makes you scrunch your forehead and say, “Huh?” then I’m going to guess you didn’t grow up in the country!

Hedge trees are often used as “natural” fence lines and boundaries in farming country. And when cut down and shaped properly, they make GREAT fence posts- they are as hard as steel and last forever! And the “fruit” of the hedge tree is…the hedge apple! We also called them “hedge balls”. They are about the size of a softball. They’re green and ooze “milk” that is about the stickiest stuff ever!

There are lots of things…LOTS of things…about growing up in the country that are radically different from growing up “in town”. Hedge apples are just the tip of the iceberg! Every fall, we would get gunny sacks and spend hours dragging them through “empty” cornfields. (We DID have the permission of the farmer who owned the land!) The combine doesn’t get all the corn out of a field. It’s get MOST of it, but not all. And so we would drag these gunny sacks through the fields, picking up the leftover ears of corn. Once we had picked the field clean, we would haul the now-full gunny sacks back home and use the corn to help feed the horse during the winter.

Regarding trash, we had not one, not two but THREE trash cans in the kitchen. One trash can was for anything that was “food residue”- potato peels, egg shells, apple cores…whatever. That trash went down to the barn and was fed to the chickens. The second trash can was for any trash that could burn. And yes- we would burn it. (Hey- don’t judge me! It was a different time and place!) The third trash can was for…anything else. It didn’t burn and the chickens wouldn’t eat it. Those trash went into a ravine way back on the back edge of the property- to slow down the erosion that was happening. (Again- different time and place!) So I didn’t even know what a “garbage man” WAS until I got older!

We had a garden that was A. huge and B. incredibly diverse. There were few vegetables or fruits that couldn’t be found in our garden. And if we didn’t eat it fresh, we canned it or froze it and ate it all winter long. We didn’t buy fruit or vegetables- we picked them. We didn’t buy egs- we gathered them. For a long time, we didn’t buy things like potato chips…because my mom thought they were evil!

We put a snow fence up in the yard because there was nothing to break the wind. We had to have a small tractor to mow the lawn and plow the snow. Every so often, we had to dig down to the top of the well because the pump had gone out or down to the top of the septic tank because it was full. It seemed like ANY time that digging came up…it was the dead of winter and the ground was frozen!! I spent SEVERAL summers making ALL of my money from picking up hay!

I lived out in the country from the day I was born until the day I went away to college. I have lived “in town” ever since. (For those of you keeping score at home, that would be 54 minus 18 equals 36…years!!) I am, in the grand scheme of things, a “city boy”. But I am reminded often enough that, while I am at most a “city boy”, I am still…at heart…a “country boy”! And I guess, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

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

Tomorrow- The Consultation

Healing Rain: Possession

Healing Rain Possession     A pastor and a lawyer are seated next to each other on a flight from LA to NY. The lawyer asks if he would like to play a fun game? The pastor, tired, just wants to take a nap, politely declines, and rolls over to the window to catch a few winks.
The lawyer persists and explains that the game is easy and a lot of fun. He explains, “I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me $5, and vise versa.” Again, the pastor declines and tries to get some sleep. The lawyer, now agitated, says, “Okay, if you don’t know the answer you pay me $5, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500.” This catches the pastor’s attention and, figuring there will be no end to this torment unless he plays, agrees to the game. The lawyer asks the first question. “What’s the distance from the earth to the moon?” The pastor doesn’t say a word, reaches into his wallet, pulls out a $5 bill and hands it to the lawyer. “Okay”, says the lawyer, “your turn.” The pastor asks the lawyer, “What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four legs?”
The lawyer, puzzled, takes out his laptop computer and searches all his references, but…no answer. Frustrated, he sends e-mails to all his friends and coworkers, but to no avail. After an hour, he finally wakes the preacher up, and hands him $500. The pastor says, “Thank you”, and turns back to get some more sleep. The lawyer, who is more than a little miffed, wakes the pastor and asks, “Well, what’s the answer?”
Without a word, the pastor reaches into his wallet, hands the lawyer $5, and goes back to sleep.
Tonight, we continue our current 5-week sermon series (that will take us 6 weeks to complete, due to Vacation Bible School!) called Healing Rain. There are LOTS of examples of healing in the Bible, but what does the word “healing” REALLY mean? This series looks at 5 different types of healing as found in the Gospels and how they can impact our lives. Each week will feature a time of opening up the altar for prayer and healing.
The first week, we started with one of the most common forms of healing found in the Gospels- healing from illness or disease. Week two, we look at being unable to move- healing from immobility. Last week, we turned to a lack of vision- literally and figuratively- as we talked about healing from blindness. Tonight, we near the end of this series as we step deeper into the realm of healing and look at (Click)
healing from possession.
Matthew 17:14-21 At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, “Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him.” Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here.” He ordered the afflicting demon out– and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well. When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?” “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”
In all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), this particular healing is placed immediately after Jesus and the “Big 3”- Peter, John and James- come down from the mountains after the Transfiguration. Most Bible scholars think the Gospel of Mark was the first one written and that Matthew and Luke both used it as one of their main sources. But Matthew’s version of this healing story is much shorter than Mark’s, leading some to think that Matthew used a different source for this story.
But regardless of where Matthew got this story, we have an interesting dichotomy. We have JUST left the glory and the wonder of the Transfiguration. Peter, John and James have just seen Jesus changed…right before their very eyes- whatever “very eyes” are! They have seen two of the heaviest hitters of the Old Testament- Moses and Elijah…the Law and the Prophets. It simply couldn’t get a whole lot better than that! And then…here we are…immediately…back down “on the plain”. And the shine is already off the apple! The rest of the disciples are so jaded that they can do…NOTHING for the son in this story. Nothing.
Jesus and the 3 disciples come down the off the mountain and there is a crowd waiting. As they draw near to the crowd, a man breaks free from the group, comes to Jesus and drops to his knees before Him. When someone drops to their knees before Jesus, it is usually in worship. But interestingly, the Greek word used here doesn’t translate that way. Instead, it suggests humbleness and a sense of request. He came to Jesus not to worship Him but because he needed something- healing. Not for him, but for his son.
The version of this story found in the Gospel of Mark uses the word seleniazomai (sel-ay-nee-ad‘-zom-ahee), which literally means “is an epileptic”, to describe the son. But unlike epilepsy as we understand it, here the word is associated with demon possession. The son has seizures. He falls into the fire and the river. This is serious stuff.
The dad had obviously already tried to get help from the 9 disciples who were left behind- he drew the big goose egg from them. Sadly, the disciples’ failures are a recurring theme. Ultimately, it’s a reminder that their power to heal, to perform miracles, wasn’t their own but was entirely dependent upon their walk with Jesus.
And you have to just LOVE Jesus’ response to the situation. “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this?” This is pure frustration. And this is arguably the most HUMAN Jesus gets in the Gospels. “You have GOT to be kidding me?! Good golly- I am just climbing the sheer rock face of Stupid Mountain here, aren’t I!” The disciples’ continuing unbelief is actually painful to Him.
I picture Jesus shaking His head, taking a big, deep cleansing breathe and then saying, “Bring the boy here.” Have you ever tried to teach someone to do something and they just couldn’t get it? Finally, you wave your arm in frustration and say, “Move! I’ll just do it myself!” That’s kind of where Jesus was- “Bring the boy here. I got this. If you want something done right, do it Yourself!” He orders the demon out…and it is done. Period. Easy, peasy, one, two, threesy!
Notice what the disciples did the SECOND they get Jesus alone. “How come WE couldn’t do that?” Again, I picture Jesus shaking His head as He says, “Because you’re still not taking God seriously.” And then, to add insult to injury, He goes on, “The simple truth is that if you had the tiniest kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you could tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would. There’s nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle…IF you truly believed.”
Notice this- Jesus ISN’T talking about the SIZE of their faith. Instead, He’s talking about the poverty of their faith. Little faith can still be effective. Poor faith, on quite the other hand, is ineffective. The disciples HAD faith: they honestly thought they would be able to exorcise the demon. They had done it before and now they are surprised by their failure. But at this point in the story, their faith is poor. We don’t need giant faith- we just need TRUE faith- faith that expects God will work.

The Bus is Dead! Long Live the Bus!

viking funeral    In 2009, a full three years before I arrived at the church I currently serve, they bought a bus. Now, before you start picturing The ubiquitous “old school bus painted to look like a patchwork quilt on acid” Partridge family-esque bus…uh uh! They bought a 15-passenger bus with a wheelchair lift and the ability to lock down up to 5 wheelchairs. If you have seen the “shuttles” that hospitals and hotels often have…you’re in the right neck of the woods!

The bus was a used model- complete with a decent amount of both miles and years. They got a pretty good deal on it. The idea was to use it for about 3 years- to see if it was a viable ministry for this church.Two things have proven true since then- the bus lasted longer than the three years and it has proven to be a GREAT ministry!

The church has been working on a Capital Campaign. (If you are not a regular “church person”, that means “trying to raise somewhere between a decent amount and a LOT of money for…whatever”!) And that still-being-designed Capital Campaign has had a new bus as a “core” piece of the greater puzzle. But we are simply not ready to roll that Capital Campaign out.

However, the bus had other thoughts! A couple of weeks ago, the bus wa taken in for its annual inspection. It…failed. The years of being on the road in the Midwest have taken their toll. The rust issues have become so substantial that the guy doing the inspection simply couldn’t renew the sticker.

So we suddenly found ourselves in need of a new bus. And that has caused us to scramble to institute a short-term, all-cash campaign, designed to raise every penny we need to purchase a new bus. We are now a grand, whopping total of 8 days into the campaign and have raised a substantial percentage of the total already.

When will we make our goal? I don’t know? WILL we make our goal? You bet! Will we make sure that the folks who depend on the bus will still have a way…some way…to get to church? Yep! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that this church didn’t even flinch at the thought of buying a bus. There wasn’t a long, drawn-out discussion…argument…over whether we could afford it or if it was worthwhile. Instead, the overarching theme has been, “How can we make this work?”

So, the old bus is dead. (My  younger son suggested a Viking funeral as a fundraiser. We drive the old bus to the Mississippi River, load it on a barge, set it on fire, push it out into the current and sell tickets to watch! I don’t think the church trustees will buy into that approach!) The new bus is in the works. So, in a “replacing the expired monarch in medieval England” sort of way- the bus is dead…long live the bus!

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: Possession

The Safety Fair!

SAFETY FAIR  (RED SIREN)

There is a banner that hangs in the sanctuary of the church I currently serve. It says, “We exist to connect people with Jesus Christ”. Simple. Easy. Direct. To the point. It is our Mission Statement. It is the litmus test by which we measure everything we do at the church. Everything.

What that means is that not everything that is proposed at the church…happens. Why? Because there are LOTS of really good things that we COULD do, but not all of them connect people to Jesus Christ. And if we do things that don’t connect people to Jesus Christ, then we are simply a social club or organization. And while there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with those groups- that is not what the church is called to be.

This past Saturday, we had an opportunity to roll out an new event. We called it…The Safety Fair. It was from 10:30AM-1:30PM. It was at the church- outside the church, to be exact. We got a permit from the city to close the street. We had an ambulance with 2 EMTs. We had a Hook and Ladder-type fire truck, complete with a fireman who also happens to be a church member. We had two County Sheriff’s Deputies, who were- among other things- offering fingerprinting for kids. We had the County Search and Rescue Team- again with church members representing the group. We had the County Health Department offering blood pressure checks. We had people grilling burgers and hot dogs, making baked beans and other “sides” and offering a FREE lunch to anybody who wanted to eat. And as kids went from station to station, they got a card punch. When the card was full, they got a prize. AND…there were “door prizes”. And the cost of the event? Like the lunch- FREE!

It was decided that, this first year, we would focus on the kids who are connected to our church. Anybody else who wanted to come was MORE than welcome, but our “target market” was our folks. It was an attempt to not reach too far too fast. So a WHOLE lot of planning and preparation went into the day. And then..it was here!

It threatened rain for the first 2 hours…but it never did. Then, the last hour, the sun came out

and the humidity, which was already high, took off! All i all, however the weather was not bad at all for late July in Illinois.

The attendance at the event was rather light. there weren’t a ton of kids. BUT…the kids who came had a great time and experienced the love of Jesus! I think the adults who made the event happen felt like they were doing God’s work, as well. We also had the opportunity, through this event, to connect with a family who hasn’t been to the church yet. They were very interested in what we had to offer and I hope to see them walking in the building soon!

I heard someone lament the fact that “the event wasn’t a success” because not a lot of people came. And if you read this space regularly and/or have had me as your pastor, you know that I am more than a bit of a :numbers” guy. But the truth of the matter is that not everything can be measured simply by how many people came. This event brought SEVERAL adults together, united in an effort to connect people to Jesus Christ. It brought a decent amount of kids to the church to experience the love of Christ as shown by those adults. Was this event a success? You bet! I can’t wait for the 2nd Annual Safety Fair!

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

Tomorrow- The Bus Is Dead- Long Live the Bus!

How Do I Pray? The Prayer of Worship

How Do I Pray Prayer of Worship

There were two men shipwrecked on this island. Immediately, one of them started screaming and yelling. “We’re going to die! We’re going to die! There’s no food! No water! We’re going to die!” The second man simply propped himself up against a palm tree and acted as if there was nothing wrong. It drove the first man crazy. “Don’t you understand?!” We’re going to die!!” the first man said. The second man said, “No, YOU don’t understand. I make $100,000 a week.” The first man was dumbfounded, “What difference does THAT make? We’re on an island with no food and no water! We’re going to die!!!” The second man answered, “You’re not getting the big picture. I make $100,000 a week….AND I tithe. My pastor WILL find me!”
Psalm 95:1-3 Come, let’s shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock Who saved us! Let’s march into His presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns! And why? Because God is the best, High King over all the gods.
This morning, we continue our current sermon series- How Do I Pray? Each week, we focus on either a particular type of prayer of aspect of prayer. Week One, we looked at The Prayer of Faith. Week two, we focused on the great power of The Prayer of Agreement- also known as Corporate Prayer. Week three, we considered another important aspect of prayer as we talked about The Prayer of Request. Last week, we continued by looking at an important part of our faith journey as we considered The Prayer of Thanksgiving. Today, we near the end of this journey as we look at The Prayer of Worship.
Oxymorons are fascinating things. Dictionary.com says oxymoron means “a figure of speech which produces a seemingly self-contradictory effect”. It’s a phrase that seems to say two opposing things at the same time. In fact, the word itself is contradictory. It comes from two Latin words- “oxus” which means sharp and “moros” which means dull.      Here are some examples:
Jumbo shrimp
Sorta pregnant
Awful good
original copy
noticeably absent
alone together
bitter sweet
crash landing
pretty ugly
working vacation
Kinda dead
Freezer burn
Plastic silverware
devout atheist
congressional ethics
I want to offer up another phrase that you may or may not agree is oxymoronic- boring worship. A little boy asked his mom if she could remember the highest number she ever counted to. His mom thought about it but admitted that she didn’t really know. She said, “Why? Do YOU know?” He said, “I sure do- 5,372.” His mom was a bit puzzled and asked him why in the world he stopped at that particular number. The boy shrugged and responded, “Well…church was over.”
     Romans 12:1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
If you ask a 100 people why they don’t go to church, a decent amount of them will say that church is just too boring. And I must confess…I get that! I can remember when the minister had as three-point sermon…every week. I couldn’t WAIT for “thirdly and lastly”! And you find yourself looking at the bulletin, “OK, the sermon, offering, a couple of songs, a prayer…and I’m outta here!”
But I want to challenge that notion. True worship is anything but boring. The very essence of what worship is shouldn’t even give us room to be bored. Think about it- when we worship,we are coming before God- the Creator of the heavens and the earth- with praise and thanksgiving. How can we KEEP from breaking out in spirited worship?!
So what is worship? Well, to worship means to “pay homage to, to render reverence to”. It means to fall to your knees, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, and sing praise to your Creator. The word “worship” appears somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 times in the Bible. Worship is when we recognize our place before God and acknowledge His position above us.
Why should we worship? Because God saved us. Because of His greatness and His power. Because of His splendor, majesty, strength, and love. Because of what He has done for us. We worship not just because of the past or the present but also because we know what’s coming. Worship should lead us to a response. If we aren’t responding to worship, then we run the risk of it all simply becoming rote and boring.
There are 4 things that true worship should cause us to do- 4 things that are a natural outcropping of our worship.
1. Praise His name. Psalm 96 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name.” There has been singing and praising God as long as there have been people. We’re called to sing to the Lord a new song- a song of praise and worship. Why NEW songs? Well, imagine you tune into the evening news…only to find them reporting on events that happened a month ago! We so easily want to stick with reading the “old news” in our spiritual lives. WE don’t experience fresh Word from God because we’re content to live on the fumes of what once as. It was the great reformer Martin Luther who said, “Christ is now as fresh to me as if He had shed His blood but this very hour.” When we are open to new ways of encountering and experiencing God, we can’t help but break out into joyful…and new…praise and worship.
2.­ Further His kingdom. Sounds great…but how does it happen? It happens when we share His message of love and salvation- day in and day out. It happens when we tell people about the miraculous things He has done in our lives. Our message is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our method is to share that Good News daily. Our mandate is to share it with…everybody. A very talented clergy friend of mine says that we only have ONE message. That’s IT- ONE! And the ONE message is that Jesus saves. But WHAT a message! Your friends need to hear it. Your family needs to hear it. The WORLD needs to hear it!
We should want to further His kingdom because of what He’s done in our lives.
When you develop a true relationship with Jesus- one of the benefits of worship- you should want to tell people about it. When you’re full of His presence, you can’t help but want to share it. And we’re not just called to share it with our family and friends. Our Community. Our state. Even our nation. We’re called to be world-wide Christians, sharing Him with everybody.
3. Tell of His importance. As we praise His name and further His kingdom, we will automatically be drawn into telling others of His importance. Our God is not a “lower case g” god. He is THE God. Christianity is the ONLY religion that worships a living God instead of a dead idol. We all reach out to something greater than us, but Christianity is the only religion where God…reaches back.
Singers, musicians, actors, authors, athletes- we absolutely love to applaud the attributes of others. But this psalm reminds us that it is God, above all others, Who is worthy of such adoration. When we surrender ourselves to Him, we are telling the world that that He is worthy. When we surrender ourselves to Him, we want to give our whole selves, everything we are and everything we have, to Him.
4. Expect His return. Jesus came…and He is coming again. He makes that clear in the New Testament. And that fact should cause us to break out in joyful praise. Let the heavens rejoice. Let the earth be glad. , the sea will resound, the fields ­ the corn and soybeans — will be jubilant, and all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.
When the first Adam and his bride sinned, all of Creation was knocked off kilter. But when the second Adam…Jesus…returns, all of Creation will be put back in sync. In the meantime, we’re called to do two things- wait…and worship. Jesus is coming again. And that fact has obvious implications on how we praise His name, how we further His kingdom and how we tell of His importance.
Hebrews 12:28 Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander.
I have a challenge for you this morning- 3 things I’m encouraging you to do between now and Labor Day.
1. Read a Psalm every day. If you start today and end on Labor Day, you will have read 44 Psalms. There are 150, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. Just this challenge…all by itself….will increase your passion for worship.
2. Listen to at least one Christian song every day. I don’t care if it’s a classic hymn played on an organ and sung by a 100-member choir, a good ‘ol Gaither-type song, complete with banjo or a contemporary Christian song accompanied by electric guitar and drums. Makes no difference. But listen to at least one…every day.
3. Pray for 5 people for 5 minutes every day. Make it a different 5 people every day. And as you pray, look for opportunities to serve. What is God calling you to do while you pray?
We talked about oxymorons earlier. I focused on the fact that, for me, boring worship is an oxymoron. I think a related oxymoron is bored believer. If you truly embrace what being a believer is all about, it should be next to impossible to be bored. If you are praising, sharing, telling and expecting, you should also be fired up- full of expectant joy as you partner with God to carry out His kingdom work. So don’ be content with sitting on the premises when you could instead be standing on the promises!

It’s Raining Produce!

produce

Last night for dinner, I made “sliders”- ham, turkey and cheese on small “dollar rolls”. They go into a 9 X 13 and they are “bathed” in a mix of melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey and garlic. Thy are then baked for 30 minutes at 350. They are then…delicious! Along with the sliders, I served baked potatoes, fresh sweet corn on the cob and steamed swiss chard.

You might be asking, “So what, Pastor? I had pizza. Big whoop!” The great thing about last night’s dinner was that the sweet corn and the swiss chard were given to us by parishioners with big gardens and bigger hearts! The night before, dinner included au gratin zucchini. And yes…the zucchini was given to us by a parishioner. Tonight, dinner will include fresh green beans. Yep- given to us!

At the last church I served, when corn was in season, a gentleman from that church would pull up in our driveway on Saturday morning…EVERY Saturday morning…with a gunny sack full of corn, And oh MY was it good corn. The reason I even know about the swiss chard we ate last night was because of an elderly woman at that last church who would bring us some every time she picked it.

When I first started in the ministry, I had the extreme pleasure of working with a “retired” minister- we’ll call him “Ralph”. Ralph was one of the finest human beings, and Christians, I have had the privilege of knowing. When…and if…I grow up, I want to BE Ralph! He had some great stories about his years in the ministry. He used to tell me about being “pounded”. It was the order of the day, early in his ministry, to bring the new pastor a pound of something to help fill his pantry. Ergo, a “pounding”. And he told that he NEVER had as much lard in his house as he did right after a “pounding”!

Anybody who went into the ministry for the money wasn’t paying very close attention on Career Day! I mean, I could make a lot more money out in the marketplace. It’s simply not a profession that you’re going to get rich on. That is, if you measure “rich” by money. BUT- if you measure “rich” by being blessed, then you simply couldn’t choose a better profession.

Is it all kittens and moonbeams? Not even a little bit! Are there days when you feel like you just keep climbing the sheer rock face of Stupid Mountain? You bet! Do you sometimes think about how much better life might be if you chucked it all and went to work at WalMart? Uh huh! But those are the exceptions and NOT the rule.

The rule is that ministry is an awesome thing to be about. I mean, how many of you get a text from someone you “work” with, telling you that they have more sweet corn than they can handle and that, if you want to come out to their farm, you can pick all the corn you want?! I get the extreme pleasure of sharing my life with these folks. I am there when they get married. When their kids are born. When they get baptized. When they are sick. When they lose a loved one. Ministry is NOT a job- it’s a life! Now, if you’ll excuse me- I have sweet corn to pick!

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

Tomorrow- How Do I Pray: The Prayer of Worship

“Let It Die, Pastor!”

CHURCH TOMBSTONE

I once had a conversation with a parishioner about some proposed changes in the church. As you might not find surprising, they were changes that I supported. He, on the other hand…not so much! Late in the conversation, he said, and I quote, “I would rather see the church die than change!” No kidding. Those were his exact words. My response was A. not surprising in the least and B. probably not terribly helpful! I smiled and said, “Well…you’re in luck!”

I am always amazed when I find folks who are so adamantly opposed to change that they would rather see the thing they hold so dear die than have it change. I genuinely don’t have a gear for that. Now, don’t misunderstand- I get why people would not want something to change. Even people like me, who THRIVE on change, have areas of their lives that they want to stay the same. And there are LOTS of folks who struggle with any change at all. But to be SO opposed to change that the death of something is a better choice than to see it change? I don’t get it.

Think of it this way- can you name anything…ANYTHING…in your life that is the same as it was 30 years ago? 20 years ago? 10 years ago? The answer is, “No”. Oh, you might be thinking of something and saying to yourself, “This one thing, Pastor, is still the same!” But the truth is…not it’s not. If you dig a bit deeper- no it’s not. Life changes. Things change. It is simply the nature of the beast.

So, if everything ELSE changes, then why would we try SO hard to make sure the church NEVER changes? I think, for many, that is the last great bastion (No, it’s NOT a bad word! Google it!) of consistency. We wear the same clothes. We sing the same hymns. We read the same liturgies. All too often…we hear the SAME sermon! And then…we go home. Job well done. Comfort. Sameness. Recognizable. The rest of the world may change, but the church won’t.

In the end, we have to go back to my former parishioner’s comment. We have to either be willing to not only let the church change with the times but actually enable that change…or we have to be comfortable to let it die. Churches that don’t change will die. Let me say that again- churches that don’t change…will die. They may die slowly. They may hang on for a while. But let’s be honest- we all know churches that died a long time ago…but nobody has told them yet!

I’m amazed at churches that fight change- any change- and then lament the fact that their church is in decline. They seem stunned at the fact. They focus on “the glory days” when lots of people came every week. But they forget what that great theologian Billy Joel said, “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

My philosophy about change in the church is pretty simple. Change simply for the sake of change is a waste of time. If what you are doing is working and people are being reached for Jesus Christ, then you keep going to the well. But if the well is getting progressively more and more dry, then it’s time to reevaluate what you are doing. The goal isn’t to maintain the status quo at any cost. The goal is to reach more and more people for Jesus Christ. And if a church is NOT reaching people for Jesus Christ, if they aren’t willing to make the necessary changes to continue to reach out into a world that is changing every day, then they will become irrelevant at best…and dead at worst.

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

Tomorrow- It’s Raining Produce!

Beat the Skins!

drumset     I have been a drummer for 44 years. (I started 3 years BEFORE I was born!) I have played in marching bands, pep bands, concert bands, municipal bands, symphonic bands, orchestras, rock bands, Christian rock bands, paying bands…you name it, I’ve played in it. EVEN…jazz bands. The community in which I lived last started a Community Jazz Band while we lived there. I LOVE playing, and I don’t have many things that I do just fo myself, so I signed up. Although I had been reading music for 38 years AND playing the drumset for nearly that long, I had NEVER done both at the same time. You see, reading music while playing the drumset is VERY difficult- it is nearly impossible to do simple things like turn pages while both hands and both feet are busy. So I am used to listening to a song, figuring out what is required from the drummer…and doing it. I make a few notes on a lyric sheet and that’s the closest to “music” I get. But in a jazz band…they want you to actually READ the music….AND play it!
It was an interesting (and sometimes rather STEEP) learning curve. After that many years behind a drumset, I thought I had seen everything. But there are markings and notations on a jazz chart that I had never seen before. I felt like I was back in Junior High, raising my hand to ask the director (who, by the way was a really good guy who I have shoes older than!) what something meant. It was challenging. It was fun! Our first concert was almost comical- 3 local high school jazz bands and us…a bunch of old white guys interspersed with some high school kids. AND we were the last band to play- traditionally the slot that is reserved for the best group. No pressure there! I spent a bit of that morning breaking down my drumset from the church sanctuary (its usual home) and loading it into the back of the van. Then, after a drive to Bloomington to pick up my older son for a weekend home, I unloaded the drums at the local high school (we got the “old gym”, because NOTHING happened in the “new gym” except basketball…just like NOTHING happened on the football field except football!) The concert started at 7PM. We had our jeans and our long-sleeved black t-shirts with the band logo on the left breast. We sat through the other bands (to show some solidarity!) and then played our set. It was a whole lot of fun! We aren’t going to be confused for Buddy Rich’s band or Maynard Ferguson’s band…but we weren’t too bad! And we did nothing but get better!
Having been a drummer this long AND having given drum lessons for years, I have an…interesting perspective on team building. Drummers are an interesting lot. Many of them seem to think that the rest of the musicians/singers who perform with them exist simply to support them. If the drums aren’t being featured every moment of every song…it’s NOT music! They have one volume- loud…and one style…LOUD! But the reality is that there are some songs that DO feature the drums. They need to be driving, loud, “in the spotlight”. But there are OTHER songs that need a quiet touch from the drummer. They need simple, soft, easy. And still other songs are best served if the drummer lays out (doesn’t play) altogether! And yet, there are many drummers who just don’t have a gear for that. And the group they are a part of suffers because of it!
We all know about teamwork- it is touted so strongly in the American workplace that it is easy to be SICK of the word. BUT…there is a reason it is so talked about. Teamwork is absolutely essential to the long-term health of ANY group- in a a band, at work, at home, at church, wherever. If you always focus on what’s in it for you, you stand little chance of ever creating something REALLY meaningful with a group. But if you recognize your role, figure out what part of the larger whole you are, great things can happen. It means that sometimes you WILL be “the star”…and sometimes you only have a “walk-on”- but ALWAYS you’ll be part of something bigger than yourself. And, at least for me, that is a great feeling. Teamwork…corny…but effective! Try it!
Thanks for stopping by today! Have a blessed day, please stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Healing Rain: Blindness

Healing Rain Blindness     The pastor was greeting folks at the door after the service. A woman said, “Pastor, that was a very good sermon.” The pastor says, “Oh, thank you! But I have to give all the credit to the Holy Spirit.” The woman gave him a look and replied, “It wasn’t THAT good!”
Tonight, we continue our current 5-week sermon series (that will take us 6 weeks to complete, due to last week’s Vacation Bible School!) called Healing Rain. There are LOTS of examples of healing in the Bible, but what does the word “healing” REALLY mean? This series looks at 5 different types of healing as found in the Gospels and how they can impact our lives. Each week will feature a time of opening up the altar for prayer and healing.
The first week, we started with one of the most common forms of healing found in the Gospels- healing from illness or disease. Week two, we look at being unable to move- healing from immobility. Tonight, we turn to a lack of vision- literally and figuratively- as we talk about healing from blindness.
Matthew 9:27-31 As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, “Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!” When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, “Do you really believe I can do this?” They said, “Why, yes, Master!” He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. “Don’t let a soul know how this happened.” But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met.
By this point in the Gospel, Jesus has raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He has a reputation as a healer. He’s a celebrity. He’s the Ancient Near Eastern equivalent of famous. And because His reputation precedes Him, these two blind men are following Him and shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”
WE read that and we think, “OK- then what?” “Son of David”- so what? But imagine it’s 30AD. This guy, Whom you have heard has done some pretty amazing stuff, is walking down the street. He’s being followed by 2 guys…2 BLIND guys…who are calling Him “Son of David”. What an odd thing to say. How do THEY know He’s from David’s lineage? How do they know anything about His heritage? And because of that, why address Him like this? The answer to that question might be important to understanding the story.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy- a record of the ancestors of Jesus. And in that genealogy, it shows that Jesus is of the house of David- his descendant. OK- go it. But that doesn’t explain how these two blind guys would know that. A. They can’t read and B. It’s not like the Gospel of Matthew was in digital form, downloadable from the Kindle store! It was still happening. They are IN the Gospel of Matthew. They couldn’t have also READ it! So why would two blind men be interested in or even know about Jesus’ lineage?
They call Him “Son of David” because that was a common title for the promised Messiah. Every Jewish believer knew that the Messiah was coming… sometime. And they also knew that the Messiah would be a “Son of David”. These two guys are submitting to Jesus’ authority. They recognize Him as the Chosen One, Who is so powerful that He has both the authority from God and the ability to heal them.
This particular miracle story is about as straightforward as they come. It serves as a guide for how to bring our healing requests before God. Notice where it starts- they are aware of His presence. They call out to Him. They obviously follow Him. And when He “gets home”, they come right in with Him. They are certainly persistent and tenacious. Following Jesus when you are blind can’t be an easy task. And they don’t just follow Him- they insinuate themselves, uninvited, into the house!
These two men have an obvious need and they bring it to Jesus. Why? Because they’ve heard about Him healing people. And once they are with Him inside the house, they have His undivided attention. The crowds that have followed are OUTSIDE and they are INSIDE! They have CLEARLY made their need known.
If you have a need, the first step is making your request known. Maybe you’re hearing this and you’re thinking to yourself, “But I’ve DONE that!” But these two guys remind us to be persistent- ask again. Their tenacity is a living example that we need to be untiring with our prayers.
Have you prayed for healing for years? Go back and cast that net again…and again. Have you struggled with illness and pain and asked God to set you free more times than you can count? Continue to be persistent. Do you feel like you’ve lost the war against temptation, even though you prayed for a victory? Continue to be persistent. Keep bringing your requests before God. Have mercy on us, Son of David!
So the guys have followed Jesus. They have pushed their way into the house. The moment of truth has come. What’s Jesus going to say? What DOES He say? “Leave me alone. Get out of the house- I’m tired!” No. He says, “Do you really believe I can do this?” As we see so many times in these miracle stories, faith is a requirement of healing. It’s an integral part of God’s miraculous plan.
And did you notice their response? It wasn’t, “Well, I THINK so!” It wasn’t, “I don’t know- CAN You?” It was, “Why, yes, Master!” They believed. Their faith was strong, resolute. And then…Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” Jesus pinpoints the men’s faith as a key part of their healing.
These guys showed up with a HUGE need- a need hat NO ONE sees to be able to do ANYTHING about. But they also came in faith. They came believing. What about you? How many of you have big needs? How many of you came tonight believing?
Remember mechanical pencils? (I, for one, remember them because I can’t STAND them. I break the lead all the time!) Do you remember the first time you ran out of lead in your mechanical pencil? It was probably during an important test.
And you probably scurried around, wasting valuable test time, trying to find another pencil. But somewhere along the way, you realized that the original mechanical pencils were designed with a cache of extra lead inside. And to dispense it, all you had to do was keep pushing the button. Faith is often like that. Although we have all of God’s power and presence available to us, we don’t draw on it when we need it.
In his book The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis talks about how we often underestimate God, “If we consider…the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
True faith isn’t easily satisfied. True faith continues to reach for the best that God has to offer. And when we are persistent in reaching for the best that God has to offer, we receive rewards for our faith.
Faith is believing what we can’t see, but the reward of faith is seeing what we believe carried out ieal time. Because of their faith, these two guys were rewarded with sight.
What is your faith reaching for tonight? Maybe you don’t have physical blindness, but maybe you are experiencing emotional blindness, relational blindness, spiritual blindness? What healing are you seeking? Whatever it is, the very same Jesus, Who gave sight to the blind, restored speech to the mute and brought life to the dead, is able to restore all the broken pieces you’ve brought with you tonight.
Helen Keller was once asked what she would most like to see if she was able to see for just three days. She said that on the first day, she would like to see those she loved- to look deeply and lovingly into the faces of people whose kindness, gentleness and companionship have made her life worth living. Toward the end of that day, she’d take a long walk in the woods to enjoy the countryside. And that night, she’d watch the lights burn at home.
The second day, she’d walk through museums to view past and present history. She’d then visit art museums to study artistic expression and examine great carvings, sculptures and paintings. That evening, she’d attend a movie, a dance, or a play.
And on the last day, she would head for the city to see its bridges, towers, and people. She’d then stand at a busy corner, merely to look at people to understand something of their lives- their smiles, joy, determination, and even suffering. At the end of the last day she would go window shopping, walk the streets, and visit all the possible neighborhoods she could.
Jesus healed two blind men in part because they were ready for the encounter. They were patient in their pursuit and persistent in their faith. They more than made up for their disability through their inspiration, understanding and insight. The biggest challenge the blind men faced WASN’T other people’s hurtfulness. It was their own sense of helplessness and hopelessness. But they had the faith to ask for the impossible. They had inspiration And they had commitment. And in the end, even though Jesus told them to tell no one, they couldn’t help themselves. They immediately went out and told everybody they could find.
Faith distinguishes those with sight from those with insight. Faith levels the playing field, separating those who can’t see from those who simply choose not to see. Faith comes from our insight, not from our sight. Our eyesight might grow dim, but committed faith can overcome poor eyesight. It can overcome old age. It can overcome physical handicap. Don’t let the absence of sight, be it physical or spiritual, keep you from God. Seeing might be believing for those without assurance, conviction, and hope. But believing is seeing for those who have faith in God.
God promises that He will never leave or fail those who trust in Him. Is your faith firmly rooted in the word of God? Is it firmly fixed on His Son? Is it persistent, patient, and purposeful?

Who Do YOU Admire?

admiration   Admiration is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Dictionary.com defines it as, “a feeling of wonder, pleasure, or approval, the act of looking on or contemplating with pleasure, an object of wonder, pleasure, or approval”. Recently, I had someone say to me, “I admire you.” They shared that it was because I have a pretty fair amount of education and a profession that they value. I thanked them…and then tried to change the subject!

I appreciate the fact that they felt compelled to share that and I greatly appreciate the thought. But I don’t think I’m anything to greatly admire. I’m just a guy, trying to do my best form my family, the church I serve and…mostly…God. I’ve made a lot of bad choices in my life. I made a lot of wrong turns. I have been FAR from perfect. And the closer I get to God, the more I want to do better today than I did yesterday.

Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we want to simply get a step or two closer to God every day? People worry SO much about how much progress they’re making on their faith walk. “I’m not getting where I want to be very fast, Pastor.” But my experience is that how far you are getting is not nearly as important as which way you’re going. Some days- we make GREAT strides forward. Other days, we make TINY strides forward. Some days, we just spin our wheels and sit in place. And yet other days, we slide a step or two backwards. But at the end of the week…month…year, what is our aggregate progress? If it’s to the positive…good job!

Who do you admire? What kind of person pops into your head when you hear the word? I personally am not terribly awed by “celebrities”. Now, don’t misunderstand- there are singers, musicians, actors and athletes that I am a big fan of. But being a musician, a singer, an actor and a former athlete myself, I am all too aware of just how…human those folks are. Sure, they are very talented at what they do. But so are LOTS of people. It’s just that THOSE people are good at things that are very high profile.

In the end, I admire people who live their lives well. They love their family. They work hard at what they do. They try to be the best human being they can be. They don’t cause problems. They try to be an asset to their community, not a liability. They’re not perfect…and they know it. They are simply striving to be a little better today than they were yesterday. THAT’S who I admire!

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- Blindness

Crawling in the Mud

mud

At the first church I served, I took the Senior High kids on a retreat every fall. We would go to a United Methodist camp in Southern Illinois, where we would rent a big cabin for the weekend. It included 4 bedrooms, each with 5 bunk beds, 2 bathrooms, each with multiple showers, a kitchen, and a rather large “great room”, complete with a big stone fireplace. We would drive down after school on Friday, and come back on Sunday afternoon. During our time there, we went hiking in a nearby state park, played games, goofed around, ate, and worshiped. It was ALWAYS a great time.

One year, when we arrived at the camp, about 7PM (after dark), we unloaded our stuff and started to get settled into the cabin when someone noticed that…the water didn’t work!! Awwww…SNAP! So, I called the emergency number available to “campers”. The guy in charge told me he would call the repairman and send him out. Well, we were inside (it was a bit nippy, being mid-November and all), we had a nice roaring fire, plenty of food, games to play…we were good…except that we couldn’t “flush and wash”! So we waited for the repairman.
He arrived about an hour later. He was…LARGE! He was EASILY 6′ 5″ and JUST as easily 350 pounds. He looked around a bit and managed to diagnose the problem. THAT was the good news. The BAD news was that the problem was a break in the water main. Now, the cabin was A. OLD, B. in the middle of the woods, and C. built on top of a crawl space. Also, the ONLY “entrance” into the crawl space was about 3′ square AND at the absolute opposite end of the building from where the water line break was! So this…ginormous…man had to crawl through this TINY opening, and THEN shimmy, on his belly, diagonally across the entire length of the building, in the mud, in the cold, in the dark, in the…Lord knows what else was under that building with him! He finally got to the problem area, inspected it…and decided he needed some parts/tools he didn’t have! SO…he shimmied all the way back out, went and got what he needed, came back, shimmied all the way back in, fixed the problem, then shimmied all the way back out. In the end, he looked much like the picture…covered in mud from head to toe. The water worked…and he was quite glad about that fact, so he could hose off a bit before he went home!
Sometimes, you have to crawl through a whole lot of…well…we’ll say CRUD…before you get to where you need to be. It’s NOT fun, it’s NOT pleasant, it’s NOT exciting…but sometimes it’s just…necessary. And SOMETIMES, you don’t just crawl through it once- you have to crawl through three or four times before you get to where you’re going.

Now, I do NOT believe that God makes us crawl through the crud. I have people say, “Well, God is testing me- He won’t give me more than I can stand!” I don’t think God works that way. I don’t think God just says one day, “Hmmm…that Rev. Mark looks bored. I think I’ll just drop a whole big steaming pile of hooey on him, just to see how he handles it.” I think sometimes things like that happen because we make poor choices. And I think that sometimes things like that happen because we live in a fallen, imperfect world and stuff just…happens. But the amazing thing is how God can use that negative situation to create an eventual positive outcome. There are SO many times I can look back on where I walked through the fires of Hell…but when I came out the other side, God had done something miraculous in me! That’s the beauty, the promise of God. So when you find yourself face-down in the mud, crawling on your belly through a God-forsaken crawlspace, remember that God is with you, and better times are coming!
Thanks for stropping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

How Do I Pray? The Prayer of Thanksgiving

How Do I Pray Prayer of Thanksgiving     After a church service on Sunday morning, a young boy suddenly announced to his mother, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a minister When I grow up.” “Really?! Well,…that’s great! But what made you decide that?” “Well,” said the little boy, “I have to go to church on Sunday anyway, so I figure I’d rather stand up and yell than sit down and listen!”
     Psalm 107:1-3 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this– those He redeemed from the hand of the foe, those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
This morning, we continue our current sermon series- How Do I Pray? Each week, we focus on either a particular type of prayer of aspect of prayer. Week One, we looked at The Prayer of Faith. The first week, we focused on the great power of The Prayer of Agreement- also known as Corporate Prayer. Last week, we considered another important aspect of prayer as we talked about The Prayer of Request. Today, we continue by looking at an important part of our faith journey as we consider The Prayer of Thanksgiving.
The Rev. Alexander Whyte was a Scottish preacher. He was known for starting all of his prayers by giving thanks. One cold, miserable Scottish day, the parishioners wondered what he would possibly say, what he could possibly find to be thankful for. He stepped into the pulpit, looked over the congregation and said, “We thank Thee, oh Lord, that it is not always like this.” Like Rev. Whyte, we should always focus on what we can find to be thankful for.
     Isaiah 12:1-2 And you will say in that day, “I thank you, God. You were angry but Your anger wasn’t forever. You withdrew Your anger and moved in and comforted me. Yes, indeed- God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God- yes God!– is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!”
One Sunday, the Sunday School teacher teacher asked her class what they were thankful for. One little 8-year old boy blurted out, “I’m thankful I wear glasses.” This struck the teacher as odd, because most boys don’t like wearing glasses, so she asked, “Why is that?” The boy answered, “Because it keeps the older boys from fighting with me…and it keeps the girls from kissing me!” What a great attitude to have- seeing things as a blessing instead of a curse. That’s what thankful people do. Thankful folks rejoice instead of complain.
When we say, “Thank you”, we’re reminding ourselves that we didn’t get all that we have by ourselves. I was raised with what I call a Bootstrap Theology. Pull yourself up. Dust yourself off. Spit on it. Rub dirt on it. Walk it off. Be tough. Boys don’t cry. Do it yourself. You don’t need anybody. I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries. But you know what? That’s a big pile of hooey! We are NOT self-made people, no matter what we might think. No one is. Instead, we are all interconnected parts of God’s creation. And it is a right and good thing to offer thanksgiving to God.
When we give thanks for what we have, ALL that we have, it forces us to realize God as the Giver of all good and perfect gifts. When we thank God for all that He has done and all that He has given to us, we focus on His grace and His power.
We often define groups of people by what they do. Today, I want to define a group of people by what they DON’T do. Here are three things that thankful people DON’T do:
1. Thankful people don’t whine and complain about everything. Instead, they intentionally find a reason to be grateful, regardless of the circumstances. Matthew Henry, one of the most well-known Bible commentators ever, was once robbed. The thieves took everything he had. He wrote, “I am thankful that during these years I have never been robbed before. Also, even though they took my money, they did not take my life. Although they took all I had, it was not much. Finally, I am grateful that it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” He had EVERY reason to complain, but instead he was still thankful.
2. Thankful people don’t hoard. Think about it- hoarding is collecting…without any interest in sharing. Pride kills thanksgiving, but a humble heart is the soil in which true thanksgiving grows and thrives. A proud person finds it hard to be thankful because they never think they get all that they deserve. But show me a generous person and I’ll show you a thankful person.
The more we insist on holding on to things the less thanksgiving we have. The more we give away the more reason we have to give thanks. We show our thanksgiving with our hearts, not with our mouths. When we share God’s riches with others, when we’re generous with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness, then we can be called thankful people.
3. Thankful people don’t forget. Our natural tendency is to be forgetful people. We tend to always look forward and never look back. Ask us what we WANT and we can spout a whole list off. But ask us what we’re thankful for and we tend to stare blankly into space. Even when they’re not feeling God’s presence very well, thankful people still remember His blessings.
It takes discipline and humbleness to be thankful in all things and at all times. Why? Because when we say, “Thank you”, what we’re actually saying is that we’re not as self-sufficient as would like to think. Giving thanks curbs our ego and brings us down to size. “Thank you” is a reminder that, while we may be capable and responsible, we’re also needy and dependent. Genuine thankfulness helps us keep things in perspective.
Charles Dickens once said that us Americans are a mixed up lot. He felt that, instead of having one Thanksgiving Day every year, we should have 364. 364 days committed to giving thanks to God. He suggested that we use that one day- Day 365- for complaining and griping. Use 364 days to thank God for the many blessings He has showered on us and one day…ONE day…to whine and moan about,,,whatever! He might just have been on to something.
In the end, it’s not life’s circumstances that determine the quality of your life. Let me say that again- it is NOT what life throws at you that determines the quality of your life. It is, instead, how you respond to it. But all too often, our thankfulness seems dependent on our circumstances.
When should we offer up the Prayer of Thanksgiving? We should offer it up first thing in the morning. Even though we grumble about getting up when the alarm goes off, Thank You God, that I am upright and breathing. We should offer up the Prayer of Thanksgiving every hour of the day. Even though it’s hectic- socks are lost, toast is burned and tempers are short, thank You God, for my family. Even though my menu is, at times, unbalanced, thank You God, for the food. Even though the routine of our jobs can sometimes be monotonous, thank You God, for the ability to work. Even though we whine and moan all too often about our day, even though we often wish our modest circumstances weren’t quite so modest, thank You God, for the gift of life.
There’s a tribe in Africa that has an unusual way of saying “thank you.” They bow, put their forehead on the ground and say, “My head is in the dirt.” Another African tribe sits for a long time in front of the hut of the person who did them a favor and literally says, “I sit on the ground before you.” A friend who is from Egypt says, “Your shoes are on my head.” Those folks understand what thankfulness is- at its core, thankfulness is an act of humbleness.
We want God’s gifts…but we don’t always want Him. We want healing but we don’t always want the Healer. We want redemption but we don’t always want the Redeemer. Humbling yourself before God in thankfulness is NOT a sign of weakness. It’s the BEST thing you can do! It’s God’s purpose for your life!
We talked about 3 “don’t’s” of thankfulness. But there are some important DO’s as well. DO give thanks instead of complain. DO be generous instead of stingy. DO focus on your blessings instead of your problems.
Martin Rinkart was a pastor in Saxony, Germany during the 30-Years War in the 1600’s. For part of that time, he was the only pastor in town. Because of that, and because of the savagery of the war, he officiated at just under 4,500 funerals…in 1637 alone. In the middle of that sad situation he wrote the words to a hymn entitled Now Thank We All Our God. It’s a hymn of unconditional thankfulness to God. The lyrics include these words:
“Now thank we all our God with heart, hands, and voices, Who wondrous things has done, in Whom His world rejoices”.
Thankfulness helps us look beyond our circumstances and see the hand of God.
Thankful people refuse to let today’s troubles blind them to yesterday’s blessings. And thankful people realize that today’s troubles will become tomorrow’s miracles. Come ye thankful people come and remember the works of God. Thankfulness is a vaccination, preventing the spread of a bad attitude. It counteracts the disastrous effects of finger pointing and grumbling.
     1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Be thankful because Jesus has touched your life and you will never be the same. He’s given you SO much. And the BEST thing that He’s given you is…Himself.
Lord, help us always remember that there are plenty of reasons why we should be thankful.

Pork Chops, Videos, Dogs and Bread!

Ministry

Ministry is an interesting creature. You NEVER know when the opportunity to do it is going to crop up and you NEVER know what form it’s going to take. Here a great example. Today is Saturday. Saturday, along with Friday, are my days off. Now, as I understand it, “day off” means “a day you don’t work”. I’m pretty sure I remember reading that somewhere. But ministry doesn’t always follow those rules!

The first thing I will do today is head next door to the church with my wife and help oversee the delivery of the rather large (and free) day-old bakery delivery we get every Saturday from an area grocery store chain. Along with our “team”, we will help unload a van full of bakery goods. We will then wheel the carts full of those baked goods into the church, onto the elevator and down to the dining room/kitchen area. There, we will sort. A Safety Fair we have next Saturday needs hamburger and hot dog buns. The United Methodist Men’s dinner on Monday needs hamburger buns. And the Fellowship Cafe’ needs any and all “dessert-type” baked goods. Once those items are pulled out and put away, the rest of the bakery delivery will either be left on the carts or returned to them and then up the elevator to the Fellowship Cafe’. On Sunday, folks in the congregation will take whatever they want and need. Then on Monday, the remaining goods will be delivered to a local facility that will put them to good use!

Then my wife will head to the local grocery store to help staff the grilled pork chop sandwich booth that one of our women’s groups is hosting. Meanwhile, I will head to a local Senior Citizen Living Center to video a few church members for a video that needs to be done before tomorrow morning- it is being featured at all 3 service tomorrow! So after I video them, I will need to get those clips into my laptop and finish the video.

THEN, my younger son and I head out to a parishioner’s home to take care of their dogs. They went on vacation for a week about 2 months ago and asked my son to feed their dogs. But since A. he doesn’t yet have a driver’s license and B. they live out of town, I went with him every day. We are MAJOR dog people at my house and it took about…oh…60 seconds for us to fall in love with their dogs! So with them out of town for the day…we were the obvious choice!

You may be asking yourself a few questions right now. For example, you may be asking, “Do you feed EVERYBODY’S pets when they’re out of town? And the answer would be…no. This is a unique situation that just…came up. Another, more important question you may be asking is, “Whose fault IS it, Pastor, that you’re working on Saturday?” And you know what? You are absolutely right!

Here’s the deal- I try hard to NOT work on Fridays and Saturdays…I really do. But things come up. And for some of the things that come up, I find it hard to tell a parishioner, who works hard all week AND volunteers at the church, that I can never do anything on Friday or Saturday “because it’s my day off”. The truth is…it’s their day off, too!

So- pork chops, videos, dogs and bread…what a day (off) of ministry!

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

Tomorrow- How Do I Pray? The Prayer of Thanksgiving

New Job- Copier Repairman!

Copy-Machine2-300x204

I have shared more than once in this space that I had a seminary professor who said, relatively often, “You will come back and tell me about all the things I didn’t teach you!” And she was absolutely correct! And if you think about it, there is NO possible way to teach someone everything they will need to know to be a pastor. It would take their entire career!

The latest thing that I didn’t learn in seminary is…copier repairman! You know how it is- your Office Administrator is running the bulletin or the newsletter (Yes, we still print a hard-copy newsletter! But more and more of our newsletters that go out every month are digital!) and suddenly…the copier comes to a screeching halt! Paper jam! She is good at diagnosing the problem and fixing it. But lately, the little bugger (the copier, NOT the Office Administrator!) has been terribly uncooperative!

On Wednesday, the bulletin was running along just fine when the ubiquitous paper jam hit. She messed with it for a bit and then I came into see if I could help. Our machine is a pretty good one. It’s not absolute top of the line, but it’s a pretty darn nice copier! And one of the things it does it “walk you through” the paper jam. The digital screen shows pictures of where to look and how to get there. Once you check that spot…and FAIL to find the jam…you push the “next” button and it shows you the NEXT place it could be. And that process just goes on and on…and on!

I have a theory about the copier. I think it KNOWS, full well, where the stinkin’ jam is all along. But rather than tell you, it has a good ‘ol time taking you down one dead end path after another! I’m serious! I think the AI (Artificial Intelligence) inside that accursed box takes evil pleasure out of my growing frustration!

I eventually found the area where the jam was. GREAT! However, you need the slender. delicate hand of a six-year old girl…with fingers longer than ET’s…to actually DO anything about it! off came the watch. Off came the bracelet. Off came the ring. I was determined to get that stupid jam! (Can’t tell I was fighting a battle against frustration…and losing…can you?!) Finally, the last nasty shred of paper came out and the copier signaled that it was good to go. Huzzah! There was GREAT joy in Mudsville!

One funny side note to that whole gut-wrenching nightmare was that a parishioner who A. lives just around the corner from the church and B. reads this blog, was there when this whole nightmare unfolded. Being a retired teacher herself, she was very sympathetic to our plight. In fact, she tried at one point to get her hand in to grab the paper! Once we finally defeated the beast and began throwing all the torn-up paper into the recycle bin, she looked at me and said, “You know what, Rev. Mark? I think I see a Stick With Jesus blog out of this whole thing!” So Mary…here you go!

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

Tomorrow- Pork Chops, Dogs and Bread!

What Is YOUR Territory?

prayer_of_jabez

I mentioned last night that, at the Vacation Bible School the church I currently serve hosted this week, I taught an adult class on The Prayer of Jabez. In case you’re not familiar with good ‘ol Jabez, here’s the deal. He appears in the 4th chapter of the Old Testament Book of 1 Chronicles…and no where else! Seriously! That 4th chapter is all about the begats. You know- So and So begat So and So, who then begat So and So…! And you have a litany of those- honestly, it’s like watching paint dry! But right in the middle of that…OK, I’ll say it…snooze-fest, you find…The Prayer of Jabez!

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain. Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

There you go- the prayer of Jabez. In the prayer, he asks God 4 things: 1. bless me, 2. enlarge my territory, 3. keep Your hand on me and. 4. keep me safe from harm. 4 things. And then…he disappears from history! That’s right, 2 verses and then never heard from again!

Any one of those four things he asked could fill LOTS of pages worth of conversation. But today, I want to look at #2- enlarge my territory. That could mean SO many things to SO many people. BUT…what does it mean to YOU? What would your territory be?

Perhaps your territory is literally the geographic area in which you live and move and have your being. Perhaps your territory is the number of people in which you come in meaningful contact. Perhaps your territory is your sphere of influence. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps. It could be ALL sorts of things. And frankly, what it IS is less important than what you DO with it.

First, you need to identify your territory. Let’s be honest- you can’t ask for something to be enlarged if you don’t even know what it is! So figure out what it is. Let’s say that it is your sphere of influence- the ability you have to positively impact people for Jesus Christ. If that’s your territory, then ask God to enlarge it. Ask Him to empower you to reach more people at a deeper level for Him.

BUT…once you do that, if you REALLY mean it, then strap in for a wild ride! The truth is that, once you give yourself over to God, once you ask Him to enlarge your territory, He will absolutely WEAR YOU OUT! He will use you in ways you never thought possible. But notice the caveat that came with that- IF you REALLY mean it. If you just half-heartedly throw it out there once or twice and then throw up your hands and wail, “Guess God doesn’t really have anything for me!”, then I can guaran-darn-tee that it won’t work. God wants commitment. He wants your best- your all. But if you do that, if you honestly, humbly and sincerely give yourself to Him, well…your life will NEVER be the same! So, what’s YOUR territory?

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

Tomorrow- New Profession- Copier Repairman

VBS Thoughts

VBS 2    Today is the LAST day of this year’s Vacation Bible School for the church I currently serve. WE used to do a five-night VBS. But in the last year or two, we went to a four-night. The rationale is simple- by the beginning of Night 5, the adults, the youth AND the kids have just about had enough Vacation Bible School for one year! And my philosophy about life in general is gleaned from my years as a performer- leave ‘em wanting more! So…tonight is the 4th- and last- night!

I am a firm believer that Vacation Bible School should be an all-church event. Now, having said that, I have NEVER fully succeeded at that goal. But I DO keep trying! It has always been seen as “something for the kids”. But it has the potential to be something…for everyone.

With that in mind, we provide dinner every night. At 5PM, we start serving. The dinners are pretty simple and pretty kid-friendly…and delicious! So far this week, we have had chili dogs, walking tacos and spaghetti! And the pervasive rumor is that tonight’s menu is…pizza boats! (Picture pizza assembled on a piece of French bread and then baked! Pretty awesome!)

After dinner, people can do one of three things. 1. They can go home. And yes, we have folks who come for dinner and go home. And you know what? I encourage that! VBS is not for everyone, but everyone has to EAT. So come, have dinner with your church family and then…go home. No problem! 2. They can stay and help with VBS. Since we arrange in advance for people to help, very few (OK- no) people come and then suddenly decide to stay and help. But LOTS of people come TO help…and they eat dinner ahead of that! 3. They can attend my adult Bible study. I want parents and other adults to have something to do if they would like to stay while their kids attend VBS. So every year, I offer a 4-night Bible study. This year, we have focused on the Prayer of Jabez Bible Study and BOY have the discussions been good! . Then, at the end of the night, the kids gather for the closing. We talk about what they’ve learned. We sing a couple of songs. And then…everybody goes home!

THis year has been a great VBS. But here’s the interesting dynamic of an event like this. I can hardly WAIT for it to start. And then, by the last day, I’m ready for it to be over! It doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. It means that it’s a lot of work and when it’s time for it to be over…it’s time for it to be over!

It is SO cool to see these kids, in the sanctuary, hands raised, singing praise and worship to God. For my money, it just doesn’t get a lot better than that! And frankly, that’s why we do it. We do it to live out our Mission Statement- “We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ”. And be assured that VBS helps connect people to Jesus Christ. So thank you to all of the adults and youth who worked SO hard to make this event such a success. Thank you to all of the folks who worked so hard to make sure we had good dinners every night. Thank you to all of the folks who attended my class. Thank you to all of the kids who came every night and had such a good time learning about God. Thank you to all of the parents and grandparents who made sure their kids and grandkids made it every night. And thank you God for showing up in such powerful ways!

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

Tomorrow- What Is YOUR Territory?

Guaranteed Dolphin Sighting

dolphins   Another Florida story. In Clearwater, there are about 7.9 BILLION boat charters along the wharf! (I MIGHT exaggerate a little…but not much!) We chose the Sea Screamer. (Google it) It is billed as “the largest speedboat in the world”. (I must confess- I would think that would be a record that most people wouldn’t try very hard to contradict…unless you have a very fast, very large boat!)

The other claim they make is “guaranteed dolphin sightings!”! As I read their literature online before going down there (I was looking for potential things for us to do!), I saw that claim and thought, “Pffft!” (It translates MUCH better with sound BUT…this is a blog, so…!) I couldn’t imagine how in the world they could make such a claim. I mean, these are wild animals out in the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico, beholden to NO one. How could you POSSIBLY guarantee THAT?! BUT…the whole thing sounded pretty good and, if you saw no dolphins you got another trip on the boat so…I bought two tickets!

The Clearwater pier area was about 45 minutes from our hotel. (That was only 21 miles…of 30 mph bumper-to-bumper!) The information we were given STRONGLY SUGGESTED (their words, their emphasis) that we plan on getting there an hour ahead of our cruise, due to traffic and parking. Let me tell you..they weren’t kidding!

The traffic was substantial and the parking was…weird! ut once we FINALLY got to where we needed to be and FINALLY figured out the parking (don’t ask!), we made our way to the “storefront” for the Sea Screamer. After checking in, we had a bit of time to kill, so we walked around. Then it was time for “guaranteed dolphin sightings”!

After a brief “tour” of celebrity homes along the water (Who knew that John Travolta donated his multi-million dollar waterfront home to the Scientology folks? I mean, other than our tour guide?), we headed out into the Gulf. As we did, we were told to watch for dolphins and to “point and shout” if we saw them. Really? Who’s running this show? But, when in Rome… So, we began to look for dolphins. Suddenly, sure enough, several fins sticking out of the water. We all pointed and shouted, like we were told. The pilot slowed the boat, did some odd and interesting maneuvering, and then stopped. Then…he started back up. And as the boat picked up speed, the magic started to happen! The dolphins, as it all turns out, like to play in the wake created by the boat. And BOY did they play! I got SEVERAL pictures of dolphins, completely out of the water! And then…it was over. And after it was all done, we headed back to shore.

I never cease to be amazed at God’s creation. That may have been my one shot at “guaranteed dolphin sighting”, but I get “guaranteed God sighting” very day! Don’t believe me? Look around! The trees. The birds. The flowers. The stars. The sounds. All of it- God’s creation. And I am blown away regularly by the beauty and the wonder. Take some time today- watch for the “guaranteed God sighting”!

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

Tomorrow- VBS Update

“All the Time in the World”

time-clock-face

“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” William Shakespeare

“Lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Albert Einstein

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” William Penn

“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” Steve Jobs

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss

Time is an interesting thing. Green Day hopes you’ve had the time of your life. The Rolling Stones think that time is on their side. The Zombies think that it’s the time of the season. Jim Croce wants to save time in a bottle. Alan Parsons thinks time keeps flowing like a river to the sea.

However you look at it, time is precious. No matter what you do with it, there are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a week. And e all have the exact same amount of time. It all depends on what we do with it.

I recently wrote about my wife and me getting back from several days in Clearwater, Florida. One of the things that really struck us while we were gone was the notion that we had…all…the…time…in…the…world. I actually said those words several times while we were gone. “Would you mind if we waited a bit to go to dinner?” “Of course not- we have all the time in the world.” “Do you want to just drive around for a while?” “Of course- we have all the time in the world.” We slept in. We ate late. We took a LONG time at meals. We stood on the beach and watched the sunset. We took time.

It reminded me just how precious time is. We are a busy family- as most families are these days. We are often going several different directions at once. And being a workaholic in a demanding profession, I am pretty much ALWAYS working on something or getting ready to go to the next thing.

Now, don’t misunderstand here- I am not leading up to or implying that I am suddenly going to be able to turn it all over and spend all my time smelling the roses. There are days when I would LIKE to…but it’s not realistic. A. I need to put food on the table. B. I love what I do and it’s a huge part of who I am. And C. I would not be true to God’s call on my life if I did that.

What I AM saying is that things like this- stepping out of life for a bit- are good things. They give us a perspective that is often missing. The key is what we DO with those brief sparks of new perspective when they happen. Do we simply acknowledge them and move on…OR…do we let them change who we are- even it’s just a little bit? Those little “life lessons” should help shape us. They are “God winks”, sent to move us toward the people that God wants us to become. How’s that process going for you?!

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

Tomorrow- Guaranteed Dolphins!

How Do I Pray? The Pray of Request

How Do I Pray Prayer of Request     A retired minister needed a new lawn mower. He saw a sign advertising one for sale so he stopped- a boy came out to greet him. The mower was already running, so the minister tried it, just to make sure it worked. Satisfied, he paid the kid $25. Later that day, the boy was out riding his bike when he saw the minister trying to start the mower. The minister pulled and pulled. Finally, the kid asked, “What’s wrong?” The minister replied, “I can’t get this mower you sold me started. Do you know what I’m doing wrong?” The kid said, “Yep.” The minister said, “Well? Are you going to tell me?!” The kid smiled, “You have to cuss at it.” The minister stopped immediately. “Now you listen here, young man. I’m a minister and if I ever DID cuss…not saying I did…I’ve LONG since forgotten how!” With a wry smile, the kid replied, “Preacher, you just keep on pulling that rope…it’ll come back to ya!”
Daniel 9:16-17 O Lord, in keeping with all Your righteous acts, turn away Your anger and Your wrath from Jerusalem, Your city, Your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and Your people an object of scorn to all those around us. “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of Your servant. For Your sake, O Lord, look with favor on Your desolate sanctuary.
This morning, we continue our current sermon series- How Do I Pray? Each week, we focus on either a particular type of prayer of aspect of prayer. Week One, we looked at The Prayer of Faith. Last week, we focused on the great power of The Prayer of Agreement- also known as Corporate Prayer. Today, we consider another important aspect of prayer as we talk about The Prayer of Request, also known as The Prayer of Supplication.
So, supplication. Another one of those fancy seminary words that nobody actually uses in everyday speech. So, what does it mean? Well, dictionary.com (you KNEW that was coming!) says this- “an act or instance of supplicating”. Ah! Thank you! Clear as mud! I thought you weren’t supposed to use THE WORD in the definition of…the word?! But wait- there’s more! “Humble prayer, entreaty, or petition.” OK- the word”supplicate” isn’t in there…but it still doesn’t really help all that much. Let’s see- entreaty: “earnest request”. And petition? “A request made for something desired, especially a respectful or humble request, as to a superior or to one in authority.” OK, now THAT we can work with!
So when we’re talking about a Prayer of Supplication, we’re talking about asking something, in a respectful, humble manner, of the One Who is in authority…God. With that as a backdrop, let’s look at today’s main Scripture.
Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
After a long illness, a woman died and arrived at the Gates of Heaven. While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the Gates. “This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?” “You have to spell a word,” Saint Peter told her. “What’s the word?”, the woman asked. “Love.” “The woman, of course, correctly spelled “Love” and Saint Peter welcomed her into Heaven. About two years later, Saint Peter asked her to watch the Gates for him the day. About an hour later, her husband arrived. “I’m surprised to see you,” the woman said. “How have you been?” “Oh, I’ve been doing pretty well since you died,” her husband told her. “I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you. And then I won the lottery! I sold that dinky house you and I lived in and bought a big mansion. My wife and I have traveled all around the world. I went water skiing today, fell, the ski hit my head, and…here I am. So, how do I get in?” “You have to spell a word.” “What’s the word?”, her husband asked. “Czechoslovakia.”
So according to today’s Scripture, we’re supposed to take our requests to God. Always. In everything we do. And because that should be our go-to response, we shouldn’t be anxious about anything. AND, if we do all that, we’ll have a peace that passes all understanding. Wow! That sounds amazing. And it IS…when we actually do it! But that’s the hard part, isn’t it?
So why is it SO hard to come to God with everything we have and everything we are and humbly and respectfully ask for what we want? I think part of the problem is exactly that- what we want. I mean, I want a fancy car. I want a vacation home on the Gulf Coast of Florida AND one in the Rockie Mountains. I want to be 6’4” and still be able to play baseball. Those are just SOME of my requests. And yet…they don’t happen. Why? Well, I think it’s hard to come to God humbly and respectfully when I’m asking for cars and houses. I HAVE a car. I’ve been provided a perfectly good house in which to live. Honestly, the other things I listed aren’t wants based on real and basic needs…they’re wants based on…me?
Pastor and Christian author Bill Hybels once wrote an article called Five Dangerous Ways of Praying. In the article, Hybels claims that the majority of prayer presented to God is me-centered. And if we’re honest…he’s absolutely right. Because of that fact, Hybels offers five words, each designed to PRECEDE the word “me” in your Prayers of Supplication, that will literally change your prayer life and your relationship with God.
The first “me” word is SEARCH me. WE so often want to lash out at other people because of their choices or their lifestyle. We want God to punish the speck in THEIR eye while ignoring the LOG in ours. Those logs rob us of our ability to continue to mature as Christians. They steal our spiritual joy. They cloud our vision. They dull our senses.
If you’re determined to follow God with all your heart, then everything in your life that is not of Him…EVERYTHING…has to go. I don’t know about you, but my experience is that the closer I get to God, the more He causes me to see the things that I have not fully surrendered to Him. The fact that we’re Christians isn’t proven by titles or degrees. It’s not based on the good works we’ve done. Ultimately, it’s the fruit that we produce. The closer we get to Him, the more He shines through us.
The second “me” word is BREAK me. And painful as it sounds…and IS…you simply can’t grow as a Christian until you’ve been broken. Why? Because there are always areas of your life that God needs to work on. We don’t want to be broken. Instead, we want to focus on “I’m OK, you’re OK”- everything is great as long as we all just do what makes us feel good and don’t bother each other. But it’s NOT OK and everything is NOT great.
We need brokenness because we sin. And let me be clear- our sin not only offends God- it breaks His heart. It damages our intimacy, creating nearly impenetrable walls between us and Him. We fill our minds and spirits so full of the WORLD from Monday to Saturday that our hearts become dull and hardened. And then we come on Sunday and try to undo all of that hardening we’ve experienced all week. But the LAST thing we should want is to find ourselves standing on the outside of faith, looking in. We should ask God to break us of our sin. It’s the only way we can come fully into His presence.
The third “me” word is STRETCH me. If you REALLY want to grow spiritually, this is a prayer you should be praying. To be stretched means to be pulled beyond your limits. And if we ever hope to be what God wants us to become, we have to be stretched beyond our limits.
What limits need to be stretched? Well, our diet has to change. Our daily bread should be the Word of God. It sustains us. We can’t build a life of Godliness without His Word as our foundation. Does that mean you have to know and be able to quote every chapter and verse? I sure HOPE not! But it DOES mean that we should be living our lives 24/7/365 around the principles His Word teaches us.
The fourth “me” word is LEAD me. But let’s be honest- asking God to do whatever He wants with your life is a risky proposition. The ONLY way it works is if we believe that His plans for us are better than ours. I don’t know about you, but I use the GPS app on my smartphone quite often. In fact, when we were in Florida, it was our tour guide. Sync the phone to the rental car, tell the app where you want to go and…VOILA…it leads you there! It even corrects you if you deviate from the course. “Make a legal u-turn.” “Make a legal u-turn!” “MAKE A LEGAL U-TURN!” “Where are you going, you idiot?!” “I quit…you’re on your own!”
One of my favorite sayings is, “If you think you’re a leader and nobody’s following you, you aren’t leading- you’re simply out for a stroll.” We’re called to be leaders, each in our own way and in our own setting. But God should be the One Who leads us. He is THE way, THE truth and THE life. Follow Him.
The fifth “me” word is USE me. In most cases, to be “used” by somebody is a bad thing. But God is not “most cases”. To be used by God is an awesome thing. When we make ourselves fully available to God…did you notice that word- “FULLY”?- then He can touch somebody else through us, just like He touched us through somebody else.
Everybody who’s been used in powerful ways by God has gone through the process of searching, breaking, stretching and leading. That process ultimately makes us usable. When we allow ourselves to be used by God, then we’re no longer just hearers of the Word. We’re doers! We’re no longer keeping Jesus confined to the four walls of the church but instead taking Him out into the community where He can do the most good.
Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times with every kind of prayer and request. Likewise, be alert with your most diligent efforts and pray for all the saints.
God is the potter and we’re the clay. If we genuinely want to serve Him, then we have to let Him mold us and shape us, slowly and methodically working out the cracks and flaws as He crafts us into His hand-made work of art. Go to God with your Prayers of Supplication. But don’t let your prayers be about the things that you want. Instead, let your Prayer of Supplication focus on “search me, break me, stretch me, lead me and use me”, because when you do that, your excitement will be so great that that you won’t be able to wait for your next assignment.

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