Customer Service Tips

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    I have strong feelings about customer service. I spent parts of about 3 years working in “fast food” in high school and early college. I spent about 2 years working as a magician at a restaurant near and at the end of college. I managed 20 retail photography studios. I was the Business Manager of a professional theater. And I helped run my brother’s restaurant and meat market during seminary…trying to help put food on my table! In other words, I have done a LOT of retail work. I have spent a great deal of my life working with the public- serving. I think everybody- did I mention EVERYBODY?- should have to do retail, restaurant or some kind of service job at least once in their life. And because of that…I have strong feelings about customer service.

    In the restaurant business, as well as in retail, taking care of the customer is Job One. Why? Because if you have no customers…you have no job! That’s how important they are. They simply do NOT need you. But…you NEED them! And if you don’t treat the right, there is another place, just down the street, that’s DYING to meet their needs.

    When you work in a restaurant, you greet the patrons as they walk in the door. We all know that there is nothing worse than being ignored when you walk into a place of business to spend your hard-earned money. You get them to a seat a quickly as you POSSIBLY can. You get them A. a menu and B. a drink immediately if possible. THEN you can take a little breather and check on your other customers. Once they order, if the kitchen is running behind, you DON’T ignore them…you go, tell them the kitchen is running a bit behind but their food will A. be out soon and B. be hot and fresh. Oh, and…fill their drinks!

    I could go on and on, but you get the gist. Take care of the customer. But I have found that there are people who simply take advantage of that fact to treat their server like dirt. WRONG! That is a decidedly non-Christian approach to the whole thing. Servers have a responsibility to behave a certain way. But patrons do, too! My wife and I take it as our goal, when we get a cashier at Walmart who hates her job and can’t wait to go home, to get her to engage in conversation, smile and…hopefully…laugh. If she says, “Have a great day!” when we leave- job well done!

    Christmas Day, 2003, my family drove 2½ hours to see my mom, who was too sick to “come to Christmas”. (She died 6 months later.) We got there, sayed for a while and then began the 2½ hour journey home. By now, it’s 7:30PM on Christmas Day. We haven’t eaten since about 10:30AM. And NOTHING is open. But then, about ⅓ of the way home, we found a Jack in the Box that was…OPEN! Huzzah!

    We stopped and went in. The people working there were, you might imagine, NOT to happy to be working…at 7:30PM…on Christmas Day. So, before we ordered, I acknowledged that I was SO sorry they had to work on Christmas and I thanked them all for being there. I shared about my mom fighting cancer and our trip to see her and how hungry we were. By the time we left, we were all best buds, wishing each other a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

    We have a responsibility to treat each other with respect, with love. If you are a “server”, then serve with a glad and gracious heart. Treat your customer like they are the most important person in the world. Make them feel valuable. If you are a “receiver” (customer/patron/etc.), be grateful for the person doing the work for you. Let them know you appreciate what they are doing. Make them feel valuable. In other words, “Golden Rule” it- treat others the way you would want to be treat…regardless.

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

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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    Donna Summers loves to love you, baby. Peter Frampton loves your way. Bill Withers thinks it’s a lovely day. Tina Turner wants to know what love’s got to do with it. Paul McCartney thinks that his love does it good. John Paul Young thinks love is in the air. Dionne Warwick is never gonna fall in love again AND she’s never going to love this way again.  Earth, Wind and Fire wants to know what’s going to happen after the love is gone. And the Captain and Tennille are sure love will keep them together. Apparently not!

    Love is a fascinating thing. In English, there is one word for love: we love our pets, our chocolate, our family, Christmas and pizza…all with the same word. Anything that makes us feel good…we love. But in the Greek, there is a multitude of words for love, with 4 main types:

  1. Eros- passionate, romantic love that centers around desire and longing
  2. Philia- this is the “friendship” kind of love- a virtuous love focusing on loyalty to friends and community.
  3. Storge (storgē)- this is a natural affection- think “family relationships”
  4. Agapē- this is a more general, all-encompassing affection, when you hold others in high regard. It encourages us to be self-sacrificing and giving to all.

    The 1st 3 types of love are based on what the OTHER person does for you and what you receive- the benefits of the relationship. But it is agape alone that exists for the sole benefit of the one receiving the love. And in today’s passage, that’s exactly the kind of love we are talking about- agape.

    1John 3:16 This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave His life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters.

    Love- true agape love- expects nothing in return, demands nothing in return. Agape love is doing something for someone simply because it’s the right thing to do. Agape love is the love that Jesus shows us…and that we should mirror to others.

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

Revealing the Book of Revelation

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    I have been neck-deep in the New Testament Book of Revelation for…a WHOLE lot of weeks! I taught a study on it in my Tuesday morning Bible Study. WE decided right up front to spend 1 week/chapter. Now, that is NOT 1 week/chapter of the STUDY GUIDE, but 1 week/chapter of…the Book of Revelation! That means we spent 22 weeks studying that book. Right about the time we finished that Tuesday morning study, I started the SAME study for my Wednesday night group! By the time the dust settles, I will have spent basically 44 straight weeks on the Book of Revelation! That’s a lot!

    But if you have read the Book of Revelation, you know that you could spend 144 weeks studying it and still not really have a great handle on it! It is a TOUGH nut to crack! I would argue that it is THE toughest book in the Bible to get your head around!

    Why is that? Well, for one thing…it’s pretty doggone scary!There’s LOTS of mayhew and killing. Horrifying beasts. Locusts with human faces and women’s hair. Dragons. Pits of fire. I mean, this could be a Stephen King novel…right?

    But I think there is more, underneath all the overt “scare-fest”, that makes us stop dead in our tracks. (EVERY pun intended!) If you are a believer, then the Book of Revelation is the Apostle John’s way of describing what he saw when God revealed what was to come. And while he may have struggled to fully understand, and therefore adequately describe, what he saw, if what comes to pass is ANYTHING like what he describes…it’s going to be nasty!

    And because of that, there is a sense, when we read the Book of Revelation, of, “What if I’m not ready? What if I can’t make the cut?” You know what I mean? We go to church every week. We put our offering in the plate. We say our prayers. (And, if you are Hulk Hogan, you also take your vitamins!) We try to live decent life. But are we THAT “good”? Are we “Christian” enough to be on the RIGHT side when all of this stuff goes down? Will we be able to handle it?

    But for me, the answer to all of that can be found in the Book of Revelation itself. The first 7 verses of the 21st chapter, to be exact. Those verse offer a hope that is amazing in its scope. They help put everything in some perspective. And here they are.

    Revelation 21:1-7 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

    It just doesn’t, for my money, get a whole lot better than THAT!

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

God’s Promises: Forgiveness

Gods Promises Forgiveness    Once upon a time in their marriage, a husband did something really stupid. His wife chewed him out for it. He apologized, they made up. However, from time to time, she would mention what he had done. “Honey,” he finally said one day, “why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.'” “It is,” his wife said. “I just don’t want YOU to forget that I’VE forgiven and forgotten!”

    Tonight, we begin a new Sunday night series. It’s a 147-part series and, y’all, I’m REAL excited about it! No, seriously, it is a 5-week series that will take us to the beginning of Advent- the season of Christmas. Imagine that for a moment- in 5 weeks, we will be on the threshold of the Christmas season! How did THAT happen?!

    This new series is called God’s Promises. Since we just completed the 6 steps to God’s grace, I thought it appropriate that we spent some time focusing on some of God’s other promises. There are lots of promises God makes to us- this is NOT an exhaustive list. But we will look at 5 important promises- what they are, WHY they are and what they mean for our lives.

    We start with one of the most basic, elemental promises God offers us- forgiveness.

Question #1- How would you define “forgiveness”?

To forgive means: “to grant pardon for an offense or debt, to absolve, to stop feeling resentment against, to cancel an indebtedness to”. There are people in this world who seem to think that forgiveness is a flaw of the weak. But God makes it clear- forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.

    Matthew 18:21-35 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Question #2- Which is harder- to give or receive forgiveness? Is it harder to forgive someone else…or yourself?

    So Peter- impulsive, “shoot first and ask questions later” Peter- comes to Jesus looking for clarification. Let’s be honest- he wants Jesus to define for him the bare minimum- “What is the absolute LEAST I can do in this circumstance?”

   In Jewish rabbinical law, the consensus was that someone might be forgiven for a repeated sin three times. On the fourth offense, there would be no forgiveness. But Peter, wanting to show himself as big-hearted, volunteers “seven times” in answer to his own question. Seven here would be a rather generic larger figure that was often used- it was, after all, the umber of perfection. It was meant to be seen as a perfect, “round” number.

    Jesus’ response to Peter refers back to Genesis 4:24, which says- “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.” Lamech was a sixth generation descendant of Cain- he of Cain and Abel fame. And Jesus takes Lamech’s “seventy and sevenfold” revenge and transforms it instead into a principle of forgiveness. He then punctuates the whole thing with this powerful parable about forgiveness.

    To give you some idea of the size of the indebtedness owed to the king- 10,000 talents- David donated three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver for the construction of the temple. Such indebtedness couldn’t possibly be covered by selling the family into slavery: top price for a slave was about one talent.

    Or let’s look at it this way- a denarius was one day’s wage for a typical day laborer. He would work six days a week and, taking Jewish holidays into consideration, would work about 50 weeks a year- earning 300 denarii/year. It took 6,000 denarii to equal one talent, meaning it would take you 20 years to earn a talent. But this guy owed 10,000 talents. That would take…ready?…200,000 YEARS to earn! Extrapolate the numbers out, looking at current minimum wage, and what he owed, in today’s dollars, suddenly blossoms into the billions with a “B”! The servant’s plight is desperate. He has neither the resources or the hope to ever pay this back. But the master takes pity on him and cancels the debt.

    And instead of carrying that forgiveness on to the next person, the servant behaves horribly to the one who owes HIM money- a LOT less money, I might add. The king gets wind and has the servant thrown into prison and tortured until he can pay back what he owes- which, as we just established, will be…never.

    People read this parable and they understand that the king is God and we are the servant. But they blanch at the notion that a loving God Who would forgive such a debt would be the SAME God Who would mete out such awful punish. “My God would NEVER do THAT!”

    But Jesus sees no with the actions of a heavenly Father Who forgives so extravagantly and yet seems willing to punish so ruthlessly. But if you think about it, it’s exactly BECAUSE He has such compassion and mercy that He can’t possibly accept those devoid of such things. Let’s be clear here- Jesus is NOT saying that 77 times is the upper limit of forgiveness. Instead, He is saying that forgiveness should not, and cannot, be limited by numerical limitations like frequency or quantity.

Question #3- Do “forgive” and “forget” truly go hand in hand?

    Who do you need to forgive? What are the things that you have been unable to let go that threaten to keep you bound forever? Here’s my advice- let go of them. Or to quote those great theologians over at Frozen- Let it Go! Holding a grudge has NO negative impact on the other person. They’re sleeping just fine at night, thank you very much! It’s YOU who suffers when you refuse to forgive. It eats you alive, from the inside out. AND it separates you from the love and forgiveness of God.

     Actor Bradley Whitford said this, “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.” In other words, seek forgiveness with all your heart…and offer it that same way.

A Church…Celebrating Halloween?!

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    This Saturday will be the 4th Annual Trunk or Treat event at the church I currently serve. We started it the first October I was here. (Good month to do Trunk or Treat, huh?!) The first year, we were pretty much making it up as we went along. We got permission to close off the street alongside the church. We lined both sides of the street with decorated cars- trunks sticking into the street- and then..the games began!

    We had maybe 150 people that first year. We were thrilled and immediately started making plans for the next year. Year 2, we added free hot dogs to the mix. Our United Methodist Men put the grill up out by the main street and grilled “dogs”. We had about 300 people that year and gave away about 200 hot dogs. (People REALLY struggled with the concept of “free food”!)

    Last year, we stepped up our game again. Along with the hot dogs, we added free bottled water. We gave away about 400 hot dogs, 300 bottles of water and had about 500 people come through. This year, we have 23 cars signed up to participate and somewhere north of 500 hot dogs and 600 bottles of water ready to go. We have a MOUNTAIN of candy accumulating in the church office and…let the games begin…again!

    Every year, I have people who question why we do this. “A church? Celebrating Halloween? That’s just…wrong!” And I appreciate that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But here’s my thought on the whole thing. The community we serve is GOING to celebrate Halloween…period. And so, the church has two choices. There are two possible responses to the community’s involvement with Halloween.

    Response #1 is…perhaps…the obvious one. “Halloween is evil. It is based on a pagan holiday. It celebrates monsters, death, blood, gore…evil. We will NOT participate in that type of event!” And everybody has to decide for themselves how they want to react. But for me, that approach, whether you actually say it or not, ALSO says, “What you are doing is evil. You are, therefore, not welcome here because we have higher standards than you do…clearly.” Argue with me all you want, but if you tell Joe or Josephine Citizen that celebrating Halloween is evil, they are GOING to her the unspoken response as well. This approach simple widens and deepens the perception that many “unchurched” folks already have about the Church- that we have lost all connection with the world around us and are simply irrelevant.

    Response #2- Accept the fact that the community is going to celebrate Halloween…and figure out a way to partner with them that invites them in without compromising what you believe. Are we going to have a Haunted House in the church basement? Nope. Are we going to have headless dummies skewered on pikes out by the street? Uh uh. Are we going try our best to scare the wits out of every small child who comes? Of course not. We are simply going to try and be gracious hosts and provide a safe, welcoming environment in which their kids can Trick or Treat. We’ll give away a LOT of hot dogs and bottled water- we will struggle a bit less with the “free” notion this year, since many of the folks who will come will be “repeat customers”.

    My approach to ministry is pretty simple- meet folks where they are. Charles Wesley, prolific hymn writer and the brother of United Methodist founder John Wesley, put many of his lyrics to the tunes of English drinking songs. Why? Because people KNEW them! A pastor friend of mine used to (probably still does!) hang out in bars, sitting intentionally by the bathroom. We would sip his water and tell people who went by, “Jesus loves you.” (He said that, as the evening went on, people got more receptive! Imagine that!) Why did he do that? Because that’s where the people were!

    The instant…the INSTANT…that a church refuses to meet people where they are simply because “it’s not the way we’ve always done it”…they begin the rapid slide to irrelevance. Don’t sacrifice your beliefs. Don’t water down the Gospel broth. Don’t give an INCH on “the main stuff”. But be as flexible as you POSSIBLY can…on everything else!!

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

I Only Work One Day a Week!

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    What a day! Since I ONLY work one day a week, I have to make the most of Sundays! AND…I made the most of yesterday! My day started at 5AM when the alarm went off. By 5:15AM, I was dressed for church and in the kitchen making coffee. By 5:30AM, I had taken the dogs out, given them their medicine (they live better than me, I swear!) poured my coffee and walked next door to the church. I unlocked doors, turned on lights, printed some things out for the morning and went over the three…yes, THREE sermons…I would preach throughout the day!

    At 6:35AM, I was in the sanctuary, loading files onto the worship computer for the three “in-house” worship services we do. After getting all loaded and test-driving three videos that would run at various times throughout the day, to make sure they worked, it was time for the band to warm up and do sound check.

    We spent from 7AM to about 7:40AM going through the music for the morning. (As a drummer for the past…oh my goodness…44 years, I thoroughly enjoy those 40 minutes! Then I spent from 7:40AM to 8AM “meeting and greeting”- saying hello to folks as they came in the sanctuary.

    From 8AM to 9AM, I led our Contemporary Worship Service. Prayers were lifted up. We had an altar call. We played and sang a total of five songs. There was a Children’s Moment. There was a call to worship video about Moses killing and Egyptian and running from God and set to the song Take On Me by one-hit wonder A-Ha. And I preached Week 3 of a series called The Exodus. Today’s topic was running from God.

    Then, at 9AM, I went into our Fellowship Cafe, where I got some breakfast (English Muffin toast with Nutella, some cheese and some fruit) and refilled my coffee (snickeroo coffee with pumpkin pie spice creamer!).

    From there, I went to my Sunday School class. I spent from 9:10AM to 10AM leading the class discussion. We are working through the Ten Commandments.

    Then, I went back to the sanctuary, where I spent from 10AM to 10:15AM doing another “meet and greet”. Then, from 10:15AM to 11:15AM, I led our Blended Worship Service. Again, prayers, were lifted up. We played and sang a total of four songs. There was a Children’s Moment. The choir did a spectacular job on their anthem for the week. And I again preached Week 3 of a series called The Exodus. Today’s topic was, again, running from God.

    Then, at 11:15AM, I went down to our dining room to help my wife serve lunch to our Senior Citizen’s group- CIA (Caring Individual Adults). The ministry is intended for folks who often find themselves eating alone. It is meant to be a chance for them to share food and fellowship. And it is a thriving, growing ministry!

    After lunch was done and everything was cleaned up, I locked up the building and turned off the lights. That got me home about 12:40PM. That meant I had a grand total of 30 minutes to sit down. And sit down I did! In fact, I threatened, more than once in those 30 minutes, to fall asleep! But then, at 1:10PM, I was out the door!

    By 1:15PM, I was at the local nursing home. At 1:30, I led a worship service there. (Local churches take turns doing those services.) We sang 3 songs, spent some time in prayer and I preached a sermon about love. Then, by 2:30PM, I was across town at the local physical rehabilitation center for a 2nd worship service. It was similar to the one at the nursing home, except that, due to the small number of people, I turned the sermon into a discussion-centered Bible study.

    At 3:30PM, I was at a parishioner’s house who is sick, taking him some soup from the luncheon that my wife packed up for him. I was back home by 3:50PM and in bed by 4PM! After a brief nap, I was back up at 4:35PM and getting dressed.

    At 5:15PM, I went back to church, where I spent the next 45 minutes getting ready for the evening service and “meeting and greeting”. At 6PM, I started that evening service. We sang 3 songs, lifted up joys and concerns and shared Communion. I preach the first night of a new sermon series- God’s Promises. The topic was forgiveness. That service features a conversation piece- I ask questions during the sermon and then “Phil Donahue” it with a microphone, running from person to person to get their input. By 7:20PM, the service was over, everybody was gone and I was locking up to go home. I got there at 7:30PM.

    So, let’s check that tote board! 5 worship services in a total of 3 different locations. 3 distinctly different sermons. A Sunday School class. A luncheon. A pastoral visit. And over the span of 15 hours, about 13 hours of ministry. And you know what? I. Love. IT!

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

The Exodus: Running

The Exodus Running

Both of my sons were distance runners at some point in their lives. And when my older son was a member of the high school Cross Country team, he was out running. The town in which we lives was a smaller town that sits in the middle of good ‘ol Illinois farm land. So when you run distance there, you can’t help but end up out in the middle of nowhere.
One day, he was exactly there- the middle of nowhere- running right down the middle of the road. Suddenly, one of the county’s finest- a sheriff’s deputy in a patrol car, pulled up. He jumped out of the car and yelled at my sone to stop. Now, you need a brief aside here to better understand the situation. My older son is about 6’1”. He has BROAD shoulders. (I have NO idea where her gets that!!) And he had LONG hair back then- “halfway down the back” long. So he was NOT the stereotypical distance runner!
So the cop stops, jumps out and says, “I GOT you!!” My son was, to say the least, a bit surprised by that. “What are you talking about?” “Don’t play dumb with me. You thought you could run away, but I caught you! Get in the car!” After some hassle back and forth, and a little nod to the fact that there was a gun on someone’s hip…and it wasn’t the runner!…he got in the back of the squad car. As they drove, the cop informed my son that he was the driver in a hit and run accident that had happened a few miles away. He had hit another car and fled the scene on foot. My son denied that fact and point out, “If I was running from you…would I be running right down the middle of the road?” The cop told him to shut up and kept driving- back to the crash scene. A minute later, a voice came over the radio, “Everybody can come back- we caught the guy.” The cop looked in the rearview mirror and said. “Um…I guess I was wrong!” My son said, “You think?!” He stopped the car and said, “Get out.” They were, by this time, MILES from where he had been picked up! “Couldn’t you at least take me back to where you found me?!” The cop sighed really big, put the car in drive and grudgingly drove him back. Sometimes, you aren’t even aware of what you are running from!
Jonah 1:1-3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish . He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Today, we continue our current 7-week sermon series- The Exodus. The 2nd book of the Old Testament recounts the story of the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt and beyond.     The first week, we looked at their beginnings in Egypt- welcomed with open arms but later enslaved. Last week, the story of the Hebrews took a massive leap forward as a mother made an incredibly painful decision- toss her infant son into the Nile River…to save him. Today, we look at Moses as he makes a snap decision, with the best of intentions- one that causes him to run for his life…and try to run from God.
 Exodus 2:11-15 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Two gas company servicemen, one a senior training supervisor and the other a young trainee, were out checking gas meters. They parked their truck at one end of the block and worked their way to the other end. The whole time, the trainer gave his supervisor good-natured grief about being old and out of shape. At the last house, an old woman looking out her kitchen window watched the two men check her gas meter. When they finished, the supervisor, tired of the trash talk, challenged his trainee to a foot race back to the truck- to prove he could outrun a younger guy. They took off running. And as they got back to the truck, the old lady from the last house was suddenly right alongside them, huffing and puffing in her housecoat and slippers. Shocked, they asked her what was wrong. Gasping for breath and holding her wig in place, she replied, “When I see two gas men running away from my house as hard as you two were, I figured I’d better run too!”
So, Moses was born a Hebrew slave. He was sent down the Nile in a basket in an attempt to save him from Pharaoh. He ends up being raised IN Pharaoh’s palace. One day, he’s out walking around the construction project, checking on things, and he sees an Egyptian guard bating a Hebrew slave…and something in him snaps. He kills the guard and hides his body in the sand.
The very next day, he’s out again and comes across two Hebrew slaves fighting. He asks them why and they respond by asking him if he is going to kill them…just like he killed the Egyptian guard. So either someone else was watching or the Hebrew slave he saved the day before has been talking. And if good news travels fast, then bad news travels even faster- Pharaoh finds out, is incensed and tries to kill oses. But Moses manages to get away and runs off into the desert, ending up in a place called Midian. On the surface, he is running from Pharaoh and the threat of death. But deep down..he is running from God. And while we might be able to run from our mistakes, we can’t hide from God.
Running from problems is a decidedly human reaction. Don’t get me wrong- there are probably some of you right now who are saying, “I take offense at that, Pastor. I do NOT run from my problems- I face them head-on!” And I appreciate that. I was raised with that same Bootstrap Theology- don’t rely on anybody else…pull yourself up. And in many ways…that’s a good thing. That pioneer spirit is what, in part, helped make this nation so great so far- historically speaking.
But to quote that great theologian Barbra Streisand, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” We need each other. And we need God. And yet it is God that we so often try so hard to run so far from. We think that if we just get far enough away from Him, then whatever it is we are trying to hide will be kept in the dark. But let me assure you- there is NO place that is “far enough away” from God. There IS no place you can go and be beyond the reach of God.
I have shared before- I ran for years from God’s call on my life. I couldn’t imagine a worse idea than going into the ministry. Why in the WORLD would I want to do THAT?! And so I kept running. And yet, it does NOT go unnoticed with me that, even in the midst of my running away from God, I kept drawing closer to God at the same time. I stayed involved in Sunday School and Church committees. I even let a fellow church member talk me into going with him, for I think it was 6 consecutive Sundays, to a Lay Speaking School that was being offered 2½ hours away! So we drove, idiots that we were, 5 hours round trip…EVERY Sunday…for 6 weeks to complete this course. I must have been stupid! And yet, that guy I rode with every Sunday? He is also now a United Methodist pastor in our conference!
Saul of Tarsus- one of the worst excuses for a human being in the whole of the New Testament. Persecuted and killed Christians at every opportunity. And did it in the name of God! But all the time that he was supposedly working FOR God…he was running FROM God. He was trying as hard as he could to escape the destiny God had for him. And then, one day, he could escape it no more. He was travelling to Damascus when he had an encounter. It was with Jesus Christ Himself- the very same Jesus that he was killing people for worshipping. And that encounter caused a challenge- a challenge of faith. Saul, a highly religious man, was suddenly and unexpectedly challenged with ending his running and facing the truth that what he believed, what he held so dear…was wrong. And he stopped running, worked through that challenge and became a new person in Jesus Christ. Saul, the man who had gone to great lengths to make sure the Christians were wiped completely out, became Paul, Jesus’ newest brother. The preacher of death became the proclaimer of life- all because he stopped running.
John 3:18-21 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
From what are you running? What are you trying to hide from God? What is God calling you to do that to are trying to distance yourself from? I just stopped by this morning to tell you this- stop. Stop running. Let your running days be over. Put an end to the life of aimless wandering and turn fully and completely to God. The truth is- you can’t hide from Him, anyway! He’s like your mom- eyes in the back of His head! Do you ever find yourself saying, “I just don’t have time for church? I don’t have time for God.”? You know what I mean- the kids, the sports, the concerts, the practices, work, mortgage, vacation…the list goes on. And those things all vie for your attention…and your time. Wht? Because they are urgent.
But I learned a long time ago that “urgent” and “important” are not always the same thing. There are a LOT of urgent things that really aren’t that important. But they get our time and our attention because they are the barking dog, yapping at our heels. What’s REALLY important in your life? What lasting legacy do you want to leave for family and friends when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil, bring down the curtain and go to join the choir in Heaven? Stop running, turn to God and fulfill your destiny.

The Coffee Maker Deviation

coffee maker

    I have a confession to make- I am a HUGE fan of coffee. (If you are around me very much…that’s not really much of a confession!) I like the taste of coffee. I like the smell of coffee. And…not gonna lie…I like the energy boost coffee provides!

    I have a “coffee routine” that I go through every day. It starts just before I go to bed each night. We have a commercial Bunn coffee maker in our kitchen. (Hey! Don’t judge! It was an intentional purchase- after spending $50 on crummy Mr. Coffees that died after 12 months, we finally decided to bite the bullet and buy a more expensive coffee maker that should last for…years!)

    We also have a coffee grinder. (Again- no judging! I paid $1 for it at a Goodwill store…5 years ago!) But the coffee grinder finally gave up the ghost recently. (The lid cracked to the point that I could no longer grind beans!) We found a new grinder at Aldi for $7.99. And two nights ago, I took that new grinder out for its maiden voyage. And that’s where the trouble started!

    I filled the grinder with beans- like I did with the old grinder- and started. But I quickly learned that the new grinder can’t be filled all the way to the top like the old one- it simply won’t grind the beans properly when it’s that full. So I played around with how many beans to grind at one time and seemed to find a happy medium. The ground beans went into the filter, which went into the basket, which went into the machine. Done! Off to bed!

    Fast forward to yesterday morning. I get up, get dressed and come downstairs. Before taking the dogs out, I pour the water in the coffee maker. The Bunn brews so quickly that the first pot is done or nearly done by the time I get back in. So I took the dogs out, came back in and fed them. (Their favorite time of the day! I then looked at the coffee maker, to see if it was done yet. Disaster!

     Coffee and coffee grounds are…everywhere! I mean…everywhere! The filter basket is full to overflowing with hot coffee and grounds! I pull the basket out and put it in the sink. Then I really assess the damage! Oh. My. Goodness! It was a big, stinkin’ mess! So…I got the paper towels and the trash can out and went to work. As I cleaned, I thought about what went wrong. And the only reasonable answer I could come up with was that, in messing with grinding beans, I ground them too fine- they clogged up the hole in the bottom of the basket. HAD to be! (I’ll know for sure by the time you read this! Pray for me!

    So, mess cleaned up. New coffee (pre-ground, but someone OTHER than me!) ready to brew. All is well. So I pour the water in the machine and turn around to the sink- to wash my hands. As I do, something tells me to look back at the coffee maker. Good thing- I have forgotten to put the POT back in…and fresh-brewed coffee is pouring…EVERYWHERE…AGAIN! There was a moment- that felt like an hour- when I couldn’t find the pot. BUT…I found it and got it in place before much coffee escaped. Whew!

    Some days are diamonds and some days are stones. My experience is this- enjoy the “diamond” days, but don’t let them get you TOO high. Likewise, deal with the “stone” days, but don’t let them get you too low. Let God guide you through the maze. He will help you keep some sense of “even keel” in the midst of the highs and lows of life.

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

The Burnt Fry Conundrum

burning fries

A buddy of mine once went to a well-known fast food establishment for lunch. (The name of the restaurant shall remain nameless…but its initials are McD!) He went to the counter, ordered his food, paid, and waited. In a minute or two, they slid a tray to him and said, “Here’s your sandwich. We’ll bring your fries out in a minute, when they’re done.” He took his tray and headed for a table, stopping to get his drink, pick up napkins and fill the ubiquitous portion cups with catsup.

By the time he was seated and had the straw unwrapped and in his drink, here came an employee with a tray. As he placed it on the table, he said (and I quote), “Here are your fries. I burnt them…so I gave you extra!” Never at a loss for words, my buddy looked him in the eye and replied, “Well…if there’s anything I like better than burnt fries…it’s lots of them!” The employee smiled, turned, and headed back to the friendly confines of the kitchen, happy to be responsible for another satisfied customer!

I think that “settling” has become a major player in our society. So often, we accept poor quailty and sub-standard results. We chalk it up to “that’s just the way things are today”. We let people get by with less than their best, and worse than that, we allow OURSELVES to get by with the same! We see the bar being lowered all around us, we put up a perfunctory fight, make a good show of things…and then we throw in the towel and jump aboard the Mediocrity Express. “So what? All the COOL kids are doin’ it!” But I contend that “because everyone else is doing it” is NEVER a good reason to do ANYTHING.

We were made for so much more than “merely getting by”. We were WONDERFULLY made in the image of God, and called to be His eyes and ears, hands and feet in this world. Imagine what the planet would be like if we all actually lived up to our potential. For me, that is only possible when I realize and admit that I have no real power or control…apart from the God who made me. But when we accept that power that God gives us to reach beyond ourselves, we can truly make a difference!

Do you want to make a difference? It doesn’t have to be a world-changing difference- start with a difference in one person…yourself! Be what you were created to be! You’ll like what you find! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Rev. Mark Breaks His Silence!

shock

    I have noticed a really interesting phenomenon lately. It is wallowed in (And yes- I chose that word carefully!) by pastors, predominately. And, while there are two parts to it, and these two parts are ones that the people involved seem to see no connection between- they are totally connected. And those parts are A. worship style and B. church size.

    I have read article after article…after article- each written by some pastor who wants to expound on the evils of Contemporary Worship. They talk about how bad contemporary Christian music is. They talk about how faulty the theology found in the style is. They talk about how repetitive the music is. They talk about how shallow contemporary worship is- how it’s not about God but the individual.

    Then they talk about how deep, meaningful and fulfilling tradition worship is. How it is so rich in theology and tradition. The music has stood the test of time and the liturgy is deep, thoughtful and powerful.

     I have also read article after article…after article- each written by some pastor who wants to expound on the evils of church growth. They will say that large churches are all about entertainment over substance. They will say that paying attention to how many people are attended the church you serve is missing the point. They will proudly point to the fact that they neither know what their average attendance is…nor do they care!

    I have read these article for years…and said nothing. My mom always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything.” So..I haven’t. Until now. I can simply no longer stay silent. So…here goes!

    I think that pastors who can do nothing with Contemporary Worship but criticize it A. don’t like it personally and B. don’t understand it. And I get not liking something personally. I have my preferred style of worship- the one that “feeds” me personally. But you know what? My opinion about worship style and $1 will buy a soft drink out of most machines in my area! Who CARES if you don’t like it? If you are making decisions about the church you serve based primarily on your personal likes and dislikes…it may be time to look for a career change.

    Are some Contemporary Christian songs a bit thin on theology? Yep. Are some of them repetitive? Uh huh. Are some of them derivative of “pop music”? Of course. But you know what? There are songs in the hymnal that have short verses, each of which is followed by THE (not A) refrain, which is short and repeated every time! Charles Wesley, arguably the greatest hymn writer…ever…often used the tunes of English drinking songs to back his lyrics…because people KNEW them! Contemporary worship can be powerful and connect the participant to God is powerful ways. Likewise, Traditional worship can be dull, rote and hollow. It depends on SO much more than simply the label you paste ON it or which music you put IN it.

    Now- church attendance. I have never…NEVER…heard a pastor who was leading a growing congregation say derisive things about church growth. Never. Not once. That’s pretty telling to me. It logically tells me that those who slam church growth must be serving churches…that aren’t growing. Will every church, in every setting, grow? No. (I KNOW there are folks who disagree with that one, too. But that is an argument for another day!) If a church ISN’T growing, does that automatically mean that the pastor is doing something wrong? No.

   Likewise, however, a church that is growing isn’t automatically nothing more than an entertainment venue. It’s not as simple as saying “growing churches are doing it wrong and small, static or declining churches are staying true to the Word”. Why? Because…that’s a copout. Plain and simple. There are LOTS of growing churches that are reaching people for Jesus Christ. Likewise, there are lots of churches that are NOT growing…and are reaching people for Jesus Christ.  

    Here’s the bottom line for me- worry about your church, your setting, your call. Period. If what someone else is doing is contrary to God- He’ll work all that out. He doesn’t need your help. And if what they are doing is working- keep your personal opinions to yourself and let them do God’s work in their context. Remember that whole “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” thing? Yeah- that applies here, too.

    In the end, I sometimes wish all of us “blindingly smart” pastors would just quit our whining and keep our big yappers shut when it comes to styles, types and approaches that don’t fit into our tiny, tidy little ministry box. It simply shouldn’t matter to you what the church down the street or across town or in the next county is doing. You don’t serve those churches. Serve…your church. Open your mind. Be willing to see that God cannot be defined as simply and succinctly as we want Him to be. Traditional worship. Contemporary worship. Blended worship. Cowboy church. Biker church. Big church. Little church. Growing church. Non-growing church. It simply doesn’t matter. Preaching the Word…the WORD…and connecting people to Jesus Christ is what DOES matter!

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

6 Steps to Grace: Committing

6 Steps to Grace Main

Jack didn’t come to church much. But one Sunday, he was there and as he was coming out of church, the preacher was standing at the door, as always, to shake hands. He grabbed Jack by the hand and pulled him aside. “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” Jack replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” The pastor questioned him, “Then how come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?” Jack whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
Tonight, we wrap up our current Sunday evening sermon series- 6 Steps of Grace. Author Max Lucado says, “The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’” Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
Over these 6 weeks, we have walked along the spiritual timeline of God’s grace- what it looks like and how we achieve it. 6 steps that, if followed, lead to a better awareness of, appreciation for and connection to God’s grace. The first week, we focused on the fact that the first stop on that timeline was hearing. Not simply listening…but hearing. Week 2, we looked at believing. Hearing is essential…but it’s not enough. We have to also believe. Faith is the key that unlocks the door. Week 3, we considered the next step in the journey toward God’s grace: repenting- becoming aware of our sins. Week 4, we considered the 4th step- confessing. We established that confessing is a “both/and” proposition- confessing your sins TO God and confessing your faith IN God. Last week, we moved to Step 5- baptizing- and we talked about that being both with water, for repentance of sin, and with the Holy Spirit, for new birth. Tonight, we bring it all to a close as we consider Step #6- Committing. And we will focus on the fact that stepping out in faith makes all the difference in the world.

Question #1- How would YOU define the word “commitment”?

     Luke 10:1-9 After this the Lord appointed 72 others. He sent them out two by two ahead of him. They went to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is huge, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals. And don’t greet anyone on the road. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘May this house be blessed with peace.’ If someone there loves peace, your blessing of peace will rest on him. If not, it will return to you. Stay in that house. Eat and drink anything they give you. Workers are worthy of their pay. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set down in front of you. Heal the sick people who are there. Tell them, ‘God’s kingdom is near you.’

Question #2- What does it mean to be committed to God?

Question #3- What is the HARDEST part of that commitment to God?

We all know- serving God isn’t a picnic…it’s no walk in the park. It’s hard work and it takes a strong sense of commitment to our calling- to minister to others. God expects us to serve Him by serving others. He calls us to serve Him simply because it’s right to serve Him. To be dedicated to the ministries we are engaged in means put time and effort, blood, sweat and tears into whatever it is that God has called us to do.
I would argue that lack of dedication is what is threatening to bring down today’s Church. Too often, Christians offer God what’s left of their time and their talents, hoping that He accepts the leftovers they offer. But it is clear that God is calling this church to do some amazing and unique things in this community.
No matter how big a church staff gets, the effectiveness of a church isn’t built on paid servants but on men and women who are sold out for God. If you teach a class, be dedicated to that class and prepare to give your best. If you lead a small group, do it with every ounce of energy and preparation you can. If you’re going to work with kids, realize that you’re doing it for God and you ought to give Him your best.
The bottom line is this- if we’re going to follow Jesus, then we need to serve Him passionately. As we move deeper into what God is calling us to be as a church, there will be those who won’t want to make the journey. It’ll be too hard, take too much time and require too much work. But healthy churches defy the 80-20 principle- only 20% percent of the people do 80% of the work…while 80% of the people watch that 20% do the work! Healthy churches are filled with people who have a heart for Christian work.
Max Lucado tells a powerful story about grace. Imagine that you want to learn to dance. Being the rational person you are, you go to a bookstore (do they still HAVE those?) and buy a book on dancing. You take the book home and get to work. Finally, you think you’ve got it, so you invite your wife to come in and watch. You hold the book open and follow the instructions step by step. You even read the words aloud so she’ll know that you’ve done your homework. “Lean with your right shoulder. Now step with your right foot. Turn slowly to the left. You continue to read and dance, read and dance until you’re done. You triumphantly plop on the couch, look at your wife and say, “I executed it perfectly.” “You executed it, all right,” she sighs. “You killed it.” “What?!” “You forgot the most important part- the music!” You realize that you never thought about the music. You remembered the book. You learned the rules. You laid out the pattern. But you forgot the music.
“Do it again.” she says, putting in a CD. “This time, don’t worry about the steps. Just follow the music.” She extends her hand and the music begins. The next thing you know…you’re dancing and you don’t even have the book!
Us Christians are prone to follow the book but ignore the music. We master the doctrine. We outline the chapters. We memorize the prayers. We debate the rules. And then we stiffly step out on the dance floor of life…with absolutely no music in our hearts. We measure each step. We calibrate each turn. And then we flop into bed each night, exhausted from another day of dancing by the book.
Let God have you. Let God love you. Let His grace permeate every pore. When you do that, don’t be surprised if your heart begins to hear music you’ve never heard before. Don’t be surprised if your feet learn to dance like they’ve never danced before. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and you’ll hear the music of His Holy Spirit, encouraging you to dance a life of grace.

The “Upside” of a Funeral

good day

     I performed a funeral yesterday It was the 17th funeral I have performed this calendar year. It was also the 35th funeral I have performed in the 40 months I have been at this church. It was also roughly the 150th I have done in 19 years of ministry. (I say roughly because, at the first church I served, I was A. a newby, B. not the Senior Pastor and therefore C. didn’t keep very good records!)

    Funerals are a very uneven prospect as a minister. I have had years (last year, when I was so sick, for instance) when I only did 2 funerals all year. I have also had years when I did 25 funerals in a year! You just never know.

    But the funeral I did yesterday, after roughly 150 of them, was a first. That’s right, after all these years, I had a first yesterday. The gentleman whose funeral I officiated at yesterday is the same man I brought into the church as a full member just 2 short months ago. Before yesterday, I had never buried someone so soon after welcoming them as a member.

    The truth is that this gentleman knew he was sick. He knew that his time was potentially short. And it was important to him to be a member of this church before he passed. So in August, he stood in front of the entire congregation, supported by his two adult daughters, and answered the historic questions that are a part of becoming a member of a United Methodist congregation. And as we pulled up another chair around our ever-expanding table of grace, I knew two things: 1. the odds were great that I would not get the honor of being this man’s pastor for very long and 2. I would appreciate every day that I got in that role!

     There is a lot of…crud..that goes along with being a pastor- not gonna lie. But a bad day of being a pastor is better than a good day being…anything else! Thank you, God, for being SO persistent in pushing me into the ministry!

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

Be a Grizzly!

grizzly

I said something in my sermon once that I would like to dig a bit deeper into. Here’s what I said- “Whatever you do, you’re going to be criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing, you will still be criticized for it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing SOME thing than for doing nothing. I’d rather be persecuted for doing the right thing than be rewarded for doing the wrong thing.”

That observation is based on 19 years in the ministry. Before that, I thought…I honestly thought…that I could please everyone if I tried hard enough. (I know… naive…right?) I was a pleaser, born and bred. And that just didn’t work very well. When I first entered the ministry, I continued being a pleaser. (I mean, we are what we are…aren’t we?!) But as time went by, I began to figure it out- you simply could NOT please everybody. And not just all the time, but never! Can’t do it!
And once you figure that out, the logical next step is to focus on pleasing yourself. Think about it- as that great theologian Ricky Nelson said in the song Garden Party– “But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” We all fall into that at times. Look out for #1. Take care of yourself because no one else will. Do what’s best for you. And all that!
But somewhere along the way, between trying to do what everyone wanted me to do and trying to do what I wanted me to do…I figured out that the only way to find real peace in the middle of it all was to do what GOD wanted me to do. Ultimately, you can’t do what everyone else wants you to do. And you sure can’t simply do what YOU want all the time. But you CAN do what God wants you to do.
BUT…when you do that…you WILL hack some people off. You will ALSO make some people very happy. If you change your approach to try and make the first bunch happier…you will make the 2nd bunch madder!! Then, if you decide that doing anything makes people mad, you are prone to do…nothing. Well, let me assure you that just makes people mad as well! If I choose to pick THIS music for Sunday, then THOSE people are as happy as clams…but THESE people are madder than wet hens!
So…I choose to do what I feel God is calling me to do…and let the chips fall where they may! Happy with what I did? Thanks…but just wait…I’ll do something else soon that will hack you off. Unhappy with what I did? Sorry about that…today just isn’t your day…and tomorrow isn’t looking too good either! If you’re going to follow God, at some point you just have to take a big, deep breath…and jump in the current! You have to grab life with both hands and refuse to let go. In other words, if you’re going to be a bear…be a grizzly!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Exodus: Trust

The Exodus Trust     I am in my 19th year of ministry. This is the 3rd church I have served and the 3rd distinctly different part of the state in which I have served. I was at the 1st church for 7 years, the 2nd church for 8 years and have been here for not quite 3½ years so far. My wife and I both lived in a house our parents built until we got married- save 4 years of college. Since then, we have lived in 8 houses…and counting…in 30 years. Our older son spent birth through 5th Grade in one community, 6th-10th Grades in another and 11th Grade- college graduation in yet another. Our younger son has a similar story: birth through 3 years old in one community, 4 years old through 6th Grade in a second and 7th-10th Grade…currently…in a third. ¾ of my family has a total different “home town” than the other ¼.
Being a United Methodist minister- or the family of one- is all about trust. I mean- how many of you know that one day- not a day of your choosing- you’ll get a phone call, telling you that you are leaving everything you know and moving…to a place you DON’T know, to serve with PEOPLE you don’t know? You won’t get to pick WHEN you move or to WHERE you’ll move. You won’t get to pick where you work, where you live, which church you will attend or how long you’ll stay. And you…and your spouse and your kids…will be expected to smile and say, “Thank you, sir…may I have another?!” The only way that system works…the ONLY way…is if you put your trust in God. As that great theologian Billy Joel says, it’s always been a matter of trust.
Proverbs 3:5-8 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
Today, we continue our current 7-week sermon series- The Exodus. The 2nd book of the Old Testament recounts the story of the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt and beyond. Last week, we looked at their beginnings in Egypt- welcomed with open arms but later enslaved. Today, the story of the Hebrews takes a massive leap forward as a mother makes an incredibly painful decision- toss her infant son into the Nile River…to save him.
     Exodus 2:1-4 Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
A boy was given some homework on childbirth. He went to his mother and said, ‘How was I born?’ ‘Well, honey,’ said the embarrassed mother, ‘the stork brought you to us.’ ‘Oh,’ said the boy. ‘And how did you and Daddy get born?’ ‘Oh, the stork brought us too,’ said the mother. ‘Well how were Grandpa and Grandma born?’ the boy persisted. ‘Well darling, the stork brought them too!’ A few days later, the boy handed in his homework with the following opening sentence, ‘This report has been very difficult to write due to the fact that there hasn’t been a natural childbirth in my family for three generations.’
Pharaoh was growing more and more concerned about these pesky Hebrews- multiplying and threatening to become so numerous as to be a real threat. So he became even more ruthless- all Hebrew male babies were to be thrown into the Nile. Basically, he gave everybody the authority to kill Hebrew babies.
And in the midst of this calamity, a baby is born who would change his world- Moses. Now, while we know a lot about Moses, his parents are barely a blip on the Biblical radar. In fact, they are only mentioned twice in the whole of the Old and New Testaments, and neither of those two spots…are here! Their names were Amram and Jochebed. They were both from the tribe of Levi. They already had 2 children: Miriam and Aaron. Then, Jochebed became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful healthy, happy baby boy. But she had heard of Pharoah’s decree, so she knew her baby was destined for the river. So she did the only thing she could think to do- she hid him for as long as she could. That turned out to be only 3 months. While most people would have been handing out cigars and posting adorable baby pictures on their Facebook account, Jochebed hid her baby boy in an effort to save him.
But…she couldn’t. After 3 months, the baby simply became too big to hide. And so, in one last, desperate act, she took an incredible risk. She made a basket of papyrus reeds. And just as Noah had with the ark so many years before, she made the basket water tight by coating it with tar. She then did the unthinkable- she took the basket, holding her baby Moses, down to the Nile…and set it afloat. The irony is not lost on me- she took him to the very same river Pharaoh had ordered him thrown into.
And the question begs itself- why? Did she receive a message from God? Was this just the desperate plan of a desperate mother? Did she have some kind of special revelation? Did she KNOW how things would turn out? The story would be more faith-filled if the answer was, “Yes”. But, for some reason, I doubt it. The truth is that most of the time, we simply don’t understand how God works.
Jochebed knew her circumstance was hopeless. And yet…she trusted God. Her baby Moses might live and then again he might die. But Jochebed would bless God either way. Jochebed had hope and she acted upon it. Her circumstances gave her no hope…but God gave her GREAT hope. So Moses is set adrift in the Nile, a simple reed basket the only thing protecting him from all the dangers. And as he floats downstream, his sister Miriam flows, watching from a distance, waiting to see what happens.
Had we read on, we would have seen that no less than Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and brings him into the palace- to be raised as part of Pharaoh’s family. And in an amazingly serendipitous turn of events, they need a Hebrew woman to serve as a nursemaid for this new-found baby and get…Jochebed…his mother. Just a few hours after she put him in the river, this faithful woman is reunited with her baby boy.
Can you identify with Jochebed? Life seems out of control. You’ve done everything you can and now you feel you are out of any other options: you have two choices left- give up…or trust God and watch what happens.
And if we’re honest, sometimes giving up seems like the better choice. I know that’s hard to hear…but it’s true. Why? Because sometimes we feel that God disappoints us. Sometimes it seems that He just doesn’t care about us. Sometimes it feels like He isn’t listening at all. And sometimes….we feel the sting of regret. We look back and see all the missed opportunities we have left in our wake. And in the midst of those tough times- the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, unbearable heartache- we struggle to even SEE God- let alone actually TRUST in Him. And yet, we are called to do just that- to trust God, even when we don’t understand. Maybe especially when we don’t understand. In the midst of hard times, we are encouraged to believe and not despair. Because in the end, to get where God is ultimately sending us, we have to trust Him.
Matthew 6:25-27 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
British author and journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “Our 20th Century, far from being notable for scientific skepticism, is one of the most credulous in all of history. It is not that people believe in nothing, which would be bad enough, but that they believe in anything, which is really terrible.” 
And the other side of the coin is this- if you believe in nothing…you’ll fall for anything.
So, what do YOU trust? There was a time when you could trust your pension. There was a time when you could trust you IRA. There was a time when you could trust that you would work at the same job…and live in the same house…from start to finish. There was a time when you could trust the fact that people would do the right thing…and treat you fairly in the process. There was a time when you could trust that your body wouldn’t betray you and your health would stay perfect from start to finish. There WAS a time…but we no longer live in that time.
So, what do you trust when you can no longer trust the things you have fallen back on your whole life? Where do you turn when there seems nowhere TO turn? When you feel afraid? When you’ve lost your way. When you’re all alone? When you’re far from home? When you’re down and out? When your hopes run out? When you need a friend? When you’re near the end? Light of the world- shine on me. Love is the answer.
The Bible tells us that, when everything else around us seems to be collapsing, when there seems to be nothing else left, there are 3 things that will remain” faith, hope and love. And it goes on to tell us that the greatest of these is love…God’s love. Turn to God. Seek His love. Trust…and obey…for there’s no other way.

The Art of Leadership

leadership

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

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

Listening…But NOT Hearing

listening-part-1

     I recently preached a sermon about hearing. Not listening…hearing. And I say it that way because I made a very specific distinction between the two. And there is a very specific reason I made that distinction. I didn’t really go into that reason in the sermon- it didn’t further the point of the sermon. But this would be a GREAT time to unpack it!

    If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know about the challenges I had last year regarding a golf ball-sized tumor just above my right ear. There were some difficult times. And there have been some lasting…permanent effects. Perhaps the biggest of the permanent effects is my hearing loss.

    On Tuesday, June 11, 2013, I had a “biopsy”- to find out more about the tumor. The plan was to go in through the ear and take a sample. However, when they got in there, they found that they simply couldn’t get a decent enough sample that way. So…they took my right ear off, dug around in there and then sewed the ear back on!

    Then, on Saturday, June 22, 2013- at 2PM, to be precise…and 10 days after the surgery- I performed a wedding. By the end of the service, I was not feeling well. I went home (which is next door) as soon as I could. I was feeling very nauseous so I headed upstairs. (The bedrooms and a bathroom are up there.) I  barely made it up the stairs and ended up on hands and knees- crawling into the spare bedroom. To describe what I was experiencing as vertigo would be to describe the North Pole as “a little chilly”! It was NOT pretty! In fact, I was unable to answer the bell for church the next morning- the FIRST time I had EVER missed worship because of illness. EVER!

    Fast forward to April 17, 2014. 10 hours in the OR and the tumor was out. In the aftermath, the doctors told me that the bones in my right inner ear we gone- GONE; destroyed by the tumor. I could immediately tell them the day, date AND time that happened!

    So I am hearing impaired- completely deaf on the right side. And as I have learned to adjust to that new reality, I have learned some pretty profound things about the wonder of hearing. Losing my right ear didn’t simply diminish my listening. It also impacted my ability to HEAR! Let me explain.

      Sometimes, my problems circle around listening- I simply don’t register enough sound to be able to make out what is being said. But other times, my problems are more in the area of hearing. I can listen just fine. I can register sound just fine. The volume is, while not necessarily perfect, more than enough to hear. And yet…I can’t. I can hear sounds…but I can’t decipher words from those sounds. It’s just…noise.

    I have no real explanation for why that is. And I also can’t explain why it is the case sometimes and not other times. It’s worse when the sound is amplified. (Think sound system.) And going to a movie theater is a rather uneven experience. (We solved the problem at home by turning on the Closed Captioning on every TV!) And the greater number (and volume) of competing sounds there are, there harder it is.

    It dawns on me that we sometimes approach our faith much that same way. We listen to God…but we don’t really HEAR God. And listening simply isn’t enough. If all you do is listen, then you only get part of the story. Oh, you may get bits and pieces…but you will NOT get the whole picture. Hearing is essential to your faith. Listen for God…to be sure. But make sure you also HEAR Him. Know what He is saying. Take it to heart. Apply it to your life. Live it out every day!

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

Help! The Internet Has Fallen…and It Won’t Get Up!

technology

    When I was in college (1979-1983), not everybody had a typewriter. (For those of you who are younger than me, a typewriter is an antique that was once used to “type” characters on a sheet of paper to create what we now call “a document”!) Case in point- I didn’t have a typewriter. I thank God daily for a roommate who A. had one and B. was quite generous in sharing it with me! The logical conclusion to this line of thinking is that nobody…and I mean NOBODY…had a computer. Computers back then we slow, loud and took up entire rooms!

    Fast forward to when I was in seminary (1997-2000). We had a computer in the house. And we had internet access. Hint: you couldn’t be on the phone AND the internet at the same time and, when you DID get on the internet, a cheery voice said, “You’ve got mail”! (Oh, AOL…we hardly knew you!) However, only one person I went to seminary with had a “portable computer” (I believe “the kids” call them “laptops”!) and he had one because he struggled with some accessibility issues that made the laptop essential. The rest of us took…GASP!…notes! By HAND! With a pencil! (Or a pen, I suppose!)

    Fast forward to about 2005. I am serving my second church. The pastor’s office computer was older than you and I put together. It was like watching paint dry, just trying to get it to load and function. So I requested a new one. A committee- The TECH Committee- ordered one to be made and sent. (That alone should tell you how far we’ve come, technologically speaking!) Fortunately, I had a conversation with the Chair of that committee BEFORE they ordered the computer. It had NO modem! When I asked why that was, the answer was simple, “We didn’t see that there would be any reason for you to get on the internet at the church!” And they were SERIOUS!

    Fast forward to now. The church I currently serve is wired from top to bottom. We have not one but two wireless networks- the building is big enough and “brick” enough that one doesn’t carry far enough. I can access both the sanctuary computer and the “hub” computer from the church office. I can access the internet from anywhere on the property- which is VERY helpful when teaching or in a meeting. I can access the main printer/copier from anywhere in the building. I communicate all day, every day…electronically- email, Facebook, Twitter…you name it. Even this blog exists only out in cyberspace.

     I am reminded of both the amazing distance technology has come in the past several years AND how much I use it on days like today. I am writing this at 8PM- after our Wednesday Night Fellowship activities are done and I am back home. But I am connecting to the internet through my cell phone- acting as a “hotspot”- instead of through our regular internet connection. Why? Because…sadly…we have an incredibly unreliable internet provider. This is the second extended outage in the past week or so. And I forget just how much I depend on access to the internet…until I don’t have it!

    In the end, technology is a tool. (Insert your joke here!) It is an important tool in this day and age…but a tool nonetheless. I am grateful for it. I use it OFTEN. But you know what? The world…amazingly enough…keeps spinning…even if the internet goes down!

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

6 Steps to Grace: Baptizing

6 Steps to Grace Main

    Tonight, we continue our current Sunday evening sermon series- 6 Steps of Grace. Author Max Lucado says, “The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’” Grace is  the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

    Over these 6 weeks, we are walking along the spiritual timeline of God’s grace- what it looks like and how we achieve it. 6 steps that, if followed, lead to a better awareness of, appreciation for and connection to God’s grace. The first week, we focused on the fact that the first stop on that timeline was hearing. Not simply listening…but hearing. Week 2, we looked at believing. Hearing is essential…but it’s not enough. We have to also believe. Faith is the key that unlocks the door. Week 3, we considered the next step in the journey toward God’s grace: repenting- becoming aware of our sins. Last week, we considered the 4th step- confessing. We established that confessing is a “both/and” proposition- confessing your sins TO God and confessing your faith IN God. Tonight, we move to step 5- baptizing. And we lead with the fact that when we are baptized, we become new creatures in Christ.

Question #1- What, if anything, do you remember about YOUR baptism?

    Romans 6:1-4 What should we say then? Should we keep on sinning so that God’s grace can increase? Not at all! As far as sin is concerned, we are dead. So how can we keep on sinning? All of us were baptized into Christ Jesus. Don’t you know that we were baptized into his death? By being baptized, we were buried with Christ into his death. Christ has been raised from the dead by the Father’s glory. And like Christ we also can live a new life.

Question #2- How would you define “baptism”?

    I have shared that I did not grow up in a “church home”. We tried to go to church, here and there, bits and pieces, fits and starts. And my mom taught me the Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology- the common “punctuation” at the end of offering: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…” But we never really got into the swing of things. “Normal” was just too hard for us.

    I have also shared that I didn’t really get started in church until I was preparing to get married. In fact, I was the one who bragged that, even though I went to a United Methodist-affiliated university, I never once went to a chapel service. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you where they met! But this girl I wanted to married wanted me to get to know the minister!

    I started attending. We got married. And we slowly got more and more involved in the church. In the meantime, there was a pastoral change. We were, after all, United Methodist! And then, there came a day when I wanted to join the church. So I talked with the current pastor. He asked me if I was baptized…and I had no idea! So I asked my mom…and she wasn’t sure, either! But she didn’t think I had been. So I went with “No”. Unlike me, this particular pastor wanted to “lump” multiple baptisms and/or new members together on the same day. And it just so happened that Confirmation Sunday was coming up in a few weeks. So…it was set!

    I was baptized on Confirmation Sunday (I was 25 years old.) and I joined the church, along with 7 8th Graders, that day. At the end of the service, the pastor had all of us new members stand at the back of the sanctuary to be congratulated by the congregation as they filed out. It struck me as frighteningly appropriate that I was standing with 7 8th Graders, being welcomed into the church! At that moment, I was probably the LEAST spiritually mature of the bunch. (Maybe simply the least mature…period!)

    If you’re looking for meaningful clues to baptism, it would seem logical to look to someone who is named after the act. So we turn to John the Baptist for some input. In Matthew 3:11, he says, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes One Who is more powerful than I, Whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

    So there is a water baptism- the act we watched in the video and the act you saw three times this morning if you were at the 10:15AM service. That act, in and of itself, is an act of repentance, an act of promise. It is carried out by an authorized representative of God and it is, at that level, limited in its power by the person administering it.

    But John the Baptizer makes it clear that there is a whole other level of baptism. In the middle of the ACT of baptism appears the SACRAMENT of baptism. Let’s take a moment and talk about sacraments. A sacrament, by definition, is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is a sacred act through which God, in real and tangible ways, is present. In the United Methodist church, there are two sacraments- Communion…and baptism. So when a pastor baptizes someone, they baptize them with water for the repentance of their sins. But through that act, they invoke the real presence of the Holy Spirit to fall upon the person being baptized, filling them with the Holy Spirit and bathing them in holy fire.

    What that says to me is that the actual act of baptism is an important one in our faith development. And in a United Methodist understanding of baptism, it is a “one and done” sort of deal. We don’t believe in re-baptizing. But looking at what John the Baptist said, while you may not be baptized more than once- with water, for repentance- Jesus can…and hopefully will…baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire again and again. It is not only an in-filling…it is a re-filling. And while I can’t speak for you- I need re-filling on a regular basis!

Question #3- What is your most significant memory of being baptized “with the Holy Spirit and with fire”?

    Can we baptize each other with the Holy Spirit? No. We simply don’t have that kind of power. But can we pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come down and do the job we are not able to do? Every day and twice on Sunday. As we move closer and closer to God’s grace, we remember that the 1st step is hearing, the 2nd step is believing, the 3rd step is repenting, the 4th step is confessing and the 5th step is baptizing. And we further remember that baptizing means not only the physical act- with water, for the repentance of sin- but also the aft-repeated spiritual act, when God’s Holy Spirit fills us and sets us ablaze with His light!

Of Ducks and Christians

Duck_Hen

    There is an annual event that takes place in the life of the church I currently serve. OK- there are TONS of annual events that take place her…but I am thinking about one SPECIFIC one at the moment! It is…ready?…a Punkin Pickin’ Party! Yep- you read that correctly. I think a decent amount of churches have some event LIKE this. In fact, the last church we served has a VERY similar annual event that even takes place on the same weekend as this one does! There must be something about Columbus Day!

    So Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting comfortably in a lawn chair, in the shade of a tree, enjoying the nice breeze and the pleasant conversation. (Not gonna lie- I also enjoyed a hot dog that I roasted over a fire, along with a snack bag of Fritos and a Scotcharoo! (If you don’t know what that is, A. I’m very sorry for you and B. think Rice Krispie treat with butterscotch and some sort of magical, delicious icing on top!)

    My choice of seating gave me a great view of a pond that sits behind the house we were at. On the pond was…oh, let’s say 20 geese. Good old, plain old, beautiful Canadian geese. Swimming about. Not bothering a soul.

    The couple who live there started telling me about the geese. Or more specifically…the duck that was hidden among the geese. They directed my attention to specific spot in the pond and, if you looked really carefully..and squinted just a bit…you could see a duck among all of these geese. It looked like an average, ordinary duck. And it was swimming around with these geese. And the geese seemed rather ambivalent to the duck, They certainly weren’t mean to it and they didn’t try to run it off or anything. Instead, they just kind of…ignored it- like they were every other waterfowl in the pond.

    The couple told me the story of where the duck came from- a story for another time- and then told me, rather matter of factly, that the duck…thinks he’s a goose! He has been the lone duck in the pond for a while now. And the only waterfowl who have shown up to join him have been these geese. And since they have been him role models, he has begun to act more and more like a goose. And once you know that, it’s pretty funny to watch him. He postures, moves and flaps…just like a goose. THis little duck. In the middle of all of these great big geese!

    As I watched him, it dawned on me that we aren’t all that different from that little duck. We are greatly influenced by the people with whom we surround ourselves. Who we chose to “hang with” has a GREAT impact on how we behave, what we say, what we think…who we are.

    With whom are you surrounding yourself? One of the best things I ever did was make a conscious choice to hang with the people at the first church I attended. Were they perfect? Nope. Did they make mistakes? You bet. But did they try, day in and day out, to live a Christian life,? Did they attempt to reflect Jesus in the way they treated other people, the way they lived their lives? Every day and twice on Sunday!

    If you’re not happy with your life- with who you are and how things are going- take a moment to consider the people with whom you surround yourself. Are they an awful lot like you- the “you” you are not happy with? Or are they more like the person you would LIKE to be?

    I had a boss once tell me, “Don’t dress for the job you HAVE- dress for the job you WANT!” So…I showed up the next day in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball uniform! (Hey, she SAID!) But the same could be said for your social group, “Don;t hang out with the people you ARE- hang out with the people you WANT to be.

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