“I Resolve to…”

blank list of resolutions on blackboard

Statistics say that 40 to 45% of American adults will make one or more resolutions this new year. 34% will set resolutions related to money, 38% will set resolutions related to weight, 47% will set resolutions related to self-improvement or education and 31% will set resolutions related to relationships. So less than half of us will even make them…but how will that less that half do about KEEPING them? Again, statistics bear out that 75% will still be keeping their resolution past the first week, 71% will make it past 2 weeks, the number will be down to 64% after one month, and after 6 months only 46% of that original 45% will still be keeping their resolutions.

Apparently there is some truth to the “old dog, new tricks” thing…because statistically the younger you are, the more likely you are to achieve your resolutions. 39% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions every year or every other year, while less than 15% of those over 50 achieve their resolutions every year or every other year. All in all, not a GREAT winning percentage, is it?!
Do YOU set New Year’s resolutions, and if so- what kind do you typically set? Why do you set those particular resolutions? What do you hope to gain by setting them? What will you do to be more successful than you were last year? Here’s a suggestion…take it for what it’s worth…DON’T make New Year’s resolutions this year. Instead…set goals. And yes, Virgina…there IS a big difference…if done correctly! A resolution is “I’m going to TRY and do better about (fill in your weakness here) next year!” That “TRY” is the caveat that let’s us off the hook when we fail. Instead, set goals. And here’s what a goal is: SMART. And yes…that’s an acronym! And here’s what it stands for:
S is for specific- a goal can’t be “I want to lose some weight”…NOT specific.
M is for measurable- a goal can’t be “I want to be a better person”…NOT measurable.
A is for achievable- a goal can’t be “I want to lose 200 lbs. by Feb. 1…NOT achievable.
R is for reasonable- a goal can’t be “I want to lose 4 ounces”…NOT reasonable.
And T is for timely- a goal can’t be “I want to learn the guitar sometime”…NOT timely.
So, goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and timely. If you set them with those guidelines, it’s NOT a guarantee that you will achieve them…but you have a MUCH better chance! Tomorrow begins the New Year- along with looking forward to what you want, make sure and spend some time reflecting on what you have. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a great 2016! Thanks for stopping by! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I Have Been CT Scanned and MRIed!

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    If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I had major surgery in April of last year. They cut a fairly big hole in my skull, dug out a golf ball-sized tumor, cauterized the little bit of tumor they couldn’t get because it was attached to the dura (the “sack” that surrounds the brain), rebuilt (with titanium mesh) the “cap” that connects the law to the skull and then closed the whole thing up with more titanium mesh and some titanium screws.

    I had a follow-up visit a couple of weeks after surgery that included a CT scan and an MRI. I then had another follow-up at the 6 month mark- in early December of last year. Then, since things looked good, it was stretched to a year.

    So early in Thanksgiving week this year, my wife and I went to St. Louis for the 1-year follow-up. All of the tests and doctor’s appointments that were scheduled for that Monday went off without a hitch. But the tests scheduled for Tuesday- an MRI and a CT scan- were put on hold because of my insurance company- bless their heart! Fortunately, my neurosurgeon was willing to let me get the tests done closer to home and sent to him.

    So I began the process of making that happen. Insurance company- bless their heart. Neurosurgeon’s assistant. Local hospital. Local imaging center. A different local imaging center! (Don’t ask!) Finally…FINALLY…I got it all worked out. The CT scan and the MRI were both scheduled for December 28- the day before yesterday. Finally, after 12+ months AND a couple of fits and starts, I was going to have these tests and see what was what about you know what!

    But the weather had other plans! Overnight, Sunday into Monday, an ice storm with wind gusts up to 45 MPH hit. By about 8:30AM on Monday, the power was out. With “a little help from my friends” (OK- a LOT!), we got a generator going, so we had heat and some lights. AS we got closer to noon and needing to leave for my appointments- 45 minutes away- we had a decision to make. And that decision included three possible choices- 1. go and leave the generator running, unattended, with my wife’s aging parents the only ones home, 2. go and shut the generator off, with my wife’s aging parents the only ones home AND no power or heat or 3. don’t go.

    Usually, if you have three choices, at least one of them is somewhat palatable. Not this time! There was not a decent choice in the bunch! So I called the two places where I was to have the tests, explained my sad tale of woe and threw myself on the mercy of the court. “Is there ANY way you could still fit me in this week? I HAVE to have these tests before the end of the week/month/year.” The MRI center had ONE appointment opened…period- 9:30AM yesterday. I took it. I then called the CT center who said they had NOTHING at that time…but would “shoehorn” me in between people.

    We got there early, filled out voluminous paperwork, had the CT scan at 9:25AM and the MRI at about 10:45AM (they were running late). It’s somewhat amazing- the CT scan takes about 5 minutes and can be done in my street clothes. The MRI takes over an hour, involves injecting dye into my veins and has to be done while wearing one of those charming hospital gowns!

    BUT, after all that nonsense- they’re done! And now…I wait…some more. The tests have to be sent to my neurosurgeon, who will read them and then have his assistant call me. I pray that the conversation goes something like this, “Everything looks great…see you in a year!”

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

I’d Like Some Cheese With My Whine!

Whining

    OK- we are a nation of whiners. Or at least I’m willing to admit that I sometimes fall all too easily into the “wine” rack! And yesterday was a good example of that. Where I live, we had some nasty weather. It started overnight- Sunday into Monday. It started as rain/sleet. It went on all morning, into the afternoon and was STILL going on…somewhat changed into snow…as I wrote this at 7PM last night.

    And of course, any time there is A. ice and B. wind (gusts up to 45 MPH), there is a pretty decent chance at power outages. And sure enough, at about 9AM, it went. The good news is that we bought a generator this fall, so we were set. OK- we really weren’t even CLOSE to “set”!

    I am the son of an electrician, who became a design engineer. And I learned a little bit from him about electricity. But at the end of the day, I’m a preacher, NOT an electrician! I had NO idea how to hook up the generator. I HAD obtained a large can of gas…but forgot that an engine like that would need…oh, I don’t know…OIL! (My dad is probably doing flips in his grave right about now!)

    Fortunately, there are men in the church I currently serve who A. know WAY more than me and B. are incredibly generous with both their wisdom and their assistance! Two guys showed up…one might say knights in shining armor…and filled the gap in my wisdom. While one wired the breaker box in such a way that the generator would work, the other A. drove to the local store and bought oil and B. got the generator ready to roll. (Remember, it was still in the box when they got there!) Soon, the generator was running and there was power in the house. The generator is a smaller one, so it can’t handle the whole house. But it DID power the furnace, the TV, some lights and the 3 lift chairs we have in the house.

    Now, if you remember, I started this blog by claiming that we are a nation of whiners. And yet, I haven’t mentioned that since! Well…here we go! All day, we caught each other wanting to turn something on or use something that didn’t have power. And there would be this momentary, “Oh yeah…it doesn’t work!” I also noticed on Facebook (My smart phone works, even if the home internet connection was down!) that people were lamenting the power company, the storm, the lack of electricity and just about anything else they could find to lament! And again, I was right there with them!

    It’s easy to complain about what we don’t have. Easy, that is, until we stop and think about what other people don’t have. We complain because the internet is slow or the satellite TV is hinky or the power is out. Meanwhile, there are people out there…and they are not even THAT far “out there”, who don’t have a warm, dry place to sleep. They don’t have decent clothes to wear. They don’t have enough food to eat. Ouch.

    So maybe slow internet isn’t really THAT bad. Maybe Being inconvenienced by power outages isn’t so horrible. Maybe us “First World” people really ought to stop and do what the old hymn suggests- count your blessings, name them one by one!

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

Christmas Vacation!

Kindle-Reading

     A mother woke her son up on Sunday morning and told him he needed to get ready to go to church. He replied that he didn’t want to go to church. She told him, “Nonsense! Get up and go to church!” “But mom!” he replied, “Everybody hates me, the sermons are boring and none of my friends ever come.” His mother replied, “Now, son…! First, everybody doesn’t hate you, only a couple of bullies and you just have to stand up to them. Second, the sermons mean a lot to many people. If you listened to them, you’d be surprised at how good they are in helping people. Third, you have lots of friends at church. They are always having you over to their house. And finally, you HAVE to go…you’re the pastor!!”

    Yesterday, I didn’t go to church. You read that right- I didn’t go to church! I traditionally take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. (My experience is that a LOT of pastors take this week off! (It may, statistically, be the Sunday with the most “fill-ins” in pulpits all year.) And honestly, after the “busyness” of the Christmas season, a little time off is nice!

     Some vacation Sundays, I intentionally pick out another church to visit for the day. I am always interesting in what other churches. Other vacation Sundays…I sleep in. I will be honest- yesterday was a “sleep in” Sunday. I traditionally get up at 5AM on Sunday mornings. (Don’t ask.) Yesterday, I woke up at 6:10AM- went back to sleep. I woke up at 7:05AM- went back to sleep. I woke up at 8:10AM- and the dog said, “Hey! I need to GO!” So I got up!

    The morning was more than a little…leisurely. I had a bagel. I read the “paper”. (The quotation marks are because my “paper” is an app on my iPad!) I drank coffee. And I read about 100 pages of the book I am currently in the middle of.

    At noon, we dragged leftovers at. After lunch, it was…back to reading! That lasted until…dinner, at which time I cooked- bacon, scrambled eggs with onions and potatoes and biscuits and gravy. After dinner, it was a run to the store for a few things- an ice storm was supposed to hit late last night and into today. Then…more reading! After that- bed!

    So yesterday, normally a very busy day (because I only work one day a week, right?!) was a lazy day. And I enjoyed it. But…all the while…I couldn’t help but think about how things were going next door. Where I sit, in “my” chair in our living room, is probably about 50-60 feet away from where I preach, as the crow flies. (That crow, would, however, have to fly through not one but two brick walls along the way!) And as I read yesterday morning, I also caught myself thinking about what was probably going on next door, based on the time.

    Now, don’t misunderstand- I wasn’t thinking about that because I think they can’t “do worship” without me. While I was out for 6 weeks, recovering from major surgery in 2014, they rocked it HARD- running the church without ANY clergy, fill-in or otherwise! They could easily do this thing without me! I simply miss my church family when I’m not with them.

    For me, that is one of many signs that I am doing what God wants me to be doing. If I actually miss my “job” when I am on vacation, then there is no doubt that I am where I’m supposed to be. And for that…I feel truly blessed.

    I spent a large part of my adult life working at jobs that I didn’t like. I NEVER had a job I couldn’t do. I had LOTS of jobs I didn’t WANT to do! So to have a job…a vocation…a career…a calling that I don’t like but instead LOVE, that’s just the icing on the cake!

    I pray you are doing what you love to do. But if you aren’t, my encouragement to you is to try and find a way to do it. Hopefully, you can do it AND make enough money to put food on the table. But if not, then I pray you can find a way to do it “on the side”- have a “real” job that feed your family but have “hobby” that feeds your soul.

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

“It’s Not the Years…It’s the Mileage!”

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I am a big fan of adventure movies, and one of my favorite movie characters of all time is Indiana Jones. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (the 1st and best of the series, followed pretty closely by The Last Crusade, with The Temple of Doom and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull tied at a relatively distant 3rd!) Indy meets up with Marion Ravenwood, a long-lost love. After a…stormy…reunion, she says to him, “You’re not the man I knew 10 years ago.” To which he replies, “It’s not the years, honey- it’s the mileage!”

I was 20 years old when Raiders came out (you do the math…I’m busy!), and that line from Indy didn’t really resonate with me, beyond simply being a funny “throw-away” comment. Now, however, I am (did you DO the math?) 54 years old, with 55 JUST around the corner, and that line means a WHOLE lot more to me than it did! I have come to understand, at least to a much better extent than I did as a 20-year old, that age IS a state of mind. At least at SOME level, that is. I feel younger at 54 than I did at 35. At 35, I was making a MAJOR life change- quitting a career that seemed to be finally going somewhere to go back to school AND go into the ministry! (I must have been at least slightly insane to do it!) I was going to school full-time, working at a church part-time (I actually worked there much closer to full-time…I just got PAID part-time!), trying to balance a family in the middle of all that, AND then finding out we were having a baby at the age of 39! I was exhausted all the time! I made it through seminary on guile and gallons and gallons of strong coffee…period! Oh yeah, and God had a little something to do with it, as well!
Now, I have been in the ministry for 19 years (can it REALLY be that long?) and I am more…alive…than I have ever been. It doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I am exhausted. It doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I could scrap it all and go live in a cabin in the backwoods of Montana. It doesn’t mean that my life is perfect…far from it. Instead, what it means is that I have a different perspective, a different outlook on life than I used to. Why? Because God is tenacious! He wanted me to go into the ministry…and I didn’t want to. So…I ignored Him. I ran from Him. I told Him “NO!” But He didn’t give up on me…He kept pushing, until finally I relented (couldn’t take it any more!) and gave in! I really didn’t answer as call to the ministry as much as I got tired of fighting and said “OK!”
Do your years match your mileage…or is there a lot more miles on your body…and soul…than your birth certificate would bear out? If you feel like you have run out of warranty because of excessive mileage…turn to God. I am living proof that when you do that, God has some special tool that allows Him to crack open the dashboard and roll back the odometer. And it feels so GREAT when that happens!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Greatest Gift of All: The Endowment

The Greatest Gift of All The Endowment

    Just as the minister was about to start preaching on Christmas Eve, the power went out in the church. After the ushers took several minutes to find some candles and get some light in the sanctuary, the minister stepped back into the pulpit and started shuffling his papers. “Now then…where was I?” From the back of the sanctuary came one lone, hopeful voice, “Almost done?”

    So…here we are! Christmas Eve. When you’re 4 years old, it seems like Christmas will NEVER come. When you’re 54 years old, it feels like you are on a runaway train and Christmas Day is the station! Advent- the season leading up to Christmas- began 4 weeks ago and, along the way, we have been considering what we have been calling The Greatest Gift of All. We’ve walked the journey Mary and Joseph walked as they traveled to Bethlehem and drew closer and closer to tonight- the arrival of a baby in a manger Who would literally split time in half…and change the world. The first week, we focused on Mary and Joseph having no choice but to make the 3-day trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. And we said that seemingly random event was, in fact…The Opportunity. And we decided that

Sometimes, the best outcomes grow out of the most unlikely sources.

    The second week, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, found no room in the inn and ended up in a stable. They then settled in ahead of the blessed event- The Baby. Last week, we focused on

The Announcement. The News was SO Good that it HAD to be shared! The opportunity. The Baby. The Announcement. They all lead up to tonight. They all lead up to The Endowment. I want to take a few minutes and walk through the Christmas Gospel as found in the New Testament Book of Luke. Now, if you know me very well at all…you know I don’t tend to be a “King James” sort of preacher- it’s just not my style. But there are just some passages that need to be heard in that marvelously poetic language. This passage is one of them here these words.

    Luke 2:1-20 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

    Why Bethlehem? Makes no sense.  would have picked Jerusalem- the capital city. Or Rome- the power center of the Ancient Near Eastern World. Or at least Nazareth- Mary and Joseph’s home town. Why Bethlehem? Did you know that “Bethlehem” means ‘house of bread’? Jesus came down to earth to be the “Bread of Life”. SO, God saw fit for His Son, the “Bread of Life”, to be born in the “house of bread”. And notice that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Wrapped. It’s the 1st Christmas and Jesus was “wrapped” as a present from God to the world. Jesus is a love gift from God. The time was right. The stage was set. Everything was ready. And then…Jesus was born. It was God’s plan, God’s timetable and God’s design. God was in charge- God had a purpose.

    And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

    Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth announcement delivered to the Mayor of Bethlehem? Or the City Council? Or the Priests? I mean, almost ANYBODY but the shepherds! They were 2nd class citizens. They didn’t smell good, They didn’t dress well. They didn’t have much book learnin’. Most of them were shepherds because they didn’t really know how to do anything else. So why them? They weren’t asleep. Everybody else in town was sound asleep. But these lowly, poor, humble shepherds were READY!

    There are a lot of Christians who are “spiritually asleep”- and missing out on the peace, joy and blessings of God. If salvation could be purchased, only the rich would be saved. If salvation could be gained by being very moral, only the good would be saved. If salvation could be reached by prominence, only the famous would be saved. If salvation could be earned by strict adherence to religion, only the pious would be saved. But God doesn’t call those who are equipped- He equips those who are called.

    And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

    A church was putting on their annual children’s Nativity play and there was one little boy who desperately wanted to be Joseph. But when the parts were announced, another kid was given the role of Joseph and he instead was assigned the part of the innkeeper. He was NOT happy about it. So during rehearsals, he plotted and schemed about how he could end up as the hero of the story. Finally, the time of performance came. Mary and Joseph came walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn and the innkeeper answered- this was the moment he had been waiting for. “What do you want?” “We’d like to have a room for the night.” There was a pause and the he smiled, flung the door opened and announced, “Great, come on in! I’ll give you the best room in the house!” He had succeeded…or so he thought. But then Joseph snatched victory back from the jaws of defeat. He stood stock still for a moment, then replied, “Come on, Mary! No wife of mine is going to stay in dump like this!”

    We have a saying at this church- “God is good, all the time!” And that’s easy to say when everything is all kittens and moonbeams. But what about…when it’s NOT? Well, I just stopped by here this evening to tell you that God is good on the good days AND the bad ones. When our stress level is about to pop the overflow valve and spew everywhere…God is good. When we’re in the hospital, God is good. When we’re facing an uncertain future, God is good. When we’re struggling financially, God is good. When we lose a loved one, God is good.

    I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there.I’ve walked through hard times with God and without God. And while I can’t speak for you, I would MUCH rather walk through the hills and valleys of life WITH God than without. Having God in your life doesn’t suddenly make your life perfect. Instead, it provides you with Someone to walk the journey with you- to walk ahead of you, encouraging you, to walk behind you, gently nudging you, to walk alongside you, arm in arm, and on those days when you’re pretty certain you can’t even put one foot in front of the other…to carry you.

    A Baby, born in a stable- the humblest of surroundings. How can He POSSIBLY save me? Dig a little deeper- you’ll see the enormity of the gift and the sacrifice it represents. Jesus is the perfect gift for a hurting world a world that often seems so undeserving! Why does God offer us the gift if we don’t deserve it? It goes the promise found in John 3:16- “For God SO loved the world…” God’s grace can’t be earned. It is simply…given, as a gift to anyone who will receive it.

    Many of us are going to exchange gifts in the next few hours. Perhaps you already have. And I’m no Scrooge- I pray you get a little somethin’ somethin’ that you want, that means alot to you. Just don’t lose sight of the best gifts you could receive this Christmas- God’s Son, God’s love and God’s grace. Into this cold, dark world Jesus came as a baby. He came to touch our lives. He came to change us forever. He reached down into time and space to save us from our sins. He came to show us a better way to live.

    So earlier, I claimed that tonight we would focus on The Endowment. And yet…I haven’t mentioned it since. Let’s take a moment and look at the word “endowment”. Dictionary.com says this about the word “endow”-  “to give a large amount of money to a school, hospital, etc., in order to pay for the creation or continuing support of something”. Well, for our purposes, that’s not very helpful. Unless somebody came this evening wanting to make a major endowment to the church…no? Didn’t think so!

    But there IS more to the definition that IS helpful- “to freely or naturally provide someone with something”. “To freely or naturally provide someone with something”. Tonight, God freely and naturally provides us with something- life abundantly. Life is a blessing…a gift. And life can’t be fully explained in human terms. It’s  mystery. As Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We’re called to something so much bigger than ourselves. Life is found at its fullest when we trust in God, when we walk by faith and not by sight…even through the failures and disappointments. Life is measuring ourselves by how Jesus sees us and not by how the world sees us.

 

     The mystery of Jesus birth is that He wrapped Himself into our flesh and became like us. And, if we’re honest, that fact is, at some level, simply beyond our ability to understand it- the Creator of the cosmos would CHOOSE to take on the weakness of a newborn baby.

    This Christmas Eve, remind yourself that the gift God’s given us is WAY better than the socks from Aunt Tillie, the hand-knitted sweater from Grandma or the Old Spice deodorant and cologne collection from Uncle Delmar. It’s an awesome gift that simply cannot disappoint.

    We spend a lot of time…and money…every year picking out the perfect Christmas gift for those we love. God spent a lot of time on the very first Christmas gift … His Son, Jesus. And He’s the PERFECT gift. “1 size fits all.” The gift you’ll never return. Never exchange. God offers us a gift tonight. And unlike the socks, the sweater and the Old Spice, this gift can change your life…if you let it. It is THe Endowment.