Ministry is Messy

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     I have shared several times before that I am an alphabet soup of “disorders”. I was clinically diagnosed with ADD- Attention-Deficit Disorder, when I was in my 20’s. Nobody knew what ADD was when I was growing up…or I would have been diagnosed earlier! But as I read about it, suddenly LARGE portions of my life and who I am made sense! Several years later, I was talking about ADD and I said to my wife, “Well, at least I don’t have the ‘H’!” (As in “Hyperactivity” sandwiched between “Deficit” and “Disorder”.) My wife looked at me and said, “Oh, Honey…you have the H!” And she is SO right!

    So, there’s ADHD. And then, at about the age of 40, I began to read about OCD- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (If you ever watched the TV show Monk…there you go!) As I read more about it, it became clear to me that I have THAT as well! Now, there are degrees of OCD. The character of Monk did things that I don’t do. BUT…I do a decent amount of the things he did…I have just learned how to either hide them or present them in more socially acceptable ways!

    One of the many ways that my OCD manifests itself is in my hands. I am obsessive…compulsive about my hands. If I do basically ANYTHING outside, I wear gloves. I do not like to get my hand dirty and I was them OFTEN! So in that respect, the word “messy” can be more than a little challenge for me.

    When I was in seminary, I had a professor who often told us, “You will come back to visit and tell me ALL the things I didn’t teach you about the ministry.” She was so right. She also said, “Ministry is messy.” And boy was she right about that, too!

    When you do math- at least the math that I have had some educational training in- there IS a right answer- a bottom line. When you get to the end of the problem, you can usually plug the answer back into the equation you started with and check to see if you’re right or not. 2 +2 = 4. Predictable. Clean. Logical.

    But ministry isn’t like that. Ministry is a WHOLE lot less “science” and a WHOLE lot more “art”. Sure, there are principles, tenets, beliefs, foundations. But lying on top of those is a hodge-podge of…life. It’s NOT predictable. It’s NOT simple. And…often…it’s NOT easy.

    Why is that the case? Why is math predictable and clean while ministry is unpredictable and messy? It’s because math is built around numbers while ministry is built around…us humans. And if there is one thing that is predictable about humans is that we are unpredictable. Someone can do the SAME thing 50 times. And then, on the 51st time they will do something completely out of the blue. It may be that the first 50 times they did it “wrong” and the 51st time is suddenly…right. Then again, it may be that the first 50 were perfect and 51 makes you wonder if they have ever done it before!

    Therefore, as a pastor, you have to hold fast to bedrock. And you better know WHAT bedrock IS for you. But you also have to we willing to sway in the wind sometimes, knowing that, although you may get buffeted around a bit, you still have a firm grasp to that foundation.

    For me, “bedrock” can be summed up with the words of United Methodist founder John Wesley. He said 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good and 3. Love God. If you can’t do ANYTHING else- make sure you don’t put anybody in a position to be hurt. But don’t stop there. START there…but don’t stop there. Next, do good. It’s not enough to do no harm. Do all the good you can in all the places you can. Oh, and by the way…LOVE GOD! The more you do #3, the more #1 and #2 will fall into place. Now, if you’ll excuse me- I have to go wash my hands!

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

The Birthday Angel

BirthdayAngel     Today is the anniversary of one of THE
greatest things that has EVER happened in the history of humankind. Seriously. No foolin’! And what, you may ask, was that monumental event? On this date…the woman who said, “Yes” to my rather lame, nervous, poorly-thought proposal of marriage was born!
My wife and I met when we were but 15
years old…yep- High School Sweethearts! We met in the fall on a hayride and, over the next few months, struck up a friendship. It started slowly, almost imperceptibly…but it grew. She tells me that the “tipping point” for her, the moment she was sure I was interested in more than friendship, was the “standing in the rain” day.
Our high school was 3 large buildings
built around a central, sunken parking lot- The Pit. It was not at all unusual that, during the short passing period between classes, you would need to get all the way from the 3rd floor of The Main Building, across The Pit and to the 2nd floor of The Annex Building. That meant you had LITTLE time to dawdle and still get to your destination on time. Partway through the 2nd semester of that Sophomore year, I was walking away from The Main, toward The Pit and The Annex, trying to get to class, when I heard, “That’s OK- don’t wait for me!” I turned…and there she was! It turned out that she, too, had the same route to take and was behind me. I laughed and waited for her. We walked together across the campus.
The next day, it was pouring down rain at that same moment in the schedule. But I was NOT going that make that same mistake again! So…I stood out in the pouring rain, waiting for her. When she came out and saw me standing there, knowing full well WHY I was standing there…a significant moment happened! Our first official date was not terribly long after that- April 29, 1977- her birthday. She came to see me perform in the school musical Oliver! (She said it was foreshadowing- me standing up front talking and her in the crowd, listening!) We then went to a local restaurant where we had sautéed mushrooms and partially-frozen birthday cake while listening to the synthesized stylings of one Mr. Mike Zicovich.
The journey from that night to our wedding…to today…was not always smooth. There were LOTS of bumps in the road- some pretty substantial. I was NOT always the partner I wanted to be…should have been. But that deep, abiding love just kept bringing us together…holding us together.
She certainly did NOT sign on to marry a preacher. If you would have given her a potential list of a THOUSAND jobs I might end up doing…”ministry” would have STILL not been on the list! And yet- God continues to use the least, the lost, the reprobate. And so, WAY down the road- I finally had no choice but to relent to God’s call on my life. And as she has always done, this amazing woman who manages to somehow tolerate me year after year stepped up to the plate. She is both the least “typical” and best “pastor’s wife” I have ever seen! And she just continues to be the absolute best partner I could have ever imagined. Thank you, God, for the unfathomable gift of this beautiful woman in my life. I am truly blessed!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow!

“She Killed the Grapes!”

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    Last night, at the Wednesday Night Bible Study I lead, we talked about…ready…circumcision! (Didn’t really see THAT coming, did you?!) The lesson we were on looked at a passage from the New Testament Book of Colossians where the Apostle Paul talks about the Jewish ritual of circumcision. He then compares it to a wholly non-physical circumcision that Jesus performs in our lives when we accept Him.

    In the context of the conversation, I shared a story about my mom. To say she had a green thumb would be like saying that the sky is blue or the ocean is deep- painfully obvious! We had a MASSIVE garden. And if there was a fruit or vegetable to be grown, she at least tried to grow it. And seldom did she try and fail! (Although we had consistently bad luck with carrots! And yet, we grew a row of them every year…because the horse didn’t care about our bad luck- he LOVED them!)

    One of the MANY things my mom grew were grapes. We had two rows of vines on an arbor. (On arbors?) We planted them the first year and they grew really well but didn’t really produce much. Then, that Fall, as part of our annual “get ready for winter” tour (and at MY house, that tour had a REALLY long run!), we pruned the grapevines. And when I say “pruned”, perhaps “massacred” would be more descriptive! I mean, she hacked them down to the point that they weren’t even recognizable as grapevines. They were, instead…stumps.

    I was horrified. But you didn’t tell my mom that sort of thing. So I waited until later, when she wasn’t around but my dad was. I pulled him aside and said, “She killed the grapes!” He just laughed! The next Spring, of course, the grapevines came roaring back with a vengeance. They grew like wildfire and produced a bumper crop of grapes. I learned a valued lesson that year.

    So…circumcision…grapevines. The circumcision that Paul talks about in Colossians is like pruning those grapevines. It’s not a literal one but a spiritual one. When we commit ourselves to Christ, there is a pruning- a spiritual one- that takes place. The old, sinful nature is cut away, leaving space for the new, healthy spirit to grow and flourish. And that pruning is not a “one and done” kind of thing- it happens again and again. And every time it happens, parts of your life that are not of God are pruned away.

    The pruning process isn’t fun. It’s often painful. But it always bear fruit…if we let it. Give in to God. Let Him be the ruler of your life. Let Him cut away the old you so that He can replace with a new you- born again in Him!

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

What Scares YOU?

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    What are you afraid of? Oh- I apologize to all my English teacher friends out there. What I MEANT to ask was, “Of what are you afraid?!” (Although I have an English teacher friend who turns that whole “not ending a sentence with a preposition” thing on its head when she…intentionally…asks, “What’s that about?!” I LOVE it!)

    So…what scares you? (See what I did there?!) There are all sorts of fears out there. In fact, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 572 known phobias or fears. There are relatively common ones like:

Acrophobia – fear of heights.

Arithmophobia- Fear of numbers

    There are more unusual ones like:

Arachi-butyro-phobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth

Barophobia- Fear of gravity

Genuphobia- Fear of knees

Geniophobia- Fear of chins

No-ver-ca-phobia – fear of mother in laws (which I DON’T have!)

Hippopoto-monstros-equipped-alio-phobia- Fear of long words

    And there are two I hope you don’t have:

Homilphobia – fear of sermons

Peladophobia – fear of bald people

    There’s a common phobia that I think we all have in some area of our lives:

Tropophobia – the fear of making changes

    A study I read in the New York Times said that the biggest fear of all, even above death, is:

Glossophobia- the fear of public speaking (I would be in SO much trouble if I had that!)

    So, again- what scares you? I can honestly say that I’m not afraid of much. But I have an unnatural fear of…snakes. I was on a mission trip to the mountains of North Carolina once. We worked during the day and stayed at a very rustic camp at night. Early one evening, I was sitting in a picnic area, writing. The women’s cabin was just a few hundred feet from where I sat. All of a sudden, I heard a scream. I looked up to see one of the women who was a part of the mission trip dancing around and pointing. She saw me sitting nearby and yelled, “Mark!” I sat stock-still and relied, “Yes?” She yelled, “Snake!” I again sat stock-still and said, “Yes…it is.” She yelled, “Come and kill it!” As I went back to writing, I said, “No…I’m fine right here!”

    Fear is inconvenient at best and paralytic at worst. It can absolutely cripple you- keep you from being able to live life fully…maybe at all. But God did NOT make us to be fearful.

2Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” And 1John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” When we surrender ourselves to God’s power and love, we can be released from the hold that fear has on us.

    So…one last time- what scares you? Whatever it is- give it to God. Let it go and be confident that He can, and will, replace that fear with peace- a peace that passes all understanding.

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

Twittergram

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Remember the old movies? The main characters would be sitting in the parlor or drawing room, having tea and pleasant discourse, and the doorbell would ring. The characters would look at each other as if to say, “Whoever could that be?” Then the butler or the maid would come in with an envelope, “This just came for you, ma’am.” the woman of the house would take the envelope, open it, read it…and drop it on the floor with an “Oh, my!” or perhaps even a faint.

Those envelopes were Western Union telegrams. The information would come into the local Western Union office, often on a ticker tape machine. The message would be written or typed and then hand-delivered to the intended receiver. It was the height of technology…back in the late 19th century! But Western Union officially stopped sending telegrams in 2006…about 50 years after their effectiveness had passed. It is now something that is best seen in a museum- an example of how “things used to be”.
I recently read about a pastor who spoke before a group of his peers- other pastors. During his talk, he focused on the fact that churches need to keep current with the ways in which folks communicate. The way he put it was “we have too many 8-track preachers in an MP3 world”! Well said, pastor!
As I thought through that, I decided that what worked better for me, partly because I didn’t want to simply steal his idea and partly because it’s something that I have been trying to get around the learning curve on, is that we are often a telegram church in a Twitter world. A large portion of the American Christian Church is still trying to send telegrams and can’t imagine why their approach is not effective. It’s fascinating, really. We seem to accept the fact that things change. We are able to deal with changes in nearly every part of our lives…except in church. We somehow think that church should be the ONE thing that remain constant, dare I say static, in a sea of change.
But that’s simply not realistic. The Church is called to…what?…make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Period. It doesn’t say anything about not changing. It doesn’t say anything about pleasing ourselves. It doesn’t say anything about making disciples by forcing them to adapt to the way we do things. Instead, it says that we are to make disciples. And inherent in that directive is the notion that, as long as we keep the message clear and pure, the delivery system is subject to change.
Imagine if more churches actively used social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. Imagine if more churches used things like text messaging as a part of the worship service. Imagine if more churches used the Internet as an interactive tool to better communicate with their members…and potential members. Imagine if the Church could let go of its stranglehold on “the way we’ve always done things” and instead asked, “How could we do things that might better reach new people for Jesus?” THAT’S the moment at which we would stop being a telegram church and start down the road to being a Twitter church.
Thank you for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Here We Grow Again!

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    I LOVE worship! Worship is the heart of any church…or it should be. Everything we are as Christians should grow out of genuine, spirit-filled, authentic worship. And because of that, worship should be done well. Now, let me make sure I explain that- I don’t want to be misquoted or misunderstood.

    Doing worship well isn’t about a “performance”. It’s not about staging an event. Instead, it’s about facilitating an environment where those attending are NOT just merely attenders”- they’re participants. It’s also about offering our best to God- the audience of One.

    So at the church I currently serve, we work hard to plan and prepare for our worship services. We meet weekly to go over the services for the week. We talk about the music that has been chosen- “is that song the right song and is it in the right place” and other conversations like that. We talk about who is doing Scripture reading. We talk about where in the service something that is “out of the ordinary” best fits. Sometimes, we go into the sanctuary and actually walk through things, trying to work out the best approach, logistically- especially if it involved moving lots of people.

    “How is that NOT rehearsing a play, Pastor?” The difference is found in the intent. If our intent is to entertain, then it IS rehearsing a play. But if our intention is to do the absolute best we can to facilitate worship- to help bring people further into a spirit of worship- then it is something else entirely. There is a mood and a momentum that exist in worship. And the more the worship staff can do to help enable that mood, that momentum, the deeper and more powerful the worship is. Once we embrace the truth that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit Who brings the true power to worship, then we can relax and focus on our job, which is simply to help facilitate that.

    I have been involved in starting several new worship services on my almost 20 years of ministry. Each one was a LOT of work and they all met with widely varying degrees of “success”. But you can’t fail if you are never willing to step out in faith! SO…I now start the process again. Yesterday at church I announced that we would be launching a new, 3rd Sunday morning worship at the church I currently serve. It will debut on September 11. It will feature electric guitar, drums and bass and will be the most “Contemporary” of the 3 services. And I am jazzed!

    New worship services mean new entry points for folks coming into the church. People initially connect with a church in a wide variety of ways. And the more entry points the church can offer, the more folks they can connect to Jesus Christ. So I have- intentionally- committed to more work, more stress and more effort over the next few months. Why? Because that’s what God calls us to do! AND…because I LOVE what I do!

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

The End of Me: Authentic to be Accepted

End of Me Authentic to be Accepted

Author Kyle Idleman tells the story that when his grandfather died, he went home for the funeral. He had dress slacks that needed to be dry cleaned for the visitation. So he went to a place called One Hour Cleaners. Perfect- because he needed those slacks that evening. He walked in, set the pants on the counter and said, “I want to leave these pants here, run a few errands and then pick them up in an hour. Is that OK?” “No, sir,” the girl said, squinting as if he’d spoken a foreign language. “But you can pick them up tomorrow.” “But your sign says ‘One Hour Cleaners’.” “Right. But we don’t clean clothes in one hour.” “Well then, shouldn’t you be called Next Day Cleaners? Or Whenever It’s Done Cleaners?” She just continued to squint. Idleman said, “Laundry in an hour from a One Hour Cleaners? What will they be demanding next?” But no matter what he said, the girl saw nothing remarkable about the situation.
Maybe, Idleman thought, he had been away too long and language had evolved beyond his understanding! Or maybe…it was just another case of false advertising. We hate it when we’re told one thing but receive another. The outside of something should give us a relatively accurate depiction of what we’ll find on the inside. And maybe…that’s true of us. When we look at our own lives, are we showing the world who we REALLY are?
     Psalm 139:11-16 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
Today, we continue our current Sunday morning journey- The End of Me, based on the book by Kyle Idleman. We’re spending 8 weeks unpacking several truths that seem to make no sense! Week One, we considered what it means to be Broken to be Whole. Two weeks ago, we continued the journey as we looked at Mourn to be Happy. Last week, we took another step as we considered Humbled to be Exalted. Today, we look at what it means to be Authentic to be Accepted.
Today’s main Scripture comes from the Old Testament Book of 1Samuel. In this story, Samuel goes to see a man named Jesse, who was the son of Obed and the grandson of Ruth and Boaz. God sent Samuel to find a new king from among Jesse’s sons.
     1Samuel 16:6-12 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
God sends Samuel to Jesse to find a king. And Samuel is anxious to anoint that king. So Jesse has his sons, one by one, pass by Samuel. It feels strangely like a beauty pageant. Eliab, the oldest, is first. He is tall, strong, impressive. But God rejects him, knowing that Samuel is impressed by his physique. Us humans tend to be impressed- and often deceived- by what our eyes tell us. But God looks at the heart. Samuel was focusing on the external. But that (Thankfully!) is NOT what God focuses on.
So, Samuel moved on. Abinadab, Shammah, the rest…they all file by, one by one. And all are rejected. In the end, none of these seven fine young men are acceptable. Samuel knows that God has chosen one of Jesse’s sons to be king. But he also knows that God has NOT chosen any of these standing before him. So the logical question is, “Is this it? Is this everybody?” Jesse says, “Well, there’s my youngest. But he’s just a kid. He’s out tending the sheep.” Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “youngest” also means “smallest”. Samuel was impressed by the height of Eliab, the oldest. Now he is offered David…the shortest! So Samuel asks that he be brought in. And to add some immediacy to the request, he says, “Nobody sits down until he gets here!” And the SECOND David shows up, God says, “THIS is the one!” God KNEW that what was INSIDE David was the makings of a king.
In The Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they’re too worried about cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is still filthy. He even compared them to whitewashed tombs- sparkling and bright on the outside but filled with death and decay on the inside. Sprucing up the exterior- which is so easy to fake- is nice. But it’s the interior- where we are what we are- that counts. We spend a lot of time working on what we want the world to see. But God bypasses the bouncer at the door and comes right on it, to see what’s really going on INSIDE!
I saw a T-shirt that said, “May your life someday be as awesome as you make it appear to be on Facebook.” Think about the stereotypical Norman Rockwellian family Christmas card- “Here’s a picture of our happy, laughing family and an account of our incredible accomplishments during the year- all written from the point of view of our adorable puppy Rufus!” Think about Facebook- a picture of the happy family on the beach? Post it! A picture of that same family fighting in the car on the way to the beach? Not so much. A picture of a couple gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes with the caption, “Date night with The Hubs!”? Post it! A picture of that same couple on Monday morning- grumpy, snarling, hair in curlers, unshaven? Not so much!
Maybe we struggle with authenticity because we fear rejection. Fear is the enemy of transparency. We work hard to put up the most impressive front we can. We want the world to see us at our best, because then people are more likely to accept us.
Coming to the end of me means I’m done with the charade…and the emptiness that accompanies it. It means I seek only to please God. And when I do that, I get my reward from Him instead of people. Coming to the end of me means I’m no longer interested in “faking it”, because I understand that God is only interested in the “real me”. We position ourselves to live the most blessed life we can when we stop expending so much effort trying to convince people we’re something that we’re not. What really matters to God is what’s inside- where we transact our real business. When the inside and outside match up, we are RIGHT where God wants you to be. Coming to the end of me means I don’t have to try and hide my flaws because I know God’s love is unconditional. Coming to the end of me means getting over myself so the REAL me can experience the REAL life available in Christ.
Every instinct we have tells us to cover our sin deeply, stamp a big smile on our face and give the impression that we have all the answers and everything is coming up roses. But maybe we don’t need to try so hard to hide our blemishes. Maybe people will like us just the way we are. In fact, they might even be more drawn to us if they know some of our failings and struggles. It all boils down to the audience you choose. If you’re most interested in what other people think, then applause, attention and adulation are your reward. You’ve been paid in full- don’t look for any further commendation from God. When we close the curtain, shut off the stage lights and play to an audience of One…THAT’S when we come to the end of ourselves and more fully experience God’s blessing.
      1Peter 3:3-4 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
God wants to hear from the real me and the real you. Who we’re pretending to be doesn’t even come CLOSE to who we are on the inside. What He asks of us couldn’t be simpler. “Come just as as you are. You don’t have to dress up. You don’t have to decorate your language. You don’t have to put on a show. Just be at home with me. Be real. My place is your place.”
Ask God to cleanse your heart, to show you where and how you can be more authentic. You might do a good job washing the outside, but nobody can cleanse the inside like God can. Do you know what God wants from you? He wants authenticity- in your worship, in your relationships, in everything you do. He wants your life lived out in the open. A true relationship with God is NOT based on performance and pretense but on authenticity. And to authentically know God and to be authentically known by Him is precisely what we were made for.

I Got “Pounded”

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    When I first entered the ministry, I had the extreme pleasure of serving with two awesome pastors. One (We’ll call him “Shane”) taught me pretty much everything I know about being a pastor. (To the churches I have pastored since, you have to decide for yourself whether you want to thank him…or ask for a refund!) The other (We’ll call him “Ralph”) taught me a LOT about being a Christian.

    By the time I met Ralph, he was a retired pastor, serving on staff at the church to which I was appointed. (And in this particular setting, the word “retired” was used VERY loosely!) Ralph was an awesome human being who was just a joy to be around.

    He had lots of great stories about “back in the day”. One of those stories revolved around being “pounded” by the congregations he served. The first time I heard him say that, I couldn’t even imagine what that meant. He explained that, back in the day, when the new pastor moved in, the congregation would bring by a pound of something or other to help stock the family’s pantry. He went on to say that he NEVER had more lard than right after his family got “pounded”!

    Two recent events reminded me of being “pounded”. A few months ago, I performed a funeral for a church member who passed. When I met with the family prior to the service, one of the family members pulled up in a full-size truck which was pulling a trailer. On the trailer was one of those huge round hay bales. My wife chuckled and said, “Were you expecting a bale of hay?” I said that I wasn’t, however I DID know that, back in the day, pastors got paid with chickens, so…! I told the family that when they came in. On the day of the funeral, the matriarch of that family handed me…a dozen eggs from THEIR chickens! Good stuff!

    Then, last night, I experienced a more modern version of the “pounding”. Different church members had given us gift cards to Olive Garden- one of our favorite restaurants. But the closest Olive Garden is 50 minutes away, so we don’t often get there. But last night, my wife, younger son and I drove to Olive Garden where we had an AWESOME dinner- thanks to the generosity of church members! I got “pounded” with zuppa toscana and fettuccine alfredo…and it was GREAT!

    If you go into the ministry for the money…you have been GROSSLY misled! But if you go into the ministry to serve God by serving others, lots of perks that you never imagined will come your way! I LOVE what I do! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I will warm up some of my leftover fettuccine!

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

Moses on a Bender?

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I was recently reading the Old Testament Book of Genesis. It reminded me just how amazing Genesis is. Not only is it the foundation for the entire Bible- it is FULL of great stories about great characters! You’ve got Creation, Adam and Eve, the Fall, being kicked out of the Garden of Eden and the Cain killing Abel and Noah- just to name a few.

The story of Noah is quite the tale. As an old man (by our modern standards), Noah is visited by God who tells him the world has gone to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks in a handbasket. He further tells Noah that He is going to flood the earth and wipe out evil humanity- with the notable exception of Noah and his family. Noah spends decades building the ark that God provides the plans for. Then he gathers the animals, loads the boat, and sets sail. After a long time, the water recedes, the boat comes to rest on land and Noah unloads the boat. He unloads and his family sets up housekeeping. All is well- Noah is a hero.

But then the story takes an odd turn. Noah, “a man of the soil”, grows a vinyard and makes some wine. Then he decides to sample a bit of his product and apparently samples a bit MORE than a bit of his vintage. He ends up drunk and naked in his tent. (Seriously, look it up!) One of his sons comes in, finds him in this compromising position and does what any self-respecting son would do- goes and tells his brothers about what dad did and encourages them to come see for themselves. Fortunately for Noah, they seem to have more respect and discretion that their brother; they creep in with their backs to dad, cover him up and let him sleep it off.
So, why am I sharing this story…this rather ODD story? Because it tells me that even the “greatest” of the Biblical characters weren’t perfect. And once I realize and accept the fact that the Noahs, Moseses, Davids and Pauls of the world aren’t perfect, then I follow that up with the realization that I don’t have to be perfect either! If these giants of the faith can make a mistake or two along the way and still be held up as role models, well…then…there’s hope for me!
Think about it- we don’t have to be perfect. We can…and will…make mistakes. But you know what? God is going to continue to love us anyway. God loves us not BECAUSE of what we’ve done but often DESPITE what we’ve done. God is a God of 2nd…3rd…4th…Nth chances. And when we realize that, it frees us up to always try our best, knowing that a miscue isn’t going to get us “kicked off the team”. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. And God loves us…anyway!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Blink and Miss It

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Young woman blinking, close-up

    My wife’s parents have lived with us for the past 4½ years. That is, until yesterday! There is a Senior Citizen residence in our community that is an awesome place. And, based on a variety of inputs, it was mutually agreed that it was a good time for them to join that community. And after some preparation, Move Day came!

      So at church last Sunday, I asked for help in moving. The residence is just a few minutes- literally- away from our house. So what we needed was couple of trucks and several pairs of hands. And BOY is that what showed up yesterday!

    I had announced that we would start at 8AM. And promptly at 8AM…the 5th Armored Division showed up! A truck. A truck with a trailer. Another truck with a large trailer, complete with a drop-down ramp on the back. Yet another truck with a lift gate on the back. A 15-passenger van. And along with all of that “firepower”, 11 guys showed up!

    As I said, we started at 8AM. Once everything was loaded and guys were walking to their respective cars…er…trucks…I looked at my watch. 8:13AM. Eight THIRTEEN AM! 13 minutes!

    WE then drove to the residence. Again, it is mere minutes away. Once there, we unloaded everything and carried it all into their new apartment. As the guys were all saying their goodbyes and heading out, I again looked at my watch. It was 8:35AM. Yep! In thirty-five short minutes, everything that needed to be moved went from in MY house to THEIR apartment. Blink and miss it! Done! Easy, peasy, one, two, threesy!

    Being a part of a church family is SUCH a blessing! Healthy congregations support each other, love each other, share their lives with each other. It is one of the MANY reasons I feel blessed to be a part of this church family.   

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

The Puppy Cut!

Puppy Cut

    We have two dogs- I have established that before. There is Zoey- an 11-year old Black Lab/English Pointer mix. And then there is Nessie- a 16-year old Lhasa…poodle…cocker…dog. She’s a dog. And a cute one at that! When her hair is long, I describe her as a black dust mop without the handle. And we let her hair grow out in the winter so that she doesn’t get so cold.

    But once Spring arrives, she get a REAL haircut. None of this “trim” business that happens in the colder months. She gets a full-blown CUT once Spring gets here. And that happened on Monday.

    I took her to the groomer at about 7:50AM- after I dropped my son off at school and before I went to work. I told them two words- Puppy Cut. This ain’t their first rodeo, so they knew exactly what I meant! I gave them my cell phone number- to call me when she was ready- and went to work.

    About 1PM, they called- she was done. So I stopped what I was doing and drove over to get her. (The groomer is only about 4 minutes away!) I got there, walked in…and there she was! I almost didn’t recognize her! And then the nickname that my son and I give to her every year when she gets this haircut for the first time came back to me- Puppy Cut! We actually call her that!

    She was SO glad to see me! In fact, she was SO glad to see me that she almost managed to jump off of a table that had to be 3½ to 4 feet tall. That would have NOT been a good landing! But she was unsuccessful and the woman who cut her picked her up and carried her over to me. I put the leash on, took her, set her down, paid and then left.

    When she first gets home after getting…the Puppy Cut, she is funny to watch. This 16-year old dog suddenly acts like she’s a year old! She scampers around the house and is just glad to be alive! It is quite a sight to see, based on her usual demeanor!

    When she acts that way, I am reminded of how WE should act regarding our faith. We should be SO happy to be loved by God that we should want to scamper around, glad to be alive! We should live our lives as if we just got a Puppy Cut! (And for some of us, that would be EVEN more metaphoric than for others!)

    Do you get excited just to be alive? Do you attack each day, glad to have another day on the correct side of the dirt- upright, breathing and involved in God’s work? If not, may I gently suggest that you’re really missing out. Life is, ultimately, what you make it. You have little to no control on what happens TO you. But you have total control on how you respond.

    Live each day as if it will be your last- one day, it will be! Live each day to the fullest. Don’t waste a moment. Embrace life. Embrace your faith. Life God’s call to the absolute fullest. Live like you just got a Puppy Cut!

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

The Ol’ Double Nickel: Truly Blessed!

birthday hat

    Yesterday was my birthday. I am now officially 55 years old- “the ol’ Double Nickel!” And let me say right up front- this blog is not a gratuitous attempt at birthday wishes! (If I was looking for that, I would have written this yesterday!) Instead, it’s an attempt to share how truly blessed I feel!

    First off, as I write this (about 4:30PM, Monday, April 18, 2016), I have received right at 200 birthday wishes on Facebook. In addition, I have received phone calls, texts, cards in the mail and cards (and gifts!) hand-delivered to the church. And that doesn’t even count the personal greetings offered by the awesome folks who live in the same house as I do!!

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of it. It’s awesome to have so many people care enough to say, “Happy birthday”! But there was one particular Facebook message that REALLY caught my eye…and REALLY put some things in perspective. My brother posted on Facebook yesterday. Actually, he REposted…something that he originally posted on April 17, 2014. And here is what that original post said, “Please pray for my brother as he has a rare brain tumor and is at BJC this morning to have it removed. It is in God’s hands now – Amen! Gonna be a long day here!”

    Yep- 2 years ago this past Sunday, I spent the day “under the knife”. It was Maundy/Holy Thursday of Easter week. The whole thing took about 10 hours. They drilled a hunk of my skull out, cut more out, spent hours getting all the tumor out (They claim they got 99% of it. The last little bit was attached to the dura- the sac that holds the brain- and they didn’t want to run the risk of compromising that area. So they cauterized what was left- tumors flourish when they have a blood supply) and then buttoned me back up!

    I spent the rest of that day and the next…my 53rd birthday- in Intensive Care. By either late (Good) Friday or early (Low) Saturday, I was in a regular room. And by about 2PM (Easter) Sunday…I was sitting at my brother’s dining room table eating Easter dinner!

    As Paul Harvey would have said, the “rest of the story” is what my brother added to that 2-year old post when he reposted it. It said, “God is so good! No reoccurrence and he is healthy today! Thank you God!” That post is so awesome on SO many levels! It is awesome to know that, thus far, I have received a “clean bill” at every follow-up! (Let me assure you that the BEST words I can hear when I go for those follow-ups is “no sign of tumor”!) It also excites me to see the faith that my brother is living out. And he is SO right- God IS so good! And on this 2-year anniversary of such a major event in my life, I am a living example of that fact!

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

Stating the Obvious

obvious     I am sometimes stunned and overwhelmed by the patently obvious. Here are some examples:

Attorney: “You were there until the time you left, is that true?”

Attorney: “How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?”

Attorney: “Apparently then, the date of conception was August 8th?”
Witness: “Yes.”
Attorney: “What were you and your husband doing at that time?”

Attorney: “Any idea what prevented this from being a murder trial instead of an attempted murder trial?”
Witness: “The victim lived.”

Yogi Berra: :You wouldn’t have won if we had beaten you.”

Pres. George W Bush: “Those who enter the country illegally violate the law.”

Pres. George W Bush: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or the other.”

Dick Cavett: “If your parents never had children, chances are you won’t either.” (Think about it!)

Sportscaster: “Any time Detroit scores more than 100 points and holds the other team below 100 points they almost always win.”

Pres. Coolidge: “When more and more people get thrown out of work, unemployment results.”

Former Australian cabinet minister Keppel Enderbe: “Traditionally, most of Australia’s imports come from overseas.”

Instructions on a Batman costume: “Caution: Cape does not enable user to fly.”

Newspaper headline: “Cold wave linked to temperatures.”

OSHA booklet: “Hazards are one of the main causes of accidents.”

On an electric hair dryer: “Do not use in shower.”

On a can of pepper spray: “May irritate eyes.”

Ex-French President Charles de Gaulle: “China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.”

Here are some patently obvious signs:

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This winter, I had someone say to me, “Is it cold enough for you?” I wanted to misquote comedian George Wallace and respond, “Why? Can you make it any colder?” I get such a kick out of the blatantly obvious. We say things, see things, do things that are so frighteningly obvious it’s amazing. We seem to major in the obvious. We might well earn the title “Capt. Obvious”!
But do you know what’s NOT always so obvious? That God is with us. That God cares about us. That God loves us. There are times when life stinks so badly that we really question whether or not God cares…or even exists. But I am here today to tell you that God DOES exist. God IS with you. God DOES care about you. In fact, God LOVES you…just as you are. He wants the best for you, and walks with you daily to help make that a reality. And I don’t know about you, but I find that not JUST Good News, but the BEST News!!!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The End of Me: Humbled to be Exalted

End of Me Humbled to be Exalted

    I have GREAT news for you this morning! The odds are GREAT that you are NOT going to die in an avalanche! Isn’t that awesome? And I can say that with relative assuredness, because I looked it up. Only about 30 people die each year in this country as the result of an avalanche. That means, you’re sitting pretty on that one! You’re actually five times more likely to be killed by a falling coconut. Five times!

    But if you ever ARE in an avalanche, here’s an important survival tip: spit before you dig. Really! Turns out that one of the biggest mistakes people make when caught in an avalanche is they dig blindly, trying to get out. And when you do that, it’s really easy to dig in the wrong direction. A man died in an avalanche. And when rescuers finally found him, he had dug 30’…DOWN…in an ill-fated attempt to get out. He spent every last ounce of strength he had to get farther from his intended goal. What you do is…spit. Why? Because even though you probably won’t know which way is up, gravity still applies. You push the snow away from your face … and spit. If the spit falls away from you, you’re facing down- you need to turn around. If the spit falls left or right, you’re sideways. And if you end up spitting in your own face…winner, winner, chicken dinner…you’re facing up! Start digging! It’s important to know up from down.

Psalm 25:8-9 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

    Today, we continue our current Sunday morning journey- The End of Me. Based on the book by Kyle Idleman (author of Not a Fan), we are spending 8 weeks unpacking several truths that, on the surface…make no sense! Ultimately, we’ll discover how Jesus can transform us if we’re willing to live out these odd and paradoxical principles. Our first step pulled us immediately into this upside-down world as we considered what it means to be Broken to be Whole. Last week, we continued the journey as we looked at Mourn to be Happy. Today, we take another step as we consider Humbled to be Exalted.

    Today’s main Scripture is one of the most well-known stories of the New Testament. The Resurrection has happened and Jesus has appeared to the disciples…at least MOST of them.

    John 20:24-29 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    The Gospels portray Thomas as a loyal, outspoken, and somewhat pessimistic person who was unsure about the future but closely aligned with Jesus. In this story, he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples after the resurrection. He was clearly in contact with them, but not “running” with them.

And despite their repeated assurances that Jesus was, in fact, alive, Thomas remained unconvinced. In fact, he was so certain of Jesus’ death that he insisted he wouldn’t believe unless he could actually touch the living body. Like a good trial lawyer, he wanted physical evidence.

     John’s Gospel says Jesus’ appearance to Thomas was “a week later”. So this appearance to Thomas happened on Sunday- one week after the Resurrection. The disciples had stayed in Jerusalem. And as they gathered a week after that first Easter Sunday, Thomas was with them. Maybe he was starting to recover from the initial shock of Jesus’ death and felt like being with his associates.

    As they were gathered together, Jesus again shows up. The doors are locked for fear of the Romans busting in on them. But mere 1st Century home security systems can’t keep out Jesus. He shows up, among them. And He goes straight to Thomas. He clearly knew what Thomas had said in his pride and hubris. But Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas for his unbelief, for his pride. Instead, He offers Thomas the very test he said he would need to believe. “Put your hand here…and here. Stop doubting and believe.”

    Notice two things: 1.Thomas DOESN’T do what he said he would HAVE to do in order to believe and 2. He immediately humbles himself in perfect belief. He claims Jesus as Lord and Savior. The swagger, the pride that had him say he wouldn’t believe unless he could touch the wounds is melted away- replaced by a genuine humbleness and faith. To humbly acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior is the pinnacle of faith.

    When Jesus showed up, there was a lot of directional confusion. Up felt like down. So Jesus came to set the compass once and for all. But when Jesus sets things in order, it’s hard not to feel sometimes that He’s holding the map upside down.

    And that’s maybe no more obvious than in the 3rd of the beatitudes Jesus offers in His famed Sermon on the Mount- blessed are the humble- they will inherit the earth. To our 21st Century ears, that sounds like irony, hyperbole, sarcasm. The humble inherit the earth? Really? It looks to me like the CEOs, internet gurus, politicians and big Hollywood stars Are at the head of THAT line. “Humble” doesn’t really pop into my head when I think of them. Jesus says the way up is down, the way to greatness is through humbleness. And that statement is a radical reversal.

    Matthew 12:34 says, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” The truth is that our words betray us, no matter how much we guard them. Fake humbleness often expresses itself in pride that is obvious to everyone but the speaker. If there aren’t any people in your life who will offer you loving feedback and constructive criticism, it’s not because you have no need of it. You might think that nobody offers you advice because they can’t find anything to criticize. The truth is more likely that nobody offers you advice because they know it’s not going to end well if they do.

    If your life is filled with complaining and self-justification, then you have a pride issue. Pride is blinding- it’s hard to recognize the pride in your life because of…the pride in your life! But if you catch yourself celebrating somebody else’s failure, if you lack gratitude for the good things in your life, if you’re convinced that your opinion is the only right one, if you think you deserve everything you have…or want, if you think your efforts deserve the most credit, if you feel entitled, if you’re sure that you should be talking and everybody else should be listening you are struggling with pride. And pride keeps us from realizing how desperately we need God. Pride isn’t just one of the “deadly sins”- it may be the mother of them all. Jesus isn’t impressed with our accomplishments. He’s interested in who we are on the inside, where only He can see.

    We look at being humbled as a passive activity- something that somebody or something does to us. We are humbled by unemployment, a failed relationship, a shattered dream. But Jesus says humbling ourselves is NOT passive- it’s active. We’re the ones doing the action- we humble ourselves.

    Do you remember Nik Wallenda? He is the newest incarnation of the great Flying Wallendas. He made news a few years ago when he walked across Niagara Falls on a high wire. The next year, he became the first man to walk a wire across the Grand Canyon. Nik also professes a strong Christian faith. So how do you humble yourself when you’re the best in the world at what you do and millions of people cheer your every step? He has an interesting approach. Huge crowds come to see him perform. And those huge crowds leave huge piles of garbage. Nik Wallenda didn’t head for a limo when he was done. Instead, he spent hours picking up trash.

    When asked about it, he said, “Three hours of cleaning up debris is good for my soul. Humility doesn’t come naturally to me. So if I have to force myself into situations that are humbling, so I do it because it’s a way to keep from tripping. I do it because if I don’t serve others I’ll be serving nothing but my ego.”

    Jesus is our best example of what it means to be humble. I’m talking about somebody Who was, in His very nature, by His very essence—God. He was fully God…and yet fully man. He humbled himself. He didn’t cling to His status. He chose to be humble.

    And there it is- taking ownership of our own humbleness. But how? What

does that look like in real time? How can we humble ourselves without becoming proud of our humility and wrecking the whole thing? How do we get to the end of me? There ARE some things we can do to humble ourselves:

    1. voluntarily confess my sin. If I confess my sin because I got caught at it, I’m humbled— but I’m not humbling myself. If I confess my sin because I’m confronted with it, I’m humbled— but I’m not humbling myself. Voluntary confession is a way of humbling ourselves and the Bible says that God promises to exalt those who do it.

    The alternative is to keep putting up a front- we keep up the facade and keep exalt ourselves. That has a promise attached to it as well. And that promise is that we will be humbled. So if that’s the end result either way…why not take ownership of it?

    2. give sacrificially and anonymously. When I give anonymously, so that I can’t be thanked or exalted by others, my heart stays humble. When I give sacrificially, meaning it actually costs me something, it’s a very tangible way of saying God is more important than me. It reminds me I’m not the most important person in my

world.

    3. treat others better than myself. It’s the way of the world…turned upside down. I was raised to be self-reliant and look out for #1, but what if I placed a higher value on others than I do myself? Maybe I would better listen when people try to help see that I need to change. Maybe I wouldn’t complain when someone asked me for help. Maybe I wouldn’t fight for the front seat, or the biggest piece, or the best view, or the most recognition.

    4. ask for help. It’s humbling to say to someone, “I don’t know what to do. I need help.” Guys especially struggle with this one. We don’t even like reading the instructions or asking directions. But I find that every time I humble myself and ask for help, it opens a new door to some kind of blessing.

    Ephesians 2:6-10 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Humble yourself…and mean it. Don’t try and make your case before God. Don’t try and impress Him with your resume. Don’t ask for blessings as a comparison to what others get. Don’t tell God why you deserve to be blessed. Don’t congratulate God for having such an awesome child as you. There’s simply no substitute for humbling yourself before God. A humble heart pleases God. Humbleness invites God to more fully demonstrate His power.

    I challenge you to take what you’ve heard here today and improve on it. Be creative. Remember that humbling yourself is not beating yourself up or believing that you should be a doormat. Where are the opportunities to humble yourself? Take a moment to write down a few starting points for yourself. Then put them someplace where you’ll see them and be reminded. Everywhere you look, every situation you’re in, is a laboratory for self-humbling, an opportunity to exalt

Christ and put pride on the cross. Everyday is a new opportunity to boldly —or humbly—go where no one has gone before.

Little Green Men

UFO-Flying-001

OK…so I will admit right up front that I am a bit of a geek! (If you know me well at all, right now you’re saying to your computer, “Just a BIT?”) I have always been fascinated by the unknown. As a kid, I devoured books about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. And I have noticed that recently, the History Channel (which, by the way, USED to be a series of shows where old white guys would tell us about something that happened a long time ago!) is on this “alien” kick. They seem to be running a lot of programming about how aliens helped Hitler (not enough, obviously) or the ancient Egyptians or the Aztec or whoever. The pervasive theory on those shows is that we would be nothing if the aliens hadn’t come down and showed us how to knock two rocks together to start a fire- that or given the ancient Mesopotamians fully functioning supercomputers…which we ALL know they did!

We have a fascination with extraterrestrials. Roswell, New Mexico has even become a tourist mecca. Why is that? I think it’s because we long to see what is beyond us- we hunger to find out what is “just beyond our grasp”.
With that in mind, I read  that top scientists predict we will find life elsewhere in the universe within the next 20 years. I had to read it twice, because the first time I read it I figured that either A. I misread it or B. it was written by that gentleman with the…interesting…hair who shows up on all of the alien conspiracy programming! Turns out, it was neither. Written by a reputable reporter, quoting reputable scientists and published in a reputable publication, this article states, with some degree of certainty, that we will have definitive proof of life beyond our planet with the next 2 decades. Their rationale is predicated on their existing belief that there IS life out there and informed by the fact that their technological ability to see farther and farther away, like every of facet of technology these days, is growing exponentially.
So if they DO confirm that notion, that there is life out there, what will that mean? What will that do to us as a people? What will that mean to Christians? The possible implications of a find like that are nearly limitless. It would certainly cause us to re-think some things. It would open up a whole new area of scientific research and discovery. It would completely overhaul our space exploration plans. It would also cause some level of panic, as people began to imagine that Orson Wells’ infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast could become a reality.
But again, what would it do to our faith? Would it suddenly cause us to question our beliefs? Would we find ourselves wondering if this whole “God and Jesus” thing was little more than a fanciful bedtime story? Based on much that I have read and conversations I have had, I would say that, for many Christians, the answer to those questions would be “yes!” But I have to stop and wonder…why? Why would something like that cause us to doubt our faith? That kind of discovery would certainly be the greatest single achievement in the history of science. But why would it have a negative impact on our faith?
The Bible doesn’t address anything like that- it deals with God’s relationship to His people…HERE. Period. We have, or at least are able to have, a relationship with God that transcends the ordinary. We have the ability to be in TRUE relationship with the Creator of the cosmos. Why would a monumental scientific discover change that? Regardless of what we might or might not find “out there”, it shouldn’t change anything about our connection to God. In the end, God is…well…God, and no new revelation is going to change that. “They will be His people and God Himself will be with them”- and that’s enough to know! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and put on my Reynold’s Wrap hat (so the aliens can’t read my thoughts), go outside with my flashlight and try to signal them!!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Pull Up a Few More Chairs!

New_Members

    Church growth is an interesting thing. First and foremost, it’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. I have used that analogy in this space before and I use it again today because..it’s true! There are times when everything seems right for a church to grow…and it doesn’t. Likewise, there are times when it doesn’t see very likely…and it it happens anyway.

    Are there things a pastor can do to better enable church growth? Yes. Are there things a church can do to better position themselves for church growth? You bet. Do any of those things guarantee that the church will actually…you know…grow? Not even a little bit!

    A pastor friend of mine told me that some of the leadership a church he pastored read a book on church growth. It listed 10 things a church could do to better position themselves for church growth. He said they read the book, and then set out to do #6…pave the parking lot. So they did #6- they paved the parking lot- and ONLY #6…and then they braced for the onslaught. As I understand the story…it was a long wait!

    I have pastor friends who seem to have no gear beyond growing the church. Meanwhile, I have other pastor friends who seem to think that the two worst words in a congregation’s lexicon are “church growth”. With all of that to deal with, it’s no wonder that growing a church is like herding cats!

    Experience has taught me some of the things a congregation can do to better position themselves for growth. And I tend to do those things as a matter of course. They are part of my pastoral DNA. But experience has also taught me, as I said earlier, that you can do everything “right” and still not experience growth. God’s timing is essential to the equation.

    The church I am currently serving is experiencing growth. And it’s pretty doggone exciting- not gonna lie. We have 3 more folks joining the church this Sunday. That will make 19 new members this year…and it’s still April! Likewise, we have performed 12 baptisms thus far in the year. We have given out 70 Visitor Bags in the past 6 weeks. Good stuff!

   Things are moving here. Will it last? Who knows! Will I do everything I can to help MAKE it last? You bet! Do I understand that, ultimately, God will do what God wants to do here…regardless of what I do or don’t do? You bet! I am grateful to be a part of what’s happening here. I am jazzed to be on the show! This is the 2nd time in my career that God has allowed me to be a part of such growth and I, for one, am going to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts!

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

Diet Pepsi and Donuts

diet pepsi donuts

    A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog about the fact that the church I currently serve lost our long-time organist. She was an awesome woman and a true professional. It was a joy to serve with her.

    When I perform a funeral, I try to find the personal touches that will make the service more special. I mean, there is a certain amount of…structure to a funeral that transcends any individual service. But because of that, I feel it is important to make each service somehow personal and unique.

    There were two things that stood out to me as lending themselves to making this service personal. The first one was a video, shot on an iPhone, of this woman playing the organ while a great granddaughter sang “Jesus Loves Me”. It was a very short video but it captured who this woman was and the kind of relationship she had with her family. I added a little extra to the video and showed it as part of the service.

    The other thing centers around the fact that this woman loved Diet Pepsi and those little powdered sugar donuts. She loved them so much that she even got some of her offspring “hooked” on them!

    AS I thought through the service, an idea started to grow in my muddled brain! So, after I took my son to school for the day, I stopped by the local Casey’s convenience store. I went in and bought…you guessed it…a Diet Pepsi and a pack of those little white powdered sugar donuts! I took them to church, in the bag, and “hid” them in the choir loft.

   During the service, I got to the point where I was going to talk about her love of those snacks. As I talked, I walked over to where I hid them. (The beauty of a headset microphone!) I pulled them out and said that I wanted to get her one last round of her two favorite snacks! But I had NOT talked to the family about it beforehand, so instead of actually putting them in the casket, I set them on the prayer rail nearby.

    After the service, as the family was passing by to pay their final respects, the woman’s daughter stopped i front of me, pointed to the soda and donuts and said, “PLEASE put those in the casket!” So…I did.

    A few moments later, a granddaughter brought a great granddaughter up to say goodbye. I heard mom say to little daughter, “Look- Grandma has a snack to take with her!”It made me smile!

    This woman will be greatly missed. But having done a LOT of funerals for people I didn’t know (and therefore I knew nothing about their faith), it is a gift to be able to do a service like this. I have NO doubt about this woman’s faith. And I have no doubt that she is whole, pain free and dancing on streets of gold. And, for my money, it just doesn’t get any 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!

Pet Peeves

annoyed

When I was a kid, I thought that a peeve was some kind of animal. It had to be, right? I mean, how else could you have one as a pet?! So when we went to the zoo, I was always looking for the peeve. (Hey, give me a break! So I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed as a kid!) But then it finally dawned on me- “pet peeve” was a saying! (OOHHH…NOW I get it!)

So, what kinds of pet peeves do YOU have? What are the things that drive you crazy? There are LOTS of things that drive me crazy…and some days it’s a REALLY short drive! Here are some of my pet peeves:

1. People who pull up in the circle drive in front of the school in the morning to drop off their kid who decide that, for some unknown reason, they don’t HAVE to wait in line like everybody else but instead cut AROUND the people in front of them and pull in at the head of the line!
2. People that I call “noisy eaters”- folks who chew with their mouths open, smacking and slurping like our horse used to when we would feed him tomatoes! (Yes, you read that correctly- our horse LOVED tomatoes!)
3. Sick people who cough or sneeze on me. I fully understand that we all are going to sneeze and we all are going to cough- it’s unavoidable. But you don’t HAVE to aim it at me! I would be delighted to never gets sneezed or coughed on again!
4. Folks who, when they get your answering machine/voice mail, leave completely unintelligible information. If I can’t make out your name and/or your number, is the message really very effective? A subculture of those people are the ones who speak CLEARLY, but speak so fast that you have to replay the message 7 times, getting ONE digit of the phone number each time!
5. People who let their dog poo in my yard. Now, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE dogs. We have ALWAYS had dogs, as long as I can remember. And my current dog is a rather big dog and leaves rather big…packages…in the yard. BUT- she’s OUR dog and we CHOOSE to let her do that! If I wanted YOUR dog to poo in my yard, I would invite him/her over!
6. People who can’t…or won’t…control their kids. I am STUNNED when I am out in public and see parents who seem to have no control over their kids. They either are simply to busy or too tired to make their kids behave. OR…they are unable to make them behave. I’ll be honest- I’m not a big fan of EITHER of those two types!
7. People who take up 2 parking spaces. It just scalds me to cruise the mall parking lot looking for a space, only to find that someone has, apparently intentionally, taken up TWO spaces with their poor parking skills. Although I am a peace-loving guy, I would be lying if the fleeting thought of letting some air out of a tire or two never crossed my mind!
8. People who block the entire aisle in the grocery store. Much like taking two parking spaces, I am amazed and appalled when someone leaves their cart out in the middle of the aisle and then blocks the remains portion of the aisle with their body! I once politely asked a woman if she could move her cart…and her response was to swear at me and hurl racially-motivated slurs!
So I’ve laid my soul bare here…but have thus far left out my biggest pet peeve. Want to know what it is? Here you go! My biggest pet peeve is when someone wastes the gifts and graces God has given them. You know the type- they have some exception skill or talent. Perhaps they have a beautiful singing voice. Perhaps they are great at speaking in public. Perhaps they are a natural leader. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps…the list is endless. But whatever their gifts and graces are, they seem to recognize them…yet not use them. I’m amazed, and more than a little heartbroken, to see someone squander their God-given talents.
What talents has God given YOU? Are you using them? Really? Are you using them…to the fullest? If so, good for you! If not…why not? What waste something so special, so precious? Use the gifts that God has given you. Use them to the fullest. Use them to make a difference. Use them to glorify God!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Radically Equal

not-equal-sign

    We are NOT equal. I’m sorry, but we’re not. At least, that is, in the eyes of the world. The world judges by ALL sorts of things. They do. Height. Weight. Gender. Skin color. Hair. NO hair! Age. Education level. Appearance. Heritage. Religious affiliation. The list just goes On and ON!

    And the interesting thing is that WHERE you are and WHO you’re with has a HUGE bearing on how those things are evaluated. One group of people might see your skin color, gender or education level and see it as less than acceptable. Meanwhile, a different group of people might see the exact same input and evaluate it totally differently. The “accepted majority” in one setting may be the “rejected minority” in another setting.

     “Equality” is an absolute misnomer…out in the world. Don’t misunderstand- I’m not saying there SHOULDN’T be equality. I’m simply saying there ISN’T. And that’s a shame.

    But the church is a different story…or it should be. The church is the one place where folks should be equal. Radically equal. God doesn’t see any of those qualifiers I mentioned earlier. We are NOT a sum total of what is on the outside to Him. Why? Because we aren’t [physical beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a physical journey. In God’s eyes, we are radically equal.

    That’s how the church SHOULD be. However, there are a decent cross-section of Christian churches out there that don’t seem to live their collective lives according to that belief. I’m amazed when someone says to me, “I don’t go to church because every time I do, I am ignored, made to feel unwelcome and told how I need to behave to be ‘one of them’.” It breaks my heart.

    Now, let me be clear- there are certainly people out there who will offer up every excuse they can think of to NOT go to church. I am NOT talking about them here. We need to continue to pray for them and be encouraging to them…but they are not the point at the moment.

    No, the point are those people who have genuinely tried to assimilate themselves into the life of one or more churches only to be turned away. When a pastor tells someone they aren’t welcome because they don’t give enough money..there’s a problem. When folks in the pews ignore and reject someone because they don’t have the best job or make much money…there’s a problem. When a church turns a couple away when they are trying to turn their lives around and do the right thing..there’s a problem.

    “So, Pastor, are we just supposed to say ‘I’m OK, you’re OK, everything’s OK’?” Not even a little bit. But what we ARE supposed to do is love God, love neighbor. And “love neighbor” doesn’t mean “love the people who are like me” or “love the people who I already like”. It means…love neighbor. If we make it clear that people aren’t welcome…or if we simply kick them out the doors outright…because of sin- perceived or real- then the building is going to be REALLY empty on Sundays!

    In God’s eyes, and in HIs house, we are radically equal. And THAT, my friends…my NEIGHBORS…is the upside-down life that Jesus Christ calls us to daily!

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

Funeral For a Friend

funeral

    It was a challenging weekend. The church I currently serve hosted their annual women’s ministry event on Saturday. Dozens and dozens of church members gather to make this event happen. As we began to arrive that morning, one of the church members came and told me that our long-time organist had died suddenly Friday night.

    To say I was shocked would be a gross understatement. I don’t know what I expected when she said, “I have to tell you something”, but it certainly wasn’t THAT! There were lots of tears as church members arrived and heard the news. And all the while, the women’s event which was scheduled to start in a timeframe measured by minutes was drawing closer and closer. What to do?

    As we talked, we all agreed that, although we were broken hearted over this loss, our organist would want us to “cowboy up” and make this the best event yet. And so, we prayed, we sucked it up and we set out to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

     The woman who was to offer the opening remarks did a great job. She refused to ignore the situation but instead face the elephant in the room head-on. She told the nearly 200 women gathered about what had happened. Some already knew- many did not. But she also shared that the event would go on as planned. And BOY did it!

    Our organist had already planned on not being at church yesterday- she was recovering from surgery. Our Choir Director was scheduled to play in her place. My Worship Director and I talked with the Choir Director, making it clear that, if she still wanted to play- great. But if she didn’t, we could handle that, too. She said she still wanted to play. Gotta love it when people insist on standing up and being counted.

    Sunday morning services were bittersweet. Weeks ago, I laid out our current sermon series. It had us talking about Mourn to be Happy yesterday. Again, I planned that weeks ago. The secular song I chose to underpin the weekly video I produce that coordinates with the sermon was Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton. And the video I produced for Saturday’s women’s event was to the song Blessings, which is about finding God’s blessing in the midst of loss and difficulty. And God coordinated ALL of that to come together yesterday, in a powerful way.

    Then, last night’s service was re-tooled to be a time of prayer and conversation about our lost organist. Members of the church, along with members of her family, gathered for prayer, Communion and sharing about her life. She was truly an awesome human being who was also a very talented musician. Her funeral will be this Wednesday, at the church.

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