Getting Back to the Basics

basics

I got a healthy dose of “getting back to basics” yesterday. And I LOVED it! For the second year in a row, I was asked to speak somewhere for a Memorial Day observance. The location was different each year but the surroundings were very similar.

I jumped in the car about 9:20 yesterday morning and drove about 10 minutes to the site of the Memorial Day observance. It was being held in a little country church that is A. out in the middle of nowhere and B. closed. In fact, it has been closed (as in “no active congregation”) for a LONG time.

The church sits in the middle of a small cemetery. (Sadly, it is the cemetery that I just visited for the first time barely more than a month ago as I buried our beloved organist. She started playing at the church in 1978- it was to be a “temporary gig”! She stayed for 38 years! That was one LONG temporary gig!) The church was active back in the 1880’s and 1890’s, but by around 1910-1915, is stopped being an active church. Since then, a dedicated group of folks have kept the memory of the church alive and well, maintaining it against the elements and opening it once a year- for Memorial Day.

At the top, I mentioned “back to basics”. Here’s why. There were no screens or projectors. There was no fancy sound system. No wireless headset, attached to my face as if I were Judy, the Time/Life operator. There were no electric guitars or drums. No organ, for that matter. No fancy wall hangings. No well-vacuumed carpet. No cushioned pews. No café’ in the next room, serving both “regular” coffee and the “coffee of the week”. In fact…no electricity.

Instead, there were large, beautifully simple windows with stained glass around the edges. There were basic “park bench”-type pews, arranged in rows. There was a raised “stage area that jutted out toward the congregation in a semi-circle. (In the theater, we call that “the apron”.) And there was another area, behind that, raised one more level. A single, simple pulpit decorated it. The ceiling of that “farthest back” area was curved in such a way as to intentionally focus the sound and send it out into the sanctuary. And…that was it.

Around 100 people gathered…packed…into that little country church to honor those who gave their lives for our country. The chorus that came to sing had to use a battery-operated boombox for accompaniment. The women who hosted the event stood up front and projected so that those gathered could hear. And then it was my turn. I started with two bits of housekeeping. The first was that, for the small group of people present who also attended the church I serve this past Sunday…the message was going to sound rather familiar! The second was that, although they had the pulpit and all, it felt like I was in another county from those who were gathered so, with their permission, I was simply going to stay down on “the apron”.

I then shared with them the message I had prepared for Memorial Day. (The one nod to technology that remained was the iPad from which I preach…always!) No microphone. No Powerpoint. No video clips. Just me and them…talking about the power of Memorial Day. It was simple. It was personal. And, for me at least, it was rather refreshing!

Now don’t get me wrong- I like technology. (OK- I LOVE technology!) And no- I have NO intention of going back to the church I serve and throwing it all out. There is an important place for it in today’s world. But it was kind of cool, for an hour, to step back in time and honor the building we were in…and the heritage it represents!

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

Remembering

Memorial Day

Yesterday was a beautiful day of worship. (Frankly, EVERY day is a beautiful day of worship. Yesterday was ESPECIALLY beautiful!) I have found that every church has its own special approach to Memorial Day. Some churches don’t observe it at all. (“It’s not a ‘church holiday’!”) Some churches take that day to focus on remembering those who gave their lives in service to our country while waiting until All Saints Day (November 1) to focus on loved ones that have died.

Before I arrived at the church I currently serve, I was used to either/both of those options. This church introduced me to Door #3! They use the opportunity of Memorial Day to BOTH remember those who gave their lives in service to our country AND focus on loved ones that have died. My initial thought was, “Oh, we need to change THAT!” But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was simply my personal bias that was leading me that direction. And so I decided that, instead of trying to change it, I would instead embrace it!

And so, that’s what we did yesterday. Early in the service, the names of 24 folks in or associated with the church who died since last Memorial Day were read and shown on the screen as a bell was tolled and a candle lit for each one. The sermon focused on Memorial Day and the men and women who gave their lives so that we could enjoy the freedoms that we- not the least of which is the freedom to worship as we see fit. The service ended with people coming forward to place a lit candle on a display. The candle represented the people in their lives who have died.

As I closed the service, there were not a ton of dry eyes in the room. And I said to those who were gathered that, although I am normally a very upbeat person and normally want worship to be uplifting and energizing, there are times when it is very appropriate to be more somber and introspective. Memorial Day is just such a time.

Today, I will speak at a Memorial Day event. My younger son will march in the Memorial Day parade and then play for a celebration for the High School Track team- they had a VERY good showing at state. We will undoubted have some good food. We will enjoy spending some time together. And along the way, I will take time to thank God for those who laid down their lives for my freedom. I invite you to join me in that privilege.

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

Lasting Gratitude

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I have an incredibly VARIED resume from the time before I entered the ministry. One of those jobs involved me selling doors and door hardware. No foolin’! The place was OK to work for, but we didn’t get very many holidays off. You know- Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July…that’s about it. The owner didn’t really believe in holidays. To him, a holiday was basically a day when the employees got paid to stay home and generate NO revenue for the business. Not on his list of a “few of his favorite things”! But suddenly, on Memorial Day, he would get all magnanimous. “We’re going to close on Memorial Day so that you can spend the day with your families!” WOW! I soon found out, however, that the REAL reason we were closed was that he was a HUGE fan of the Indianapolis 500- attended it every year. And he wouldn’t get back in town until later in the day on Memorial Day so…we “got the day off”! Gives me a “warm fuzzy” just thinking about it!
     Isaiah 43:1-3a Family of Jacob, the LORD created you. People of Israel, he formed you. He says, “Do not be afraid. I will set you free. I will send for you by name. You belong to me. You will pass through deep waters. But I will be with you. You will pass through the rivers. But their waters will not sweep over you. You will walk through fire. But you will not be burned. The flames will not harm you. I am the LORD your God. I am the Holy One of Israel. I am the one who saves you.
What do YOU think of when you think of Memorial Day? Honestly! I mean, we all know what the RIGHT answer is…but what do you REALLY think of? My guess is things like backyard barbecues, family get-togethers and the end of school come quickly to mind! And frankly…that’s OK…as long as that’s not where you both start AND stop your Memorial Day thoughts!

In many churches, Memorial Day is downplayed because it’s not one of the official “holy days” on the church calendar. But the truth is that we have freedoms in this country, not the least of which is freedom of religion. And that freedom…those freedoms…exist solely because of the countless men and women who valiantly served their country- many of whom gave their lives for that struggle. So it’s a good thing to celebrate Memorial Day. It does, after all, call us to remember.
Remembrance is an awesome thing. All we have to do is hear a particular song or smell a particular smell and we are instantly a kid again, skipping rocks across a pond or running through a field. We’re able to relive all sorts of things from our past through the gift of memory. Some of our memories are happy, some are sad and some are painful. But all of them are transformative.

They’re also very practical. If we couldn’t remember that a red light means “stop” or an open flame means “hot”, we’d be in big trouble. The problem is, however, that sometimes we forget. Sometimes memory fails us.

John had a serious memory problem. One day, John ran into a friend he hadn’t seen in a long time. He greeted him and said, “Bill, do you remember what a bad memory I had?” Bill answered, “Well…yes, I certainly do.” John said, “Well, it’s not bad anymore. I went to a seminar that taught us how to remember things. It was great and now I have a wonderful memory.” Bill answered, “That’s amazing! What was the name of the seminar?” “Well,” John said, “wait a minute, my wife went with me. I’ll ask her.” He turned and saw his wife nearby. Then he turned back to Bill and said, “What’s the name of that flower with a long stem and thorns and a red bloom?” “Do you mean a rose?” Bill answered. “Yeah, yeah- a rose. Thanks.” John said. He then turned back to his wife and said, “Hey, Rose, what’s the name of that seminar we attended?”

We forget all sorts of things. But there are some things we should never forget. And we remember some of those things today. The observance of Memorial Day started near the end of the Civil War. And within a few years the practice of placing flowers on military graves had spread throughout the country and was called “Decoration Day.” But it wasn’t until after WW1 that it became a national holiday.

Remembrances are an important piece of the Bible. God put a rainbow in the sky as a remembrance. Joshua had the Israelites erect a monument in the middle of the Jordan River as a remembrance of their crossing. The Feast of Passover was a remembrance of when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites.

Josh was driving through Chicago in his sleek, black, 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE, which was only 2 months old. All of a sudden, a brick flew out and WHUMP! – it smashed into the Jag’s shiny side door. Josh slammed on the brakes, threw that car in reverse and screeched back to the spot where the brick had been thrown. There was a kid standing there. Josh jumped out, grabbed him and pushed him up against the car. He shouted, “What are you doing? That’s my brand new Jag and that damage is going to be expensive to fix. Why in the world did you throw that brick?” The boy looked up at Josh with pleading eyes. Tears were streaming down the boy’s face. “I’m sorry, mister! I didn’t know what else to do! No one would stop. It’s my brother. He accidentally rolled off the curb in his wheelchair and fell out. I can’t lift him up. Would you please help me get him back into his wheelchair?” Moved beyond words, Josh tried desperately to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. Straining, he lifted the young man back into the wheelchair. He then took out his handkerchief, wiped off the scrapes and cuts and checked to see that everything else was okay. He then walked the boys back to their house to make sure they got all right. It seemed like a long walk back to that sleek, black, shining 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE- long, slow and painful. And Josh never did fix that side door. He left the dent there as a reminder to not go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention.

The Old Testament Book of Ruth is an interesting story. It starts with a guy named Elimelech (And by the way, you will NOT find THAT name on a keychain at The Cracker Barrel!) and his wife, Naomi. They, along with their two sons, leave their home in Bethlehem and move to a place called Moab…because there’s more food there. Good reason. Once there, Elimelech dies and Naomi is left with her two sons. They both get married. But about ten years later, they both die, too.

Now all Naomi has is her two daughters-in-law- Orpah and Ruth. Naomi tells them that she is going back to where she came from and suggests that they, too, go back to their families. Orpah doesn’t want to leave Naomi but Naomi tells her it’s OK- she’ll be fine. So Orpah goes back to her family. But no matter what Naomi says to Ruth, Ruth won’t leave. She tells Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your friends will be my friends and your God will be my God.”

So Ruth and Naomi go to Bethlehem together. And Ruth never once complains about her circumstances but instead remains a good friend to Naomi. She doesn’t expect anything in return- she just wants to help.

The story of Ruth and Naomi is a story about grief, about loss, about remembrance and about overcoming. Grief. Loss. Remembrance. Overcoming. Words that also sum up what Memorial Day is all about. There is a strong sense of grief and of loss for those who gave their lives for our freedom. There is a strong sense of remembrance over the sacrifice that was made. And for those men and women to have not died in vain, there MUST be a strong sense of overcoming. We are called to overcome daily those circumstances that threaten to hold us down. We are called to rise up and be all that God has created us to be.

My dad died in late January of 2011. He had been a widower for nearly 7 years- since my mom died of cancer in June 0f 2004. He was also a veteran. He was born September 16, 1927. That would make him underage to enlist near the end of WW2. But he wanted to serve his country. So he talked his mom, a teacher and school principal, into giving him parental permission to drop out of high school and enlist. She made him promise that he would finish his high school education when he got back.

He enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to the USS Kula Gulf- an escort carrier. He was a gunner’s mate and they were stationed in the South China Sea. He spent two years in the Navy. He was always proud of his service to his country. But like many of his generation, he was reluctant to talk about it. I got very few “stories” about his military service from him. But what I DO have is a plaque and a knife.

The plaque is hand-made by my brother-in-law, who is THE best “finish” carpenter…EVER! It has a sepia-toned picture of my dad from his time in the Navy. He was young to begin with and looks about 12 in the picture! It also has the Navy emblem. This was actually from one of the four corners of his casket. They each included a Navy emblem that’s about 4″ across. At the cemetery, the Funeral Director took all four of them off and gave one to each of us four siblings. On the back of this plaque is a card my younger son made when he was little. On the front of the card is a hand-drawn picture of my dad in uniform.

The inside of the card has a hand-drawn US flag on one side and a note from my son to his grandpa on the other side. The note says, “Dear Grandpa, My school is celebrating Veteran’s Day as you already know. I’m thankful I got to spend time with you. I’m happy you protected my country. I love you. God Speed- Hunter.”

Then there is the knife. It is a standard Navy-issue knife. It has a blade that’s 7″ long and a handle that’s 5″ long, making the overall knife a foot long. To this day, I don’t know if my dad was SUPPOSED to take this with him…or just did! But either way, here it is. One time…ONE time…he told me that, while on an island with his crew, he used it on a Japanese soldier who had snuck into their sleeping quarters in the middle of the night. He said the man ran off and he never knew what happened to him. I could tell that story was something that haunted him.

The men and women who have served this country throughout its history create a debt that we can never repay. There are SO many freedoms- not the least of which is the freedom to openly worship God- that we simply would not have if it weren’t for the sacrifices made by those who have served. We sincerely and wholeheartedly offer up our thanks for them this day.

    John 14:23-27- Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love him. We will come to him and make our home with him. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. The words you hear me say are not my own. They belong to the Father who sent me. “I have spoken all these things while I am still with you. But the Father will send the Friend in my name to help you. The Friend is the Holy Spirit. He will teach you all things. He will remind you of everything I have said to you. “I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you. I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid.

Howard William Osterkamp, from Dent, Ohio., served in the Army and experienced heavy combat in Korea. Osterkamp was wounded in the leg by shrapnel while fighting near the 38th parallel. Army doctors misdiagnosed his injury and he was sent back to the front lines…with his leg broken in two places and stayed there for 4 months. In the end, he was awarded the Purple Heart. And it is Sargent Osterkamp who coined the phrase, “All gave some; some gave all.” One of the many things that Memorial Day reminds me of is that we are called to offer our best to God. He deserves our best and if we love Him, then we should want to give just that- our best.

A Day Off

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I did something yesterday that I haven’t done much at all for a while. I…did…NOTHING! Seriously! Nothing. And if you know me at ALL, you will find that more than a little hard to believe! But it’s true!

Now, let me clarify. When I say “I did nothing”, what I really mean is I didn’t do anything ministry-related. I took my wife’s parents to the doctor and to Walmart. I cooked dinner. (Pan-seared pork chops with apple/chipotle sauce, bacon/Alfredo pasta and parmesan zucchini chips.) I took out the trash. I took the dogs out a few times. And…that’s about it!

The rest of the day, I read. I watched a movie. (The Inside Man with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen. Really good movie!) I read some more. And…that’s about it!

Now, if you know my schedule, you might be saying, “But I thought Friday was your day OFF? What’s the big deal about doing nothing…ON YOUR DAY OFF?!” It IS my day off- Friday and Saturday. But when you pastor a growing church that is getting bigger…but isn’t “bigger” enough to afford additional staff, you have to step up a bit more.

And I will be the first to admit that I am a workaholic. I regularly put in 60 hours a week. I love what I do and, often, what I do doesn’t feel like work. And so I just continue to dive in. But there comes a time when it feels SO good to step out for a bit and just have some down time! Thank you, God, for a day off!

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

A Brutiful Day

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Yesterday was a hard day…but a solid reminder that life continues…even in the face of death. During the day, my phone doesn’t ring or even vibrate. Why? Because I struggle to hear my phone in many circumstances. With my hearing impairment, those everyday things are a struggle. And so I sucked it up and bought a used Apple Watch. The watch has haptic vibration that is engaged when the signal is sent from the phone. So when I get a call or a text, the watch gets my attention to let me know. And since it does that quite well, I might add- I can leave the ringer and the vibration turned off on my phone. (I NEVER have to worry about whether my ringer is off or not!)

The exception to that reality is when I’m asleep. The way I have the Apple Watch set, I have to charge it every day. And I do that while I sleep. But that means it’s not on my wrist. Therefore, I turn my ringer on so that I won’t miss any calls that come in at night. (I use the iPhone as my alarm clock, so it is RIGHT THERE!)

Having set that stage, I was awakened at 6:08AM yesterday morning. And you know how that goes- there is an instant where you think, “What? Where am I? WHO am I?” I quickly put my glasses on- I can’t read the phone screen without them- and saw that it was a parishioner. And knowing that parishioner is related to another parishioner who has been in hospice care with cancer…I had a pretty good idea of the nature of the call before I answered the phone.

And I was correct. The man had passed away. The caller apologized over and over for waking me up. I assured him it was OK- that’s part of what I do and who I am. He said that the man’s wife said I didn’t need to come out…unless I wanted to. And after 20 years in the ministry, I have learned something- that means “I would really like to see you but I don’t want to inconvenience you.” It is SO sweet of people to think that. But again…that’s what I do.

So got up, got dressed, took the dogs out, fed them and got out the door…all in about 14 minutes. Their house is just outside of town, so it was a quick drive. The hospice nurse met me at the door. His wife and daughter were in the room with him- the funeral director hadn’t come yet. And so, we stood/sat in the room with his body, talking, crying and praying. In a bit, the funeral director and her husband came. They tenderly and lovingly prepared his body for transportation, made some plans for meeting later and headed out. I left about 10 minutes later.

I got back home in enough time to scramble a quick couple of eggs, eat them, pour some coffee and head to the church. And part of my efforts yesterday morning at work were aimed at the death and the events it sets in motion. But a decent part of my morning was spent on getting the PowerPoint presentation ready for this Sunday’s sermon, helping prepare some things for our Memorial Day observance on Sunday, welcoming a group into the church that was using our building for the day, meeting with my Lay Leader, answering emails, fixing some things on the church website and any number of other things that came up.

In the midst of death…life goes on. And I have learned that is both a bitter pill to swallow and a helpful reminder of balance. It’s a bitter pill because, when YOU lose someone close, everything seems to just…stop. And yet, everybody around you just keeps going. It’s a hard thing to deal with. It’s a helpful reminder because, at least for me, it helps put things in some perspective. I still miss my parents, even though my dad died in 2011 and my mom in 2004. But I also was determined to keep moving forward. It seemed, and continues to seem, to be the best way I can honor them.

I am grateful to be able to be a part of the major events in people’s lives- it is a gift and a responsibility. I pray that the family I have mentioned here, along with anybody else who reads this in the midst of grief, will feel God’s peace and comfort in the midst of the storm.

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

I Am…The Webmaster!

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There are two things you need to know, or at least be reminded of, to understand today’s blog:

  1. I have shared many times in this space that actors are trained to SAY that they can do anything…and then go out and actually learn how to DO it when they get the gig!
  2. I have an expression that I use often (And like nearly EVERYTHING that comes out of my mouth, it is stolen…borrowed…from someone else!) and that expression is “Even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds”!

OK- you’re up to speed- let’s go! I am the webmaster for the church I currently serve. Seriously! Stop snickering into your corn flakes- it’s TRUE! Everything that is currently visible on the church website…I put there.

When I arrived at the church, they had no website. They HAD one, but the domain name was allowed to expire and another church with the same name in another part of the country was waiting in the shadows and POUNCED on that domain name the SECOND it became available! So- they didn’t have one!

I am a firm believer that a website, that is current and helpful, is essential to a church in the 21st Century. Did I mention ESSENTIAL?! Given the WIDE variety (and cost) of ways there are to get a website “out there”, I sincerely don’t understand when a church doesn’t have one.

Once you have one, it HAS to be kept current. Did I mention HAS TO?! I firmly believe that a website that hasn’t been updated for months is a worse ambassador for the church than no website at all. No website potentially says, “We simply don’t know how yet”. A woefully out of date website says, “We don’t really have anybody who cares enough.” Not the “best foot” a church wants to put forward.

So why are those two points at the top so salient? Because I am NOT a “webmaster”. I HAVE a website…but I am NOT a webmaster! (Did I mention that I am NOT a webmaster? I think I did!) But this church needed a website…and they needed it now, not later. And so…even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds! I dove it. The initial offering was pretty simple…on purpose. Start simple, work your way up.

As I got more comfortable with the software, I got more willing to expand, try new things. “Can we do enrolling for an event online?” “I’m going to go with ‘yes’. Now let me figure out how!” Can we do online giving?” “See previous answer!” I create something new on the website. I have the people in charge of that ministry look at it and critique it. Then I go back in a tweak!

Do I look toward a time when someone else is the actual webmaster? You bet! But A. I am enough of a techno geek that I enjoy the creative process and B. a website is essential in this day and age. (Have I mentioned that before?!)

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

Life is Short

life is short

As I sit down to write, there is a show on TV about a couple with quintuplets and another child. In this particular episode, one of the babies is sick. As I watched part of the episode, I was instantly transported back to about 14 years ago.

We were serving at our first church then. Our older son was about 14 years old. Our younger son was about 18 months old. It was a Saturday. We had an anniversary party for my wife’s parents. It was a pretty big deal, “whooped-de-do” kind of event. It was at restaurant- in a private room. Several people were there. We had lots of “special surprises” planned. And the whole time, our 18-month old just sat in his high chair. Not bothering a soul. We knew he had been a little “puny”, but he wasn’t SICK- just not 100%.

The next morning, I went to church but my wife stayed home with the youngest- he seemed closer to “sick”. By noontime, he was getting worse. I took him to the doctor (we went to a family clinic that was opened 7 days a week- it was GREAT!) while my wife took our older son to en event he had. The doctor checked him out…and immediately sent me to the Emergency Room!

So as I drove him to the ER, I called my wife to tell her what was happening. They met us there. The ER staff there worked on him…and then said he was severely dehydrated because of the flu and we needed to ambulance him…AMBULANCE him…across the Mississippi River to the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.

My wife stayed home with our older son while I rode in the ambulance with our younger son. They got him into a room (it was late in the evening by then)…and then the fun started. Needless to say, my stress level was HIGH. There was a nurse on duty who was used to telling people what to do…and have them do it! I, on the other hand, am not REAL fond of people telling me what to do…especially when my baby is in critical condition.

First, she wanted me to leave him in his crib- crying- and make my way through the hospital to sign some papers. I assured her in NO uncertain terms that A. I was NOT going to do that and B. those papers would STILL be there in the morning when my wife arrived! Then she wanted me to…no, insisted that I…put the side back up on his cage…er…crib. I again assured her that A. I was NOT going to do that and yes, I would B. stand by his crib all night to that he could not fall out and yet not feel like he’s an attraction at the zoo! (She liked me a LOT! She was nice!)

Morning came. Medicine was given. IV fluids were generously administered. My wife and older son arrived. And the patient began to perk up! By late afternoon, about 16 hours after we got to the hospital, this boy who was basically unresponsive in the ambulance was sitting in a wagon, laughing as we pulled him around that floor of the hospital! By early evening…we were home!

This story taught me two thing: 1. kids are VERY resilient and 2. life is short and can change in a heartbeat. Don’t waste a moment of your life. Don’t catch yourself saying, “Well. I’ll see that person later” or “I have all the time in the world to mend that relationship”. In the end, you may not. Live each day as if it is your last. Have no regrets. Love life!

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