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!

The Electric Tuner

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Now it can be told! I was a bit of a…pain…in my younger days! But so that you don’t misunderstand, I was, for the vast major of the time, a “good kid”. I was NOT a troublemaker. I was almost never sent to the principal’s office. I got good grades. (Not as good as I COULD have, if I had actually tried harder.) No, my subversiveness was more along the lines of, shall we say, subterfuge! Let me explain!
I was a “band” kid. (In fact, I am STILL a “band” kid!) I started playing the drums when I was 10 years old, and I have been “in band”, in one form or another, ever since. Why? Because I love it. I genuinely love it. There are few things in my life as satisfying, as “completing”, as making music. So, I have always been “in band”. By the time I got to my senior year, I was in nearly every band possible. (In fact, my last semester of high school, EVERY class I had was either band or theater…seriously!)
My high school band room was in an older building that had large pillars that were load-bearing. And when I say big, I mean 3′ wide on each side. There was a pillar that stood within about 10′ of where the band director stood when he was actually…well…directing! On HIS side of that pillar was a little table. On that little table was a tuner- a machine with spinning “wheels” that would line up when the pitch being received by the tuner was “in tune”. It was used to tune the band at the beginning of each rehearsal.
The problem with drummers is, they often have too much time on their hands! One day it dawned on me that it would be really funny if the band was NEVER in tune…and I figured out a way to make that happen! I stood on the OTHER side of the pillar, hidden from view AND only about 3 feet from the tuner. When the director would have the whole band play their note to make sure they were in tune, I would whistle on the other side of the pillar. I would start on the same pitch the band was playing. But once I HIT that pitch, I would ‘slide” about a half a step down and continue whistling. The result was that, according to the tuner that was picking up my off-key whistling, the band was out of tune. The director would stop the band, then go section by section, trying to find the group or individual that was off-key. But I wouldn’t whistle then, so NO one was off-key! But once he would go back to the whole band…I would whistle again! I was once able to keep him tuning the band for nearly 20 minutes!!
As mean as that was (I AM sorry, but you HAVE to admit- it was inspired!), it reminds me of how things go in a church. If a church is all on the same page – “in tune” if you will – then they tend to do great things. Great ministries are carried out, great programs are offered, and lives are touched in a real, powerful and positive way. BUT, if a church is NOT on the same page – OUT of tune if you will – then those things tend to NOT happen. Those “out of tune” churches spend all of their energy bickering, fighting and jockeying for internal power- NONE of the things God calls us to do as the body of Christ. When we are able to let go of our own agendas, our own desires, our own goals, and truly devote ourselves to carrying out God’s ministries in this world, then we sync up- we are fully in tune. And when that happens…well…look out!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A GREAT Day!

great day

What a great day yesterday was! Three worship services- 8AM, 10:15AM and 6PM. We had 274 people total in worship throughout the day. We had great music. The prayers were heartfelt and transformative. The Scripture and the word were impactful. Communion at the 6PM service was powerful!

A couple of highlights from an amazing day: I got the extreme pleasure of baptizing a little boy. I baptized his older brother a while back. And today, it was his turn! He and his family come forward. I talked a bit about baptism in the United Methodist Church. I talked a bit about the significance of water as I poured a pitcher of it into the baptismal font. I prayed. And then I got to hold the baby- we’ll call him Bryce.

He is an absolutely adorable baby with a great personality. And as I held him, I had our Lay Leader, along with Bryce’s parents, stand with me around the baptismal font. Collectively, we all dipped our hands in the water and laid them on that beautiful baby as he was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I then walked him around the congregation- facing out so that he could see everybody and everybody could see him. As I walked him around, I explained that HE was why we wanted to have the best nursery, Sunday School, Youth Groups and Vacation Bible School we can have. It’s not so that we can compete with the church down the street or across town. It’s because God has entrusted these awesome kids to us- we have a responsibility to be the best “us” we can be!

The other highlight happened at the 6PM service. Last night was THE last night of that service- we are “retiring” it. And I decided that the last night should be about prayer for the church. So those who were gathered (including SEVERAL youth) were split into groups. The groups then rotated around the building, praying over the different parts of the church and the different ministries those areas represent.

Once all the groups were done (I assigned a “timekeeper” for each group so that everyone would get through and back in the sanctuary at the same time), they gathered in circles around the sanctuary and served each other Communion. We then closed the LAST service with the song (Thrive by Casting Crowns) that we opened the FIRST service with.

Pastoring a church is a challenging thing. It takes a LOT of time, effort, attention, blood, sweat and tears. But it is, by FAR, THE most rewarding thing I have ever done. I LOVE wgat 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: Weak to be Strong

End of Me Weak to be Strong

Growing up, life was kind of hard. Along with being in a rather dysfunctional family, I always found it hard to do certain things. I would daydream a lot. I tended to forget or lose things. I struggled to sit still. I lacked focus. I had a hard time paying attention to details. My schoolwork was often messy. I was always on the go. I was impatience. I talked too much in class. And I was easily distracted by…nearly everything! Squirrel!
I always knew I was different- I just didn’t know why. And I got REALLY good and PRETENDING to be “normal”…but it was all an act. I was always hiding behind a mask, which made transitioning into acting extremely natural. But I still didn’t know WHY. Until, that is, I was about 25 years old!
I went to a counselor. We had several conversations. He had me do some testing. And then he handed me some literature. It was about a learning disability that was just starting to be recognized and understood- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder…ADHD. As I read the literature, my whole childhood suddenly became clear! Oh. My. Gosh! This stuff could’ve been written about ME! And over time, what a difference that knowledge made. Knowledge is power.
     Psalm 34:17-20 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
Today, we reach the end of our current Sunday morning journey- The End of Me, based on the book by Kyle Idleman. Week One, we considered what it means to be Broken to be Whole. Week 2, we looked at Mourn to be Happy. Week 3, we considered Humbled to be Exalted. Week 4, we looked at what it means to be Authentic to be Accepted. Week 5, we considered how you can be Empty to be Filled. Week 6, we looked at how you can be Helpless to be Empowered. Last week, we talked about being Disqualified to be Chosen.

Today, we wrap things up as we look at Weak to be Strong. And we’ll focus on the fact that our weakness creates holes through which God’s strength can shine. And instead of one central Scripture to frame our conversation, I’ve chosen 3 that, when put together, paint a pretty complete picture of how Jesus took Peter’s weakness and turned it into strength.
John 13:34-38 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you’re My disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter asked Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus replied, “Where I’m going, you can’t follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow You now? I’ll lay down my life for You.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for Me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times!
     John 18:15-17, 25-27 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. “You aren’t one of His disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You aren’t one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
     John 21:15-17 When Jesus and the disciples had finished eating, Jesus spoke to Simon Peter. He asked, “Simon, son of John, do you really love Me more than these others do?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. “You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.” Again Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you really love Me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Take care of My sheep.” Jesus spoke to him a third time. He asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter felt bad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He answered, “Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.
Jesus tells His disciples to love one another. Peter tells Jesus that, wherever Jesus is going, he’ll go with Him. Jesus’ reply is pretty “in your face”, “You don’t know what you’re saying. In fact, you’re going to betray Me.” Then we get the painful realization of that prediction. People ask Peter if he was the guy with Jesus and, not once, not twice but THREE times, he says, “Absolutely not. I don’t know Him!”
Then, Peter gets a second chance. Peter’s weakness gets turned into strength…by the only One Who can do that. After the resurrection, Jesus is with the disciples. He pulls Peter aside and asks, 3 times, “Do you love Me?” Peter assures Jesus that he does. Jesus then challenges him to step up, “OK- if you REALLY love Me…feed my sheep.” And Simon Peter the Fisherman, Peter the Disciple, Peter the Rejecter becomes Petros- the Rock…upon which the church will be built. Peter’s weakness is turned into strength.
Look at the disciples Jesus chose. Did he hold auditions and interviews, looking for the most articulate, most talented, most influential and persuasive? That’s how they choose the special-ops teams in the action movies. “This is Bud; he’s a master of disguise. This is Charlene; she’s a demolitions expert. This is Carlos; he’s a computer hacker.” No. Jesus saw some sweaty, smelly fishermen and asked them to follow Him. That’s it. And in the end, it was their weaknesses- so painfully obvious- that made their testimony so powerful.
Some say God works DESPITE our weakness. Others feel God works AROUND our weakness. But those explanations are simply inadequate. God doesn’t demonstrate His strength EVEN THOUGH we’re weak. He demonstrates it THROUGH our weakness. If that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t matter. But we DO matter. Go loves us and wants us to be a part of what He’s doing. Does He NEED us to do…anything? Not even a little bit. But He WANTS us to work with Him because it makes Him happy…and it has a greater impact on those who are watching us serve God.
We like strengths. But weaknesses? Not so much. But if God’s strength shines in our weaknesses, shouldn’t we want to know what they are? So it took an assessment test designed to identify both strengths and weaknesses. It said that my top 3 strengths were: Visionary, Faith and Innovation. OK. I can buy that. It also said that my biggest weakness was- remember the ADHD I mentioned earlier?- Focus. And it’s true. And because it’s true, I have had to work SO hard to overcome that. And in the midst, God has used it to further His kingdom.
In a Bible full of paradoxes, “the end of me” might be the ultimate one. Of all the upside-down teachings of Jesus, this is the one that most challenges our sense of the world. But the end of me is where real life begins. Jesus says that once I die…I can truly live. And let’s be honest- death isn’t anybody’s favorite word. We tiptoe around it with nicer or funnier names: passed on, gone ahead, crossed the river, singing in the heavenly choir, because, you know…God needed another angel. Kicked the bucket. Bought the farm. Pushing up the daisies. Croaked.
We tend to either soften the term or turn it into a joke- anything other than take it for what it is. To be honest, us Christians tend to show the world just how desperate we are to avoid death, as if nothing good could be waiting on the other side. It’s really not a very persuasive testimony, if you think about it- being dragged kicking and screaming to be with the One we’ve been claiming we want to be with all this time. And yet, Jesus urges us to die. Not a physical death but a spiritual one- dying to self.
So- how do we die to self? I’m not going to lie- I’ve been around my share of dead people. I’ve met the coroner at the door several times. I’ve sat with families as their loved one took their last breath. I’ve stood next to many open caskets as folks walked past, offering up their last good-bye. And without trying to sound too crass, I’ve noticed something about dead people. They don’t care very much about what other people think of them. They’re not concerned with how nice their clothes are. They aren’t caught up in their stock investments. They show little interest in getting a promotion. Death tend to render all worldly points moot. It’s the ultimate surrender of all you have and all you are. And when Jesus speaks of dying to self, that’s exactly what He wants us to think about- all the stuff of the world is dead to us, and we’re dead to it.
Here’s the bottom line regarding what Jesus calls us to do: 1. Deny yourself, 2. Pick up your cross, 3. Follow Him, 4. Prepare to die. And let’s be honest- that is NOT the most enticing travel plan. Enter the narrowest gate, travel the roughest roads and carry your cross…on which you’re prepared to die. But if you do all that, the craziest thing will happen; you’ll actually find the one true life. The end of me is where real life begins.
Each day brings a new narrow gate. And that’s the problem with dying to self- it’s so…DAILY. We have to make that choice over and over- live for myself or live for Christ. Not only serve the people I actually like and admire but also those I don’t really like or understand- even those who’ve hurt me.
How do you serve a spouse who is apathetic rather than loving, who never speaks an encouraging word? How do you serve a child who is bent on rebellion? How do you serve a coworker who constantly talks behind your back? The rude guy across the street? The driver who takes your life in his hands? How? It takes dying to self. If Jesus can wash the feet of Judas Iscariot, then maybe it’s time for me to get over myself, quite whining, come to the end of myself and more fully follow His example.
     2Corinthians 12:7-10 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you; My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
You can keep “doing life” the old way, trying to climb, trying to attain, trying to gain. But what if you actually CATCH what you’re chasing? What if you get it all…only to realize that you’ve lost your soul somewhere along the way? When you come to the end of yourself, you’re no longer concerned with the big deal or the dramatic demonstration. When I come to the end of me, I find what I so deeply wanted all along- life. A real and abundant life in Christ. Getting to the end of yourself means losing your life for Jesus. It means dying to self every day as you intentionally choose the upside-down ways of Jesus. Are you ready to go for it?

The Skeptic

skeptic Keith Morrison

Have you ever watched Dateline Real-Life Mysteries on NBC? One of the hosts is Keith Morrison. He seems to be a very talented interviewer and host. But there is one thing I notice about him. It seems that, every moment he is on TV, he could be Captain Skeptical. Every shot I have EVER seen of Mr. Morrison includes what appears to be his patented Skeptical Face. The picture that accompanies this blog is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Regardless of the words coming out of his mouth, his face always says, “You have GOT to be kidding me?! I simply cannot buy what you’re selling!”

Skepticism is a healthy thing to have. There are LOTS of times in life when a good dose of skepticism can be the difference between life and death…literally. We are a skeptical people by nature. We are trained from a young age to be logical and seek definitive, scientific proof if we are going to believe in something. “If I can’t taste it, feel it, touch it…I am NOT going to believe in it.” And that approach DOES pay off…often.

And because of that, I run into more than my share of people whose skepticism greatly impacts their faith…or lack thereof. Believing in God, following Jesus Christ, is so wholly “other” from any other facet of life that it’s hard to even begin to wrap your head around. And so, it gets presented to you and all you can think to do is put up the Keith Morrison face. “I am VERY skeptical of that.” AKA- “I don’t buy it.”

And I get that. I am a logical person. I LOVE science and technology. I thrive on empirical data. Numbers and statistics help me better understand all sorts of things. And then..there’s my faith. It’s not science. It’s not technology. There’s no real empirical data. Numbers and statistics don’t make it’s case.

So, what to do? If you are the more “scientific, empirical data” sort of person, do you simply have to throw your hands up, flash the Keith Morrison skeptical face and say, “I just can’t do this”? Thankfully…no. And I am living proof of that fact. I have been able to set aside my scientific, intellectual brain and simply…believe.

“Isn’t that just a way of saying that you compromise your logical self and blindly accept something without any evidence?” Nope! I am still very much the logical, intellectual person I have always been. And I DO have evidence. It’s not empirical evidence in the form that scientists seek. The evidence is found…in me.

I am NOT the person I once was. I am certainly not yet the person I WILL be- God still has a lot to do in me. But He has done SO much already that I can honestly say the “me” that once was is dead- replaced by a new “me”. And this “me” is better- solely because it is no longer “me” that lives in this shell but it is Christ living IN me that makes all the difference.

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

Restaurant Ministry

breakfast

I firmly believe that God calls everyone to ministry. Everyone. Did you notice that I used the word “everyone”? That’s because I think He calls…you know…everyone! Now, do I think everyone answers? Not even a little bit! Do I think everyone wants to be called? Nope. Do I even think everyone is aware that they’re called? Uh uh!

But since I believe that everyone IS called, the logical conclusion is that you can do ministry…anywhere. Regardless of who you are, regardless of what you do “for a living”- you can do it for God. And I was reminded of that yesterday morning!

Once a month, I meet the gentleman who is the Lay Leader at the church I currently serve for breakfast. From 6AM-6:50AM, we have breakfast, talk about the church and just…talk. It’s good for both of us. (Well, that’s actually presumptuous of me! It’s good for ME…I hope he feels the same!)

We meet at a local restaurant. I get there early- partly because I am obsessive about being early and partly so I can pick a spot to sit that will allow me the best opportunity to be able to hear! (One of the charming realities of being hearing impaired!) He gets there right on time. The food is good. The company is better!

But there is a third person who impacts that breakfast every month. There is a woman who is a server at that restaurant who “owns” the breakfast shift. She has served there for a long time AND she is an active member of the church I serve. And as we sit there, I get the extreme pleasure of seeing her doing her ministry!

I watch her serve her customers. I see the kindness she shows. I hear her say positive, encouraging things to them. I can feel the Christian love she has for others. She is a minister. It may be with a coffee pot and a plate of eggs and hash browns (plus sausage links and toast, thank you very much!), but she is absolutely a minister!

What do YOU do? And more importantly, are you doing it for God? You can, you know. You can do anything you do for God. In fact, you SHOULD do everything you do for God. Try it. It can make SUCH a difference- in your life and in the lives of those you touch!

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

Reflecting on Food

food reflection

Last night was THE last night of the Wednesday Night ministries- called Wednesday Night Fellowship- for the season at the church I currently serve. During the school year, we do dinner, youth and children’s ministries, adult Bible study, as well as Bell choir and vocal choir rehearsal every Wednesday evening. We take the summer off and come back strong again in the Fall.

If you do the math, taking out things like Thanksgiving week and the two-ish weeks around Christmas, this ministry works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 35  Wednesday  evenings each year. And since we DON’T charge for the dinner (We do put out a free-will basket, but 100% of that money goes to fund both a food kitchen in South America and a scholarship at Africa University.) but instead budget money to make it happen, this is a pretty committed ministry.

Every church I have served has had a very similar ministry. (I started it at both Church #1 and Church #2 and inherited it at the church I currently serve!) And having tried it pretty much EVERY way possible, my experience is that the ministry works best…when you give it away!

I have tried having the meal catered, having people make reservations and charging a fee that was just enough to cover the cost. Nope! People show up who didn’t make a reservation. People DON’T show up who DID make  reservation. And in the end…we lost money! (And the food was…so-so! I hope person who catered it doesn’t read this! If so…sorry!)

I have tried cooking the meal, having people make reservations and charging a set fee. Most of the same issues I mentioned in the previous paragraph still existed. So…no better!

Then there’s the “I have no idea how many people are coming so I will guess on how much food to make and ask for a free-will donation to cover the cost” method. That works pretty well- if you guess well on quantity and get enough donation to cover the cost.

Lastly, there is the method we currently use. It is pretty much EXACTLY like the last method, except- as I said- we budget money to cover the cost and therefore don’t ask for anything from the folks who attend in the way of paying for their meal. (Instead, they pay for someone else’s meal…on another continent…and someone else’s college education…on yet another continent.)

This ministry can be a challenge. Not knowing how many people are coming can make cooking a little…interesting! But for us, we regularly see about 100 folks come through the doors on Wednesday evening. So we cook for about 110…and pray for the best! And, like the loaves and the fish story in the Gospels, it always seems to work out. People come. People eat. And when the evening is over, we have leftover food that gets packaged and put into our Caring Hearts freezer, to be use by…anybody…who needs a meal.

You simply can’t expect to help meet someone’s spiritual needs if their basic physical needs aren’t being met. And there aren’t many physical needs more basic than eating. I am honored and humbled to serve a church that takes that concept to heart and lives it out in SO many ways!

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

What is Commitment?

commitment

Commitment is a tough thing. When you get married, you make a commitment to that person. When you take a job, you make a commitment to that company. When you have kids, you make a commitment to them. And commitments are, at their best, intended to be somewhere between long-term and forever…depending.

And I understand- I DO- that sometimes extenuating circumstances make it impossible to live up to a commitment. For example, even though I am not a fan of divorce, I have seen enough broken relationships to know that sometimes there IS no other alternative. (And in case you are of the firm belief that “God hates divorce”- I agree. But God also hates infidelity, abusive behavior, cheating, lying and any other number of things. And I’ve seen spouses do ALL of those things to their mate and then try to play the “God hates divorce” card. That, my friends, is the work of a coward and a bully! I am blessed, on the other hand, to have an AWESOME wife. I married “up”!)

So, now that my rant is over…back to the point at hand! Sometimes circumstances dictate that the commitment can…or will..not still be upheld. OK. It’s hard…but OK. However, if the commitment can’t be maintained, then walk away. I find it very frustrating when someone is no longer willing or able to keep their commitment and yet stays “in the game” as if nothing is wrong. And then you watch them slowly erode. Their attitude suffers. Their output suffers.  Eventually, their character and reputation suffers.

The best example we have…the BEST…is that of Jesus Christ. And He made a MAJOR commitment to us. And part of that commitment is that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us. Therefore, we owe it to Him…and ourselves…to always be the best US we can be. People pay attention to who we are and how we live our lives. And the best thing we can do to help them better understand the love of Jesus is to live our lives like we genuinely understand that.

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

Man Up!

ManUpTV_Screen

Men and church are an interesting mix. In MANY churches across the country, there are WOMEN…and then there are men. In other words, the women far outnumber the men and they also far out-work and out-serve the men. Basically, in Christian churches around the country, women are the backbone of the congregation.

“Women are the backbone of the church”. That is a statement that I believe. It is also a statement that describes every church I have served as well as my home church- before I went into the ministry. It’s true. And I have no problem with it. In fact, I am incredibly grateful for the women in the churches I have served- they have set an example for the rest of the church…and for me…that is powerful and transformative.

But there is also something true about the men at the church I currently serve. They are- in a word- AWESOME! We have a higher percentage of men here than at any church I have be affiliated with. And not only do we have the numbers, but we also have more and more men every day who are stepping up in real, powerful, tangible ways to serve.

Just in the past several days, there are several examples of that. A group of them drove 2½ hours- one way- to the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, south of Springfield, IL, to work for the day building desks that will be used by children on the other side of the planet. They cooked dinner, from scratch, for the 30+ Junior High kids who come to Youth Group. 20 of them showed up to work their TAILS of to serve and clean up after the 155 ladies who attended our annual Women’s Banquet. They took a work crew to a camp in a nearby community and did clean-up for the day. They bought and distributed potted flowers to all of the women of the church on Mother’s Day. They cooked and served a monthly dinner for the men of the church. And that’s not all…just in the past few weeks.

The Bible says that men should be the head of the household. And there are lots of folks who struggle with that because it sounds sexist and misogynistic. But for me, it doesn’t mean men should rule with an iron fist. It doesn’t mean that men should sit on the couch and demand dinner and a beer. It doesn’t mean that men should have women wait on them- hand and foot.

It means that men should lead by example. It means that men should have a servant’s heart and be the example for their family, their church, their community. It means that they should be the first ones to step up, sacrificially, and do what needs to be done for the greater good. And the men at the church I currently serve…do that! They step up, every day, and show what it means to be a strong Christian. And I, for one, am incredibly grateful to serve with these guys!

It was a busy day. It was a LONG day. It was  GREAT day! God is good, all the time!

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

Another Day in the Life

day in the life sheet music

Every once in a while, I post a “day in the life” kind of blog. Today is one of those days! And the “day in the life” that we will look at was…yesterday! So…here we go!

5AM- the alarm goes off

5AM-5:15AM- Get ready (I do MOST of my “Sunday morning prep” on Saturday night!)

5:15AM-5:35AM- take the dogs out, feed them, give them their medicine, cut up potatoes and put them in a pan of water, get the pork roast ready to go in the oven, make the coffee

5:35AM-6:30AM- go to church, unlock the doors, get the lights on, print out some things for worship, catch up on emails, “check in” on Facebook, get my sermon loaded into my iPad

6:30AM-6:50AM- load all of my Powerpoint info into the sanctuary computer and “test drive” the videos that are going to run

6:50AM-7AM- look over my sermon

7AM-7:40AM- sound check/warm up with the band

7:40AM-8AM- meet and greet

8AM-9AM- worship, including recognizing graduates

9AM-9:15AM- get breakfast from the church café’, visit with a few people

9:15AM-10AM- teach Sunday School

10AM-10:15AM- meet and greet

10:15AM-11:15AM- worship, including honoring graduates, awarding a scholarship and welcoming 4 new members into the church (that makes 25 for the year so far!)

11:15AM-11:35AM- meet and greet

11:35AM-12:30PM- fix lunch (pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted kale, roasted asparagus

12:30PM-1:15PM- lunch

1:15PM-1:35PM- clean up

1:35PM-2PM- take family pictures

2PM-3:40PM- kick back, relax, take a 30-minute nap

3:40PM-4PM- go to church and get ready for a wedding meeting

4PM-5PM- 2nd meeting with a couple I will be marrying later in the year

5PM-6PM- set up for evening worship

6PM-7PM- worship, including prayer and healing, Communion

7PM-7:15PM- get ready for a meeting

7:15PM-8:35PM- lead Administrative Council meeting

8:35PM-8:50PM- clean up from Communion, lock doors, shut down building

8:50PM-10PM- eat popcorn, write this blog, check my son’s homework, take the dogs out

10PM- go to bed

It was a busy day. It was a LONG day. It was  GREAT day! God is good, all the time!

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: Disqualified to be Chosen

End of Me Disqualified to be Chosen

I’m an actor, by training and by trade. And actors are taught to think…and SAY…that they can do anything! The Casting Director says, “Can you ride a horse?” “SURE I can ride a horse!” And if you get the role…you go out and learn how to ride a horse! Sometimes, the resume’ is a little thin!

When I was in college, the K-Mart Corporation opened a magic-themed restaurant chain called Abra-K-Dabra. I needed a job and they needed magicians. Great! But at that point in my life…I wasn’t a magician! But I went down to apply for the job anyway. The manager, who was interviewing, asked, “Are you a magician?” “SURE!” He then showed me a really basic card trick. And then came the words I was afraid to hear, “Show ME a trick!” “Uuummm…I didn’t bring anything with me!” And the amazing thing? He BOUGHT it! I got the job and worked there for two years during college. Sometimes, the resume’ is a little thin!

Jeremiah 29:10-14a- This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.

Today, we near the end of our current Sunday morning journey- The End of Me, based on the book by Kyle Idleman. We’re unpacking several truths that seem to make no sense! Week One, we considered what it means to be Broken to be Whole. Week 2, we continued the journey as we looked at Mourn to be Happy. Three weeks ago, we took another step as we considered Humbled to be Exalted. Week 4, we looked at what it means to be Authentic to be Accepted. Week 5, we took another step as we considered how you can be Empty to be Filled. Last week, we drew closer to the conclusion as we looked at how you can be Helpless to be Empowered. Today, we draw within one week of completing this series as walk talk about being Disqualified to be Chosen. Today’s main Scripture is a very well-known passage- it even has a song written about it! Let’s look at a “wee little man” who was disqualified to be chosen.

     Luke 19:1-10 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Do you ever feel less than adequate?  Here’s what you do the next time you feel like a talentless lump- read failed job applications. I saw one that included a cover letter…from his mom! Another, when asked why he wanted the job, said, “To keep my parole officer happy.” Another bragged that he graduated in the top 85 percent of his class! Another bragged that he was fluent in multiple foreign… accents. One said, “My twin sister has an accounting degree, so I know I’m good with numbers.” I interviewed a guy once who, when I asked what one thing he would change about himself, said, “Well, I’m late all the time.” Thank you…NEXT! Sometimes, the resume’s a little…thin.

So…Zacchaeus. He was a “chief tax collector”. In the Roman tax system, that translated to an officer who gained his income by extorting more money from the people than he had contracted to pay the Roman government. (Insert your U.S. Government joke HERE!) Jericho was a major customs center, which meant Zacchaeus was probably doing just fine financially. He was wealthy…and hated.

Zacchaeus climbs up a sycamore-fig tree- a sturdy tree that could be 30′ to 40′ tall. They have a short trunk and spreading branches that would be fully capable of holding a “wee little man” like Zacchaeus. He wanted to see Jesus.

Zacchaeus’s desire to see Jesus, though commendable, was surpassed by the fact that Jesus wanted to see him. Not only did he want to see Zacchaeus, Jesus had to stay with him…today. Jesus meets us at the end of ourselves and offers us a new beginning.

Verse 10 of the Zacchaeus story is arguably one of the THE most important verses in the Bible. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” It’s important to understand that salvation didn’t come to his house simply because he did a good deed. He experienced salvation because he was a believer- a spiritual descendant of Abraham. The heart of Jesus’ ministry is His quest for the lost. But that isn’t just HIS mission- He made it OUR mission as well. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

We tend to feel God’s standards are a bit too high and a bit too rigid; We’d LOVE to serve, but we’re not qualified. And so, we give all sorts of reasons for not stepping up:

  1. “I missed my chance.” It’s a time disqualification. The clock ran out. The buzzer sounded. Gave over…and i missed my shot. That ship has sailed…maybe even sunk.

Are you leaning forward into a world of possibilities or are you leaning backward to grab the potato chip bag? You can’t be in the game if you’re content to sit in the grandstand. Unlike the milk in your fridge that is past its “use by” date and smells a little…ripe, God doesn’t put an “Use By” date on us.

  1. “God doesn’t want me.” It breaks my heart when people say, “God doesn’t want me. Not after what I’ve done.” That comment grows out the assumption that God is just like everybody else you know- that He writes us off, that He holds grudges, that we’ll never meet His standards. Look at Peter. Look at Moses. Matthew. David. Zacchaeus. Clearly, this one simply isn’t true. Coming to the end of me means letting Jesus put an end to the guilt and shame of the past. He deletes those files…permanently…and offers you something new instead.
  2. “People won’t forget.” We have a hard time letting people off the hook sometimes. As hard as it is to forgive, it’s even harder to forget. But God refuses to dwell on our past. That’s all been paid for. God forgets what was and focuses instead on what can be. But it’s not always that easy for us mere mortals. In the end, however. we simply can’t worry about how others see us. We have to instead keep moving forward. It’s God, and not people, Who determines your future. His plan and His will are all that matter.

Some people love to remind us of just how bad we are. Apparently it makes them feel better about their own failures if they can make us feel bad, too. Misery loves company. The problem comes when we actually listen to them- take what they say to heart.

What past burden do you thinks disqualifies you? Adultery? Lying? Deception? A sordid past? Anger and temper issues? Maybe you dropped the ball at the worst time possible? Maybe a string of bad relationship choices?

Maybe you’re feeling held back by one particular issue. Here’s the interesting thing about God- quite possibly it’s THAT issue that God wants to specifically use. That’s one of God’s favorite strategies- your “disqualifier” becomes His qualifier. Frankly, based on experience, what else would you expect Him to do?!

What’s your point of disqualification? How is God going to use it? We often want to disqualify ourselves for serving God because of our past. But the only qualification that matters is that God says, “I choose you.”

Often, our faith is built on God being glorified through what looks, to everybody else, a WHOLE lot like failure and defeat. Think about it- the cross, a central image in our faith, was a Roman symbol of shame and humiliation. But we use it as a symbol of God’s power. Why in the WORLD would anybody do that? Because everything we thought we knew was wrong. The end of me is where I encounter the power and redemption of God.

  1. “I’m Not Ready”. You hear all of this stuff. You know all of this stuff. It makes sense. And yet…you STILL have one more ace up your sleeve- “I’m just not ready.” It’s the classic Christian get-out-of-jail-free card. “I need to learn more first. I need to grow more. I want to be at my very best. I don’t want to jump into anything before I’ve done all my homework. I’m just…not…ready!”

It sounds downright logical and sensible, doesn’t it? Over the years, I’ve seen people with “Servant of God” written all over them. And they get ready and they get ready- and then they get ready some more. But they never seem to quite graduate from the School of Getting Ready. One more Bible study group. A little more time praying for God’s will. It’s like when you were a kid and you kept walking out on the high dive, looking down, and saying, “I need to work a little more on my form.” Jump! Jump already! Jump- even if you’re not ready to jump.

John 15:13-16a- Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.

God’s not terribly interested in our lack of knowledge- our what-ifs. Don’t have the courage? He’ll give it to you. Don’t have the words? He’ll provide them. When God chooses you, He equips you. Every time. Jesus changes your life by laying out your disqualifications- showing you all the reasons you should have failed. That’s how God works. He takes our messes and makes them His masterworks. How else can you explain a heart that is totally and completely transformed, except through the love and grace of Jesus Christ? The biggest reason you CAN’T do it is the exact reason He can- the reason He wants to.

It’s a fair question to ask- what is God trying to say when He deliberately chooses the least likely person on the planet for an important task? What’s your limitation? Whatever it is- it doesn’t matter. Surrender your disqualifications. Give them to God. Get to the end of yourself and you’ll find you are in the exact right place to be used significantly by God.

The Elevator

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The country family heads to the city for the first time. They get to the big, grand hotel…it’s more amazing, more opulent than anything they have ever seen. While the mother goes to use “the powder room”, the father and his son walk, slack-jawed, through the nearly overwhelming lobby. They come to a pair of shiny golden doors. As they stand there, trying to figure out what they are looking at, an elderly woman makes her way to the doors. She reaches out and pushes a button marked “UP” that’s next to the golden doors. After a brief moment, the golden doors slide open and the elderly woman walks into the small room that is revealed. Then…the golden doors slide shut. The father and son look at each other, wondering what in the world they are witnessing. Then…it happens. A few moments later, the golden doors slide open again, and out walks a gorgeous young blonde woman. She passes the father and son, who watch her walk away. The son turns to the father and asks, “Daddy…what just happened?” The father, after a pause, says, “I’m not sure, son…but go get your mother!!”

Have you ever given much thought to the elevator? They are really quite magical, when you think about it. You push a button, a door opens, you step into a small room, the door closes, and when it re-opens, you are in a TOTALLY different place, perhaps several stories higher…or lower…than you were when you started. And then of course there is Willie Wonka’s elevator- remember? It literally goes anywhere- up, down, sideways, whatever! It would be quite helpful to have such an elevator!
Elevators are directional- they go FROM a specific place TO a specific place. Unless you push the wrong button, you know exactly where you will end up when you start an elevator journey. It’s a shame that LIFE isn’t like that, huh? We have plans, and goals, but we really don’t know where we are headed at any given moment. (Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way- if you had said 30 years that I would be a minister…I would have laughed in your face! I’m the one who bragged about going to a United Methodist-related university and NEVER ONCE in four years stepping foot in the chapel!)
Life is simply NOT as predictable as the elevator is. We just kind of push our boat out into the stream and try and keep from sinking while we are carried along by the current. And if we don’t have a rudder…we are at the mercy of that current. I find a lot of folks don’t have a rudder. But I learned that God WANTS to be our rudder. He wants us to give our lives to Him. And when we do that, He becomes our rudder, helping us find direction in our lives. And let me assure you that direction, especially in these uncertain times, is a GREAT thing to have. I mean, God is NO elevator….He is SO much better!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Service? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Service!

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I will admit right up front that today’s post puts me in great risk of sounding like my dad! And I have figured out 2 things about that dynamic- my dad WAS right some of the time, and I’, OK with sounding like him…some of the time! Anyway, I have been wondering lately where customer service has gone. Have you seen it? It seems customer service’s picture should be on a milk carton! Seriously.
I remember when I was a kid- customer service was the norm. A guy would RUN out to your car when you pulled into the service station (NOT “gas” station!). He would fill your car up, wash your windshield, check your oil, check your tires, and offer up some pleasant conversation to boot! (The guy at our local station new my mom’s history of waiting until the last minute to get gas. It became a running contest to see just how low the tank actually was!)
The lady at the grocery store was glad to see you and talked your ear off as she rang up your groceries. The guys at the men’s clothing store would wait on you hand and foot. The waitress at the local restaurant was SO good at her job that your cup was NEVER empty, your food was delivered hot and she even laughed at your jokes!
Now…not so much! People seem SO unhappy with their job, their situation, their life, that it’s all they can do to even GET to work, let alone have a halfway decent attitude while they are there! My wife and I find good customer service such a lost art that when we ACTUALLY receive it, we find a manager and tell them. And sadly, we don’t have to do that very often!
So what’s the deal? What has happened that has changed the face of the service industry SO radically? I think the key can be found in the 1st sentence of the last paragraph- “ People seem SO unhappy with their job, their situation, their life, that it’s all they can do to even GET to work, let alone have a halfway decent attitude while they are there!” That’s it, right there. People are unhappy with their lives. Why? I would argue that it’s because we have moved farther and farther away from God. Period. We have allowed all sorts of other things take His place. We have allowed “stuff” to so rule our lives that we have forgotten who our Creator is. We are a Kodak Instamatic society- we want it, we want it all, and we want it now. And when we don’t actually GET that (and we SELDOM do), we become disenchanted with our job…our life. Nothing is as we wanted it to be, and so we take it out on every poor slob who comes along. And then we are SHOCKED when we lose that job because we were doing it so poorly.
God provides…what we need. Not always what we WANT, but always what we need. Consider what you need, trust that God will provide, and be satisfied with your life. Find joy in the world around you. All along the way, help other people find that same joy. It SURE makes life more interesting!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “Gift” of a Funeral

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There are many things that are simply part and parcel of being a minister. Not the least of those things are funerals. I estimate that, over the almost 20 years I have been in the ministry, I have done somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 funerals.  And when you do that many funerals, the reality is that, along with church members, you perform funerals for folks who aren’t church members but are connected to the church in some way. You also do funerals for folks who have no connection to the church and you have never met. They didn’t have a pastor and, for any number of reasons, you got involved.

Yesterday, I performed another funeral. This one was for a gentleman who, although he wasn’t a member of the church I serve, had a connection. His mom is a matriarch of the congregation. In addition, I had met him several times, including performing his wife’s funeral a few years ago.

So I met with the family early in the week. That meeting is always important to me. The more I can get the family talking, the better. They start out not feeling they have anything to share. But over the hour or so that I spend with them, I am able to bring out all sorts of information that is extremely helpful to me as I put together the service.

One thing I always ask is, “Imagine someone comes to the service who never met him. What would you want them to know?” That always elicits conversation. As we talk, I type notes into my iPad. In fact, there are times when a story is being told and they see me typing- they will say, “Don’t put THAT one down!” I always assure them that I am nothing if not discerning and discrete!

I also talk to other people who knew them, gathering information. In addition, I’ll get online and cut and paste their obituary- there is often something there I didn’t know. The last bit of “fact gathering” I do is at the visitation. Usually, there are pictures on display. They tend to tell me all sorts of things. So as I look at the pictures, I have my cell phone out. As I see things that resonate with me, I make a note on an email to myself. When I’m done, I simply hit “send”. I then have a note to myself- I don’t have to remember it!

So I end up with notes- all electronic- that I need to bring together, along with Scripture readings, funeral liturgy and music, into some coherent whole. It’s a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. For a while, it just looks like little clumps that don’t make much sense. But as I put it together, those clumps start to join together. And as that happens, a picture starts to emerge. And then, as if by magic, there it is- a finished project. I upload it into a presentation app on my iPad that I use to preach from. And then…I’m ready!

One of the consistent comments I get when I do a funeral is, “Well done! Short and sweet!” Or words to that effect. That is NOT by accident. We have all been to funerals where the preacher apparently REALLY likes to hear himself talk! That simply doesn’t make sense to me. My thought is this- nobody came to the funeral simply to hear me speak. They came to pay their respects to the person who died. Therefore, my goal is to honor the deceased, offer hope and salvation to those gathered, be real and genuine…and wrap it all up in 20 minutes or so. (Perhaps it’s my acting days coming back- “leave ’em wanting more!”)

Funerals are a challenge, but they are also an honor and a blessing. I am given the gift of trying to capture the essence of the deceased and, though that act, offer some peace, comfort and hope to the family. As I have said before…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!