A Theology of…Chili?

chili

Ok, I admit…I love chili. For the most part, there are two types of chili in my book- good…and better! At our house, we make “regular” chili, white bean chicken chili, black bean chili, taco soup chili…you name it, we make it. And so it should come as no surprise that I have been involved in more than one Chili Cook-Off in my day!

I remember one at a church I once served. Ten entries competed for the top prize…a plaque with their name on it and, more importantly, bragging rights for the next 12 months! And we had a GREAT variety of entries:  Super Meaty/Beanie Chili, Bring It On Chili, The Works Taco Chili, Fire House Chili, Albuquerque Old Town Chili, Venison Chili, Turkey Chili, Sweet Chili Mac, Rich Vegetarian Chili and White Chicken Chili! And they were ALL great!

     About 60 people came to judge the chili. Everyone got a “Sample Cup”, and then visited each of the chilis. No one’s name was on their chili- you only knew the title of the chili itself- that way, you didn’t know who you were voting for. Everyone got to sample each chili, and then they were asked to fill out a ballot choosing their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorites. After that, they were invited to have a bowl of “regular” chili (or a chili dog) and some dessert.
     After a heated voting period, the winners were: 3rd Place- White Chicken Chili, 2nd Place- Turkey Chili, and…drum roll please…1st Place went to Firehouse Chili!The trash-talking among the entrants was held to a minimum, a LOT of food got eaten (I don’t mean to tell tales out of school, but NOBODY eats quite like us United Methodists eat…I’m just saying!) and everyone went home happy! Another successful night at church!
     It was fascinating that night to watch everybody try the varieties of chili. With that many different types, MOST people found at least one that they really liked. But I saw people avoid the White Chicken Chili…because it doesn’t look like “regular” chili. I saw people avoid the Albuquerque Old Town Chili because it didn’t have beans but DID pack quite a punch! I saw people avoid the Rich Vegetarian Chili because…who wants chili without meat? Some thought one was way too hot, while others thought it was (to quote that great theologian Goldilocks) just right”! Some loved the Venison Chili, while others thought is was too “gamey”. (I mean, it is, after all, VENISON chili!)
     There were ALL types of chili…and it TOOK all types to please everyone. Why? Because we are all…ready?…wait for it…DIFFERENT. And yet…we are “made in the image of God”! What? How can THAT be? How can we all be made in the image of God, when I don’t look anything like Brad Pitt of George Clooney (darn the luck!)? Well, we ARE all made in the image of God, but it’s an internal, spiritual, “heart” sort of thing, as opposed to an external, visual, “I don’t resemble the heartthrob du jour” sort of thing. The more we lead with our hearts and reach out to people and live good lives and treat others the way we want to be treated, the closer to the image of God we get.
     How much like God do YOU look? If you’re like me, you look a bit more like Him on some days that others. But here’s the good news- where you are on that journey isn’t NEARLY as important as which direction you’re going. So you know someone who’s a living saint, ready to be canonized, and you can’t compete with them. Big whoop! The only person you need to compete with is YOU! So, we can all embrace the fact that we are as different from each as all those types of chili mentioned above…because we are ALL made in the image of God!
     Thanks for stopping by…I pray you have a blessed day! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to have a bowl of chili! Please come back tomorrow and stick with Jesus!

What is Leadership?

Leadership-abstract-007

Tomorrow night, I am heading to a United Methodist Church in a neighboring state to lead a workshop on Leadership and Leadership Development. I was honored to be asked and I am very interested to see how the evening goes! But as I have prepared for this workshop, I have…obviously…thought a lot about leadership.

What does leadership mean to you? George Barna, from his Leaders on Leadership, says, “The central task of leadership is influencing God’s people toward God’s purposes.” Oswald Sanders, in Spiritual Leadership, says, “A Christian leader is someone who is called by God to lead, leads with and through Christ-like character and demonstrates the functional competencies that permit effective leadership to take place“.

Those are excellent quotes from smart men. But one of my favorite quotes is a bit more…pragmatic…than those, “If you think you’re a leader and no one is following you, you AREN’T leading- you’re just out for a walk!” (And I have NO idea who said THAT!) But isn’t that the truth? There are folks who are leaders by virtue of being “elected” through a popularity contest. There are those who are leaders because they were the one dumb enough to say, “Yes!” There are those who are in a leadership position simply because they bugged someone enough that they were put in that position.

But the truth is this- simply being in a position of leadership doesn’t make you a leader any more than being in a garage makes you an automobile! I have BEEN a “leader” simply because I said “Yes”. Likewise, I have put people into leadership positions simply because I needed a name on a sheet of paper! And neither of those are good things. I had a boss who was about 2 burritos shy of a Combo Platter (and perhaps that’s why we got along so well!) but who taught me a LOT about leadership. And she drilled into me that you NEVER put someone in a position simply because you NEED someone in that position. You put them there ONLY because they are the right person.

Leadership, at its heart, is about helping people bring out their best. It’s about developing people. It’s about relationship. In my “former life”, I hired a LOT of people. And I told EVERY one of them that I was hiring them…to take my job. (I would follow it up with, “Because if you’re taking my job…it means I’m moving up!”) And eventually…one of them did! Good leaders should NOT ask others to do something they aren’t willing to do themselves. I had a pastor tell me once, “I don’t sweep floors. I don’t shovel snow. I don’t take out trash. It’s NOT my job!” And to that I said, “Well..bully for you!” Are those things at the top of my job description? Nope! But if those things need to be done and the folks who normally do them aren’t around or are otherwise occupied…I say, “Pick up a broom and get busy!”

Jesus was the epitome of a servant leader. We was willing to wash the disciples. He was also willing to train them. And teach them. And prepare them. And give them marching orders. When I shuffle off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and go to join the heavenly choir, I pray I can say that I mirrored, in some SMALL way, the example Jesus gave for leadership!

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

Rehearsed Sponteneity

worship practice

I love worship. Plain and simple. CAN’T say I always have. But I CAN say I always will. There is a power and an energy in a worship service that simply can’t be found anywhere else. Worship is NOT the people “up front” performing for the people in the pews. If that’s the way you’re “doing worship”, you may want to give it a second thought. There IS an audience, but it is NOT in the pews. The audience is an Audience of One- God.

There is another dynamic of worship that is pretty interesting and, in my mind, pretty important. I have attended a decent amount of worship services over the years that felt amazingly…unrehearsed. Now, I know that some of you, right this very minute, are thinking or saying, “Rehearsed? Worship shouldn’t be rehearsed! It should be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit! Rehearsed!”

And you know what- you’re right. Worship SHOULD be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. There should always be plenty of room for God to do whatever God is going to do. BUT…(You KNEW that was coming!)…the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t intended to keep YOU from doing YOUR work as well!

When you make a presentation at work, you prepare so that you can offer your best. When you are going to sing or play a song, you rehearse so that you can offer your best. Football teams. Baseball teams. Basketball teams- they all practice. They want to offer their best. It all makes good sense- we are hard-wired to do our best.

And guess what? God deserves our best! If all of those other things warrant us working hard to do the best we can…how much MORE does God warrant that behavior? The folks who lead the music in the church I currently serve- the Choir, the Bell Choir, 2 different Praise Bands and an Accompanist- all practice regularly so that the music is the best it can be. Our staff meets every week to talk through and plan out the worship services for the week. Our Worship Director sends out a “Leader Bulletin” to everyone involved in the services every week, so that they know what’s coming. The Tech folks make sure all of their “stuff” is in order. Ushers. Greeters. The folks who run our Café. Hard work and attention to detail are the order of the day…every day. Do we step aside when the Holy Spirit decides to take us in a different direction? In a heartbeat! But we also have done our homework so that we can be the best possible.

God deserves our best…period…mic drop. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God and do the absolute best you can. God deserves that…and so do you!

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

Doing a 180: Redefine Yourself

Doing a 180 Redefine Yourself

Among other things, I’m an actor. I always wanted to be an actor. I started at the age of 15 and…at some level…never stopped. I’ve played a WIDE variety of characters. I’ve played a doctor. A judge. A TV host. A boat captain. A DRUNKEN boat captain. A wealthy aristocrat. A paranormal investigator. A slumlord. A man dying of cancer. Orpheus in the Underworld. Joseph of Arimathea. Lazarus. Satan. An old, dead Irishman. An angry young man. Another angry young man. Yet another angry young man. (See a trend here?!) And the common thread among all of those characters is that they happened because I worked hard to redefine myself. That’s what actors do.

Interestingly, that’s what some pastors do, as well. United Methodist pastors are moved from church to church periodically. And sometimes, as a pastor moves, they take that opportunity to redefine themselves. At the first church I served, I was the Associate Pastor. I went from being “the Youth Guy” to managing the day-to-day operations of a church that ran 800/Sunday in attendance. But…I was the Associate Pastor. That’s how everybody knew me. That’s how everybody saw me. It’s logical. It’s the way it works.

Then, I was moved to another church- to be the Directing Pastor. (That’s a United Methodist term that translates to “ONLY Pastor”!) And so, I had to redefine myself. I switched roles and needed to make some changes in who I was to accommodate. And then I moved here…and it happens all over again. Don’t believe me? At the last church I served, I was tall, skinny and tan…with a FULL head of bushy hair!

     Isaiah 65:17-18 I will create new heavens and a new earth. The things that have happened before will not be remembered. They will not even enter your minds. So be glad and full of joy forever because of what I will create. 

Today brings us to Week 2 of our current sermon series- a brief, 3-week one entitled Doing a 180. This series focuses on how we can turn our lives around for Jesus Christ. It’s based on an interesting and often misunderstood New Testament character- Mary Magdalene. And through her story, we’re learning a thing or two about OUR story.

If you want to turn things around, there is a specific approach to take. If you want to turn my life around, you need to do a 180- the exact opposite direction from where you are currently headed. There are 3 main steps to making that happen. And each week, we’re looking at one of those steps. Last week, we started with Step One: Accept What Is. The truth is that, to be able to turn around, you first have to realize and accept where you are. Today, we move on to Step Two: Redefine Yourself. And the reason this is Step Two is that who you ARE isn’t nearly as important as who you COULD be.

Last week, we focused on the fact that Mary Magdalene started from a dark place- possessed by not one but seven demons. By the end of last week, she had been cleansed of that and was sitting at the feet of the Master- in her right mind. Let’s look at the next time Mary Magdalene appears in the Gospels.

John 19:25 Jesus’ mother stood near his cross. So did his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 

So…2 sentences. REALLY? TWO sentences? That’s it? Sometimes…two sentences is enough! Remember- Mary Magdalene had a rough start. 7 demons. Life was WAY beyond rough. It simply wasn’t worth living. And then…along came Jesus. And then…everything changed. Today’s Scripture shows us that this woman- who the world had written off as “crazy”- had come SO far that she was now one of the FEW who stuck by Jesus to the end. Peter had openly denied Jesus not once but THREE times. Most of the rest of the disciples had scattered to the four winds, fearful for their safety.

But when the rubber met the road, there was Mary Magdalene, along with 3 other women, at the foot of the cross as Jesus breathed his last. Mary- Jesus’ mother, her sister- Jesus’ aunt and Mary the wife of Clopas all joined Mary Magdalene in the vigil. 4 women, standing their ground after the men had run off. So guys, to quote that great theologian Stephen Colbert, the next time someone tells you that you throw like a girl…you say, “Thank you!”

How did this happen? How did this demon-infested woman, destined for NOTHING good, end up standing vigil at the cross? It happened because Mary Magdalene redefined herself. She had a real and tangible encounter with Jesus of Nazareth and He changed her. He helped her recognize her present reality AND He helped her have the courage to do a 180 and redefine herself. The demonized woman who had absolutely NO future at all was now at the forefront of this fledgling Christian religion. What an amazing 180. What an amazing example of what Jesus can do.

I’ve shared before that, back in the day, I was kind of drifting through life. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and it often had a negative effect on my family. I just didn’t know who I was supposed to be. And all the while, God was working on me. He had me study acting, which would come in handy later on…in ways I could have never imagined. He had me earn a Bachelor’s Degree. Again, couldn’t imagine how that would come back into play. He had me, the Godless heathen, start going to church. I thought it was simply to make this girl that I wanted to marry happy. Turns out…God had deeper plans. He had me get more and more involved in church.

And then, He sprung the trap. “I want you to go into the ministry.” “I’m sorry…what? We must have a bad connection, because I could have SWORN You said you want me to…NAW! Can’t be! That’s funny, isn’t it…God?” Cricket. Cricket. Cricket! Aaaawww, SNAP! And so, for the next few years, I fought it tooth and nail. Why? Because I couldn’t THINK of a worse idea than going into the ministry. Although, the fact that you only work one day a week WAS enticing!

But God was persistent. He would NOT give up. Hammering and hammering. Endless. And over time…He wore me down. And so, finally, just to get Him to STOP…I gave in. I went to my wife and said, “I have to tell you something.” Her reply? “I know what you’re going to say.” Me- “Oh, I don’t THINK so!” Her- “You want to go into the ministry.” Cricket. Cricket. Cricket! When I regained consciousness, I said, “How did you KNOW?” She assured me she had known for a long time.

So I went to meet with our pastor, to get his input. He told me two things that had an immediate impact on me. The first thing he said was, “Do you have a Bachelor’s Degree?” “Yeah…why?” “Well, that’ll make it easier to get your Master’s Degree!” “My WHAT?!” (I had NO idea I had to get a Master’s Degree!) The second thing he said was, “If you can do anything else with your life…do it.” What he did NOT mean was that, if I wasn’t physically capable of anything else, go into the ministry. I mean, I had proved that I was physically capable of LOTS of things. No, he meant that if there is anything else that would feed my soul…do it. If not…welcome to the ministry!

I had a GREAT family. I had a lot to offer. And I was unhappy. Unsatisfied. Restless. I had to accept what was. And that was HARD. It meant facing a lot of things I really didn’t want to face. But once I finally did, I was able to begin the process of redefining myself.

     Romans 8:1-2 Those who belong to Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s sentence. I am now controlled by the law of the Holy Spirit. That law gives me life because of what Christ Jesus has done. It has set me free from the law of sin that brings death.

You first have to accept what is. Once you DO that, you suddenly have the freedom to ask yourself THE most important question in regard to your life, “Who is God calling me to be?” The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over…and expect different results. If the old way of seeing yourself isn’t working…stop it! As long as YOU don’t change…nothing else will either.

You have to be willing to see the new possibility God has for you. You are worth so much more than you think you are. You are the pearl of great price. Redefining yourself brings about new possibilities and a new vision of what you can do with your life.

Set clear intentions for yourself. Write down what you think God is calling you to. Picture it in your mind and DON’T let negativity cloud it. There is NO room for “I can’t” when you’re identifying what God is calling you to do. If He’s calling you…you CAN! Show the world that there is a new sheriff in town- a new you. And show it through your actions. Words are great, but often what you say and $2 will buy you a soda at McDonalds. Instead, show people, through your daily actions, that you have turned things around.

When the gravitational pull of your old ways, thoughts and actions starts threatening to simply drag you back down…refuse. Dig your heels in and recommit to being the NEW you that God has called you to be. Commit to a new understanding of who you are. See yourself as God sees you- NOT as you have always seen yourself. Or worse- how the world sees you. He made you. He loves you. He has your best interests at heart. He has plans for you.

The “Beard Thing”

ZZ Top

Did you know that there is such a thing  as…No Beard Day! No foolin’! No Beard Day! (I have to wonder who sits around and thinks these things up! And besides, I haven’t even finished up my No Beard Day shopping, sent out my cards, put up the decorations or NUTHIN’!)

But it DOES reminder me of a “beard-related” encounter I had once. I was working for a large school photography company. I started as seasonal help…and never left! After about a year, the owner and his son started including me in the seasonal help interviews. One guy cam in for an interview- we’ll call him “Ken”. Ken was a nice enough guy, knew the owners already, and had even done some school photography work before. It seemed like a no-brainer to hire him. After he left the interview, they talked about their perceptions of Ken and asked for mine. Then one of them said to the other, “But…there’s the ‘beard thing’.” To which the other replied, “Yeah…the ‘beard thing’.”
I know I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but I didn’t have ANY clue what the “beard thing” was. So, I said, “The ‘beard’ thing?” “Yeah, you know- the ‘beard thing’.” At that point it was starting to sound like some warped Abbott and Costello routine, so I responded, “Actually, no, I DON”T know the ‘beard thing’. What exactly IS it?” They proceeded to tell me that males with beards don’t make very good school photographers because kids are afraid of men with beards. (I guess if you were the bearded LADY from the side show, your spot in the school photography seasonal help line would be secured, however!) I sat there for a moment, spellbound and dumbfounded, and then, pointing at the full beard ON MY FACE, said, “I have a beard, and you guys seem to think I do a pretty good job!” They suddenly looked very sheepish and began mumbling and backtracking. I found the whole things hysterical myself! (We DID end up hiring “Ken” and he worked out JUST fine, thank you very much!)
I am always interested at how we stereotype and pigeonhole people. Whether it’s based on their on the length or color of their hair, their skin color, their age, their ethnic background, their socio-economic status, their gender…whatever…we seem to LOVE to make snap decisions about people. And it’s all well and good when it’s us making the decisions about others. But we are not quite so comfortable with the process when WE are the ones being judged!
The nice thing is that, no matter how much WE judge each other, God doesn’t “play that”. God doesn’t care about that laundry list of things from a few sentences ago. He is only concerned about what’s on the INSIDE! (And I, for one, say, “Thank you, God!”)The next time you start to stereotype someone, stop for a moment and think about 2 things: 1. the “beard thing”, and 2. the fact that God loves us for who we are! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go a trim my beard!!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I’m an “Animal”!

animal-muppet

I you don’t know I’m a drummer then you A. haven’t looked at the “description” of my website (A daily look at life a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister), B. haven’t read much of my writing and C. haven’t gotten the “double meaning” of Stick With Jesus! Yep- I’m a drummer. And while I have been a preacher for 20 years and an actor for 40 years, I have been a drummer for 45 years! I have been playing the drums longer than I have been doing basically anything that doesn’t involve basic human needs!

I have also shared in this spot that, when I play the drums…I feel God’s pleasure. Don’t misunderstand that- I feel God’s pleasure when I preach or do some other kind of ministry. But it is a different feeling. God has called me to this things. I believe, somewhere deep down- in that place you don’t like to talk about at parties- that he created me to play music.

I am reminded of that fact in powerful ways these days. Along with serving as the drummer for the Praise Band that plays at our 8AM worship service (which I love dearly), I am also playing for and leading the new praise band that is leading our new Rock and Worship service. And it is a BUCKETLOAD of fun!

One of the many things I love about music is how diverse it is. And it is that fact that feeds me as I serve this church. One Sunday mornings, I start at 8AM by playing drums for a service that is a nice blend of upbeat Contemporary Christian songs and softer, more quiet songs. Then, at 9:15AM, I play for a service that is even more upbeat- songs that really “pump up the volume”. And then, at 10:30AM, I play for a service that is a marvelous blend of more upbeat contemporary music and classic hymns of the faith.

It take a lot of work, to be sure. I am blessed to serve with musicians (including the Bell Choir, Vocal Choir and accompanist) who take their craft seriously and want what they do to be the best offering to God it can be. And that commitment shows every Sunday. Are we perfect? Far from it. But do we strive to be the best we can be every week? Absolutely!

What gift has God given you that, when you do it…it brings Him pleasure? And “I have NO idea, Pastor!” is NOT a suitable response! I think that MOST people know all too well what God is calling them to…they are just reluctant…scared…to actually do it. So- what is it? Whatever it is- DO it! Do it as much as you can. Do it well. Do it with integrity. And do it for the glory of God!

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

Who’s Training Who?

paw print

We are animal lovers at our house. We have a soft spot for animals in general. As we watched a nature show the other night, we all reacted when the leopard seal, exhausted from trying to get away from a pod of killer whales, was slowly dragged off an ice floe into the water…and his doom…while looking at the camera. We also reacted when the pack of wolves isolated the buffalo from the pack and tried to bring it down. Just as it seemed that the buffalo might actually get the upper hand and escape, another buffalo, panicked by the wolves came barreling into the frame…PLOWED the captured buffalo over…and kept on running! On the ground and injured by his “friend”, the buffalo had NO chance!

We also feel for the feral cats that like to hang around our house. We don’t FEED them, because if we wanted a bunch of cats…we would HAVE a bunch of cats. (Actually, it’s NOT a bunch- it’s a clowder, a pounce or a glaring of cats!) But we watch them out the window, commenting on their exploits. We even named one of them, because she was a kitten when we moved her 4+ years ago and she is STILL around! (That’s a LONG time for a feral cat!) Growing up in farm country, we had dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, a horse, sheep, goats…you get the idea. We love animals.

But for my family, our favorite would have to be dogs. We have always had dogs as house pets…and now is not exception! We have two dogs- a little 17-year old Lhasa mix named Nessie and a big 12-year old Lab/Pointer mix named Zoey. They love being together and they are QUITE fond of being in the house!

As I help tend to them every day, I realize more and more that the notion that WE have trained THEM may be simply us trying to make ourselves feel better! I mean, I CANNOT “sleep in” past about 7AM because the dogs will get me up to start their day. After they go out, it’s coconut oil in the food AND pills in a blob of peanut butter- all to address their allergies! I take a “smoke break” (No, I DON’T smoke! I just call it that!) around 9AM-9:30AM to run next door and…take the dogs out. They are SO excited to see me at lunch…because they are going to get fed again!

One of the most amazing things about them is that they KNOW (Not kidding!) what the Jeopardy music means. When the closing music plays, it’s 5PM and they are going to get fed! But the local TV station has started showing Jeopardy at 3:30PM AND 4:30PM. They simply don’t understand what trouble that causes us! The 3:30PM episode ends at 4PM and they think, because the music played, that they should get fed. And yet…it’s still an HOUR before dinnertime!

Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov’s human! We are trained in all sorts of ways to do all sorts of things. And how does that training happen? Repetition. Consistency. Commitment. You do something over and over and over, you do it consistently and you commit to it and it becomes a habit. You are trained.

How’s your spiritual training going? It’s the same as anything else- use it…or lose it. Spiritual development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. God is always there and He always wants more for you. But if you aren’t willing to put forth some effort, if there’s no commitment there… I see parents being SO inconsistent with church attendance and I wonder what it’s teaching…or NOT teaching..their kids. I hear people say, “Well, I don’t FORCE my kid to go to church because I want to let them make up their own mind when they get older.” And yet…you force them to go to school. Why? Because it’s GOOD for them. It builds them up- mind and body. So does spiritual development.

Commit to your spiritual development. Commit to the spiritual development of those closest to you. If you don’t go to church- start. If you go infrequently- go more often. If you are regular church attender..and nothing else, get involved in one more faith-based activity. It will NOT be a waste of time. It will NOT hurt you. And, if you commit to it, it can change you in ways you never even thought possible! Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have to feed the dogs!

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