Creative Ministries

creative-ministry

There is a ministry that the church my wife and I currently serve started in earnest a few months ago. In fact, it’s not just a ministry the church does, it’s a ministry that my wife started and oversees. It is the Visitor’s Bag ministry. We had in place ways to follow-up on first-time visitors. But we really weren’t offering them much up front- the day they first walk in the door. But we have remedied that situation!

There are LOTS of things that churches give first-time visitors. Coffee mugs are a very popular item. The first church we served delivered an apple pie to visitors…at their home, later in the day that they visited. (Several people commented positively on that, in fact!) We wanted to give them something that would last- that left out the apple pie. My take on the coffee mug is that it becomes one more coffee mug that people either get rid of or put in a box. We wanted something that they might actually continue to use…thereby keeping the church in front of them, so to speak.

So, back in early August, my wife designed the Visitor’s Bag. It is a reusable shopping bag that is all-black with red letters. It has basic information about the church printed on the sides- name, address, phone, web address and Mission Statement.

In the bag is a variety of things. There is a plate of cookies, personally made by someone in the church. There is a loaf of artisan bread, compliments of the vanload of baked goods we get donated to us by a local grocery store chain very Saturday. There are three brochures- one about worship and Christian Education opportunities, one about Youth and Children’s ministries and one about opportunities for mission and service. There is a copy of my business card with a personal note from me attached. There is a refrigerator magnet with some basic info about the church on it. And there are two Prayer Stone packets. Each packet includes a Prayer Stone- a small, round, glass “stone”- and a paper that explains the idea behind the stones.

The Visitor Bag ministry has been up and running for just about over 2 months. And in those relatively few weeks…we have given out about 100 bags! 100 bags! And when I saw “we have…”, what I really mean is “my wife has…” I mean, a few bags have been given out by others. But for the most part. It has been her baby!

The bags have to be prepared either sometime Saturday or on Sunday morning, since they have perishable food in them. And since we never really know how many to make, it’s a guessing game every week. Some weeks, we have to unpack the unused bags after church so that the cookies and bread don’t go bad. And other days, like yesterday, we didn’t make enough and my wife is scrambling to make more during Sunday morning events!

In the end, they are a decent amount of work to maintain. But they also have a very positive impact on those who receive them. The feedback is consistently positive. They get good bread. They get delicious cookies. They get some hands-on material that helps them learn more about the church. And they get the bag, which is VERY reusable!

Would it be easier to just not mess with all of that? Yep! In fact, it would be easier to just not mess with a WHOLE lot of things that this church does. But we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. And that means we step out in faith and look for creative ways to reach out to others in His name!

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

Glory Days: Circle Jericho

glory-days-circle-jericho

The pastor wanted to get a feel for his new church. He visited the children’s Sunday school class to see what the kids knew. The teacher said, “Pastor, this morning we’re learning about Jericho. The pastor said, “Well, let’s see what you’ve learned. Who tore down the walls of Jericho?” For a few moments, no one spoke. Then little Billy shyly raised his hand, “Pastor, I didn’t do it.” Surprised by the response, the pastor asked, “Come on now kids, who tore down the walls of Jericho?” The teacher spoke up, “Pastor, Billy’s a good boy. If he says he didn’t do it, I believe he didn’t do it.” Flustered, the pastor went to the Sunday school superintendent and told her the story. The superintendent listened intently, then said, “Well, Pastor, we’ve had some problems with Billy before. Let me talk to him and see what we can do.” The pastor was nearly beside himself by this point, frustrated with how little anybody seemed to know about the Bible. He decided to go straight to the leaders of the church- surely THEY would know the story. He told them the whole thing and then waited for their response. A white-haired gentleman thoughtfully stroked his chin and said, “Well, Pastor, I think I understand the problem. I understand your concern.” The pastor breathed a little sigh of relief, “Thank goodness.” The elderly man went on, “Yes, we’ll take care of this. I move we take money out of the General Fund and pay for those walls to be fixed! Let’s just get it done”

Today, we continue our current sermon series- Glory Days. Based on the book by Max Lucado, we are focusing on a concept he describes as living your Promised Land life…now. When we face challenges that are bigger than we can handle, a GREAT place to go for hope and inspiration is the Old Testament story of Joshua. So we’re walking through that book, focusing on how Joshua led the Hebrews out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan- the Promised Land.

The first week, we focused on WHEN the Glory Days are…and we stated that they are NOW! Last week, we looked at the fact that, since they ARE now, we have a responsibility to accept our inheritance. Today, we move forward, right to the walls themselves. We face our fears as we Circle Jericho.

The Hebrew people have crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. But there is STILL much to do. God sends them to the walled city of Jericho. And He gives them a seemingly impossible task.

     Joshua 6:1-5 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

What do you know about the walls of Jericho? According to Veggie Tales, they were guarded by French Peas who threw Slushees down on the unsuspecting Hebrews! I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that’s not exactly how it went! . The walls were immense. They wrapped around the city of Jericho like a suit of armor. Imagine 2 concentric circles of stone 40′ high. Imagine formidable. Imagine impenetrable. The people inside the walls were much the same- ferocious and barbaric. They and their impressive walls had withstood all sieges, repelled all invaders. They were undefeated…that is, until Joshua and his people showed up.

The gates of Jericho were securely barred- they were shut and locked. In fact, we are told that no one was going out…and no one was getting in. Clearly they didn’t want to let anybody in. But the fact that they also weren’t letting anybody out shows that the people of Jericho saw this as a serious, potentially desperate situation.

Then God says something that is THE most important thing said throughout this story. He says, “I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” All you teachers out there- did you notice the verb tense? It wasn’t, “I am GOING to deliver…” It wasn’t, “I AM delivering…” It was, “I have ALREADY delivered…” Past tense. Already done. God has already done the heavy lifting. All the Hebrews have to do is be faithful to what God is calling them.

But the Hebrews aren’t stupid- they KNOW that defeating a walled city is a major challenge. There are basically five ways to capture a walled city:

  1. go OVER the wall with ladders, ramps and such
  2. go UNDER the wall by digging a tunnel
  3. go THROUGH the wall by smashing a hole in it
  4. lay siege to the city and starve them into submission
  5. use some kind of trickery, like the Trojan Horse

They KNOW those truths. They understand them. And they really aren’t capable of ANY of them! So how are they going to win? They are going to march around the city once a day for six days and then 7 times on the 7th day, The trumpets will blow and the walls? They’ll come a’tumbin’ down! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

But let’s be honest- “march around the city for several days” isn’t the best military advice ever given. It really doesn’t make…well…ANY sense. I mean, who in their right mind would actually DO that? Apparently, the Hebrews would. It required faith and trust. They had to believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that  God would keep His promise and deliver the city to them.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t read this passage without the number 7 standing out to me. 7 days of walking. 7 times around the wall on day 7. 7 priests blowing 7 trumpets. 7 must be pretty important to this story. Well…it is. Biblically, theologically, 7 is seen as a perfect number- the number of completion. It appears 860 times in the Bible- 54 times in the book of Revelation alone. According to Jewish tradition, Adam was created on the 7th day of the 7th month.  There are 7 days in a week and the Sabbath is on the 7th day. The Bible is divided into 7 major sections. Jesus said we should forgive someone 70 X 7 times. It’s an important number! The remarkable collection of sevens in this story underscores the sacred significance of the event.

In the end, the people marched and the trumpets blew. Notice God told the people to keep quiet. In other words, no chitchat, no opinion giving, no second guessing, no whining. No complaining. Just be quiet and let the trumpets sound.  And when they did…the walls came down. Bricks cracked. Stone fractured. Everything shook—the walls, the ground…and the knees of the Jericho soldiers. The impenetrable fortress met the unstoppable force. Mighty Jericho crumbled.

Remember- the Hebrews have surrounded the city. And when the walls come down, they ALL go STRAIGHT in. This wasn’t just a minor wall failure in an isolated spot. Not a breach here and there. This was a catastrophic and complete failure of the wall, giving access to the city from all sides.

But the truth of the matter is this- Joshua and his people did NOT bring those walls down. The Hebrews never swung a hammer. They never fired a trebuchet. They never used siege weapons to break down the gates. In the grand scheme of things..they didn’t do ANYTHING…except follow God. God came through in a BIG way for the Hebrew people. AND…God is willing- anxious- to come through in a BIG way for you.

The question isn’t CAN you overcome? The question is WILL you overcome? Life always offers challenges, but God always gives you the strength to overcome them. God didn’t say, “Joshua, take the city.” He said, “Joshua, receive the city I’ve already taken.” Joshua didn’t go forth hoping to win. He went forth knowing that God had already won. And the same can be true about you. God doesn’t say, “Break your bad habit.” He says, “I’ve already broken the bad habits of your life. Receive the blessing of my victory.”

What is your Jericho? Is it your fears? Is it your bitterness? Your prejudice? Your insecurity? Your guilt? Your negativity, anxiety, critical nature? Your Jericho is ANY attitude or mind-set that keeps you from joy and peace. Jericho is what stands between you and your Glory Days. It’s that thing that mocks you, tells you to take your dreams back to the wilderness where they belong. It’s big. It blocks your way…and it HAS to come down.

The taking of Jericho- no hand-to-hand combat? No flashing swords? No flying spears, battering rams, catapults? Just march, be quiet and watch…then yell? What kind of warfare is this? I’ll tell you what kind of warfare that is- spiritual warfare. Satan isn’t passive. He’s not fair. He’s active and he’s deceptive. And he’s always looking for a foothold- a stronghold. He’s always trying to eclipse our greater discovery of God. He tries to magnify problems and minimize God. But the ONLY authority the devil has over your life is what you’re willing to let him have- no more, no less. Tell the devil “NO” and watch him run. He WILL retreat. Remind him that he’s not allowed in God’s house. And the New Testament is clear- YOU are God’s house.

To fully live in the Promised Land, you have to face your Jericho. It’s not easy. Satan doesn’t give up without a fight. He WILL push back. But he WON’T win…unless you let him. Like my childhood cat Charlie, Satan was declawed at the cross of Calvary. He has NO authority over you.

Are there days when you see nothing but Jericho? Are there times when despair seems to be the order of the day? Do you sometimes feel defeated? Do you ever dwell on the word “impossible”? Do negatives rule your thinking? “God could never forgive me.” “I couldn’t possible forgive that person.” “Bad things always happen to me.” “I don’t deserve to be loved.” “I’ll never recover from this.” Today’s problem doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s problem. It’s not God’s will that you live an unhappy, dreary, defeated life. Quit listening to the old voices and start listening to the new ones. It’s time to stop living out of your circumstances and start living out of your inheritance. You can watch your strongholds be demolished, reduced to rubble once and for all.

You can see Jericho leveled. “How?”, you might ask? By keeping God in the center, by making sure the main thing is the Main Thing. Notice what preceded the people as they marched around Jericho- the Ark of the Covenant…the dwelling place of God. Everything centered around Him.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve been fighting this battle for a long time and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.” I get that. It must have seemed like that to the Hebrews, too. God told Joshua how many days of walking around the city it would take. But Joshua didn’t tell the people. They just kept walking…and wondering. But they kept walking.

Keep walking. You never know- this might be the day your walls come a tumblin’ down. You might be only a few steps away from victory. The trumpets sounded. The walls fell. And the people took the city. The walls that had kept them out now became stepping-stones into the Glory Days.

We so easily live within the joy-sucking walls of Jericho. But I just stopped by this morning to tell you that you don’t have to do that ANY more. You may feel beyond inadequate, but you have a power at your fingertips that cannot be beat- you have God.

For 6 days, the people of God marched around the city of Jericho. On the seventh day, when God called them to march around the city 7 times, some of them must have thought, “You have GOT to be kidding! This is ridiculous!” But they did it anyway. And you know the rest of the story- the walls came down!

How many times have you marched for 6 days…only to give up just short of the finish line? Victory might only be one more march away. If you’ve given up on something that God called you to do because you were tired, consider taking another run at it. Reengage God’s plan for you. Start marching again.

If you want to see your Jericho fall, you have to stop labeling yourself. You have to stop listening to the lies. You have to stop believing there’s no hope for a new beginning. Come to the walls of YOUR Jericho in God’s power. Put God center stage, with Jesus at His right hand…and in your heart. Come NOT with hope of a possible victory but with assurance of a complete victory. Blast your ram’s horn. Blow your silver trumpet. March like a Promised Land conqueror. What would it take for you to start marching again? Will you start? Today? Keep marching- this just might be the day the walls come down.

It’s THAT Time Again!

trunk-or-treat

It’s almost here. As you read this, the event is only about 48 hours away. This will be the 5th year the church my family currently serves has done it. And NOT coincidentally- the 5th fall we’ve BEEN at this church. If you counted ahead 48 hours from now, you might well have figured out what I’m talking about. If not- Trunk or Treat.

Monday evening- Halloween night- somewhere around 25 cars (the most we’ve had) will line both sides of the street alongside the church. A full-sized pickup truck towing a fishing boat will block off one end of the street while…SOME VEHICLE…will block off the other end. Many of the people who bring cars will also decorate those cars AND dress up somehow. But we make it clear- that is NOT a requirement in order to be able to bring your car. Undecorated cars manned by “undecorated” people who are friendly, welcoming and handing out candy is  JUST fine!

There will also be other church folks running around doing a myriad of things. There will be folks with HUGE bowls of candy on carts going to the cars to replenish. There will be Youth doing a myriad of things- often face-painting is a part of that! And there will be folks cooking and serving hot dogs. We started offering free hot dogs a few years ago. Last year, we gave 500 of them away! (Yes, you read that number correctly!) The United Methodist Men set up a grill under an awning and cook, cook, cook! In addition, bottled water will be handed out. Last year, we gave away about 300 bottles. We might well exceed that number this year.

Given the way we do Trunk or Treat, there is really NO way to know how many people came. But we know we gave away 500 hot dogs. And we know we gave away…ready?…17,000 pieces of candy! (Again, yes- you read that number correctly!) Given all of that, a conservative estimate would put the attendance somewhere north of 700 people. In 2 hours! Amazing.

Now, I am FULLY aware that there are folks who think the LAST thing a church should do is embrace Halloween in ANY form. And I understand that. I really do. Clearly, I don’t AGREE, but I understand. But here’s my thought on the whole thing: the community is GOING to celebrate Halloween. Period. End of sentence. Mic drop. They are and we all know they are, regardless of what we think and regardless of what we do.

Given that as a starting point, the Church has a choice to make- find a way to reach out to the community you serve through this “holiday” or just get a little more irrelevant than you were yesterday. And I realize that sounds harsh- I mean no offense. But the American Christian Church struggles more and more with being completely irrelevant. As every day goes by, more churches slide farther and farther away from the people they are supposed to be reaching out to. The gulf just grows wider and our level or irrelevance grows as well. For a LOT of people “out there”, church just simply doesn’t matter- it has nothing relevant to do or say.

And a large part of the reason people think that is because the Church refuses to think outside the box and imagine new ways to reach people for Jesus Christ. What worked 50 years ago simply doesn’t work today. Look at it this way- there is NO facet of your life that is the same now as it was 50 years ago. Or 40 years ago. 30 years ago. 20 years. 10 years. Shoot, even 5 years in many case. Nothing. So why do we try so hard to insist that, in the midst of a changing world, the church should simply remain the same. Doesn’t make sense…and doesn’t work.

So Monday night, we will put our best foot forward, offer a TON of candy, a BUNCH of hot dogs and a LOT of bottled water. Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, we’ll offer some good ol’ hospitality, care and friendship. We won’t judge those who come. We’ll just be the most gracious hosts we can be and then thank them for coming! And really, isn’t that what the Gospels compel us to do..anyway?!

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

I LOVE the Smell of Burnt Fries in the Morning!

burnt-fries

A buddy of mine once went to a well-known fast food establishment for lunch. (The name of the restaurant shall remain nameless…but its initials are McD!) He went to the counter, ordered his food, paid, and waited. In a minute or two, they slid a tray to him and said, “Here’s your sandwich. We’ll bring your fries out in a minute, when they’re done.” He took his tray and headed for a table, stopping to get his drink, pick up napkins and fill the ubiquitous portion cups with catsup. By the time he was seated and had the straw unwrapped and in his drink, here came an employee with a tray. As he placed it on the table, he said (and I quote), “Here are your fries. I burnt them…so I gave you extra!” Never at a loss for words, my buddy looked him in the eye and replied, “Well…if there’s anything I like better than burnt fries…it’s lots of them!” The employee smiled, turned, and headed back to the friendly confines of the kitchen, happy to be responsible for another satisfied customer!

I think that “settling” has become a major player in our society. So often, we accept poor quality and sub-standard results. We chalk it up to “that’s just the way things are today”. We let people get by with less than their best, and worse than that, we allow OURSELVES to get by with the same! We see the bar being lowered all around us, we put up a perfunctory fight, make a good show of things…and then we throw in the towel and jump aboard the Mediocrity Express. “So what? All the COOL kids are doin’ it!” But I contend that “because everyone else is doing it” is NEVER a good reason to do ANYTHING. We were made for so much more than “merely getting by”. We were WONDERFULLY made in the image of God, and called to be His eyes and ears, hands and feet in this world.

Imagine what the planet would be like if we all actually lived up to our potential. For me, that is only possible when I realize and admit that I have no real power or control…apart from the God who made me. But when we accept that power that God gives us to reach beyond ourselves, we can truly make a difference! Do you want to make a difference? It doesn’t have to be a world-changing difference- start with a difference in one person…yourself! Be what you were created to be! You’ll like what you find! Have a great day, join my Facebook Fan Site (on the left-hand column), Tweet me, share this with as many people as you can, stay away from burnt french fries and stick with Jesus! See you tomorrow!

I’m Unorthodox!

goofy-guy     I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. I graduated with Honors. I was on the Dean’s List. I also have a Master of Divinity Degree, again graduating with Honors. I am an upstanding member of the community, held in esteem by many. And…I have toys on the shelves of my office! I am a walking, breathing dichotomy- a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, surrounded by a conundrum! Let me explain!
We all know how it is- you grow up, you get… responsibilities. When you’re a kid, you are expected to be goofy, to play with toys, to act in a “non-adult” manner- it’s practically the DEFINITION of the word “kid”! But then, things change. You are in the “real world”, and you are expected to act a certain way, think a certain way, BE a certain way. And it’s true pretty universally across the board. It doesn’t matter if you are the local dog catcher or the President of the United States- people expect you to act “right”! (Comedian George Wallace said that, when he was a kid, his mom would get so mad at him for misbehaving that she would send him to his room and tell him not to come out until he “learned how to act”. He said that, a little while later, he would come out of his room and his mom would say, “Well? Did you learn how to act?!” And he would look at her and say, “To be or NOT to be…THAT is the question”! He shared that she didn’t think it was NEARLY as funny as he did!)
Now I don’t have anything against behaving like an adult. All bragging aside…I’m pretty darn good at it- just ask my kids! In fact, “growing up” is a Biblical principle. In the 13th chapter of the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, it says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” It’s natural, even essential, that we “grow up” when we…well…grow up. (I mean, SOMEBODY’S got to do the “heavy lifting”, right?!) My concern is that so many people seem to lose any sense of joy when they “grow up”. You know exactly what I mean. We all know people who are grown up all right, but they haven’t laughed or had fun in…they can’t remember when…and don’t even WANT to remember. “Life is serious business- there’s NO room for frivolity!” Well, I for one respectfully disagree. There is PLENTY of room for frivolity, maybe even a little mirth thrown in every now and then!
I used to worry about appearances- what people thought about me. But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to realize that, at the end of the day, I just don’t care what others think about me! I am a fairly casual dresser. And my casual attire stressed some folks. I once had a parishioner say, “Well, when Rev. So-And-So was here, HE wore a shirt and tie even when he mowed his lawn!” My response? “Well whoop-de-doo for Rev. So-And-So, but I guarantee you will NEVER see me mowing the lawn in dress clothes!” (I’m more of a “ratty gym shorts, ratty t-shirt, ratty tennis shoes, iPod player blaring 70’s Classic Rock into my ears” kind of guy when I mow!)
Some folks want me to be…expect me to be…orthodox. Webster’s Unabridged says that word means “conforming to established doctrine”. Now, don’t get me wrong- I believe in the doctrine of the Church. Perhaps the difference is the word “conform”. Now THAT word means “to be obedient, compliant or identical”. WHAT? That’s where I get off the train!     I’m not willing to be any of those things just because someone says I need to be! Who wants to be identical? Even identical twins aren’t actually identical. I hear “obedient, compliant or identical” and I think of lemmings, in lock-step as they plunge headlong over the cliff. (Although I have read more recently that they really DON’T do that!) God calls us to think for ourselves, look at all the information before us, and make an educated, heart-felt decision about life- NOT blindly adhere to something simply because others want us to. So…I set the tone right up front. When you walk into my office, you DO see a cross-stitched picture of praying hands. You DO see crosses and other overtly Christian wall hangings. But you also see a clock made from a cymbal. You see a whole wall full of St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia. And you see a Superman statue, a Jack ( of Jack-in-the-Box fame) statue, and a Pinky (of Pinky and the Brain fame) statue. Oh, and a Troll doll dressed in a Cardinals uniform! That doesn’t even take into account the GIANT golden Pez dispenser with Charlie Brown’s head on it. Or the St. Louis Rams Super Bowl 34 pennant. Or the Bible character action figures on the shelf. When you attend the church I serve, you get what you get…warts and all. When I mess up (and I DO mess up!), I don’t get all embarrassed and try to hide it or explain it away. For instance, I close EVERY service I do (worship, funeral, wedding, whatever) with The Irish Blessing. I have said it so many times, I can say it in my sleep. Well…apparently I wasn’t asleep one Sunday because I got partway through it at the end of a worship service…and completely forgot it! It was like I had never said it before! It backed it up and took another run at it- still nothing! So I said to the congregation, “You all know it better than me…apparently…so would you please help me finish it?!” (If you can’t laugh at yourself, your life’s TOO serious!)
I’m NOT saying that tradition is a bad thing. I’m NOT saying that we need to thumb our collective nose at all things that are orthodox. I AM saying that life is short, and if you take yourself…and the world around…too seriously, it will get (or at least seem) even shorter. Or to quote that great theologian Dr. Sidney Freeman (from the TV show MASH), “Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice – pull down your pants and slide on the ice!” Try being a bit…unorthodox…about your orthodoxy- you’ll like what you find!
Thanks for stopping by today. Have a blessed day, please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Mission Vs. Method

mission-method

I was reading an article recently about church growth ideas that don’t cost money. (I LOVE church growth and churches ALWAYS have to think about money!) And while A. the list was a good one and B. I won’t bother you with the entire list…I WILL share ONE of the suggestions!

The one that most caught my attention was “encourage people to fall in love with your mission, not your methods”. And the reason that resonated so well with me is that is a foundational piece of my ministry. So let’s take a moment and unpack what that means.

An awful lot of churches make decisions based entirely on their methods. “We’ve never done it that way.” “We’ve always done it that way.” “We tried that once, in 1938, and it didn’t work.” You get the point- WHAT they do isn’t nearly as important as HOW they do it. They measure everything by whether or not it fits their pre-existing understanding of how things work. If the proposed ministry fits into their tidy little box…then it’s a go. If not…not so much!

What that mentality leads to is comments like, “I don’t like this music.” “I don’t like the noise all these kids make.” “We are getting the building dirty.” “I don’t know everybody…and I don’t like it.” And those are all symptoms of a larger issue- I call it an “all about me” theology. An “all about me” theology put us at the center and everybody else…including God…elsewhere. I had a parishioner once who LOVED to tell me all the things she DIDN’T like…and how much better everything would be if we just did everything HER way! And in the context of one of those MANY coversations, she shared that everything that had been changed at the church was just to please ME. I assured her of two things: 1. if we were going to do things simply to please me, a WHOLE lot of things would look different than they do and 2. if she had a church that was everything she wanted, it would be REALLY easy to maintain…because she would be the only person in it!

Successful ministry is about mission, NOT methods. The mission of the church I currently serve is simple- we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. We weigh everything we do by that yardstick. There are LOTS of good things out there that are lots of fun…but don’t conect people to Jesus. Not for us. We work hard to stay focused on the mission.

But the other side of that coin is the method. The mission needs to stay solid. The message needs to be foundational. Jesus is Lord…and we exist to connect people to Him. Period. End of sentence. Mic drop. BUT…(you KNEW that was coming!)…as long as that message, that mission is solid…the delivery system can…and should…remain as fluid as possible.

What worked 20 years ago doesn’t work today. And what works today won’t work in 20 years. It’s as simple as that. NOTHING in our lives is the same as it was 20 years ago. So why would we think that church should remain the same? If we are unwilling to adapt to a changing culture, then we run the risk of simply becoming more and more irrelevant. And, for my money, the American Christian Church is already struggling with being irrelevant.

Embrace the mission. Memorize the mission. Build around the mission. Stay true to the mission. But don’t worry so much about the methods. They aren’t really for you or me, anyway. They’re for all those folks out there who haven’t shpwn up yet, who haven’t experienced Jesus yet.

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

Yanks 3, Detroit 0, Top of the 7th

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The year was 1982. The place? Bloomington, IL. I was in my Senior Year of college as an Acting Major. As my Senior Degree Project, I had decided to direct a play. The way that worked then was that seniors could petition to direct a one-act play in a “black box” theater on campus called The Lab Theater. (We just called it “The Lab”!)

If you aren’t familiar with the term “black box theater”, picture a…you know…black box with chairs in it! Seriously, it was just a decent-sized rectangular room with for black walls, black curtains that ran around all four sides- about 3 feet out from the walls, and a catwalk for lighting, sound and the like. The room is exteremelty flexible- seating can go anywhere in the room. Risers. No risers. Theater in the round. More traditional “proscenium” staging. Whatever. And the emphasis in a Black Box Theater is less on the sets and costumes and more on the acting and directing.

The play I petitioned to direct was called Yanks 3, Detroit 0, Top of the 7th. Being both a baseball fan AND a theater fan, it seemed like a natural choice. And it was. The play has 8 characters-

Duke Bronkowski, the main character, an aging, nearly-washed up Yankees pitcher

Beanie Maligma- the catcher for the Yankees

Old Salt- The Yankee manager

Donna Luna Donna- Duke’s girlfriend

Lucky John, Lincoln Lewis III, Guido Mancini and Brick Brock, Tigers players

The play takes place on the pitcher’s mound at Yankee stadium during a game- top of the 7th, based on the title. The VAST majority of the dialogue is by Duke, who sees his career, and at some level, his life, crumbling around him. Not only does the catcher and the manager come to the mound to isit him, but his girlfriend even does…defying all logic.

To stage the play, I needed baseball uniforms. Makes sense. So, on a whim, I wrote to the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees, asking for them to loan me some uniforms. I honestly had NO expectation that I would actually hear BACK from them. And I did NOT hear back from the Yankees. Nothing. Not a peep. I ended up charming the local sporting goods store into loaning me Yankee uniforms and a warm-up jacket for the manager. I also sweet-taled the university athletic department to let me use a set of catcher’s gear.

But one day, when I got back to our apartment from school, there was a box on the porch…and the return address was the Detroit Tigers! In the box was a letter…and three Detroit Tiger uniforms! The letter was from none other than Jim Campbell, who was the Detroit General Manager at the time. Basically, the letter said that I could use the uniforms on two conditions: 1. I returned them before Spring Training and 2. I didn’t give the team any credit for the loan. (They didn’t want to be inundated with requests!)

I took the unifrms out of the box and looked at them. They were genuine, game-worn major league uniforms. None of them had a name on the back, but you could see that they used to. In fact, one of them had clearly been worn by legendary detroit shortstop Alan Trammell. For a baseball fan who was also a play director with basically NO budget, this was like HEAVEN!

True to my word, I did NOT mention the Detroit Tigers in the “thank you” part of the program. But I DID thanks a certain “Mr. Jim Campbell”…nudge, nudge, wink, wink. After the show closed, I dutifully boxed the unifoms up and sent them back to Detroit. But all these years later, I STILL look back fondly on a gracious gesture a gentleman who was A, pretty powerful and B. didn’t have to do ANYTHING for this goofy college kid in Illinois did. Good stuff. Commit a random act of kindness today!

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

C.I.A.

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Let me say right off the bat- my wife is amazing! I know- you THINK your spouse or significant other is amazing, and I’m sure they are. But MY wife is amazing to some massive, infinite degree! And there are coiuntless things I could offer up as proof of that fact, but let me just share one from yesterday!

About 12 years ago, she started a ministry she called AARP. And although a couple of people gave her some initial grief because they thought it had something to do with THE AARP…it didn’t! It stood for Active Adults Reaching People. It was a ministry designed for seniro citizens who often found themselves eating alone- primarily widows, widowers and single people.

In that setting, the church we served was 10 minutes from a fairly decent-sized metropilitan area that had a TON of restaurants readily available. So once a month, the group went out to lunch after church. It was a very successful ministry that developed a pretty strong and loyal following.

When we were moved from that church, we were…needless to say…moved from that ministry as well. (I have noticed that it is still going, by the way!) So, soon after we arrived at the church we currently serve, she did it again! This time, it’s called CIA- Caring, Individual Adults. And the community in which we live is NOT as close to a larger metropolitan area with a wide variety of restaurants. So…a meal is prepared on the fourth Sunday of every month for the group.

Yesterday was…ready?…the fourth Sunday of the month. So a menu was planned and food was prepared. This month, in honor of cooler temperatures, soup was the main course. My wife made a hearthy potato soup AND a rich chicken and noodle soup. And they were amazing! And my mom would be so proud of the creative way people in this church make use of “leftovers”.

The basic broth for BOTH soups was homemade chicken broth. I have heard it called “bone broth”. The bones from a LOT of chicken that was prepared for some other event…months ago…were simmered for hours on a pot of water. The broth was drained off and frozen in gallon bags.

The potato base for the potato soup came from a similar circumstance. Months ago, we had Father Dominic, the Bread Monk come and do a presentation for us. (He is an old friend from college!) We did a big dinner that night that incuded baked potatoes. We ended up with 3 gallon bags of baked potatoes left over. Into the freezer they went. For this soup, they were thawed, “skinned” and tossed into the broth.

In the end, you goota love it. Being good stewards of what we are given to work with. Creating a successful ministry that has absolutely NO budget. People willing to help cook, serve and clean up. And a group of people who LOVE the monthly meal AND the fellowship that accompanies it. In my bok, all I can say to that is, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” (Or perhaps that should be “soup dinner”!)

My awesome wife demonstartes an attitude that is pervasive in this church- think outside the box. See a need and figure out a way to meet it. Be committed. Step out in faith. Love God. Love neighbor. Good stuff!

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

Glory Days: Accept Your Inheritance

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An attorney was reading the last will and testament of a rich man to his family. The man’s wife, daughter and business partner were all gathered in the office, anxious to learn of their inheritance.  “To you, my dear wife Rose, who stood by me in tough times as well as good, I leave the house and $20 million.” Rose smiled broadly. The attorney continued, “To my daughter Rebecca, who looked after me in sickness and kept the business going, I leave the yacht, the company and $5 million.” Rebecca gave a satisfied nod. The attorney concluded, “And, to my partner Larry, who hated me, plotted against me and thought that I would never mention him in my last will…you’re wrong. Hi. Larry!”

Today, we continue our current sermon series- Glory Days. Based on the book by Max Lucado, we are focusing on a concept he calls living your Promised Land life…now. We often face challenges that seems big…bigger than we can handle under our own strength. But when you feel that way, a GREAT place to go for hope and inspiration is the Old Testament story of Joshua. We are walking through that book, focusing on how Joshua led the Hebrews out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan- the Promised Land.

Last week, we focused on WHEN the Glory Days are…and we stated that they are NOW! Today, we look at the fact that, since they are now, we have a responsibility. We need to Accept Our Inheritance.

Ironically and intentionally, we step BACKWARD just a tad in the Book of Joshua today. Last we, we were partway through the first chapter, where Joshua tells the people to pack, because the Promised Land is here and now. Today, we back up a few verses, to the beginning of the chapter, the beginning of the book, to see what God actually said to Joshua to set that in motion.

Joshua 1:1-4 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.

Inheritance is a HUGE theme in Joshua’s book. The word itself appears dozens and dozens of times and the actual command from God to possess the land is seen five times. The book of Joshua isn’t about earning a reward. It’s about receiving an inheritance. Joshua wasn’t sent to take the land. He was sent to receive the land God had already taken…for them. Victory was guaranteed, because the victory wasn’t theirs in the first place- it was God’s. God dangled the keys to Canaan in front of Joshua and said, “Take it for a spin.” And in one of Israel’s finest moments, Joshua said, “Yes.” He received his inheritance.

There is a disease in our country. It has ravaged our families, leaving ravaged marriages and abandoned dreams in its wake. And it has been allowed to keeping going, untouched, for far too long. The name of the disease is “I can’t”. It attacks our self-control, “I can’t quit drinking or smoking.” It attacks our careers, “I can’t keep a job.” It attacks our marriages, “I can’t forgive.” It attacks our faith, “I can’t believe God actually cares for me”. It lives on the corner of Discouragement and Despair. It threatens to destroy who we are…and it’s time to put and end to it.

My middle name is Norman. And I have shared before that, for a GREAT portion of my life, I wouldn’t tell anyone that. Period. End of sentence. Mic drop. And the reason I wouldn’t tell anyone was that I didn’t want it to be my middle name.

You see, it was my dad’s middle name. It’s literally a part of my inheritance. But growing up with my dad was…let’s just say “tough”. And it was tough to the point that I didn’t want HIS name attached to ME. And so, when people would say, “What’s your middle name?”, I would say, “N.” “OK- but what’s it stand for?” “N.” I refused to acknowledge it or embrace it. Other than my family, almost no one knew what my middle name was. And that was the way I wanted it.

But as they say…time wounds all heels! (OK- maybe that’s NOT the way they say it, but…!) My dad changed. I changed. And we found some middle ground and built a relationship. And the last 8 years of his life were the best years we had together. And I grew to not only accept but appreciate my inheritance- my middle name is Norman! I moved 180 degrees from seeing my middle name as an “I can’t” moment.

If Joshua had focused on those two words- I can’t- who could have blamed him? He didn’t have ONE reason to give up…he had about 2 million- roughly the number of people who crossed the parted Red Sea. Think about that- he had the city o Denver, Colorado following hima round, expecting him to lead them.

The fact that Joshua refused to live at the corner of Discouragement and Despair points to a major theme in his book- God’s power alters the score. Moses might have been dead…but God was, and is, very much alive.

We tend to equate our spiritual conversion to a car wash. You know, you drive a filthy old beater car into the car wash and it comes out the other side a CLEAN…old beater car! But spiritual conversion is more than simply cleansing of sin. It’s also an infusion of power. It doesn’t just WASH the car- it takes out the old two-cylinder engine with 200,000 miles on it and replaces it with a brand-new high-performance Ferrari engine. God removes your old motor- broken and caked with rebellion and evil- and replaces it with a humming, thrumming, roaring version of…Him.

There is this word- “paradigm”- it means “an example or a model”. In the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, Ulysses Everett McGill, played by George Clooney, is talking to his traveling buddies Pete and Delmar, who are NOT, I might add, the sharpest tools in the shed. And he says, “Pete, I would like to address your general attitude of hopeless negativism. Consider the lilies of the field or…take a look at Delmar here as your paradigm of hope.” Delmar looks at both of them, clearly not knowing what the word “paradigm” means, and says, “Yeah, look at me!”

Our Glory Days begin with a paradigm shift. In the wilderness, you have to fight FOR a sense of victory. In the Glory Days of the Promised Land, you fight FROM a sense of victory. In the wilderness you struggle. In the Promised Land, you trust. In the wilderness, you try to get God’s attention. In the Promised Land, you already have God’s favor.

If all of that is true, then how do we explain the miserable, barely existing lives so many people live? Our inheritance is perfect peace, but we feel like a hot mess. We have access to Jesus-sized joy but we settle for plodding along like prickly, puckered porcupines. God promises to meet our every need, but we insist on worrying and fretting. Why?
I can think of a couple of reasons.
1. We don’t know about our inheritance. No one ever told us that the land is already conquered. Some Christians never live out of their inheritance…because they don’t actually know they have one. But you can’t use that excuse. Even if you walked in the door this morning NOT knowing about God’s inheritance for you…you know now. Now you know that you were made for more than the wilderness. God saved you from Egypt so that he could bless you in the Promised Land. God brought you out so He could lead you in. The gift has been given. Will you trust it? And that leads to the second reason:

  1. We KNOW about it…but we don’t believe it. Joshua’speople struggled with that. They knew what God had told them…but they didn’t really believe that He could give it to them. For a LONG time, they chose the wilderness. But Joshua didn’t make that same mistake. He took God at His word and set out to inherit the land.

You have the spark of God within you. Don’t measure your life by your ability; measure it by God’s. Maybe you can’t seem to forgive. God can. Maybe you just can’t manage to break the addiction. God can. Maybe you can’t control your tongue or your temper. God can.
Wilderness people say, “I’m weak, and I’ll always be weak.” Promised Land people say, “I WAS weak, but I’m getting stronger.” Wilderness people say, “I’m a victim of my circumstances.” Promised Land people say, “I’m a winner despite my circumstances.” Wilderness people say, “Life is hard- I’ll never make it.” Promised Land people say, “These are the Glory Days- God’ll get me through.” God makes the offer- hope, joy, purpose and life…abundantly. We have to accept that offer. We have to open our hearts and lives- embrace the inheritance He paid for…for us.

As you look at your future and you consider where God is leading you, what obstacles might there be? How can you press forward into God’s inheritance for your life? Take time this week to pray about all of this. Thank God for the amazing inheritance He has for you. Be specific, genuine and passionate in your thankfulness. Ask Him for courage as you encounter obstacles and roadblocks. Pray for power to press on and overcome. Ask for confidence to be an “I can” Christian. God wants to do things in you and through you that you simply can’t do on your own. But God wants to have you partner with Him in these things. He provides the strength, but you have to accept it.

Is it time for you to receive your inheritance? You have one, you know. If you’ve given your heart to Jesus Christ, then He’s given your own Canaan, your own Promised Land- to you. He’s already given it to you. You already have everything you need to be everything God wants you to be. A new day awaits you- a new season of life, discovery, and strength. Leave every “I can’t” behind you and focus instead on “God can”. Get ready to cross the Jordan.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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What do you love? Seriously…what do you love? We love ALL sorts of things. We love our families. We love our pets. We love our homes. We love pizza. We love crisp Fall days. We love music. Tom T. Hall loves little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, slow-movin’ trains and rain. He loves little country streams, sleep without dreams, Sunday school in May and hay. (Google it!)

But how can we love all of those things? How can my feelings for pizza be the same as my feelings for my wife? Well…they can’t. We just use the same word for both. That’s an inadequacy of the English language. Anything that makes us feel good…we love. But in the Greek, there is a multitude of words for love, with 4 main types:

  1. Eros-this is the passionate, romantic love that centers around desire and longing.
  2. Philia-this is the “friendship” kind of love-a virtuous love focusing on loyalty to friends and community.
  3. Storge-this is a natural affection- think “family relationships”
  4. Agapē-this is a more general, all-encompassing affection, when you hold others in high regard. It encourages us to be self-sacrificing and giving to all.

The 1st 3 types of love are based on what the OTHER person does for you and what you receive-the benefits of the relationship. But it is agape alone that exists for the sole benefit of the one receiving the love. 1John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave His life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

We have become a nation of strangers, swept up in an epidemic of loneliness. But underneath it all, we all want to be loved. In fact, we are starved for love. We hunger for fellowship. We search for meaning. We long for community. We crave a sense of family. And ultimately, it’s all about effort. Love takes effort. What does it require? I would argue that it requires 4 things:

  1. commitment- be willing to do it.
  2. sacrifice- be the one to be willing to give in.
  3. compassion- care for…and about…other people.
  4. action- DO IT!

This week, I challenge you to reach out. It’s time to risk. It’s time to dare to love. It’s time to change your life. Are you ready?

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

Elevator Theology

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The country family heads to the city for the first time. They get to the 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 silver 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 silver doors. After a brief moment, the silver doors slide open and the elderly woman walks into the small room that is revealed. Then…the silver 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 silver 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 and 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 ago 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!

Ah…Marching Band!

This marching band was crazy good

In high school, I was a drummer in the marching band. (I still AM a drummer..but no longer in the marching band!) I LOVED the marching band! Some of my fondest high school memories revolve around that group. We had a LOT of fun. Oh…and we played some music, too…I think! Our band was known for being a bit…out there. When it came to marching band competitions, we weren’t really that good…but we definitely marched to the beat of a different drummer…EVERY pun intended!

     One of the things we did was called The Screaming Run. As the football game neared the end of the first half, we would gather JUST beyond the end zone, crouched…ready. When the buzzer sounded the end of the half, we would instantly spring into action! We would RUN, SCREAMING, onto the field, We looked less like a precision marching band and more like William Wallace’s army from the movie Braveheart! We would be in NO order whatsoever. And at the LAST second…we would all snap into place! (It was, I must say, pretty cool!)
     Another thing we often did was a special way to get from one formation to another. Instead of having pre-ordained, elaborate patterns to follow to get from point A to point B, we simply did whatever we wanted…as long as we got to our destination on time. We were supposed to A. march, B. make sharp, 90 degree turns, and C. look good doing it, but we had NO road map…just get there. The “newbies” in the band were each assigned a “veteran”. They were to stick to that veteran like glue during the show, to ensure they did what they were supposed to do. The “newbie” assigned to me…well…we’ll call him Jimmy. It was our first show of the season. Friday night. Home field. Stands PACKED with fans. It was “game on”. We got the the middle of the halftime show, and it was time to “wander” from one formation to the next. I took off…in COMPLETELY the wrong direction…with Jimmy firmly in tow! The whole rest of the band is going one way and we are going the OTHER way! And Jimmy is YELLING! “We’re going the wrong way! Where are you going? We’re NOT going to make it!” And I just kept right on going! And he is getting SO upset, because the “transition song” is ALMOST over, and we are nowhere NEAR where we needed to be! I thought for a moment that he was going to have a stroke…right there on the field. And then, on the LAST note of the song, we stepped into our places…just like I planned it! He talked about that for WEEKS after!
     Who are YOU following? Are you following the world, who often marches the wrong way and tends to barely make where they need to be when they need to be there? Does it drive you crazy? Try something new…try following God. Try going to church for…let’s say…6 months. Already do that? Then try stepping up your involvement. If church is a series of concentric circles, then figure out where in that series you are…and move one circle closer to the center…one circle closer to God. You can’t go wrong following THAT leader! Thanks fro stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Super-Hyped Moon

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My wife and tend to geek out more than a little when it comes to spcae –related news items. A new satellite is going up? We are talking about it. A new probe landing on Mars? Yep. Meteor shower? You bet. Comet? Oh yeah! Eclipse? Planet alignment? Solar flares? Yes, yes and yes!

And because of that fact, we were pretty excited about a recent “heavenly”event- the Hunter’s Super Moon. I mean, the name alone should get your juices flowing. It’s not just a moon. It’s a Hunter’s Moon. And it’s not just a Hunter’s Moon. It’s a Hunter’s SUPER Moon. A WHAT? A Hunter’s Super Moon. REALLY? WOW! Can’t wait!

First off- what in the name of all that is holy is a Hunter’s Super Moon? Well, there’s the Hunter’s part. The first full moon after the Fall Equinox is called the Harvest Moon. The NEXT full moon AFTER that one is called…the Hunter’s Moon. OK- a bit convoluted BUT…there it is. The Hunter’s Moon.

But what’s with the Super part? Does is have a red cape and a big S on it’s chest? “Up, up and away!” No, I don’t think so! It is a Super moon because it is at it’s closest to the Earth. Really? Cool! OK- so we have a Hunter’s Moon that is also a Super moon- this should be GOOD!

It was best seen this past Saturday and Sunday night. So Saturday night, we went out on the front deck to see. And…there it was! The Hunter’s Super Moon! And it was…a moon. A FULL moon, to be sure…but a…MOON! I have seen a LOT of full moons in my day and this was certainly…one of them!

So we decided that, perhaps, the next night- Sunday- would be the magical one. You know, because it was visible BOTH Saturday and Sunday! Sunday night. Front deck. Look up. Full moon. Again. Nothing terribly Super OR Hunter about it. A moon.

I have come to decide that us humans LOVE to hype. We hype nearly…everything! We take big things and make them monumental things. We take things and make them big things. We take little things and make them things. And we take NOTHING…and make it a thing! And we have done that SO much that it threatens to make us numb to basically…everything. Nothing can possibly live up to the hype we have placed on it.

So what SHOULD we hype? What is it that actually DOES live up to..even exceed..our expectations? That would be…in a word…God. God is the ONLY thing that can actually live up to the hype we have created. God is mor than we can imagine, more than we can hope for…and more than we can ever want. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. He IS…the hype! (Hunter’s Super Moon…PLEASE!)

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

Green Screen Ministry

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I have something in my office that, I’m going to guess, is NOT “standard issue” in most Pastor’s Offices. I have…a green screen! At this point, I would guess two things: 1. many of you know what a green screen is and 2. some of you don’t! So- here’s what it is. When you see a movie and the setting in which the actors find themselves doesn’t actually exist, the illusion is created by filming the actors against a green background- a green screen. The “fake background” is then  inserted in post-production. So, now that we have established that, the question begs itself- “Why? Why do you have a green screen…in your office?!”

It all started with an ad I saw several months ago. It was for…a green screen. It was the screen- a pretty big canvas- as well as the stands and framework to hold it up, lights and stands for the lights, a camera tripod and a microphone with an extra-long cord to plug into the iPhone. (Yes…I film with an iPhone. And it turns out quite well!) The price was SO good that I ordered it. I have made a few videos for use at church and figured this equipment would be a good addition to my “bag of tricks”. Little did I know!

As you may have read in this space, the church I currently serve started a new, third Sunday morning worship service is September. And with the new service, it meant that the overall morning schedule was pretty tight- the train HAD to run on time. As we considered ways to help make that happen…announcements came to the forefront. They take time AND people tend to not really listen to them anyway. And thus…Announcement Videos were born.

Every week, the announcements are presented in some…goofy…setting. We’ve done them as the news. We’ve done them as QVC. We’ve done them as a movie trailer. The list goes on. And they are filmed in front of…the green screen! (You KNEW that was coming back into play, didn’t you?!) Then, the footage is dropped into movie-making software. From there, the “magic” happens!

So the green screen is used every week. And it’s a pain to put up, take down and store. And there is literally not a room in the church that isn’t used form multiple things already. So the only place, currently, to leave that green screen up and ready to use is…yep…my office! People walk into my office and are a little…intrigued. The first time our Worship Director saw it, he paused, pointed at it and said, “You know, there was a time that would have been a surprise to me. Not any more!” Gotta love it!

The moral of today’s story is this- think outside the box. Be creative. Be daring. Be fun. Be flexible. It’s what God calls us to do AND it’s WAY more enjoyable than being quiet and boring!

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

The Pop-In: The Sequel

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I recently wrote about a surprise visit from my sister. I shared that A. it was completely unexpected and B. GREAT! Well, I had a similar experience yesterday! It was about 10:10AM, which means we were between the 2nd Sunday morning worship service- Rock & Worship- had just ended and the 3rd service- a blended/traditional service was 20 minutes from starting. I was up on the altar area- finished putting away the Communion elements from the previous service. I heard someone call my name and looked up to see one of the ushers trying to get my attention to tell me where he was setting some sign-up sheets that I would need in a few minutes.

Then, I noticed a couple in front of him. I looked at them and had a very bizarre moment- I knew them…and yet didn’t know them. And then…it hit me! It was a couple from the first church we served. 12+ years have passed since we left that church and, all of a sudden, there stood a couple from that church, right in front of me!

After I got over the initial shock and confusion- about 5 seconds- I came down off the altar area to greet them. It was like “old home week”! I called my wife over and we stood and talked to them for a few minutes. They told us that they had been visiting family in Iowa and decided to “stop by” on their way back!

We called our younger son over, who was in the sanctuary at the time. (He was 3 years old the last time they saw him. He is now 6’4″!) We got caught up on their family and caught them up on ours. We lamented with them over the death a few years ago of their daughter- an awesome human being who was loved by everyone who knew her. We reminisced about mission trips we had gone on together. And then they found a seat and worshiped with us.

I introduced them to the congregation at the beginning of the service. Then, later in the service, I shared that it had been 12 years since we had seen them. I said that, when I have looked in the mirror over those 12 years, I have quoted Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years, Honey…it’s the mileage!” They, on quite the other hand, look younger now than when I last saw them 12 years ago! Without a moment’s hesitation, the woman said, “It’s because we got the kids out of the house!” The place went up for grabs!

There is something special about someone going out of their way to stop and see you. It would have been a LOT easier for them to just keep on driving. It would have been easier a couple of weeks ago for my sister to do the same. But…they didn’t. They stopped. And we are better for it!

Now, I will admit that I am perhaps the WORST offender when it comes to visiting people. I am always in a hurry, always on a mission, always on my way somewhere…else. But, I DO know that taking the time…making the time…to foster relationships is a very good thing. And it is moments like yesterday, and a couple of weeks ago, that remind me of that fact. And those moments also remind me that I am very much a work in progress!

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

Glory Days: They’re Waiting

glory-days-theyre-waiting

So, the past, present and future walk into a bar. It was tense!

Today, we begin a new sermon series- Glory Days. Based on the book by Max Lucado, we will focus on a concept he calls living your Promised Land life…now.

We often face challenges that seems big…bigger than we can handle under our own strength. But when you feel that way, a GREAT place to go for hope and inspiration is the Old Testament story of Joshua.

Remember- when Moses’ time of leading the Hebrew people came to a close, Joshua was waiting in the wings, having been groomed specifically for just such a time as this, to step up and take the lead. God called him to lead the people out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land- from wandering to believing. The same is true for us today.

Today, we start by looking at WHEN the Glory Days are. And we will focus on the notion that they are NOT in the past, NOT in the future…but They’re Waiting. God is calling us to believe that THESE are the Glory Days- that our best days, instead of being squarely in our rear view mirror, are here…now…and yet to come. He calls us to live in faith in such a way that allows us to fully embrace that reality.

We will be walking through the Old Testament Book of Joshua. Joshua led the Hebrews out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan- the Promised Land. And even though it was a REAL, geographic location, the Promised Land wasn’t…and isn’t…actual real estate. The book of Joshua dares us to believe the best days of our lives are ahead of us- that God has a Promised Land waiting for us to take. The question is- what IS the Promised Land God has for us?

Leading up to today’s Scripture, the Hebrews have been wandering in the desert for 40 years. Moses has died and Joshua has stepped into the leadership role. God gives Joshua VERY specific marching orders- take the Promised Land that I have promised you.

     Joshua 1:10-11 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

There is an interesting dynamic in the history of the Hebrew people. They were slaves in Egypt for MANY generations. They couldn’t WAIT to get out. And yet, as the Hebrews wandered in the desert, they started looking back on their time in
Egypt with selective memory- they were wearing rose-colored glasses. All they could remember of Egypt was food to eat and a place to sleep. They had conveniently forgotten the slavery, the beatings, the oppression. They even forgot how God had dramatically delivered them through the parted Red Sea and had rained bread down from Heaven. Ahead of them was a land flowing with milk and honey and all they could focus on was 3 squares back in Egypt.

But then, God spoke, Joshua listened, and the Glory Days began. A river opened up, walls fell down, the sun stood still and the Canaanite kings were forced into early retirement. Evil was given the boot and hope was given a reboot. Homeless wanderers became hope-filled homesteaders. Winter chill gave way to springtime thaw and a new season was born. Joshua’s story dares us to believe that the Glory Days are ahead…not behind. God has a Promised Land for us to take.
Maybe YOU are in need of a new season in your life. Maybe you don’t need to cross the Jordan River- just get through the week. Maybe you aren’t facing the walls of Jericho…but rejection or heartache. Maybe you wonder if you have what it takes to face tomorrow. Sometimes the challenge seems too much. You WANT to keep up. You REALLY do. And you try…really hard. But you just seem to run out of gas. You wonder, “Do I ask too much of God? Do I want more than I should? Is God tired of hearing about my desires, my dreams?”

What are some of the things that keep us from experiencing the fullness of God? There are very real physical, emotional and spiritual consequences of dwelling in the past and complaining about the present. We’re out of Egypt…but is Egypt out of us? Are we truly free from our sins or are we still living in bondage? So many Americans live humdrum lives- stuck in the wilderness of life, not really living, just existing from day to day. “I can’ wait for 5PM. I can’t wait for the weekend. I can’t wait for summer.” We are willing to waste so much of NOW for some time in the future that may or may not even come…and if it does, will it really be worth it? What’s keeping you from walking out of the desert and into the Promised Land?
In 2007, a research project set out in search of…Joshuas. Beginning in 2007 they surveyed the members of more than a thousand churches, trying to determine
the percentage of churchgoers who are actually pushed by their faith to love God and others with their whole hearts. In other words, how many Christians would describe their current days as Glory Days? Care to guess what percentage of church goers felt they were IN the Glory Days? 11%. ELEVEN PERCENT!

That’s painful to hear. But the truth is that life has a way of taking the life out of us.

If we’re going to follow God into the Promised Land, if we’re going to truly experience our Glory Days, it’s essential that we look back and remember our own pain, our own loss, our own struggles. What do you need to START doing…or STOP doing…so that you can move closer to God’s plan for your life? What are we missing when we refuse to follow God into a new chapter of life? Here’s the bottom line- God is calling us to enter the Promised Land. But to DO that, we have to willing to turn our backs on the wilderness.

We need to be careful to not overly idealize the past. That great theologian Billy Joel says that the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems. We need to ask God to show us which wilderness attitudes and behaviors we need to leave behind so that we can enter the Promised Land.

What’s God’s dream for you? How does He want you to be engaged in your faith, involved in the church? How will you use the time, talent and resources He’s given you to make it happen? What would your life look like if the words we heard Joshua say this  morning described what’s next in your life? How would the world change if we refused to live in the past and waste the present and instead march, with great determination, into our Promised Land?

What kind of Christian do you want to be? What qualities do you want to have? More compassion? More conviction? More courage? Likewise, what attitudes do you want to eliminate? Greed? Guilt? Negativity? Criticism? If so, I have great news for you- you can have ALL of those things. With God’s help, you can close the gap between who you are and who you want to be- who God made you to be. The walls are down. The giants are on the run. The deed to your new life in the Promised Land has already been signed. All you have to do is step out in faith and take it.

God has a vision for your life. Imagine you at full throttle- as you were intended. Imagine you conquering the walls of Jericho and David’s giant. Imagine you living out your Promised Land life. Throughout this series, we’re going to focus squarely on the notion that it’s there- yours for the taking. Now, you should absolutely expect to be challenged- the enemy refuses to go down without a fight. But expect progress, expect victory. Life is different on the other side of the Jordan. Over there, breakthroughs outnumber breakdowns. God’s promises outweigh your problems. Victory becomes not the exception but the rule- a way of life.

I want to share two powerful quotes with you as we prepare to close today. First, from 5th Century BC philosopher Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

And then, from that great theologian Master Shifu from the animated classic Kung Fu Panda, “You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

The book of Joshua helps us see that the wilderness isn’t our true home. The Promised Land is waiting for anybody and everybody who’s ready to enter. When life is not going so swell for you, remember this- the Glory Days are just around the next corner, just across the river, close enough to touch. It’s time to press forward because, no matter how good things might seem in the rearview mirror, what lies ahead can be even better. It is time to dream big. It’s time to believe that our Glory Days are HERE- and ahead. It’s time to stop by the Post Office and pick up a Change of Address card. It’s time to change your mailing address from “wilderness” to “Promised Land”. Get yourself ready and step forward in faith- your Glory Days are waiting for you.

Stuff Happens

pest-control     When I was a kid, we had radiant heat in our house. There are different varieties of radiant heat, but OUR radiant heat consisted of water pipes running through the ceiling of our ranch-style home. The fuel oil-fed furnace would heat the water, which would then be pumped into the pipes and circulate throughout the house. (At the time, I could have cared LESS what kind of heat we had, but looking back on with the experience of living in several houses with differing types of heating systems, it was the quietest, cleanest, most efficient heat I have every had!) My dad (a retired design engineer) built the house and designed the system himself. He decided to also run pipes through the floor of the garage to heat it as well. It didn’t keep the garage “toasty” during the winter, but it was warmer than outside and, with the floor the warmest part, the dogs LOVED it in the winter!
The problems began when my dad hired a guy to come out and spray for termites. The guy had been to our house before, so he was a “known” commodity…or so we thought! He came out, looked around, and gave my dad an estimate. His estimate included drilling into the garage floor, where it met the foundation of the house, so he could treat that area as well. My dad CLEARLY told him about the pipes buried in the floor. The guy assured my dad it would be no problem! Famous last words! He came out during the day during the week (makes sense), which was when my dad was at work (also makes sense). So…the guy came out, did what he did, and left. (You can just SMELL what’s coming, can’t you?!) It didn’t take long for the problem to arise. My dad pretty quickly realized that the guy had drilled RIGHT THROUGH one of the water pipes buried in the garage floor! Now, I am NO plumbing expert, but I’m PRETTY sure that a water pipe with a hole drilled through it is not a terribly effective water pipe!
My dad was NOT a happy camper, and he called the guy to…voice his displeasure! Here’s the frustrating part- after ALL the discussion about the pipes in the garage floor PRIOR to any work being done, the guy tried “plausible deniability”! He claimed it wasn’t his fault and he wasn’t responsible for any damages. Well, my dad wasn’t having ANY of that, and so he and the pest control guy had a “come to Jesus” moment! I wasn’t privy to the actual conversation, but I believe the words “litigate”, “lawyer” and “sue you back to the Stone Age” were mentioned! Suddenly, the pest control guy had an epiphany and decided that, PERHAPS, he WAS at fault…somewhat! So…they met in the middle. The guy gave up a Saturday (as did my dad, I might add!), and they chipped up the floor, exposed the pipe, repaired it and patched the concrete- all better! (As an aside- I was about 10 years old when this happened. When that house was sold, about 20 years later, I saw that patch, still clearly visible on the garage floor!)
Sometimes…stuff happens. That’s just a regular part of life. We are, after all, marvelously HUMAN, and therefore accidents are going to happen. It’s how we react to them that is the key. If you are the one who caused the accident…own up to it. Admit that it happened, take responsibility, and do your best to correct it. It’s amazing how much more positively people will respond if you start off that way, right up front. On the other hand, if you are on the RECEIVING end of the accident… try and show some compassion. Remember the times YOU messed up and how grateful YOU were when others showed you some grace. It doesn’t mean let people walk on you- it simply means put the event in perspective. Your physical, mental AND spiritual health will be so much better if you approach life with just such a positive attitude! SO…moral of the story…don’t trust the pest control guy! No…wait…that wasn’t it…oh yeah…it’s treat others the way you would want to be treated! (A MUCH better moral, especially if you are a member of the pest control business!)
Thanks for stopping by and spending a few minutes of your day with me. I pray you have a blessed day! Please share this with others, and invite them to become members of the Stick With Jesus Facebook Fan Site. Make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Top Billing

Your credit score explained

“Credit” is an interesting thing. And, right here at the onset, let’s be clear with what I mean by “credit”. In this case, what I DON’T mean is money-related credit. What I DO mean is credit as it applies to who gets lauded when something good happens.

Now, with that being established…”credit” is an interesting thing! One of the biggest negotiating points (beyond money, of course) for upper-echelon movie actors is where their name falls in the opening…ready?…credits. There is the credit that is first. Important. There is the credit that is second. Pretty important. There is the credit at the end- “and featuring…” Which can be seen as pretty important. And then there is the credit that is REALLY first- above the movie title. THAT is the credit that tells you that you have MADE it as an actor!

While most of us never have to worry about things like where our name is listed in the movie, human nature dictates that we all like some credit. We like to be acknowledged. We like to hear “Job well done!” And honestly, I would argue that there is nothing wrong with hearing an “atta boy” or “atta girl” every now and then.

The problem arises when we want the credit so badly that we start making it our main goal. You know what I mean-  when we are involved in something and we get our feelings hurt if we feel that we didn’t get enough attention for what we’ve done. And the truth is- it’s a hard balance.

Last night at band practice (Since we now have two praise bands…and I am the drummer for both…”band practice” is a major Thursday evening time commitment!), we worked on a song called Not To Us. And one of the key lines in the song is, “Not to us, but to Your name be the glory“. As I thought about that song- that line- it reminded me about credit. When our goal is accolades, we are often disappointed. But when our goal is glorifying God, regardless of who gets the credit…amazing things can happen.

Here’s my challenge to you- spend the next week…7 days…focusing on NOT getting the credit. TRY to NOT get it. Instead, let others have it if necessary. But more important, give God the glory. Always. In every circumstance…give it to Him. Not us…but to HIS name be the glory!

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

The Horse Trailer Conundrum

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We had a horse when I was a kid. His name was General, and he was chestnut Tennessee Walker with white on his face and lower legs. He was a huge, beautiful horse who acted more like a dog than a horse and had a mind of his own! And he was… AWESOME!
How we got him is an intersting story. I don’t mean from whom we bought him. Frankly…I have NO idea who we bought him from! I was just a kid! I could have cared less! (Have you ever noticed that “I could care less” and “I couldn’t care less” mean the same thing? How can that be? They are exact opposites…yet they mean the SAME thing! Go figure!) I mean, how we physically got him from where HE was to where WE were. I mean, a dog…you can just drive over, toss them in the car (not REALLY toss…don’t go calling the ASPCA on me…I LOVE dogs!) and drive them home. A bit tougher with a really big horse! Well, as luck would have it, we had some good friends who owned a horse trailer AND a pick-up with a hitch on it (we owned NEITHER), and they were kind enough to let us borrow them. We drove OUR car to their house, picked up the truck and trailer, and headed from our town in southern Illinois to where the horse was- a farm in southern Missouri. We were SO excited- we were going to get our horse! We drove…and drove…and drove. Along the way, it began to rain. It rained…and rained…and rained. At one point, it was raining SO hard my dad couldn’t see the road. So, he did the only logical thing he could do- he pulled off the interstate. 3 cars had pulled off in front of us, so he pulled in behind them, carefully slowing as he did. After we came to a stop, a car pulled off behind us and stopped. So, we have 3 cars in front of us and 1 car behind us. Every one of us was A) off the road, B) stopped and C) safe…or so we thought.
Suddenly, a car came off the interstate, trying to find a spot to park. Apparently, they couldn’t see very well and were going WAY faster than they should have been. When they got their car onto the shoulder of the highway, they couldn’t stop in time. They slammed into the car BEHIND us. This pushed the car behind us INTO the back of the horse trailer, which in turn slammed into the back of the truck. The truck then was pushed into the car IN FRONT of us before the original momentum was spent and things stopped moving. In the end, no one was hurt (thank God) AND, since we were on the WAY to get the horse, the horse wasn’t hurt either (again, thank God). The same couldn’t be said for the truck and trailer. The back end of the trailer, the front end of the trailer, the back end of truck AND the front end of the truck ALL were damaged. We were able to drive home, but the damage was substantial, monetarily speaking. All the way home through the storm, the conversation centered around the wreck, how glad we were that no one was hurt, and how disappointed we were that we couldn’t go get the horse. Little did we know the “storm” that awaited us when we got back.
We arrived at our friend’s home where my dad explained the situation to them. The person who caused the accident was ticketed as being at fault and had insurance, so we thought all was well. We were wrong. Our friends got very upset with us over what happened. They didn’t really seem to want to see that we could NOT have avoided it, it WASN’T our fault, and someone else’s insurance was going to cover it. They clearly blamed us for what happened. It became such a big problem that our two families had a falling out over it- one that lasted years before we saw some reconciliation. It was a sad time.
Grudges are horrible things. Things happen, people get their feelings hurt, perhaps they get hurt physically, and then…the REAL hurt settles in. We feel that someone has wronged us…and quite probably, they did. But it’s what we DO with that information that sets the REAL tone. If we are unable to get beyond someone hurting us, if we are unable to let those things go, then that hatred and bitterness settles in us…it DWELLS in us. It literally takes over who we are, and begins dictating how we live our lives. When we are unable to move beyond the hurt, we are letting those who hurt us, intentionally OR unintentionally, control us. On quite the other hand, if we are able to process the hurt and disappointment, see it for what it is, and get beyond it, we actually come out the other side stronger than we were. If we can (here’s that word that is SO easy to understand and SO hard to do) forgive, we not only offer the person who wronged us a marvelous gift, but we do a great thing for ourselves! You see, the Bible tells us that our forgiveness from God is directly proportional to the forgiveness we offer others. If we are stingy with OUR forgiveness, we simply cannot expect much of it from God. BUT…if we are generous in our willingness to forgive others, God will be AT LEAST that to us. Now, I don’t know about YOU, but I am OFTEN in need of God’s forgiveness- I simply can’t afford to do anything that will deprive me of that forgiveness!
Who are YOU holding a grudge against? Do you even remember WHY the grudge is there? Well… no matter what the circumstance is/was, my suggestion is this- pray about it, search your soul…and let it go. Forgive them. It doesn’t mean you have to FORGET what they did, putting yourself in the position to be hurt again. It DOES mean that you let go of the hurt, anger and hatred that eats you up inside. It DOES mean you put yourself in the position to move on, move forward. It DOES mean that you ensure forgiveness from God…and really, who doesn’t want that?!
Thanks for stopping by today. Have a blessed day, share this with someone who needs to hear it, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Trouble With Pronouns

pronouns

I had a “conversation” (And when you see me write “conversation” like that, it means it was electronic in nature!) with a clergy friend yesterday. I have known him for MANY years and consider him to be one of the best pastors in our conference. The conversation…I mean “conversation” grew out of a Facebook post that included God referenced as “he”.

The gist of the post revolved around the current thought that “he”…or “He”…are no longer appropriate names for God. And really, when I say “no longer”, that implies this is something new when it’s not. I started seminary 20 years ago. And it was clear from the beginning that using gender specific pronouns was not acceptable. We were not allowed to use them in either our writing OR our speaking. (The interesting thing about that is that I had some professors who explained that, by using gender specific pronouns, we were promoting inequality and gender bias. Others, however, explained that, by using words like “Father”, we were hurting people who had bad relationships with their dads!)

I have noticed that, in large part, this discussion is a LOT more important to pastors, professors and theologians than it is to the average Christian. (I DO realize that is painting with a broad brush…but it IS my observation, nonetheless!) Most of the parishioners I have served seem to fall into one of two camps on the subject: 1. I really couldn’t care less (Or is it “I COULD care less?” They seem to mean the same thing!) or 2. Huh?

For my money, it’s what my mom would have called a tempest in a teapot. Ultimately, ANY word we use as a descriptive name for God is going to be inadequate. God is WAY more than any word our finite language could conjure up. In other words, there IS no name for God that is enough. Therefore, I fail to see the problem with ME using a name for God that helps ME better connect to God.

As a pastor, I have a responsibility to help people better understand- theologically. Therefore, I DO make a point to mention that whatever name I just used for God is incomplete. Likewise, whatever name THEY use for God is incomplete. But in the end, what I CALL God is less important that what I understand OF God.

One last thought on the subject- it has been apparent to me over the years that my thoughts on this subject tend to upset some people. (I got that a lot in seminary!) If you are one of those folks- please forgive me! It’s not my intention to upset or irritate. Instead, I think it’s important to actually talk about these things- rational discourse. It is only through that approach that we can disagree and yet stay on the same page together!

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