Watch Night

watch-night-2      It’s the BIG day- New Year’s Eve. What are YOU planning for this evening? I must admit that New Year’s Eve has NEVER been a really big deal for me…even when I was “young and wild”! In fact, the “wildest” thing I have ever done on New Year’s Eve was play drums for a special high-priced dinner/theater event that ended at midnight that night. It was great fun, and any excuse to get paid to play the drums is a good night for me! (I mean, to get PAID for something I would do for free? Forget about it!) In other words, I am NOT your average, run of the mill party animal. And it’s NOT simply because I’m a “preacher man”- I never have been. I will probably share some finger foods with my family, watch some TV…and completely miss the ball actually dropping! (I know…I lead and exciting life!)
New Year’s Eve has always had a special place in the history of Methodism. The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, observed New Year’s Eve by originating Watch Night services in 1740. He also called them Covenant Renewal Services….make sure and come back tomorrow to read more specifically about that. The services provided Methodist Christians with a Christian alternative to what Wesley called “drunken revelry” on New Year’s Eve. Methodist Watch Night services include singing, spontaneous prayers and testimonials, as well as Scripture readings. A liturgy for the Watch Night service is found in The United Methodist Book of Worship. Watch Night services provide the opportunity for Christians to review the year that is ending, confess their sins, and then prepare for the year ahead by praying and resolving to accomplish certain things.
Maybe you’re planning to party this evening. If so, more power to you! (Please drink and drive responsibly!) No…I’m not going to try and talk you out of the big party you are counting on. You’re an adult- you can do what you want! BUT…I would encourage you to also spend some time today in pray, asking God to forgive you of any sins you have committed, and looking ahead to what God has in store for you in the new year. I pray that God shows you some GREAT things for your new year! I also pray that you continue to join me on this odd ride I call Stick With Jesus!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Adoption

zoey-2     My wife is adored by “the men” in her life. Our two sons and I do everything we can to adore her. But we DO have another girl in our house that I don’t mention very often- Zoey. She is a black lab/English pointer mix…and she’s a big goofball! When he was 5 years old, our youngest son said, “You got my brother a dog when HE was 5. Well, I’M 5…” We had lost our last dog heartbreakingly after several years and weren’t sure we were ready for another dog, so we ignored it as best we could until he was 6…at which time it was simply impossible to ignore any longer! So we decided it was time. My poor wife had our last dog, a HUGE black German shepherd, named Bud, kind of pushed on her, so we decided she should get to pick the dog this time. We also decided it would be best if we went to the Humane Society WITHOUT our son to pick a dog! So, off we went. We got there, and BOY was it hard. All the dogs wanted to go home with us…and we wanted to take them all home! We looked around, and Zoey really caught our eye. In fact, we had seen her picture on the internet before we even came in. We took her out of her pen and into a room where we could play with her and get to know her a bit. She seemed like a good dog, but she was bigger than the lap dog my wife wanted, so we put her back and kept looking. We came upon two beagles in the same pen. They were older, with grey around their muzzles and little bandannas tied around their necks, and the sign said they needed to be adopted together. As we neared their pen, the female sat up on her haunches and begged (literally) for us to take them! We decided that, if we were getting a dog for ourselves and not our 6-year old, we would have gone home with two beagles that day! Meanwhile, Zoey was beside herself in her pen, standing up on her hind legs and  saying, “Hey! What are you doing? I CHOSE you! You can stop looking!” We eventually came to that same conclusion and made the necessary arrangements to get her.

She was a year and a half old when we got her, and the vet said she would keep her “puppy enthusiasm” until she was about three. Well, apparently she didn’t received that memo, because she was 9 before she started showing ANY signs of slowing down! And yet she is, for all her hyperactiveness, devoted, loving, smart, and a great addition to our family. She is even such a little cupcake that she has her own bed! (However, she still sneaks up on the couch when she thinks we’re not looking!)
I have never experienced the blessing of adopting a child, but I can only imagine, from the joy we receive from our furry adopted “baby”, what it must be like. Have you ever thought about the fact that God is our adoptive parent? We all have biological parents who brought us into this world. But we all also have the opportunity to have an adoptive parent- God. We constantly look around, checking out all the options available to us, searching for that intangible thing that is missing from our lives. Meanwhile, God is there all the time, looking at us with eyes that say, “Why are you looking at other options? I already chose you! You can stop looking and come home!” What an AMAZING thing to consider…God CHOSE you! No matter what other people think of you, no matter who has rejected you, no matter what you’ve done or left undone, God…chose…you! He has reserved a place just for you. He knows everything about you…and still loves you, warts and all. He is devoted, loving, smart, and a great addition to your family! Struggling to find your place in the world? Have those days when you wonder how anyone could love you? Wonder sometimes if it’s all worth it? Wonder no more! God chose you, and life is so much more worth living when you realize that! Now, please excuse me. The dog is standing at the door,  her leash in her mouth, saying, “Please step away from the laptop! I NEED to go!” Have a great day, pet your pet if you have one, and stick with Jesus!

Vacation!

vacation

Yesterday, I saw a meme (Google it) that said, “Today, I’m doing nothing. That’s because I started doing nothing yesterday and didn’t finish…and I’m no quitter!” That could be my rallying cry this week! I’m on vacation!

As an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I am entitled to 31 days vacation, including up to 4 Sundays, every year. Notice the way I phrased that- “entitled to”. Those words were carefully chosen. There has probably NOT been a year (unless you count the 6 weeks off for recovery from brain surgery in 2014) that I have taken that much time. And before you chastise me for that fact- I know. I should take all of those days. I know. This year, I will have taken about 3½ weeks when the dusty all settles- pretty high for me.

I started this vacation at about 10:30AM Christmas morning- after the 9AM service was over and I took care of a few things! So, as you read this, I have been on vacation about 3¾ days so far. And I have done a grand, whopping total of diddly-squat! Well, I guess that’s not true. I just haven’t done “church stuff”!

We had some GREAT family time. Our older son, who lives in Chicago, was home for…ready?…SEVEN days! That is the longest stretch of time we have been able to spend with him since he took a week’s vacation to help us move here- 4½ years ago. It was great. We spent a lot of time together, ate a lot of food and had a great time! On the day after Christmas, we went to see the newest Star Wars movie- a “tradition” we started last year and then took our older son back to the train station to head back to Chi-town.

Since then, our group of now 3 has been laying low. We have watched a couple MORE movies at home, with at least one more on the near horizon. We have slept it- which for my wife and me means about 7AM! We’ve read. Video games have been played. More food. Just…stuff! And it’s been great!

I love what I do. My dad always said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’m pretty darn close to that! No matter WHAT you do- some days are diamonds and some days are stones, to quote that great theologian John Denver. But with what I do, there are very few stones and a WHOLE lot of diamonds! So, to sum up- love me time with my family…and love my job!! Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

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

Christmas 2016? Plastic Giraffes, Baby!

giraffes

This Christmas, I got…plastic giraffes! Yep- plastic giraffes. In fact, the ones you see in the picture don’t just represent the giraffes I got- they ARE the giraffes I got! My wife gave them to me. And, without the “back story”, you might think that I am more than a little fruit-loopy (insert your joke here!) to think this is a great gift. So- here’s the “back story”!

About 2 months ago, my wife and I were sitting in the living room, watching TV and reading- which for me really means “reading with the TV on”! And I told her about an article I had read about the fact that giraffes are at greater and greater risk of extinction. I shared that I thought that was a horrible thing- they are such magnificent animals. There are an amazing example of the wonder of God’s creation. She agreed.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. We are opening presents. And I open one from my wife and find…plastic giraffes. Well, to ne honest, I had slept once or twice since that giraffe conversation. So I didn’t even think of that. But she then explained that, as a result of that conversation, she made a donation, in my name, to an organization that is specifically designed to save the giraffes! And the plastic ones on my lap represented that donation!

What a COOL gift! My wife, wonderful human being that she is, took that simple conversation, did some digging to find out how to bring her idea to fruition and turned the whole thing into an awesome Christmas gift! (When I brag on how awesome she is, she always says, “You’re partial!” And I always respond, “Absolutely!”) Those plastic giraffes will find a place of honor on the shelves of my office. And when parents come in to see me and bring their little kids, I’ll get them down to be played with. And as they play with them, I’ll tell them the story of the awesome Christmas gift!

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 Hearing Impaired

hearing-impaired

If you know me at all, or if you have read this blog for very long, you might be thinking, “Well, the title seems a little…obvious, doesn’t it?” I mean, I lost the hearing in my right ear over three years ago. But a couple of things happened in the past couple of days that brought it to the forefront- in a good way.

On Christmas Day, my family was exchanging gifts. And when it was my turn to open presents, both of my sons gave me iTunes money. And while that might seem like a “copout” gift to YOU, it’s exactly what I asked for! A LOVE music and, between church and personal use, I buy music weekly. So, great gift!

But our older son also gave me a pair of headphones. They are the “behind the neck” kind- my favorite. But there was also a small, brass-colored adapter plug with it. He explained that, if I plugged the adapter into my iPod and then plugged the headphones into the adapter, the full stereo sound would be channeled into the left headphone…only.

If that sounds odd to you, let me explain. Music is recorded in stereo and in tracks. Different “layers” of a song are on different tracks, which are the layered together to form the finished product. Depending on how the song was recorded and mixed, different tracks have different “left to right” balances. In older recordings- The Beatles, for example- there are tracks that are ONLY one the left or the right and not both.

What that means for someone like me is that I don’t get the whole song- I only get what is pushed to the left side. But with this adapter, everything is pushed to the left side and, therefore, I miss nothing! God stuff! It was the first time in 3 years I had truly heard stereo sound!

Then, yesterday, we went to the movies. We saw the new Star Wars movie. On the way, I announced that I was going to try out the hearing assist devices the theater has. Depending on the movie, I only understand 50-70% of the dialogue in a theater because of my hearing. So while our younger son and I stood in line to get popcorn, my wife and our older son stood in the ticket line- NOT to get tickets, but a hearing assist device.

During the previews, I had to go back out and swap out the headphones. But by the time the movie started, the device was working and I was set. And…I was amazed! Instead of the usual 50-70% success rate, I understood about 99% of the dialogue! It was, without a doubt, THE most satisfying trip to the movie theater I have had since all of this started!

So, back to the title of today’s blog. I am hearing impaired. It’s not like I didn’t know that. It’s not like I have tried to hide it. It’s not like I’m ashamed of it. Instead, I was raised to overcome adversity- period. Spit on it. Rub dirt on it. Walk it off. And, in my mind, that is a good trait. But it can get in the way of other possibilities. And the two “reminders” I got this holiday helped me better embrace that fact.

I have applied for a Deaf/Hearing Impaired Ministry Grant on behalf of the church we currently serve. If we get the grant, it will be used to apply technology to our worship services that would literally put the words being spoken and sung in the service in the hands of those who are hearing impaired. I’m excited about the possibilities and I am appreciative that God has helped me find the silver lining in my hearing impaired dark cloud!

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

The Reverse Advent Calendar

bucket-3

It’s done. After weeks and weeks of preparation…it’s over. It’s kind of like cooking Thanksgiving dinner- you spend HOURS and HOURS shopping, preparing and cooking. Then, everybody sits down at the table…and 11 minutes later, everybody’s done! Christmas is much like that!

Now, don’t misunderstand- I LOVE Christmas. And this was a good one! Our Christmas Eve services were great! We had great attendance and the services were very special. And then, Christmas morning, it was awesome to see so many people come to church. You might think, “Well, it’s Sunday. Of COURSE they came!” But it simply doesn’t work that way when Christmas falls on a Sunday. There are lot of folks who are either out of town for the holidays or they have Christmas Day traditions that take precedence. And to be honest…I get that. So it was great to see so many folks come to  church on Christmas morning.

In the end, we offered 3 worship services in 14 hours. And nearly 400 folks worshiped with us over those 3 services. The music was great. The prayers were powerful and heartfelt. And the fellowship was top notch!

The church we currently serve started a new Christmas tradition this year. We called it The Reverse Advent Calendar. If you know anything about Advent calendars, they are usually built around taking something OUT every day during the Christmas season. Our Missions Team talked about creating something that would be built on the notion of putting something IN every day.

After a great amount of discussion and prayer, we settled on…galvanized buckets. Yep- you read that right: galvanized buckets! Every household in the church got a 4″ tall galvanized bucket on Sunday, November 27- the first Sunday of Advent. They were encouraged to put it somewhere in the house where they would see it every day. And when they saw it, they were to drop their change in. That’s it. Easy, peasy, one, two threesy! 100% of the money that was raised would got to The Heifer Project- buying animals for folks in need around the world.

Then, on Christmas Eve, everybody was encouraged to bring their bucket with them. (If you were out of town that night, you could either bring it in before you left or after you got back.) Late in the service, we took Communion. And as people came forward for Communion, they brought their buckets with them. There were LARGE galvanized buckets down front. As folks passed them, they dumped them change in the big bucket and then added their little (now empty) bucket to the stack. We won’t know for a few days how much we raised, but the buckets were so heavy we struggled to move them at the end of the night!

I love it when we think outside the box and try something that A. has the potential to make a big impact and B. isn’t something we’ve always done! Based on what I saw, The Reverse Advent Calendar was a huge success! Through the ministry and the generous donations of those who participated, lives will be touched around the world. And for my money…it just doesn’t get much better than that!

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

 

A Very Disney Christmas: You’ve Got a Friend in Me

a-very-disney-christmas-youve-got-a-friend-in-me   The other night, we were sitting around sharing Christmas memories. Like you, I have a TON of them! But one that always stands out to me was the worst Christmas gift I ever got which also provided me with one of the best Christmas memories ever! I was about 4 years old and we had a babysitter who, because my folks both worked, was very much like a part of the family. We’ll call her Linda. And Linda and I had a special relationship- she was like a 2nd mom to me. She had been telling me for a month that, at Christmas, she was going to give me a bundle of switches for Christmas. And every time she said it, she and I would laugh and laugh. This scenario played out SEVERAL times over the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Then, finally the big day came! I could hardly WAIT to see what Linda ACTUALLY got me! The package from her was about 3 feet long and irregularly round. It was wrapped in bright Christmas paper and I was really excited. I RIPPED the paper off to reveal…you smelled this one coming, didn’t you?…a bundle of switches! I immediately…burst into tears! The joke that had been funny in theory for a month turned out to not be so funny in practice! You might imagine, Linda felt horrible and immediately got out my REAL gift- a wagon with building blocks in it. Somewhere, in a dusty box in a forgotten corner of our house, there is a picture of me in my jammies, eyes swollen and red and a big smile on my face, holding up…yep…a bundle of switches!

This Christmas season, we’ve been taking a nostalgic look BACK to help us take a dramatic look forward. Each week of the Christmas season, our Advent sermon series- A Very Disney Christmas- has melded together three somewhat unusual pieces: 1. a portion of the Christmas story as found in the Gospels, 2. Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah and, of all things, 3. a classic Disney song that helps inform the theme for the day.

The first week, we went back to 1953, looked at the classic Peter Pan and considered Joseph’s encounter with an angel as we looked at You Can Fly! Week 2, we hit the “fast forward” button and jumped to 1994 to look at the instant classic The Lion King and its unarguable massive hit- “Hakuna Matata”. We talked about Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel and talked about letting God bring you to a place of no worries- Hakuna Matata! Week 3, we slid back 27 years to 1967- the day the animated classic The Jungle Book came out. We considered the big hit from that movie- I Wanna be Like You and we looked into the lives of the Wise Men.

Last week, we jumped ahead again, to 1992- the day that the original Aladdin came out. Great movie. Great music. And the biggest hit to come out of that movie was the song A Whole New World. We talked about Mary and Joseph making the trip to Bethlehem. Last night, we took a BIG leap backward to 1940 and the debut of the Disney classic Pinocchio. The big hit song from that movie was When you Wish Upon a Star. Today, we bring this all to a close as we leap forward again, to November 22, 1995 and the debut of one of my all-time favorites- Toy Story. The song

You’ve Got a Friend in Me was an instant classic. If you know the story, and…really…how could you NOT know the story…Andy is a boy whose toys, unbeknownst to him, are alive and interact with each other and the world when humans aren’t around.

The “stars” of the movie are a cowboy doll named Woody and a new spaceman doll named Buzz Lightyear. Oh, I’m sorry- these are BOY toys so they are NOT dolls…they’re ACTION FIGURES! And the story that unfolds is about both the relationship between Andy and his toys and Buzz and Woody. With all of that in mind, here are some of the lyrics from the song:

You’ve got a friend in me. When the road looks rough ahead and you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed, you just remember what your old pal said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a friend in me.’”

It’s a song about relationship. It’s a song about dependability. It’s a song about being able to count on someone at all times. And it seems like the perfect song to bring this series to a close with.

Today, more than a billion people around the world are celebrating Christmas. That’s a LONG way from 12 ragtag disciples in an Upper Room. And as today unfolds, surrounded by candlelight and carols, the familiar story will unfold again- an angel visits, followed by a trip to Bethlehem. There, a baby is born in a stable and the announcement is made to certain poor shepherds. We all know that the world is full of great doubt and disbelief, but I would argue that, today, doubt isn’t our enemy- familiarity is. It was Mark Twain who said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We know the story so well that we risk missing the wonder. What we once coveted we tend to take for granted. And when that happens, faith becomes routine, ordinary, commonplace. The Bible becomes dry and our testimonies become shopworn. Been there, done that.

But the mystery of Jesus Christ is a wonder beyond human understanding! For centuries people waited for coming of the Messiah. And then, unexpectedly, it came to pass. God wrapped His gift to us in swaddling clothes, gave it to us, and then stood back and waited to see what we would do. Exchange it? Return it? Reject it? Or receive it with joy? If we reject the gift, then we reject God. But if we accept the gift, then we accept God, along with His forgiveness, His help and His hope.

In December of 1903, the Wright brothers finally got their flying machine off the ground. Excitedly, they telegraphed their sister Katherine:

“Actually flew 120’! Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine was so excited that she RAN to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He read it, handed it back to her and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He missed the big

News of his generation. Many of us miss the big news of Jesus Christ. We don’t think we need a Savior– we’re good enough, we’re smart enough and doggonit- people like us!

How do you express joy? C.S. Lewis said that joy is incomplete until it is expressed. We praise and share the things that bring us joy. And the absence of praise and joy is a spiritual barometer in our lives. We tend to miss the baby

in the manger for many reasons- we’re too distracted, we’re too busy, we’re too scared, we’re too indifferent. This year, don’t miss the big news of Christmas, don’t miss the wonder and glory of the birth of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow familiarity to rob you of good tidings of great joy. Today, accept God’s offer of the greatest gift ever- a baby born in a manger, The Savior, Christ the Lord.

The Scripture that Joanne read isn’t the typical “Christmas” Scripture. We’ve heard the entire Christmas story, as well as the highlights of the Old Testament prophecy, through this Christmas season. But today, we instead look at the beginning of the Gospel of John. It tells us that, while we celebrate Jesus coming into the world today, in reality He existed before time. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word WAS God.” Jesus is the Word- God’s Word, the personification of God- Emmanuel- God with us.

I have shared before that I am a big fan of the Peanuts cartoons. I remember a Christmas one where Lucy says, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. `Tis season of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Therefore, I suggest we forget all our differences and love one another!” Charlie Brown is more than a little surprised, “That’s wonderful, Lucy. I’m so glad you said that. But tell me, do we have to love each other only at this season of year? Why can’t we love each other all year long” Lucy flatly responds, “What are you, a fanatic or something?”

What we spend our time and money on reveals our real values. It all too clearly  demonstrates what we truly worship. Are we storing up treasures on earth or are we committed to following Jesus by storing our treasures in heaven? Take time to think of ways you can make first things first in the new year. How will you spend more time with people you love? How will you better demonstrate your faith through service? How will you continue to cultivate your relationship with God? We are called, not just at Christmas but all year long, to seek out and serve those in need. We let our light shine BEST when we let it shine for Jesus Christ. God is leading you down a different road than the one you were on. Where is this new road leading?

In Jesus Christ, God gave us the greatest gift we could ever have. It’s a gift that takes a lifetime to fully unwrap. It’s a gift of enormous value, given freely to all. It’s a gift that enriches everyone who accepts it. It’s a gift that’s ultimately intended to be given away. It’s the gift of life. Before we receive this gift, we walk alone…without hope. But after receiving the gift, Jesus walks with us daily. Before we receive the gift, life is ordinary. But after receiving the gift, life is never the

same again! And what’s the greatest thing about this gift, about the birth of Jesus? It’s that we can experience it personally.

Today, God extends a personal invitation to you to come and see with your own eyes the Messiah. God offers us a gift today, and then He waits to see what we’ll do with it. Jesus came as a baby, into a cold, dark world, to touch our lives, to love us, to show us a better way and to change us forever. Jesus in a manger is Divine love coming down and reaching out to save us from our loneliness and our emptiness. Today is the day when the infinite becomes the infant- Emmanuel, the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And to all who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. On Christmas, He says, “You’ve got a friend in Me.”

 

A Very Disney Christmas: When You Wish Upon a Star

a-very-disney-christmas-when-you-wish-upon-a-star

     Sarah and her sister had been fighting a lot. Sarah’s parents, trying to take advantage of the fact that Christmas was coming, reminded the three-year-old that Santa was watching and doesn’t like it when children fight. Sarah didn’t seem to care. So Sarah’s mom took drastic measures. “I’ll just call Santa and tell him about your behavior.” She then took out her cell phone…and started dialing! What Sarah didn’t know is that her mom called Sarah’s aunt and uncle!) Sarah was skeptical until her mom said, “Mrs. Claus? This is Sarah’s mom. Can I please speak to Santa?” Sarah’s mouth dropped open as her mom described to Santa how the three-year-old was acting. Then…her mom handed Sarah the phone! “He wants to talk to YOU!” She reluctantly took the phone.
      Santa explained to her how there would be no presents on Christmas morning for children who fought with their sisters. He told her he would be watching and that he expected her behavior to improve. Sarah then solemnly hung the phone up. Her mom, trying not to laugh, said, “What did Santa say to you?” Sarah thought for a moment and then matter-of-factly stated, “Santa said he won’t be bringing toys to my sister this year!”

     It’s Christmas Eve. (Pause) Don’t you LOVE it when pastors state the galactically obvious as if it were a precious pearl falling gently from their lips?! Tonight is the last second of the last minute of the last hour of Advent- the season leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. This Christmas season, we’ve been taking a nostalgic look BACK to help us take a dramatic look forward. Each week of the Christmas season, our Advent sermon series- A Very Disney Christmas- has melded together three somewhat unusual pieces: 1. a portion of the Christmas story as found in the Gospels, 2. Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah and, of all things, 3. a classic Disney song that helps inform the theme for the day.

     The first week, we went back to 1953, looked at the classic Peter Pan and considered Joseph’s encounter with an angel as we looked at You Can Fly! Three weeks ago, we hit the “fast forward” button and jumped to 1994 to look at the instant classic The Lion King and its unarguable massive hit- “Hakuna Matata”. We talked about Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel and talked about letting God bring you to a place of no worries- Hakuna Matata! Two weeks ago, we slid back to 1967- the day the animated classic The Jungle Book came out. We considered the big hit from that movie- I Wanna be Like You and we looked into the lives of the Wise Men.

     Last week, we jump ahead again, to 1992- the day that the original Aladdin came out. Great movie. Great music. And the biggest hit to come out of that movie was the song A Whole New World. We talked about Mary and Joseph making the trip to Bethlehem. Tonight, we take a rather BIG leap backward, to February 23, 1940 and the debut of the Disney classic Pinocchio. The big hit song from that movie was When you Wish Upon a Star. The lyrics include:

     When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.”

     Three thoughts come out of those 2 sentences: 1. what exactly is the “star” we’re talking about?, 2. What does “ANYTHING your heart desires” actually mean? And 3. does it REALLY “make no difference who you are”?

     Joanne read the Gospel Scripture. Jesus’ birth story isn’t included at all in the Gospels of Mark and John and it is only touched on in the Gospel of Matthew. It is here, in Luke’s Gospel, that we get the lion’s share of the story. It’s a well know, familiar story. And sometimes…it’s perhaps a bit TOO familiar. We known it almost too well. The couple. The trip. The stable. The animals. The baby. The shepherds. The angels. The Wise Men. All neatly sanitized for your protection and wrapped in a tidy little bow.

     But the Birth Narrative isn’t neatly sanitized- not even a little bit. It’s messy. It’s unpredictable. It’s scandalous. 14-year old Jewish girl gets pregnant out wedlock. This is NOT the story you or I would write if we were going to author a work of fiction about a god coming into the world. Really, we’d come up with ANYTHING but this! But God, once again, takes a HUGE, unexpected left turn, surprises everybody and comes into the world as a helpless child. He chooses to be one of us- breathe our air and walk our sod. God’s Upper Story is extraordinary. And recognizing the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary helps create a powerful sense of hope.

    Are you DONE with Christmas preparations? Are the stockings all hung by the chimney with care? Are visions of sugar plums dancing? The months, weeks and days before Christmas have now dwindled to hours…or minutes. The last-minute shopping is done. (Isn’t it? Tell me you’re done!!)  Now it’s the parties, celebrations and family gatherings that are left to attend.

    In a few hours, we celebrate Christmas…the birth of Jesus Christ. The waiting is almost over. We are at the point where we can breathe a little sigh of relief. I’ve been thinking about a photographer who worked for me back in my school photography days. Let me assure you that, some days, school photography is nothing short of combat pay. And on those days, he would come over to me and say, “You know- regardless of anything else that happens today…3 o’clock is GOING to come and these stinkin’ kids are GOING to go home!” So, regardless of whether we’re ready or not…Christmas is coming tomorrow. The menu is set, the decorations are in place and, hopefully, all the gifts are bought. It’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy. But in the midst of an overwhelming “to do” list, a myriad of celebrations and an embarrassment of presents, there is still one gift left to give…and receive.

    Sometimes I think WE miss out on the point of Christmas. What’s our excuse? “I’ve been busy. I’ve had so much to do. There’s not been enough time.” Maybe we’ve simply been too busy to truly get into the “Christmas Spirit.” Maybe the circumstances haven’t changed all that much. There was no room in the inn for Jesus…and maybe there’s been no room in our lives for Him, either. Maybe we’ve already filled it with all sorts of other things.

     But you have something to give. You have some space available that you could open up for God. Are you willing to give that space? Are you willing to invite God in, no matter how messy your space might be? Or are you content to simply stand at a distance, watching God work in other people’s lives without actually ever getting your own hands dirty? When you think about God, do you grumble about the inconvenience of going to church, of giving your time? Or do you wish you could come a little closer to the manger?
    I’ve seen all of the Norman Rockwell paintings and Andy Williams Christmas specials. Culture demands perfect people standing around a perfect tree with perfectly wrapped presents under it. We are taught to think that we have to be “spit-polished” before we can come to church, before we can be accepted by God. But don’t let what you CAN’T do keep you from what you CAN do. If we have to be perfect before we can come to church…the church is going to be COMPLETELY empty- certainly won’t be any preacher!

     The Good News is that God doesn’t expect perfection. He simply asks that we give the best of what we have…and who we are. What would happen if we all chose the “important” things this Christmas and focused on Jesus…instead of what society tells us is important? Christmas is FULL of plenty of good things to do. But even the good things can cause us to push Jesus aside, to relegate Him to the mangers of our world. This Christmas, I pray that God helps you put Him 1st in your life.

     Mary and Joseph have been traveling for at least a week. As we said last Sunday, they traveled 90 miles and climbed 1.300 feet in elevation- all with Joseph on foot and Mary- GREAT with child- riding a donkey. After a really hard journey, they finally arrive…only to find Bethlehem full. There are no rooms are available. An innkeeper, touched by their plight, offers them the only space he has left- a stable out back. They accept. They settle in.

     And then…it happens. In the blink of an eye, Caesar Augustus is no longer the center of the known world. Quietly, almost imperceptibly, the balance of power has shifted from a despotic, power-hungry ruler to a tiny baby asleep in the hay. The Messiah has come. And angels sing to the glory of God.

    To live a life of faith is hard in a world which rarely echoes the songs of heavenly glory. While others sleep, shop, read the paper, wash their cars or simply sleep in on Sundays, we feel like outsiders- getting up and going to church. It can be a lonely journey. But the Christmas Gospel shows us that we are not alone. The shepherds, the Wise Men, even Mary and Joseph made lonely journeys on their way to the manger. But they came- to worship the very real and tangible presence of God…and they weren’t disappointed.

     I heard it said this week that Jesus isn’t part a of the Christmas story- the Christmas story is a part of Jesus. Unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

     One last thought about our song for the night. The lyrics also include:

     If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. When you wish upon a star, as dreamers do, Fate is kind”. Where’s your heart? What are your dreams? God is calling you to step out, follow Him and see what can happen. If you are willing to do that, your life will never be the same- it’ll be better.

     Like Mary and Joseph, Christmas calls us back to our roots. Celebrating the birth of Jesus reminds us not only who we are but WHOSE we are. Tonight, look in the manger. See for yourself a baby that changed the world; a baby that can change your life. Jesus came, and we will never be the same. Glory to God in the highest. And on Earth, peace and goodwill to all.

The Apple and the Tree

apple_of_my_eye    History is full of “apple” stories. If you start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!), you get that famous apple-eating pair- Adam and Eve. (And yes, I KNOW the Bible doesn’t actually say “apple”, but we all THINK it was!) You know the story- they aren’t supposed to eat the apple. They EAT the apple. Bad things happen.
There is, of course, the story of Sir Isaac Newton, sitting under the apple tree. An apple falls out of the tree onto his head, and he figures out gravity. Then there’s Johnny Appleseed- the guy who walked the length of the good ‘ol US of A planting apple trees.
There’s the Adam´s apple. And we ALL know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. We give an apple for the teacher. When we brown-nose, we are known as an apple polisher. The person we love is the apple of our eye. Some things are as American as apple pie. One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. (Although the Osmonds say JUST the opposite!) That big city out east is the Big Apple.
Apples are everywhere. They are as American as…well…apple pie! But there is another saying about apples we haven’t considered yet- the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That means, of course, that kids are often very like their parents. We often don’t want that to be true- once someone said to me, “You are just like your dad!” I replied, “You take that back! LOL! But the truth is, we ARE like our parents…at least in some ways. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
That can be a daunting realization. Everything you do and say…your kids, grandkids and any other children around you are watching and listening. They see what you do. They hear what you say. And they tend to do and say…those very same things. They also see whether what you SAY matches what you DO. They are WAY smarter than we give the credit for.
Now, think about the things you do and say. Are you OK with your kids and/or grandkids doing and saying those things? If so, keep up the good work! If not…knock it off. Buck up. Raise the standard. Pick up the pace. make sure that you are doing and saying what you want them to see and hear!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

The Perfect Gift

christmas-giftsThere’s a convenience store chain called Quick Trip…QT. There are several of them in the St. Louis area. One Christmas, when our older son was young, he received the obligatory “gift that needs batteries”. Only, unlike every other year…we COMPLETELY forgot to actually get batteries! Aaaawww SNAP, son! If you’re going to give an 8-year old boy a cool battery-operated toy for Christmas and NOT provide batteries…you might as well give him socks, laundry detergent and raisins and just get it over with! We felt terrible! So we tried to imagine who might possibly be open, and we thought of QT. It was a longshot, but it was the only horse we had to bet on! So I dialed their number…and held my breath. It rang and rang, and then, “Merry Christmas! QT.” Whew- saved! I said, “I didn’t think you’d be open!” to which he replied, “Every day is Christmas at QT!” I was delighted…and saddened at the same time!
Are you done shopping? Let’s see a show of hands. I’ll be honest- I would rather have a great big pointy stick jabbed in my eye that shop…especially at Christmas. Therefore, I am completely ecstatic over the rise of on-line shopping! Amazon has been my BEST friend this season!
Do YOU struggle to come up with just the perfect gift each Christmas? Do you manage to find the right thing for those special people in your life? It can be tough! But here’s an even tougher question: what do you give…Jesus…on Christmas…for His birthday? This question brings us to the real focus of this entire sermon series, and here it is: Christmas is NOT your birthday! It’s NOT! It’s Jesus’ birthday. And we Americans KNOW what we’re supposed to do on someone’s birthday- give them gifts! So what should we give Jesus? What does Jesus want for Christmas? What’s on His wish list? Well, He made it clear in the Gospels that we give Him the BEST gift possible when we give to others- feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.
How can we change the traditional focus of Christmas from materialistic self-indulgence to giving Jesus what He wants for His birthday? How can we make it less about us…and more about Him? How does God combat evil and despair in the world? By sending you and me! Like the famous Uncle Sam poster- God wants you. We are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus in this world. God wants you- your time, talent and treasure- to be used in service. What will you do in the new year to ease the suffering of others?
Jesus came as a baby in a manger- not for Hallmark or Wal-Mart or even the Christian bookstore. No, He came for us. He COMES for us- Emmanuel, God With Us. Come Lord Jesus. I’m ready to look into the manger and see for myself a baby Who came to change the world…and me. 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, Christmas Tree!

christmas-tree-home

We have a tradition in our family. Well, we have LOTS of traditions in our family. But today, I’m talking about one in particular. And that tradition revolves around getting a Christmas tree.

We our older son was little, we started taking him to a specific Christmas tree farm outside of the town we lived in. And the reason we went to THAT Christmas tree farm was that it was on land that used to be my grandpa’s farm! We grew up on a couple of acres on the corner of his property and his farm was my stomping grounds! So it was pretty cool to go and walk around that property and get a Christmas tree!

Later, we moved. And it would have been a 50-minute drive, one way, to get a tree from there. Not terribly practical, especially when much of that drive would have been 70 MPH on an interstate…with a tree tied to the roof of the van! (Think Nation Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!) So we switched to another cut-your-own tree farm. Later, we moved again and picked another tree farm. Then…you guessed it- moved again! Again- new tree farm!

Along the way, our younger son came along. And over the years, it went from me cutting the tree while my wife held our older son to our younger son cutting the tree and our older son holding it for him. And along the way, EVERY iteration of who holds and who cuts has happened! We have been picking out, cutting down and dragging home Christmas trees for about 25 years!

This year, as has become the new norm, we shifted our “tree acquire” date around to try and find a time when all four of us could be together. And that, my friends, gets harder every year! But we thought we finally found a date- yesterday. So we planned that out. But the realities of life settled in rather quickly and we found that, between work and school schedules and what time the sun sets (4:38PM!), it was going to be impossible for us to go out and cut a tree yesterday. And with Christmas almost here, we REALLY wanted to get a tree yesterday!

So…we dropped back and punted! The Exchange Club has a cut tree lot about 4 blocks from our house. I asked one of our church members, who is also a member of that organization, if there were any trees left. He said that A. there were, B. what was left was free (they do that in the last few days before Christmas), C. there weren’t many trees left, D. what was there was pretty scrawny and E. most of what was left was tall and would probably have to be cut down a bit.

So, at about 2:30PM yesterday, we drove the four blocks to the site. And there were a grand, whopping total of 6 trees left! Slim pickins’! But as my mom would say, beggars can’t be choosers! So we “dove in”! What was there was simply not much. BUT…in the back, hanging, was a tree that looked pretty tall and pretty decent. And we live in a 100-year old house with high ceilings- we specialize in “pretty tall” Christmas trees! So…we strapped it to the top of the car and started the LONG (4-block) journey home!

After dinner, the tree was brought in, placed in the stand and decorated. Even with the stand and a decent-sized tree topper, it still falls about 4″ short of the ceiling, so NOT too tall! And the tree looks amazing! It is one of the best trees we have ever had! The shape is really nice. It’s full. It’s tall. It’s great. (And yes, that IS a picture of it above!) As much as we enjoyed the “free” nature of the tree, in the midst of changing traditions, we have already agreed to make a donation to the Exchange Club!

Traditions are important, to be sure. But relationships are MORE important. And we all had a great time decorating and admiring the tree, regardless of how we got it! I love Christmas!

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

Christmas Music

THE PEANUTS GANG REJOICES IN THE TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS     I love the music of Christmas, don’t you? In fact, I love it so much that it’s not at all unusual that I might have the church we serve sing “Joy to the World” in July! (Why not? If we can celebrate Jesus in December, why not July?!)
Where we used to live, the local Christian radio station starts playing Christmas music on the day after Thanksgiving, and they play it 24/7 until Christmas Day. I LOVE it. In fact, I love it SO much that I tend to drive my family crazy by about the week before Christmas!
What are YOUR favorite Christmas songs? Do you tend toward the more traditional “Joy to the World” and “Away in a Manger”? Or perhaps you are more of a Michael W. Smith or Steven Curtis Chapman kind of person at Christmas? Do you prefer religious or secular music at this time of year?
Personally, I LOVE to sing “the classics”. I can’t wait for Advent to start every year so we can start putting all of those great songs in the worship services! But I also love the more “modern” Christian Christmas music. And I also love the secular stuff as well! OK…I just simply love Christmas music!
For my money, here are the three greatest Christmas recordings of all time (in order):
1.
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole. Written in 1944 by Mel Tormé (The Velvet Fog) and Bob Wells in an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool” on a scorching summer day in California. It is the most-performed Christmas song ever. Torme says, “I saw a spiral pad on the piano with four lines written in pencil- Chestnuts roasting…, Jack Frost nipping…, Yuletide carols…, Folks dressed up like Eskimos. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.”
2.
Christmas Eve/Sarajevo by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
3.
Christmastime by Michael W. Smith.
I have used all of them during worship at some time! Music speaks to me like few other things can. It has a way of seeping into my soul and changing me. I have been a singer for 37 years, a musician for 45 years and a music lover my entire life! What are YOUR favorites?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Open For Business

open-for-business

Yesterday was a great day! It was about 9 degrees below zero when I got out of bed at 5AM. The wind chill was somewhere around 20 below. It never got about zero…period. Great day! Right now, you are probably thinking, “GREAT day?! Really? Are you ‘Crazy Go Nuts’, Pastor?” And I would understand that. In fact, “yes” MIGHT be the answer to that question! But that’s a different story for a different day!

The reason it was a great day was NOT because of how cold it was. It was DESPITE how cold it was that made it a great day. You see, just like Harrison Ford doesn’t negotiate with terrorists in the movie Air Force One- it’s a bedrock principle!- I don’t cancel worship- bedrock principle!

If there was ever a day to cancel worship, it would have been yesterday. Cold. Bitter cold. The aftermath of snow, drifting, icing. And lots of churches DID cancel. And that’s their decision that make. But at the church we currently serve, the buck HAS to stop somewhere. And when it comes to things like canceling worship, it stops with me! And I don’t!

Here’s my deal- we live RIGHT next door to the church. I have NO excuse for not making it to church. (Although we lived farther away at each of the last two churches and I STILL had no excuse!) Therefore, if it’s Sunday, I’m there. So- to sum up- Sunday? Open for business! I DO make it very clear that everyone should feel comfortable to make whatever decision is best for them regarding coming to church or staying home. And I have confidence in the intelligence and common sense of the folks who sit in these pews!

And in the end, 184 people came to worship together! We average almost 100 more per week than that, but to have about 70% of your regular attendance on Coldmaggedon Sunday is a pretty good deal! In the afternoon, we had a Christmas caroling event scheduled- going to two local Nursing Homes and a Senior Living facility. Some folks assumed that we would cancel that…again, because of the cold weather. I assured the congregation that I was still going and I knew of a few more who were, too. Even if we only had 4 people go, we would still spread Christmas cheer! In the end, we had 22 people show up! It was awesome!

It was cold. But it IS winter, after all! And we didn’t let the cold dampen our spirits or ruin our day. Regardless of the weather, we were…Open For Business!

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

A Very Disney Christmas: A Whole New World

a-very-disney-christmas-a-whole-new-world

Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

A grade school class that was putting on their annual Christmas play. And Tim wanted the part of Joseph so bad he could TASTE it. But when the parts were handed out, his biggest rival- Kirk- was given the part of Joseph while Tim got stuck with the innkeeper. He was really bitter about the whole thing and immediately began plotting about how he could get even with Kirk for stealing HIS role. Finally, the night of the performance came. The audience was set, the house lights faded and the drama began to unfold. Mary and Joseph came onstage. They headed to the inn and knocked on the door. It was Tim’s big moment of retribution. He was going to make Kirk look BAD! He opened the door and gruffly said, “What do you want?!” Kirk/Joseph answered, “We’d like a room for the night.” This was Tim’s big moment to steal the spotlight…and the show…from Kirk. He threw the door wide open and said, “Come on in! You get the best room in the house!” Tim smiled smugly and folded his arms across his chest- triumphant. For a few seconds, it seemed that poor Kirk/Joseph didn’t know what to do. An uncomfortable silence fell over the proceedings. Then, suddenly, Kirk turned to the girl playing Mary and said with conviction, “Come on, Mary, let’s go to the stable! No wife of MINE is going to stay in dump like THIS!”

Today is the fourth- and LAST- Sunday of Advent- the season leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. This Christmas season, we’ve taken a nostalgic look BACK that has helped us take a dramatic look forward. Each week of the Christmas season, our Advent sermon series- A Very Disney Christmas- has melded together three somewhat unusual pieces: 1. a portion of the Christmas story as found in the Gospels, 2. Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah and, of all things, 3. a classic Disney song that helps inform the theme for the day.

The first week, we went back to 1953, looked at the classic Peter Pan and considered Joseph’s encounter with an angel as we looked at You Can Fly! Two weeks ago, we hit the “fast forward” button and jumped to 1994 to look at the instant classic The Lion King and its unarguable massive hit- “Hakuna Matata”. We talked about Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel and talked about letting God bring you to a place of no worries- Hakuna Matata! Last week, we slid back 27 years to 1967- the day the animated classic The Jungle Book came out. We considered the big hit from that movie- I Wanna be Like You and we looked into the lives of the Wise Men.

Today, we jump ahead again, to November 25, 1992- the day that the original Aladdin came out. Great movie. Great music. And the biggest hit to come out of that movie was the song A Whole New World. The lyrics include:

I can show you the world- shining, shimmering splendid. Tell me- when did you last let your heart decide? I can open your eyes- take you wonder by wonder: over, sideways and under on a magic carpet ride!” The underlying theme of that song- that movie- is that embracing the miraculous can bring about rebirth.

Luke 2:1-5 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

So, Emperor Caesar Augustus- the supreme ruler of the entire Roman Empire-  issues a decree. He calls everybody back to their family’s place of origin for a census. Caesar speaks and everyone is displaced. He says jump and the world asks, “How high?” The whole world returns to their roots. It wasn’t a whim that led Caesar to this event- he has a purpose. He wants everyone to be numbered. Their

names and stories don’t matter. Who they are isn’t important. What they can provide to the Empire is all that counts. They are an economic resource- nothing more, nothing less. The world spins around the Roman Empire and Caesar Augustus is at the very center of that world.

So, Mary and Joseph are forced to travel from Nazareth- where they live- to Bethlehem- where Joseph’s family began. To better understand this part of the story, we need a brief geography lesson. Nazareth is in the northern part of Israel, but Bethlehem is in the southern part. That means the journey will take Mary and Joseph through the hill country, past Jerusalem. The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies, but Mary and Joseph…aren’t crows. The winding mountain trails that Joseph and Mary have to travel make a 70-mile trip- already a long journey- about 90 miles instead. On top of that, it’s an uphill

trek that climbs about 1,300’ in elevation over those 90 miles. Walking, which is what they would be doing because only Mary is riding, would take more than a week. Mary’s pregnancy, in its final is going to make a difficult trip that much harder.

You read this part of the story and you can’t help but ask the obvious question- WHY BETHLEHEM? I mean, if you had asked ME, I would have chosen JERUSALEM, the Capital City. Or I would have chosen ROME, the center of the Roman world. Or I would have at least chosen NAZARETH, where Mary and Joseph lived. Basically, ANY place…but BETHLEHEM? Bethlehem was a small village outside of Jerusalem. Many historians think assigning it a population of 1,000 was being generous. So, again- why? Here’s an interesting thing about Bethlehem. In Hebrew, the name “Bethlehem” means…“House of Bread”. House of bread. Historically, bread is the staff of life. It is the foundational piece upon which our day to day existence is built. One of THE most basic human needs is food and bread is the cornerstone. Theologically, bread represents…Jesus. He is, literally and figuratively, the Bread of Life. So Bethlehem means “House of Bread” and Jesus came from Heaven to be the “Bread of Life”. How fitting, then, that God arranged for His only begotten Son, “the Bread of Life”, to be born in Bethlehem, “the House of Bread”. The time was right. The stage was set. Everything was ready. It was GOD’S plan. It was GOD’S timetable. It was GOD’S design. He was in charge. He had a purpose.

What is God’s plan…for YOU? Where and to what is He leading you? We are on the very threshold of Christmas. If you aren’t “done” now, there really isn’t much time to get “done”. Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time- perhaps THE most stressful time of the year. I mean, Andy Williams can tell me it’s the most wonderful time of the year ALL he wants…but my calendar tells me it’s the BUSIEST time of the year!

So again, to what is God calling you? Is life turning out the way you wanted it to? Is it everything you ever wanted? I always wanted to be famous. I didn’t just want to be a working actor- I wanted to be a FAMOUS one. And I stubbornly…and selfishly…clung to that dream for a LONG time! Even after I let the acting dream go, I continued to hold on to the dream of being famous. And I am convinced that hanging on to that dream when God had other things in mind for me held me back in MAJOR ways!

But the older I get, and the deeper my faith is, the more I have come to realize that whatever God has in store for me is, in the end, WAY better than anything I could want for myself. And the more I have been able to recognize that fact, the more I have been able to let go of things and be more open…and obedient…to God. And I can say with absolute certainty that I am happier with life now than I have EVER been!

Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. Don’t focus on things that have no eternal value. Don’t settle for settling. You were made for SO much more than that. God wants to use you in powerful ways to make a difference in our community and beyond.

I said it a few weeks ago and I will say it again- the ONLY thing that is keeping us from being a POWERHOUSE for God in the region is manpower. People talk about our building. Yes, it’s old. Yes, it’s landlocked. Yes, we have almost completely maxed it out. But it is NOT the main thing holding us back. People talk about money. Yes, churches always hover on the edge of “enough”. But we are about to finish our second consecutive year in the back. Money is NOT the limiting factor.

The ONLY thing that keeps us from reaching farther out, drawing even more people in and making an even bigger impact in the region in the name of Jesus Christ is an adequate number of hands and feet. Today’s song says it best- there is a whole new world out there, just waiting for us. The song also says this, “I’m like a shooting star. I’ve come so far. I can’t go back to where I used to be.” We are NOT the people we used to be. And I, for one, would NEVER want to go back to where I used to be. I had NO idea how awesome a life lived in Jesus Christ could be and there is NO turning back!

Numbers 24:17a “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.

One more thing the song says, “Every turn a surprise. Every moment- Red-Letter.” God never ceases to surprise and amaze me. And if you remember our sermon series from earlier in the year, you remember what Red Letter means. The Red Letters are the words that Jesus speaks in the Gospels. God’s words, directly to us- Red Letter. And when you give yourself over to God…EVERY day is Red Letter!

The Call Went Out

telephone

I saw an amazing thing yesterday morning! Yesterday, I wrote about how the church we currently serve put together over 70 Christmas baskets for people in the church and community. What I didn’t really talk about was the delivery of said baskets. Think that through for a moment- 70+ baskets, all going to different homes. Many of those baskets include frozen homemade soup and some of them also include a turkey or a ham.

Every year, we ask people to sign up to help make those deliveries. And every year…we struggle to get them all delivered. Usually, a small handful of people deliver a LOT of baskets! And while it is a very rewarding thing, there comes a point beyond which it’s tough to spend that much time and make that many deliveries!

So, this year, we talked about what we might need to do if we struggled that badly with deliveries again. And then…we waited. The baskets are assembled on Wednesday evening and we want them delivered by end of business on Friday. As of early evening Thursday, we still had a LOT of baskets left to deliver. It was a daunting task!

Then, my wife came up with a “hail Mary” play. (If that term is unfamiliar, it tends to be a football reference. The quarterback, in desperation, drops back and throws the ball…as far as he can throw it…praying that it will be caught by a teammate!) She suggested I log into the group calling/texting service we use and send out a blanket message to the WHOLE church. Can’t hurt, right? So I did just that. A text and a robo-call went out to everyone. The message, which I recorded, said that we needed help delivering. We would be at the church from 9AM-10:30AM yesterday and if anyone was available, their help would be most appreciated. We had NO idea what to expect.

Yesterday, at about 8:50AM, my wife and I went over to the church. We were hoping that a couple of people would show up and help. That was at 8:50AM. By 9:30AM…20 people had shown up and all but 2 baskets were out the door! To quote that great theologian Hannibal Smith from the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together!

I have learned that the biggest problem us Christians often make is to underestimate God. When we insist on trying to shoehorn Him into a box of our making, we are saying that we don’t think He can do any more than that. When we lead with, “That can’t happen” or “We could never do that”…we are absolutely correct. But when we stop focusing on what WON’T work and instead focus on trusting God…amazing things can happen. For example, 20 people can show up “on a moment’s notice” and do some powerful ministry.

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

Touch the Heart

heart55He was one of a kind. To say they broke the  mold when they made him would be a gross  understatement. He was a retired pastor we had the pleasure of serving with at our first church. He died a few years ago…and the world is a bit more…drab since he’s been gone. Now…I have NO doubt where he went- the man was a certifiable saint. But I also have no doubt of the hole that was left here on Earth by his passing. I have thought a lot over the years about WHY I thought so much of him. He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He didn’t play an instrument. He had no flair for the dramatic. He wasn’t the most well-spoken person I have ever met. And yet…I wanted to be him when I grew up…still do, in fact! And I could name MANY others who feel the same. So, again…WHY? And I think I’ve hit upon the answer.
He didn’t demand respect. We all know people who, by virtue of their position, or their stature, or their presence…demand respect. Insist on being called Rev. or Dr. or Prof…whatever. And, at least for me, that does…NOTHING! I do NOT respect someone simply by virtue of their title or their pedigree. I’ve known LOTS of folks with enough letters before and after their names to start their own alphabet, and I couldn’t even stand to be around them, let alone respect them. But then there are people like this pastor of whom I have
been speaking who don’t try to impress, don’t try to demand respect…or anything else for that matter. Instead, they just…live their lives. They go about their daily routine, and by virtue of who they are, and how they do what they do…they earn our respect. But to do that, the first thing they have yo do is touch our heart. Once that happens, they don’t have to do anything…they have respect.
Think about your own life- who do YOU respect? Now, you have to separate respect from fear, or admire, or follow, or any number of others words that could be inserted here. Respect is different. Respect is, according to Dictionary.com- “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person”. I held this man in such esteem, not for what he had or said, but because of what he did…and how he did it. In short, he didn’t  demand my respect, he earned it. Who has earned YOUR respect? Who do you have “esteem for”? maybe the better question is this- who respects YOU? Who feels you have earned their respect? It seems to me that the world would be a better place if we had more respect for each other. And it further seems to me that something like that only happens when we live our lives in such a way that we earn that respect! So this season…earn respect. Live your life in such a way that other people notice, without you having to bring it to their attention. You will be more productive, you will make a bigger positive impact on the world, and you will help bring about change in others. How cool is that?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Tisket, a Tasket

christmas-cheer

Last night was a LOT of fun! Like many churches, we have a TON of things scheduled for Wednesday nights. Dinner. Classes. Children’s Ministry. Bell Choir. Choir. Yep- full evening! But last night, we did something different…and it was great!

Instead of my Bible Study, all who were available stayed after dinner and assembled Christmas baskets and plates. And when I same baskets and plates- I’m talkin’ baskets and plates! 73 of them, to be exact! And just in case you think I mistyped that number let me type it again- 73!

About 20 people gathered to assemble these gifts. It was an amazing factory assembly line! There were people filling baskets, filling containers filling plates. And with what, you might ask? Homemade cookies, fresh fruit, canned goods, non-perishable food, homemade apple butter and homemade sweet bread. The each basket got a large container of frozen homemade soup. And the large baskets also got either a ham or a turkey. Those baskets go to a variety of folks in a variety of situations. The plates- we call them Cheer Plates- got fresh fruit, homemade cookies and mints. And those plates go to folks in Senior Living Centers.

The food- ALL of it- was donated. And if you think about how much food it took to fill 73 baskets and plates..that’s a LOT of food! The time to get it all ready was donated, as was the time to assemble them. And then there’s the delivery. Yep- 73 baskets and plates are delivered! Over the next 48 hours or so, a variety of people will go out on delivery runs, bringing a little Christmas cheer to some people. What always amazes me is that, regardless of how appreciative the recipients are, I ALWAYS feel like I GOT much more than I GAVE when I do deliveries!

It would be SO much easier to NOT do this ministry. We don’t have a budget for it. In the midst of a busy season, there are PLENTY of other things that demand time. But one of the many things I love about the church we currently serve is that they don’t start a conversation about a proposed new ministry with, “Why?” Instead, they start with, “Why NOT?!” Our mission is to connect people with Jesus Christ and we are more than willing to roll up our sleeves and “get ‘er done”!

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

I Ain’t the Sharpest Tool in the Shed!

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     Abraham Lincoln said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt”.  Well…prepare to have your doubts blown away! When I was a kid, I thought there were tiny people IN the TV who acted out the scenes live as I watched! They had all the costumes, props, etc., right in the TV with them, and they would do the show/movie at the moment I was seeing it! (Imagine “The 10 Commandments”!) My brother told me they were in there. I also thought they could see me- I would wave at them, not scratch or pick inappropriate places when I thought they were looking, etc. You are saying to yourself, “How old WERE you?” 17! No…not really! I was a pre-schooler. And to my defense, if you ever watched Romper Room, you can understand my confusion. Miss Lois would stand there with her Magic Mirror and SAY she could see me! (It never dawned on me that I have a relatively common 1st name!) I also thought that if I turned off the TV, it would freeze the show right there, and I could pick it up when I came back! (Remember, this was DECADES before DVR!)
     Then  there is the radio. I thought that the singers/musicians were actually AT the radio station, performing the song live as I listened. My brother told me that, too. (Remember, I have been clear to state that I am NOT the sharpest tool in the shed!) They would tour the country, with ALL their equipment, setting up in radio stations from town to town, just to perform that one song…and move on! (Sounds REALLY cost-effective, doesn’t it?!) I am unable to explain why I thought people were IN the TV, but had a gear to “get” that the radio signal was broadcast.
     I also thought that there were little people inside my body- factory workers if you will, who made the whole shootin’ match work! Come to think of it, my brother told me that, too! (I am suddenly getting some serious clarification on many things! Give me just a second………OK, I’m back. Note to self: call your brother!) I thought people didn’t breathe when they slept (it made for some interesting times when I tried to pretend I was asleep)! I thought people could hear you through the phone if it was only ringing; when we were ducking a call, I’d be really quiet! I thought if I closed my eyes…you couldn’t see me! I thought lemonade was lemon juice and sugar…period! (Remember, no Rhodes scholars in MY home town!)
     Misconception is a pretty common thing. We are incorrectly informed on all sorts of things. I am often surprised and saddened by the misconceptions people have about the Christian faith. People think they have to earn their way to heaven- enough good deeds and they’re in. The reality is that we CAN’T earn our way to Heaven- it is instead offered by God. People think that God is a distant Clock Maker- crafted the whole thing, wound it, started it, and then…walked away into eternity, leaving it to run on its own.
     But God is very active in our lives, guiding us, teaching us, forgiving us. People (including some seminary professors) think that Jesus was just a good guy- taught some things, got on the wrong side of the Roman government, paid for it with his life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. He came into our world, to quote singer Chris Rice “wrapped our injured flesh around You, breathed our air and walked our sod”. He experienced the things we experienced. He never travelled more than about 50 miles from His home. He taught, healed, saved- and when His time here was complete, and not a moment sooner, He willingly laid down His life to take away our sin. On the 3rd day, He just as willingly picked that life back up so that we might have eternal life. THAT is Who we recognize when we celebrate Christmas- a baby in a manger who split time in half! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go try and feed the little people in my TV…they have GOT to be starving!
     Thanks for coming by today, have a blessed day, please share this with others, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Brutiful Nature of Death

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Yesterday, I sat with a family as they waited for the funeral home to come and tend to the patriarch of their family, who died a couple of hours earlier. And I ill tell you- that is an unusual circumstance in which to find yourself. For most people, it is a scenario that they will either never experience or perhaps experience once…maybe twice…in their lifetime. But for a pastor, it is not uncommon. It’s part of the gig.

And over the years, I have been in that situation MANY times. I have been with families as they waited for a loved one to die. I have been with families AS their loved one died. And I have been with families after their loved one died and they waited for the coroner or funeral director.

It is a circumstance that is, at some level, unique each time and yet…similar. The details surrounding the death of the loved one vary from one to the next. The response of the family varies. But grief is, in many way, universal. And the familial expectation on the pastor can vary greatly from one instance to the next.

I will always remember one such instance. I had JUST started a 3-month hospital chaplain internship as part of the requirements for being ordained. I was on the way to the hospital (which was 60 minutes away) for my FIRST “overnight”. As I drew near, I got a phone call from the on-duty chaplain that I was about to relieve- there had been a death in the hospital and he wondered if he could pass it on to me since I would be there all night and he was getting ready to go home. I assured him that was fine.

I got to the hospital and went straight to the room. It was a pretty big space, as hospital rooms go, and there were SEVERAL family members there. The woman who died, the matriarch of this large family, was still in the hospital bed. Trying to assess the situation as quickly and completely as possible, I identified a gentleman who I thought must be her husband- the patriarch of the group. I approached him, identified myself and, making an educated guess, asked him if he was, in fact, who I thought he was. He…was! He then did something that totally caught me off-guard. He turned, put his hands up for emphasis and nearly shouted, “OK- everybody quiet down. The pastor is going to speak!” He then turned to me and said, “Pastor?” No pressure!

One of the hardest, yet most impactful things a pastor does is interact with a family who has lost a loved one. It is a huge challenge…and a great privilege. It is the absolute definition of the word “brutiful”. A hybrid of “brutal” and “beautiful”, brutiful is the perfect word to define sitting with a family who is dealing with the loss of a loved one. It reminds me of two things every time I am in that circumstance- 1. I am in TOTAL need of God at all times and 2. it is a humbling privilege to be a pastor!

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

The Gift of Music

music_lover

If you know me at all, you know I love music. And BOY did I get my fair share of it yesterday! Yesterday was one of those typical PACKED Christmas season days. Notice I didn’t say “too busy” or “crazy” or anything like that. It was a GREAT day…it was just packed!

The second Sunday of December is traditionally the date of the Christmas Cantata for the church we currently serve. In our first four Christmas seasons here, we had two morning worship services and an evening service. The Cantata was presented at all three. This year, however, we have a new schedule. The evening service was retired and a 3rd morning service added. But that created a new challenge. Presenting the Cantata 3 times in the span of 3 ½ hours is a daunting task, at best. And none of us wanted to lose the evening presentation- it is usually the one folks from the community attend. So, we left the schedule…exactly like it had been and offered the new morning service in its usual slot and format.

That meant that the Cantata was presented twice this morning, with our Rock and Worship service sandwiched between. The Cantata included 8 songs. Add to that the opening and closing songs and each of our three Cantata presentations included 10 songs. The Rock and Worship service included 6 songs- 4 live and two recorded. For those of you keeping score, that’s 36 songs. BUT…there’s more!

Yesterday was also our younger son’s High School Christmas Band Concert. The school he attends, although in a town of 3,600, has both a JV and  Varsity band! (There are more students in this district involved in music than…sports! Amazing!) Add to those two bands the Jazz Band and, all told, there were 10 songs at the concert.

So, 36 songs at church, 10 at the concert- that’s 46 songs I listened to yesterday. And that was in 11 hours. That’s a LOT of music. And…it was GREAT! I was blessed to hear talented singers and musicians use their God-given talents. Good stuff!

The band concert was PACKED. And we had 441 folks in worship throughout the day! People gathering together in a variety of settings to share in the gift of music. How could you NOT like that?!

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