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.”