Eddie Rabbitt Theology

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I open both our 8AM Contemporary Worship Service and our 9:15AM Rock and Worship Service with a Music Video. It is originally produced- I crank a new one out each and EVERY week- and built around a secular (non “church”) song. The song speaks directly to the theme or emphasis of that week’s sermon.

This past Sunday’s sermon was the last week of our recent sermon series The Long Journey Home- built around the Gospel story of The Prodigal Son. The song I chose for the video was One More Day by Diamond Rio. The theme for the sermon was reconciliation. The song focuses on the reality of wishing you had one more day with someone you love.

I was sick on Sunday…but at church. (You will have decide for yourself if that makes me a hero or an idiot…or both!) Every Sunday, one of the many things I do before folks start walking in the doors is “:test drive” the video to make sure it runs fine and set the sound levels. So about 6:30AM, I was in the sound booth, running the video. It ran…and it ran fine. As the video came to an end, our Worship Director flashed that wickedly sarcastic grin he is capable of and said, “I can TELL you’re sick…you’re playing country music!” Amen, Mike, amen!

Believe it or not, ALL of that was just a lead-in to explain how I know any songs by Eddie Rabbitt! A Country Western singer/songwriter (he wrote Kentucky Rain for none other than Elvis Presley!), one of Rabbitt’s big hits was Driving My Life Away. The song is basically about spending your whole life, your whole existence, behind the wheel of a truck- driving your life away.

That song popped into my head recently. (Almost EVERYTHING reminds me of a song lyric!) And while I don’t know a lot of people who are DRIVING their lives away, I seem to know a decent amount of people who are WHINING their lives away. With that Eddie Rabbitt paraphrase firmly ensconced- after only FIVE paragraphs!- let dig a bit deeper.

There seem to be a decent amount of folks who are unhappy with their lives. And I get that. There have been times when I was pretty unhappy. (And no- you don’t have to read too much into that. Not my wife. Not my kids. Not my job. Me!) But it seems that often that unhappiness manifests itself as “the grass is always greener”.

An awful lot of people are always looking- waiting, hoping, pining- for something that is yet to come. “I can’t wait to grow up.” “I can’t wait to graduate.” “I can’t wait to be on my own.” “I can’t wait for Friday.” “I can’t wait for the weekend.” “I can’t wait for summer.” “Vacation.” “Retirement.” “Promotion.” “Job change.” Whatever. And they seem to spend SO much time looking to that distant time when that distant thing will happen which will make every GROOVY! And all the while, the calendar is just RACING by. And then, one day, you wake up and…it’s over. Life is in the twilight. The spirit might still be willing but the flesh is weak. And what are you left with, at that moment? Regrets. But sadly, you can’t get in the DeLorean and go back to change things. The die has been cast. The moving hand has writ.

Don’t drive your life away. Don’t whine it away. Don’t whittle it away. The hand you have is the hand you were dealt. If you can discard a couple from your hand, draw two new ones from the deck and upgrade- do it. But in the end, the cards you have are the cards you play. Make the most of it. This is your mission field. This is your sphere. This is your life. And it’s a gift. Make the most of every day.

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

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

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I have shared before that, about 12 years ago, the “tech committee” at the church we were serving at the time was charged with ordering a new computer for my office. It was to be a desktop model. They came to me with the specifications they were proposing. I will admit right up front that I knew a LOT less about “tech stuff” then than I do now. But I knew enough to notice the COMPLETE absence of a modem. If you are reading this and thinking, “Modem? Modem? That SOUNDS familiar!”…a modem is the thing that connects a computer to the internet!

I looked over the specs again, just to make sure I was reading it correctly. When I brought it to the attention of the committee, I presented it from the perspective of, “Of COURSE this was simply an oversight.” But no- it wasn’t. They left it out on purpose. The reason? They simply couldn’t imagine any treason I would have to get on the internet while at church!

Well BOY have things changed in those 12 years! I look at the how technology and the internet impact my ministry and I am amazed. From this blog- which has been published DAILY since September 15, 2009- through the church website to mobile apps, in-house produced videos, all-church robo-calls and online giving, technology has a HUGE impact on today’s ministry.

If you read this blog at all or know me at all, you know that I not only embrace technology…I LOVE it. I readily admit that fact. But I worry about those folks who steadfastly refuse to see the benefits of technology to today’s ministry. It doesn’t really matter if you like it or not. There are aspects of ministry that I don’t particularly care for- the nature of the beast, so to speak. But if we REALLY want to connect people to Jesus Christ, we have to be willing to go where they go and do what they do. And the reality of life in the 21st Century is that technology is the order of the day.

If you read the Gospels, Jesus met people where they were. He went to their homes, their events. That’s what He calls us to do. Be willing to embrace the culture. Why? Because that’s where all the people are! Meet them where they are and then help them get to the place Jesus is called them to. What better way could you spend your life?!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Long Journey Home: Reconciling

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     Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

 

     It was Saturday morning and Mom was making pancakes for her two boys- Kevin who was 6 and Ryan who was 4. The boys, both hungry, started arguing over who should get the first pancake. They bickered back and forth until Mom intervened. She saw the situation as an opportunity to teach the boys about the power of sacrificing for others. “You know, boys- if Jesus was sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” Kevin, the older brother, said, “I think I do, Mom.” He then turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, what Mom is trying to say is…you be Jesus!”

 

     Today, we bring our current journey to an end. The New Testament story of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known, most scrutinized stories in the Bible. But at its heart…what is the story REALLY about? Who IS the Prodigal? And what does it have to tell us about our lives? Through January and February, we’ve been asking all of those questions- and many more- as we have taken The Long Journey Home. Each week, we’ve focused on a few verses from the Prodigal Son story- unpacking it to see what is underneath and, more importantly, what it has to say to us.

 

      Since there hasn’t be a day when we heard the whole story at one time, I’ve offer what I’ve called my Reader’s Digest version every week. Here it is!

 

     “A man has two sons. The youngest decides he is tired of the simple life. He demands his share of Dad’s inheritance. He gets it, goes off to the big city, squanders every penny on proverbial wine, women and song and ends up eating hog slop…literally. He crawls back to Dad, who welcomes him with open arms and throws a big party. The older son is hacked off about it but Dad says, ‘Buck up.'” The end. Hey- I WARNED you it was the Reader’s Digest version!

 

     The first week, he demanded and got his inheritance, set off for a far-away land and squandered everything. The second week, a famine hit, he ended up as a hired man feeding pigs…and longing to eat the hog slop. The third week, he came to his senses, realized that his father’s hired servants have food to eat and a place to sleep a decides to go home and confess his sins to his father. The fourth week, he got home and his dad ran to him, hugged him and kissed him. The younger son confessed that he had sinned against both his earthly and heavenly fathers and wasn’t worthy to be called “son”. Week 5, the father interrupted him and called for a robe, a ring and a pair of sandals for his younger son. He also instructed that the fatted calf be prepared because his son who was lost has been found, who was dead is now alive. Week 6, the illusive older son came home and found out from a servant what was going on- walking into the middle of a party he didn’t even know about. Last week, the older son reacted to the situation by letting his dad know, in no uncertain terms, how hurt and angry he was about the whole thing. And that’s where we pick up today’s Scripture.

 

     Luke 15:31-32 ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

 

     Dad’s response is tender- “My son”. The Greek literally translates to “my child”. There is great love in what the dad says to the older son, because Dad loves his son…BOTH of his sons. Dad also says that everything he has is already the older son’s. He is showing the older son his value.

 

     And then, to that Dad adds, “We had to celebrate”. Not, “We should”. Not, “We probably ought to”. Not, I had to”. But, “WE had to”. “We HAD to.” There’s a strong sense of necessity, of urgency.

 

     There are two truths in this story. The first is that we have a home with God. When we’re lost, it’s often because we’ve strayed from the place we’re supposed to be. We each have a God-shaped hole in our heart. And we try SO hard to fill that hole with all sorts of things. And we’re never truly satisfied. And that’s because the ONLY thing that fills a God-shaped hole is…God. We were made to be deeply connected to God.

 

     The second truth is that Jesus is looking for us- actively, aggressively, passionately looking for us. The Good Shepherd is actively looking for His lost sheep. The Bible offers us example after example of Jesus looking for the lost in all sorts of unlikely places. He comes to us in the midst of our lostness. “Being found” is simply another way of saying “coming home”.

 

     So who’s lost in this story? The younger son, right? Yes, he is. But I would argue that the OLDER son is lost as well- he just doesn’t know it. He never strayed from the path. He never broke the rules. But he STILL misses out on the gift of the father’s extravagant love. And the older brother doesn’t really understand the idea of forgiveness. Remember, he even bring himself to claim the younger brother- “YOUR son…!” But Dad- the Father- corrects those words and reinstates the relationship when he says, “This brother of yours…”

 

     Notice this- BOTH sons change throughout the unfolding of this story. The ONLY character that remains constant throughout is…the Father. It’s not by accident that the story of The Prodigal Son is often referred to as the greatest short story ever written. It’s GOOD stuff! But as great a story as it is, I think it’s misnamed. At the end of the day, the story shouldn’t have been called The Prodigal Son. Regardless of WHICH son you think is The Prodigal, he isn’t the hero of the story. The story should really be called The Loving Father- it tells us much more about a father’s love than it does about a son’s sin.

 

     In this story, the younger son isn’t found, he isn’t brought back to life because of some great spiritual revelation. He doesn’t suddenly get his act together and change his evil ways. It’s important to remember that, like every good fisherman, God cleans the fish AFTER He catches them. The turning point happens when he comes to his senses- he makes a wise choice. He says, “This is stupid. I don’t have to live like this. I have a home and a father. Maybe he’ll take me back…even if it’s as a servant.”

 

     So what is this story about? If you had to sum it up in one word…what would that word be? Honestly, you could make a compelling case for any number of words. Forgiveness. Sin. Relationship. Family. Greed. Redemption. Those would all be very appropriate, very accurate words.

 

      But the word I’m going to offer up today is- reconciliation. Call it reunion. Call it resolution. Call it restoration. Call it what you like…but I think that reconciliation is at the heart of this story. This family was broken. We have no idea where Mom was, but it seems safe to assume that she is no longer in the picture. But the relationship between Dad and younger son, Dad and older son, older son and younger son- they are all strained…at best.

 

     But when push comes to shove, it is Dad- the Father- who steps up and seeks reconciliation. He could have been mad at the younger son. He could have been mad at the older son. He could have put his Dad Pants on and busted some heads. But he didn’t. Instead, he offered love, compassion, caring, understanding, forgiveness. He set aside his own agenda, his own frustration, humbled himself and brought his family back together. He was the clear and present agent of reconciliation.

 

     Reconciliation is at the heart of who we are called to be as Christians. We’re human- there WILL be strained relationships. But as the hands and feet of Jesus, we are called to be the ones to humble ourselves and offer the olive branch. Religion is often about rules and regulations. Faith is always about relationship. Our faith is built on relationship- with each other and with Jesus Christ. And if we place that high a value on relationship, then reconciliation should be…HAS to be…the core of who we are and what we strive for.

 

     Which are the strained relationships in your life? Who are you estranged from? Whoever it is, God is calling you to reconciliation. The other person might be unable- unwilling- to take the first step. So…you take that step. Reach out. Offer your hand. Seek reconciliation. Try and repair the damage.

 

     Let’s be clear on one thing here- you can’t FORCE someone else to reciprocate. You can’t make them willing to reconcile. In other words, you might do everything RIGHT…and still not be able to rebuild the relationship. That’s a genuine risk of stepping out in faith. BUT- if you do everything YOU can to rebuild the relationship…you will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you left no stone unturned.

 

     Who do you need to reach out to? Who needs your forgiveness? Who do you need forgiveness FROM? Don’t wait one more day. Life is simply too short. Every day is a gift. And NO day is guaranteed. And when it’s too late to do anything about it, you will wish for one more day. Don’t put yourself in that position. Today IS that day.

 

     One last thought about this story- the story of The Prodigal Son is the third of 3 successive Jesus stories about things that were lost and then found. But they are NOT simply three ways of stating the same thing. In the first story, the sheep is lost because it simply doesn’t know any better. In the second story, the coin is lost through absolutely no fault of its own. In our story, the younger son deliberately went lost, turning his back on his family and his life. But God can overcome our lack of understanding. He can overcome the seduction of the tempting voices. He can even overcome our deliberate rebellion of the heart.

 

     Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

 

These Kids Today!

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There is this expression- “These kids today”! It’s an expression that gets bandied about a lot these days. And frankly, it’s an expression that has been bandied about…since there have been kids! Every generation has thought that the next generation was going to be the death of civilization. Seriously. Since the dawn of humans, that has been the case.

And so, I here it a lot. Why? Because there are, you know…HUMANS running around. And in response to the notion that the current generation is the worst ever, I have two bullets points. And…here they are!

  1. Are there rotten young people today? Of course there are. EVERY generation has its share of rotten people. Sorry- may seem a bit harsh, but we all know it’s true. But are they representative of ALL young people today? Not even a little bit.

Between having a son in High School and being a pastor, I spend a lot of time around a pretty wide variety of young people. And, based on my experience, we are in pretty good hands! Whether it’s the kids and youth who populate the churches I have served or the ones who are in the variety of things our son is involved in, I see a LOT of really fine young people. They are smart. Pleasant. Good social skills. Respectful. Fun to be around.

Are they perfect? Of course not- again, they’re human. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. (Sorry to break that to you, if you didn’t know!!) None of God’s children are perfect. But they have a great deal going for them. And I feel pretty darn good knowing they are the future.

  1. What about the young people who aren’t doing so well? What about those kids who seem to always be in trouble, who seem to always be disrespectful, who seem to not really honor anybody or anything? What about them?

Well, first off- my heart hurts for them. I look at the way I grew up and I realize that I could have ended up there myself. One more stray step, one more bad choice and I could be in a MUCH different place than I am. So I am very empathetic for young people who have tough lives.

But I have to ask myself one question- how did they GET to be in that situation? Behavior, good or bad- isn’t learned and developed in a vacuum. Where do kids learn the words, the attitudes, the behaviors?

The truth is that there seem to be some who are simply predisposed to that kind of behavior. But my experience is that they are the exception and not the rule. So, again, where do the rest of those kids learn what they have clearly learned? Someone had to teach them…or allow them to be taught by others.

I’m amazed when parents exhibit negative behavior on a relatively consistent basis and then are amazed when their kids struggle. The old “do as I say, not as I do” may be a worthwhile punchline, but it is NOT a foundation for solid parenting.

And then there are the parents who consistently exhibit the behavior they want their kids to model but then let them be around people and situations that fly in the face of that approach. It is our responsibility to not only consistently model the behavior we want out of the kids we impact but to also draw the lines that need to be draw to ensure that they receive that same reinforcement from their other influences.

Am I saying that EVERY time a kid “goes bad”, the parent is at fault? No. It’s not that simple. But I AM saying that, when kids end up in places and situations that we don’t want them to be in, we HAVE to ask ourselves how they got there. And we HAVE to be honest…brutally honest…with the answers.

Impacting kids in a positive way is NOT an easy job. And a large part of the reason it’s hard is that there is NO vacation- it’s a 24/7/365 kind of deal. They are ALWAYS watching and therefore we are ALWAYS impacting them- either negatively or positively. God entrusts us- as parents, extended family, a church, a community, a nation- with raising our kids to be the best humans they can be. That is THE most important job we have!\

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

So Good He Needed 3 Preachers!

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     I wrote yesterday about a funeral I was going to perform. Well, the funeral is, as they say, “in the history books” and it went well. One of the many blessings of the service was the music. The young woman who is our staff pianist/accompanist played. (We recently switched from a 100+ year old pipe organ to a brand new Yamaha Clavinova. The organ needed a LOT of money to be repaired and didn’t have anybody to play it. Meanwhile, the Clavinova that we got is THE best instrument they make and sounds amazing!) She also played a solo on…the harp! 

     When she was recommended for the staff position, the person who recommended her said, “Oh, and she also plays the harp. And I told her that, if she got the job, she WOULD be playing the harp!” And BOY did she! She played Amazing Grace and it was awesome. As we were preparing for the service, she asked, “How many verses do you want?” I replied, “When you start…we’ll listen. And when you stop…we’ll move on. Other than that…play what works for you!”  

     In addition, a gentleman who’s a member of the church sang a solo- I Will Rise. He sings in the choir. He sings (and plays guitar) with one of our Praise Bands. He has sung at a TON of weddings and funerals. And he is…good! He has such a pure voice that it is always a joy to hear him. 

     The other thing about the celebration of this man’s life is how many preachers were involved. I was the “officiant” as the pastor of the church. I had the sheer pleasure of knowing…and loving…this man, so it was an honor to perform his funeral. But another local pastor had a very special, almost father/son, relationship with the man who died. He delivered the eulogy.  

     While the funeral was yesterday, the burial is today in the man’s home community, which is about 3 hours from where we live. The gentleman who is the United Methodist pastor in that community is…ready?…a former pastor of the church I currently serve and was, therefore, pastor to the man who died. He graciously agreed to perform the graveside service today. So three different preachers, all for one man. He was SUCH a great guy- it took three pastors to perform his funeral! Gotta love it! 

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

Crud on a Cracker

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    Let me preface today’s blog with the following disclaimer: Today’s blog is in NO way a shameless attempt at sympathy. I am not looking for “there there’s”. I am simply doing what I try to do every day- reflect a daily look at life as a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister! 

     I am sick! Let’s just get that out in the open- sick. Not well. Cold. Flu. Crud on a Cracker! (Did you see how I cleaned that one up?!) I am almost NEVER sick. Seriously. Not counting the brain tumor I had, I have not missed ONE Sunday due to illness in 20 years of ministry. (And I can only remember a couple that I probably SHOULD have missed! Especially Christmas morning, 2005. All four of us were sick and I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to go do the Christmas Day service. Probably NOT my best effort!) 

     Seriously, I am rarely sick. Good genes. Can’t keep a good man down. Too stupid to know better. Call it what you will- I rarely slow down. And so, when I do- it’s pretty doggone noticeable! I traditionally take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and this past December was no exception. I led the Christmas Day service (another year when Christmas fell on a Sunday!) and then started vacation. I got sick within about 36 hours! Hit me pretty hard. The worst of it lasted about 5 days. The residual effects lasted about 2-3 weeks! 

     Fast forward to Tuesday, February 11. My wife got sick. It seemed to be some variation on what I…and half the free world…had. It hit her HARD. She went 11 DAYS without stepping foot out of the house. 11 DAYS! She finally turned the corner started getting better- bust still trying to get her energy back. Then, a couple of days ago- BLAMMO…it hits me again! I don’t know if this is what I had in December that never quite let go and is rearing its ugly head. I don’t know if what my wife had came from me and we have now swapped it back. I don’t know if I got it from someone else- I come in contact with a LOT of people. All I know is- crud on a cracker! 

     But I am too stubborn and to strong-willed to let this get me down. So today, I will put on my suit and tie, lace up my shoes, head to the church and perform the funeral of one of the kindest, most gentle souls I have ever known. It will be both my honor and my pleasure. And no little flu bug is going to upset THAT apple cart! 

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

Doctrine and Dogma

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During yesterday’s Bible Study, we talked about two words- doctrine and dogma. (We actually talked about MANY more words than that, but I am going to focus on those two today!) Those two words are FULL of all sorts of potential- both good and bad. So let’s take a moment and unpack them.

Dictionary.com defines “doctrine” as- “a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government, something that is taught; teachings collectively, a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject”. So the doctrines of the church are those things that form the teachings of the church- “this is what we believe”.

Dictionary.com defines “dogma” as- “an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church, a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church, prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group”. So dogma could be perceived as doctrine that is seen as “unquestionably true”.

In class, we talked about both words and what they mean. The group was more comfortable with the word doctrine than they were dogma. And it seemed that part of the reason for that comfort level- or lack thereof- comes from the realization that the word dogma often carries with it a rather negative connotation. And then we talked about why that was.

Think about the difference between the words- doctrine and dogma. Doctrines form a set of beliefs. Dogma is doctrine that is “unquestionably true”. And it seems to me that the term “unquestionably true” is the sticking point. With doctrine, there is what I would call some wiggle room. There is a basis of belief, to be sure. But there is some potential interpretation to be had within the construct of that doctrine. Dogma, on the other hand, is unquestionably true.

And that is the problem, isn’t it? Us humans struggle with ANYTHING that is unquestionably true. We don’t deal well in absolutes. And when they are presented to us, we tend to buck against them as best we can. Stubborn- that might be THE biggest hurdle to spiritual growth! (It usually is for me!)

And while there are other things that fall into the dogma category, for Christians, there is ONE that is The Big Kahuna. And that one is the deity of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, God in the flesh, Emmanuel- God with us. He is the Messiah. The Savior.

Now, notice this- I was CLEAR to say “Christians believe that…” I can’t speak for any other group but Christians. (And frankly, I really wouldn’t try to speak for them, either…except on this topic!) But the very definition of “Christian” means we believe in, follow- Jesus. You can’t say “I am a Christian” and “I don’t Jesus was actually divine but a great teacher” at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

So, is some effort by the pastor to be exclusive? Not even a little bit. Instead, it’s an effort by the pastor to clarify- Christians believe Jesus is God in the flesh, other individuals and groups do not. For us…it is dogma!

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

Snopes or Jesus?

snopes     Are you familiar with snopes.com? I assumed everyone was until recently, when I mentioned it to someone. I told them this long, involved story about snopes, and when I got to the end, they said, “I have one questions…what’s snopes?” So, in case you don’t know what snopes is…here you go! 

     Their home page says, “Welcome to snopes.com, the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.” Wikipedia.com says this about Snopes- “Snopes.com, officially the Urban Legends Reference Pages, is a web site discussing urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of uncertain or questionable origin. It is a well known resource for validating and debunking such stories in American popular culture, receiving 300,000 visits a day.”
     So snopes is a website that many people go to when they want to verify something they have read or heard. Got an email with some rather outlandish story and you wonder if it’s true? Go to snopes. Heard a story about how someone famous died that sounds a little…out there? Go to snopes. LOTS of people go to snopes- 300,000/day, according to Wikipedia!
     Once, as a group of people I was a part of was talking about something and referencing snopes, a thought crossed my mind…and when a thought crosses my mind it USUALLY crosses my lips as well! I said, “OK…we know snopes verified it, but why do we believe snopes? How do we know they’re right?” My older son was a part of the conversation and he said, “Oh, I KNOW snopes is real…I looked it up on snopes!” We all laughed, but that IS the logic we tend to follow, isn’t it?
     So it begs the question- how do we REALLY believe anything? That comes up quite often in the ministry- people will say something like, “Pastor, you say I should pray about this or that, but how do I know if it is God that is responding?” Good question- how DO we know if it is God who is talking to us? Here’s the litmus test I use (and it’s pretty simple)- ask yourself, “Is this something Jesus would say?” If it IS…follow it. If it’s NOT…don’t! Here’s an example- if you pray about whether or not you should switch jobs and the response you get is, “Consult your Ouija Board!”…that doesn’t sound too Jesus-like. If, on the other hand, you pray about the fact that you were asked to be involved in a ministry that you know will take you out of your comfort zone and the response you get is, “Take a leap of faith- your reward will be great!”…THAT sounds a LOT like Jesus!
     Trying to decide on the validity of something in your life? You can go to snopes…or you can go to Jesus! Snopes can be a pretty interesting read, but Jesus will give you advice that will change your life! Don’t believe me? Look it up on snopes! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The End…and Beginning of Life

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Yesterday, I sat with someone who was dying. (Now THAT’S an opening sentence that will stop you in your tracks.) And older gentleman in the church we currently serve was nearing the end of his life. His wife is in the same nursing home and his daughter and her husband are very active, involved church members.

I knew he was nearing the end of his life. But yesterday morning, his daughter asked me if I would lift up, during prayer time in worship, that he was very close- possible yesterday. So we prayed for him at all 3 morning worship services.

After our late service- 11:30AM- I ran downstairs for a luncheon we were having. I then went to the nursing home to see how he was doing. I spent some time reading Scripture to him. I prayed over him. I talked to a resident who is a good friend of his. I talked to some of the staff. And I talked to his daughter. She and I walked out of the building together- her to run home and change clothes and me to go home. I encouraged her to feel free to contact me- regardless of the time of day- if anything changed.

I went home and gave my wife an update on where things were. I then sat down for a bit. And within 20 minutes of stepping in the house- he was gone. His daughter texted me with the news. I will be meeting with the family soon to help make arrangements.

Over my 20 years in the ministry, I have been through this more times than I would care to count. Being with individuals and families at the end of life is part and parcel for a parish minister. I get the privilege of being a part of a family’s highlights- births, baptisms (I did one of those yesterday, too!), birthdays, graduations and weddings. I also get the privilege of being with individuals and families during the challenging times- wounded relationships, catastrophic illness or injury and…death.

I have come to understand something over these past 20 years. (Just ONE thing, however! Other than that…I have learned NOTHING!) While being part of those “feel good” events I mentioned above are obviously a good thing, being a part of the difficult times really IS a privilege, too. To be invited to share in someone’s life is truly remarkable.

So today, I am grateful that God persisted in His call on our life. I am grateful that I get the privilege of sharing in the lives of others. And I am grateful that I got to know the gentleman who died yesterday afternoon. I am a better person because of him!

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

The Long Journey Home: Accusing

long-journey-home-accusing

     Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

 

     A man was speeding down the freeway when he was stopped by a police car. “Do you realize you were doing 80MPH in a 60MPH zone, sir?” asked the policeman. “That’s impossible, sir, I never break the speed limit,” replied the driver. The driver’s wife interrupted and said, “Yes, you do, I’m always telling you to keep your speed down.” The policeman said, “I also noticed, sir, that you didn’t have your seat belt on. You put it on as I was walking over to your car.” That’s not true, Officer; I always wear my seat belt,” replied the driver. “No, you don’t, I’m always telling you to put your seat belt on,” said the driver’s wife. “Woman,” the driver exploded, “can’t you, just for once, keep that big mouth of yours shut?” The policeman was a bit shocked by how the driver was speaking to his wife, so he moved around to her side of the car. “Does he often speak to you like this, ma’am?” “Oh, no, Officer,” the wife said, “only when he’s been drinking!”

 

     Today, we near the end of our current journey. The New Testament story of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known, most scrutinized stories in the Bible. But at its heart…what is the story REALLY about? Who IS the Prodigal? And what does it have to tell us about our lives? Through January and February, we’re asking all of those questions- and many more- as we take The Long Journey Home. Each week, we’re focus on a few verses from the Prodigal Son story- unpacking it to see what is underneath and, more importantly, what it has to say to us.

 

      Since there won’t be a day when we hear the whole story at one time, I’ll offer what I’m calling my Reader’s Digest version every week. Here it is!

 

     “A man has two sons. The youngest decides he is tired of the simple life. He demands his share of Dad’s inheritance. He gets it, goes off to the big city, squanders every penny on proverbial wine, women and song and ends up eating hog slop…literally. He crawls back to Dad, who welcomes him with open arms and throws a big party. The older son is hacked off about it but Dad says, ‘Buck up.'” The end. Hey- I WARNED you it was the Reader’s Digest version!

 

     The first week, he demanded and got his inheritance, set off for a far-away land and squandered everything. The second week, a famine hit, he ended up as a hired man feeding pigs…and longing to eat the hog slop. The third week, he came to his senses, realized that his father’s hired servants have food to eat and a place to sleep a decides to go home and confess his sins to his father. The fourth week, he got home and his dad ran to him, hugged him and kissed him. The younger son confessed that he had sinned against both his earthly and heavenly fathers and wasn’t worthy to be called “son”. Week 5, the father interrupted him and called for a robe, a ring and a pair of sandals for his younger son. He also instructed that the fatted calf be prepared because his son who was lost has been found, who was dead is now alive. Last week, the illusive older son came home and found out from a servant what was going on- walking into the middle of a party he didn’t even know about. And that’s where we pick up today’s Scripture.

 

     Luke 15:28-30 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

 

     So the older son hears what is going on- the YOUNGER son has come home- and he is hurt, conflicted, upset. He’s mad. In fact, he is SO mad that, after a long day of hard, physical labor, he won’t go in the house. He REFUSES to go in. The expression that was used when I was a kid is this- he was so mad, he could SPIT! So he stands outside. I imagine, instead of simply standing, however, that he is pacing, muttering, punching one fist into the other open hand.

 

     Notice what Dad does. He goes out…LOOKING…for the older son. Sound familiar? Earlier in the story, he stood on the porch, looking for the younger son. Now he goes out on that same porch, looking for the older son. And what did he do once he found the older son? It would be easy to imagine that Dad would scold the older son. “Get your rear end in that house this instant, Mister! Who in the world do you think you are, anyway? I brought you into this world and I can take you out…AND make two more just like you! You don’t GET to throw fits- when I say ‘Jump!’, the ONLY response I want to hear out of you is, ‘How high, Sir?!’”

 

     But Dad doesn’t scold, berate or yell at. Instead…he pleads. Pleads. Not just “ask”- PLEAD. He pleaded with the older son to be happy that his younger brother was back home, safe and sound. He pleaded with the older son to come in and be a part of the celebration, part of the family.

 

     But the older son is having NONE of it. And he sets that tone right out of the box- “Look!” That one word betrays the disrespectful attitude he has toward his dad at the moment. I don’t know about you, but if I had started a conversation with my dad with, “Look!”…once I came to, I would have been apologizing and swearing I would never do it again!

 

     But that’s just the left jab. The right-hand knockout punch is yet to come. “All these years I’ve slaving for you…” Let’s be honest- “slaving” isn’t exactly the warm-fuzzy that you want out of a happy, healthy family relationship. “And not only did I SLAVE for you, I never…did I mention NEVER?…disobeyed your orders.” Not requests. Not suggestions. Orders. The older son is clearly hurt and just as clearly wants Dad to feel the hurt, too.

 

     Then, the older son continues with his accusations. “You never even gave me a GOAT so I could celebrate with MY friends.” Why a goat. Well, like today, a goat would be seen as a step down from the fatted calf. The older son didn’t even get the grilled hot dogs, let alone the steak! There seems to be long-smoldering discontent in the older son. Being the oldest, he has always had to be the grown-up. He has always had to be more mature, step up and be counted. Not true of the younger son.

 

     “This son of yours!” The older son can’t even bring himself to claim the younger son as his brother. YOUR son! My wife and I joke about, “Do you know what YOUR son did?” That’s the attitude the older son has here- only he MEANS it! This is NOT a joke.

 

     The older brother has the knife stuck in…and now he twists it. “This son of YOURS squandered YOUR property on prostitutes. And how do you punish HIM for HIS behavior? You killed the fatted calf and throw a BIG party!” If you want proof that the older son is simply trying to inflict as much pain as possible- spread the wealth, if you will- look no further than this passage. Nobody has made ANY mention of prostitutes. But the older son is right there, filling in the blanks from his imagination. He offers some pretty sharp criticism of both his dad and his brother.

 

     So what’s the motivation for the older son in this part of the story? What is it that makes him lash out like this? I mean, there’s obviously anger here. He makes that pretty clear. There’s frustration. There’s exasperation. Even rage.

 

     But it seems to me that those things are NOT the disease- they are merely the symptoms. They are very REAL, but they all point to something deeper. What? What is that deeper thing that they all point to? For my money, all roads lead to pain. Pain and jealousy.

 

     The older son is jealous of the attention his idiot brother is getting. He’s pained by the fact that he does what he’s supposed to do, day in and day out, and gets NOTHING for it. He’s a GOOD boy- he sleeps with his socks on. And all Dad can do is ignore Gallant and praise Goofus. Life’s not fair…and then you die.

 

     The truth is that jealousy leads to pain. And pain leads to frustration, anger, rage. When you hurt, it’s a pretty short trip to wanting everybody else to be as miserable as you are because- as we all know- misery LOVES company! Where do you turn when you find yourself there? That place- jealousy and pain- can easily be a pit with no bottom. And that’s where the older son is, standing on that porch, railing against his family, the party going on, full bore, inside. Again- where do you turn when you find yourself there?

 

     Recently, I attended a conference for the clergy in our United Methodist Illinois Great Rivers Conference. There, our new Bishop spoke. And he shared with us two questions that he likes to ask- of himself and of others. And those two questions are both incredibly simply AND deeply complex. They are: 1. What’s our business? And 2. How’s business?

 

     What’s our business? And how’s business? If you’re a shoe store or a restaurant, the answer to the first question is pretty simple- selling shoes, selling food. And the answer to the second question is pretty simple as well- look at the year-end financial statements and you will KNOW how business is.

 

     But we aren’t a shoe store or a restaurant- although we serve enough food that we COULD be a restaurant. We are a church. We are the body of Christ. We are the 50,000 red-hot poppin’ watt body of Christ in Mercer County, Illinois. That’s who we are. But, what’s our business? Well, I would say that our business is that we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ.

 

     OK- that’s our business. Then…how’s business? Well, we too could look at year-end financial statements to assess the answer to that question. And if we did, we would walk away feeling like business is pretty darn good! And financial health is an important indicator of how business is for a church. But it’s only ONE indicator…and not the most important one, either.

 

     We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. That means we are responsible for each other. And that is NOT just the folks who are already here. It’s also those who have yet to join us. And many of those folks- many of us- struggle with jealousy and pain. Many struggle with feeling like we don’t matter, like nobody would even notice if we were gone. What do we do about that? What CAN we do about that?

 

     Next week, we will wrap this series up and we finally bring the long journey home to a close. And as we do, we will see how the dad- Father- reached out to his older son in the midst of the pain and the jealousy. It’s a great example for us- not only how we can reach out to others but also how we can be more open to those who are reaching out to us.

 

     Jude 1:3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

 

Dennis the Tech Guy

tech-guy

     I have a new name. It is NOT a name that was given to me. It is, instead, a name I have given myself. And that name is- Dennis the Tech Guy! I am considering getting business cards printed up, put out a shingle (as they say), start a cottage industry! 

     Let me say up front- I am an amateur when it comes to tech. I have ABSOLUTELY no training or education in the subject. So take that into consideration here! But there is an old saying- “even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds”! So…Dennis the Tech Guy! 

     The truth is that I have a great interest in “tech”. It intrigues me. It fascinates me. I want to know more about it. And so- I read. “Back in the day”, the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Publisher, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) was made available to me. BUT- I didn’t know how to use it. So I read. And I experimented. And I fumbled. And…I figured it out. 

     I wanted to start a blog and had no idea how. So…I read about it. I then began to muddle through how to make it happen. And I got it off the ground. Then, somewhere along the way, I had the idea of turning it into a full website. Again, no idea how. Again, read, muddle, fumble, trial and error.  

      And somewhere along the way- it started to sink in. There is still a TON I don’t know. But it amazed me on a daily basis how far I have come in my understanding of technology. Computers, cell phones, tablets, wifi, Bluetooth, websites, blogs, green screen technology, video production- not that many years ago I knew nothing about them and now, they are a part of my everyday existence. 

     So what’s the moral of this story? It’s this- don’t let anything stand in the way of what you want, of what God is calling you to do. If He has a plan for you, He WILL give you what you need to make it happen. The saying is this- “God doesn’t call the equipped- He equips the called”. You and I- we ARE the called. And since we ARE called, He WILL equip us with whatever we need to carry out that to which He calls us. Don’t look at what’s ahead and say, “Why?” Instead, look ahead and say, “Why NOT?” 

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

“You Look…Familiar!” Friday, February 17, 2017

guy-waving   I was at an area hospital one day, visiting a parishioner. I parked across the street and walked over to the building. As I got near, I noticed a guy sitting on the curb outside the hospital. He seems to be messing with a brace he had on his leg. As I watched, a person walked by him and he held his hand out to them. They barely glanced his way and kept right on walking. I kept watching him as I got closer- he was definitely adjusting the leg brace. When I was almost right on him, he held out his hand to me. I looked at him and said, ” Do you need a hand getting up?” “Yep”, came the reply. So I stopped, grabbed his hand and helped him up. “I had to adjust my brace, and once I’m down, it’s hard to get back up!” I asked him if he needed any help getting in the hospital. He assured me he didn’t, so I went on in and headed to the information desk.
I had to wait there a few minutes until the person ahead of me was done. Then I asked for, and got, the room number I needed and headed for the elevator. I was standing in the elevator, waiting for the door to close, when a hospital employee pushed a wheelchair on. Sitting in the wheelchair was…the guy from outside the hospital. I said to him, “I know you!” He sort of grunted. (I get that a lot!) I got off at a different floor, wishing him a good day, and went to visit my parishioner.
When I was done visiting, I headed back to the elevator. As I waited for the door to shut, a different hospital employee pushed a wheelchair on. In it? The SAME guy! I said, “We have to stop meeting like this!” He again grunted! We both got off at the 1st floor, and I headed to the restroom. After I…finished…I left the hospital and walked back across the street to my car. I got in and drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, which is right down the street, for a cup of coffee. (It’s my favorite coffee in the world!) After getting my cup o’ joe, I pulled back out onto the main road and headed for home. I only drove a block or 2 before I was stopped by a red light. I came to a complete stop and looked over at the car that pulled up next to me. In the driver’s seat? The SAME guy!! It was getting creepy- everywhere I turned, I ran into ‘that guy”. I was almost a bit relieved when I finally stopped seeing him.
I think God puts people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes He puts them there because they are someone we have unfinished business with or someone we don’t like. (He seems to do that to me ALL the time! I constantly find people in my path that I don’t enjoy being around. He is definitely trying to teach me something!) Sometimes He puts folks in our path because they have something to teach us. Sometimes it’s because we have something to teach them. It can be any number of reasons, but it happens all the time.
Who are you supposed to impact today? Who will you see today that is supposed to impact you? watch for it. Don’t miss it. Embrace it. You will walk away from it with an insight you didn’t have coming in!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

To Whom Do YOU Listen? Thursday, February 16, 2017

focus

I am often amazed at how God works. A recent example of that happened…yesterday! I spent the lunch hour yesterday at the Junior High in our school district. The lunch period is basically an hour long. The first half of that hour, the 8th Graders go to Study Hall while the 7th Graders go to lunch. Then, at the halfway mark, they switch places. The kids have a choice to make regarding that Study Hall part. They can either go to Study Hall or they go to a different room and talk to/with a guest speaker.

The program is built around a local pastor who is kind enough and dedicated enough to make the program work. He covers many of the weeks himself. But he also works hard to line up others. And that’s where I came in.

My instructions were simple- you have basically 30 minutes with each group. Do…what you want! Well, after being a drummer for the last 45 years, a performer for the last 40 years and a preacher for the last 20 years, “working an audience” is much like riding a bike for me!

So I decided that I would take advantage of the fact that it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week and talk about that. We walked through what the words- Random, Act and Kindness- mean. We then talked about what random acts of kindness they could carry out between lunch and getting on the bus.

One of them said they could sit with a kid who was sitting alone at lunch. I said that would be a GREAT one, but…while that is the right answer, is it the HONEST answer? I asked, “What are the odds that will ACTUALLY happen?” They pretty quickly offered that those odds were two- slim and none.

I then asked why that was. Several responses were offered- they all circles around the reality that offering such behavior would be opening yourself up to ridicule. In the context of that part of the conversation, one kid said, and I quote, “Junior High is a terrible place.” I shared that, while adults often talk about “the good ol’ days”, I wouldn’t go back to Junior High for all the money in the world.

Fast forward to last night’s Bible Study. The topic of ridicule came up…again. Twice in one day. This time, we led to a discussion about who do we listen to- the devil or God? The devil constantly tries to tell us that we are worthless and that we don’t matter. God, on quite the other hand, consistently tells us that we are of great value, because we are His.

The truth is this- the world is FULL of negative talk. If we are willing to listen, it’s pretty easy to believe that you are the worst human to ever walk the planet. It’s all around us. But there IS a solution that that dilemma- stop listening! Seriously, if someone is tearing you down, don’t let them. Refuse to participate. Walk away. Turn them off. Whatever.

Instead, listen to God. Listen to Jesus. Listen to people who are more interested in building you up as opposed to tearing you down. You matter. Say it to yourself- I matter. Tell someone else- you matter. We are children of God, radically equal in  His sight. What He gives us the world is simply not able to take away.

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

My “Red” Valentine’s Day

red-baseball-card

There is this guy- Alfred Fred Schoendienst. Those who know him or know OF him probably know him better as Red. He was a Major League Baseball player- 2nd base, primarily. He spent the bulk of career playing for the St. Louis Cardinals- my favorite team! (In fact, I was meeting with someone recently about joining the church. They looked at my wall of Cardinal memorabilia and said, “Oh yeah- I heard you had some Cardinal gear.” I smiled and confessed that it was somewhere between a collection…and an obsession!)

Red also spent part of his playing career with both the New York Giants and the Milwaukee Braves. His last year as a player was 1963 and by 1965, he was managing the Cardinals. In the end, he managed a total of 14 years. Since his last managing stint, he has remained with the Cardinals in a variety of roles. Although bits and pieces of his decades and decades in the business have been spent with other teams, Red has spent the lion’s share of his career with the Cardinals.

And the Cardinals put a great deal of emphasis on tradition and history. Players like Enos “Country” Slaughter, Stan “The Man” Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie “The Wizard of Oz” Smith join Red as the foundation of a great organization. They are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame and are legends in St. Louis.

I was reminded of all of that yesterday. My awesome wife (Sorry, boys, but as great as you may think your wife is…my wife is awesomer!) handed me an envelope yesterday and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” I opened it and found the baseball card you see above. Only the one I got had something special about it- it is autographed by the legendary Red Schoendienst! It is A. amazing and B. going in my collection today!

I am an incredibly bless man. I have 2 great sons. I serve a church that is an amazing place to do ministry. I have a God Who loves me more than I can imagine- more than I deserve. AND…I have a wife who is the finest human being I know! I can’t imagine doing this with anybody else! God is good, all the time!

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

The Key to Church Growth

church-growth

     I have been a student of church growth for 20 years. (If you know me very well, I have also been in the ministry for 20 years! Yes, there IS a direct correlation!) I was incredibly blessed that my first appointment in the ministry was as the Associate Pastor at a church that was about to explode! The Senior Pastor (who is still there, tearing it up, 20 years later) and I arrived within 6 weeks of each other. That first year, we averaged 200 people/week in one worship service. 7 years later, as my family packed the moving van and headed north to our new  appointment, the church was averaging 800 people/week in 5 worship services! (Lest you think I am implying that I was responsible for that, today they are averaging over 2,000 people/week across, I think 4 CAMPUSES!)  

     Across our 20 years in the ministry, I have a history of church growth. Every church we have served has grown and expanded during our tenure. The current church we serve is no different in that respect. They have grown in amazing ways and I look forward, every day, to see what God has in store. 

     “So, Rev. Smartypants, does that make you some kind of church growth EXPERT?” Not even a little bit. But, it does mean that A. I have done a LOT of reading and study on the subject, B. I have a lot of practical experience- trail and error, if you will- on the subject and C. I have some idea what I’m talking about! 

     And there is one truth about church growth that I think most people overlook. They focus on the need for the staff and congregation to be fluid and flexible. They focus on the need to constantly tweak programs and approaches to accommodate. They look creatively at building usage and construction options. And those are all good, and necessary, things when dealing with church growth. 

     But there is a frighteningly important piece that usually gets overlooked. And, from my experience, it can be THE thing that can jump start or kill church growth. And that is the perceived role of the pastor. Let me explain. 

     When you get to a church that is not as big, not as active, not as “busy”, you can be the “shepherd” to the people. You can attend basically everything that happens. You can be available for the “pop in”- when people just pop in the office for…whatever. You can be Sheriff Andy Taylor to the church’s Mayberry. 

     But as the church grows and it’s ministry base expands, those things are no longer true as they once were. It becomes impossible for the pastor- one pastor- to attend everything. There are simply too many things going on for one person to manage. It becomes impossible to be always available for the “pop in”. The number of people wanting a pop in has grown- exponentially.  

     In the end, the shepherd has to become…the rancher. Think about it- a shepherd can only manage so many sheep. But a rancher can manage a LOT of shepherds. It allows for- here that word again- an exponential approach to ministry. 

     So, if the growth of a church is so dependent on this transition happening- is it the church’s fault if it doesn’t happen? Are they to blame because they failed to notice what needed to happen? 

     In a word- no. I am a firm believer that- with a few exceptions here and there to prove the rule- if the student hasn’t learned…the teacher hasn’t taught. If a church fails to grow because this “shepherd to rancher” transition didn’t happen, it’s the shepherd’s fault! It takes intentionality, creativity and perseverance on the part of the pastor to make this transition a reality. If it doesn’t happen, then neither will the growth. But if it DOES happen…look out! I am SMACK dab in the middle of that transition- pray that it goes well! 

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

The 1-Day Work Week

Sunday Calendar

     When we told our older son that I was going to be a minister, his response was A. classic and B. refreshing! “Awesome- you only have to work one day a week!” And…it’s true! I only work one day a week- Sundays. The rest of the week I sit in my recliner, watching The Oprah Channel while eating Doritos and drinking Yoo-Hoo! Pretty sweet! So, since Sunday is my only work day…I’d better make the best of it! Right? Here’s a snapshot of what yesterday- my Sunday work day- looked like.  

     The alarm went off at 5AM- the same time I get up EVERY Sunday! I got dressed- clothes were laid out the night before- and headed downstairs. There, I started the coffee brewing and then took the dogs out. They are always A. excited to go out first thing in the morning and B. even MORE excited to come back in so they can EAT!  

     I gave them each their medicine. (One gets 3 pills, the other 2. As a means of comparison…I take ONE every day! And mine is an over-the-counter allergy pill!) They were “hidden” in a blob of peanut butter. The dogs think it’s great! (In fact, I sometimes wonder if they are faking the symptoms that necessitated the medicines in the first place just so they can get the peanut butter!) They are then fed. 

     I then poured my coffee (One MUST have priorities!), got my shoes on and headed out! My commute was grueling- about 23 steps from the back door of the parsonage to the side door of the church! Some days…the traffic is terrible! Then it was in the church and turning on lights.  

     From there, I went to my office to check email and print out a couple of things for the worship services. I spent some time looking over the sermon for the day- getting as familiar as I could. About 6:15AM, I headed to the sanctuary. Our Worship Director is on vacation this week, so there were “extra” thing for me to do. Sanctuary lights on, the rest of the doors unlocked, sound system on, projectors and computer on, files loaded into said computer. 

     At 7AM, the 8AM Praise Band arrived. (I make that distinction because we have not one but- count them- TWO Praise Bands!) Until about 7:40AM, we went over the songs for the morning. Then it was “meet and greet: until 8AM. 

     From there, it was the usual whirlwind- worship service #1, that included preaching and playing drums, worship service #2, that included preaching, playing drums and serving Communion and worship service #3, that included preaching and playing drums. (Do you see a pattern?!) 

     From 11:30AM to noon, I did some more “meet and greet”. Then it was shut lights off, lock doors and head out. By 12:05PM, we were at the Senior Citizen Living facility where my wife’s parents live. We had lunch with them- roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed veggies and a roll. Then it was back home for a meeting. 

     By 12:50PM- a mere 45 minutes after I got to lunch in the first place, I was back at church for that meeting. We were having Informational Meeting #2 about the trip to Israel we are taking next year. The meeting went well and we wrapped up about 1:55PM- just in time for me to head down to my office for another meeting. I spent some time with a family who lost a loved one, making plans for the funeral. 

     By 3PM, I had made the grueling 23-step trip back home. The rest of the day was spent watching a James Bond film (pretty good), eating our traditional Sunday dinner of popcorn and apples (great) and writing this blog! 

     So, one day a week. It was a LONG day- 9½ hours from start to finish. Preaching 3 times. Playing drums on 11 songs. Serving Communion. Leading prayer. Leading a Holy Land Travel Meeting. Talking with a family about the loss of a loved one. It was a good day. Correction- it was a great day! AND- best of all? One day a week, Baby! All I can say until next Sunday is this- pour the Yoo-Hoo, pass the Doritos and turn on Oprah. It’s time to kick back and coast! 

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

The Long Journey Home: Realizing

long-journey-home-realizing

     Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

     Jimmy and his brother Ralph both lived in the same town. Jimmy lived with their 90 year-old mother, and Ralph lived across town with his 12 year-old cat, Silky. Ralph was obsessed with Silky and treated her like a queen. The two were never apart. But one day, Ralph learned he had to go to England on business. Cats had to stay in quarantine for two weeks in order to get into that country, so it was simply impractical for Ralph to take Silky with him. Ralph asked Jimmy to care for his cat, and Jimmy agreed. So Ralph brought Silky over, spent an hour explaining the nuances of servicing the aging feline, and departed for London.
     Every night Ralph would call and ask “How’s Silky?”. The first four nights, Jimmy, holding in his growing irritation at his brother’s cat-obsession, answered, “Silky’s fine,” but the fifth night, in response to the question, he blurted out, “Silky’s dead!” Hearing that, Ralph almost died of shock, himself. When he recovered, he said to his brother, “Jimmy, that’s not the way to break news like that to someone. You don’t just blurt out information like that. You have to prepare a person.” ” Tonight when I called,” Ralph went on, “You should have said, ‘Silky’s fine, but she’s up on the roof.’ Then tomorrow you could have told me, “Silky fell off the roof and I took her to the vet’s.” Then, the next day, you could have said, “Silky didn’t make it, Ralph, she’s dead,” and I would have been able to handle the news. Does that make sense?” Jimmy said it did. Ralph went on, “OK, well- how’s Mom?” Jimmy thought, “Um, she’s fine,..but she’s up on the roof.”

     Today, we continue our current journey. The New Testament story of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known, most scrutinized stories in the Bible. But at its heart…what is the story REALLY about? Who IS the Prodigal? And what does it have to tell us about our lives? Through January and February, we’re asking all of those questions- and many more- as we take The Long Journey Home. Each week, we’re focus on a few verses from the Prodigal Son story- unpacking it to see what is underneath and, more importantly, what it has to say to us.

      Since there won’t be a day when we hear the whole story at one time, I’ll offer what I’m calling my Reader’s Digest version every week. Here it is!

     “A man has two sons. The youngest decides he is tired of the simple life. He demands his share of Dad’s inheritance. He gets it, goes off to the big city, squanders every penny on proverbial wine, women and song and ends up eating hog slop…literally. He crawls back to Dad, who welcomes him with open arms and throws a big party. The older son is hacked off about it but Dad says, ‘Buck up.'” The end. Hey- I WARNED you it was the Reader’s Digest version!

     The first week, he demanded and got his inheritance, set off for a far-away land and squandered everything. The second week, a famine hit, he ended up as a hired man feeding pigs…and longing to eat the hog slop. The third week, he came to his senses, realized that his father’s hired servants have food to eat and a place to sleep a decides to go home and confess his sins to his father. The fourth week, he got home and his dad ran to him, hugged him and kissed him. The younger son confessed that he had sinned against both his earthly and heavenly fathers and wasn’t worthy to be called “son”. Last week, the father interrupted him and called for a robe, a ring and a pair of sandals for his younger son. He also instructed that the fatted calf be prepared because his son who was lost has been found, who was dead is now alive. And that’s where we pick up today’s Scripture.

     Luke 15:25-27 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

     So the party is going full-bore. The DJ is cranking some sick tunes. The refreshments are flowing. The noise is nearly deafening. Oh, and the fatted calf is DELICIOUS! The younger son, after having messed up in a MAJOR way, has found his way home. Dad has forgiven him. And the celebration has begun. Everything is hunky-dory and God is on His throne! Ah…don’t you love a happy ending?

      But WAIT- that’s NOT the end of the story! Paul Harvey hasn’t finished and the fat lady hasn’t sung! There’s one more key character in this little drama- one we haven’t even met yet. He has been implied- there is ONLY a “younger” son” if there is an “older” son. Otherwise, he’d just be…you know…SON!

     So, where is this illusive character- the dread but highly sought-after older son? Well, look no further because here he comes. And where has he been? Laboring. He’s been out in the field, working his fingers to the bone. And do you know what you get when you work your fingers to the bone? Bony fingers!

     So he and his bony fingers arrive at the house and things aren’t as they usually are. Something BIG is going on. There’s music and dancing, when usually all he hears is the TV as dad watches ANETV- Ancient Near eastern Television. So he calls over a servant and asks what’s what about you know what. The servant tells him that his brother has come home and Dad has killed the fatted calf to celebrate.

     Now, as much of a temptation as it is to simply jump right into the older son’s response- because it’s a doozy- we are going to stick closely to the Scripture for today. And today’s Scripture says nothing about his response…because we’re not there yet. All we learn today is that the older son comes home and finds out what’s going on.

     So there are two things I want to look at today- the servant who delivered the news and the older son who received the news. First- the servant. The plus AND the minus of reading a story is that you get no vocal inflection or facial expressions from the characters- you only get their words. And based on the servant’s words, I could imagine two distinctly different deliveries.

     First I could imagine a very earnest, sincere, straightforward disseminating of information, “‘Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ Just the facts, Ma’am. No editorializing. No agenda.

     But I could also imagine a delivery filled with agenda. I could imagine the servant, not caring much for the older son, seeing this as an opportunity to stick the knife in and give it a little twist. With an ironic smile and a glint in his eye, he says, “‘Your brother has come and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ Same words- exactly. But a VERY different intent.

     Do I know which way the information was presented? Nope. But my gut tells me there was some vicarious pleasure taken by the servant as he told the older son. “I’m sick of being the servant here and this is a GREAT opportunity to get back at this jerk-face.”

     Then there is the older son hearing this surprise announcement for the first time. I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit odd that the older son isn’t even there when the celebration begins. They started without him- didn’t even send someone to fetch him. I must confess, it tells me more than I probably want to know about the relationship the older son has with…everybody.

     But regardless of how the servant delivers it and regardless of why the older son wasn’t there, he learns the truth. And we all know that sometimes, the truth is hard to hear. His brother has come back and Dad is so excited that he has thrown a party.

     It seems that there is no real life in the older son. Up with the sun, gone with the wind, running when things get too crazy. Tote that barge, lift that bale, get a little drunk and you land in jail. Come home at the end of the day. Get up tomorrow…and do it all over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Yada, yada, yada.

     There is a Latin expression- persona non grata. It means “an unacceptable or unwelcome person”. I think it would be safe tom say that the older son felt like persona non grata- unaccepted and unwelcomed. Nobody even notices him. He does his job. He does what is expected of him. And what does he get in return? A big, heaping helping of diddly-squat! And that is a HARD and painful realization to come to- that you don’t really matter, that you don’t really make a difference.

     We all want to matter. We all want to make a difference. We all want to be noticed, acknowledged. And the calendar gives us a GREAT opportunity to work on that! Today is the first day of Random Act of Kindness Week. (I know- you’re thinking, “Oh my GOSH! And I haven’t even addressed my Random Act of Kindness Week cards yet!”) I don’t find it coincidental that a week devoted to offering up random acts of kindness, to acknowledging other people, starts on the day we are introduced to the older son. The older son could have used a good ol’ random act of kindness. So, we are going to offer them up in his honor this week!

     Here’s the challenge: commit a random act of kindness. Every day, between now and next Sunday, commit one random act of kindness. If you WANT to do more than one/day…knock yourself out! And then, next Sunday- tell me about one of them! Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:

Give someone an unexpected compliment.
Let someone cut in front of you in line.
Let someone merge in front of you in traffic.
Let someone else take that great parking spot.
Buy a warm meal for someone in need.
Help someone who’s struggling to carry their groceries.
Help someone who looks lost.
Say something encouraging to a parent who’s struggling with their kids.

Return a stranger’s grocery cart for them.
Keep snacks and sample-size toiletries in your car for people in need.
Donate flowers to a nursing home.
Carry a gift card to give to a random stranger.
Pay for the meal of the people at the next table.

Give your server an extra tip and an encouraging note.
Keep an extra umbrella in your car to give to someone in the rain.
Send a care package to someone in the Armed Forces.
Donate gently used clothes to a thrift shop.
Mentor someone.
Scrape the ice off a neighbor’s windshield.
Make dinner for a neighbor who’s just had surgery.
Write a thank you note to someone who made a difference in your life.
Call someone just to say I love you.
Reconnect with an old friend you’ve lost touch with.
Forgive someone who has wronged you.
Make amends with someone you’ve wronged.

     These are just a few suggestions. Be creative. Watch for opportunities. Remember the older son. And make a difference in someone’s life. Let them know they matter.

     Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Moby Jack Seems to be the Hardest Word(s)!

SONY DSC    Back in the day, I used to work at Jack-in-the-Box- JIB. (I know- you’re thinking, “Is there anywhere you haven’t worked?!” I’ll have you know that…YES…there are places I’ve never worked! I have, for instance, never been a brain surgeon, although I AM working on that!) Oddly, at the time I worked for the company, there were only 2 individual restaurants in the entire chain that were union…and I worked for BOTH of those locations!
JIB had an interesting menu- hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, those greasy tacos that you either loved or hated…there was NO “middle of the road”. They also had the fish sandwich. Notice I didn’t actually name the fish sandwich. Even after all these years, I still don’t want to even write the name, let alone say it. But the name of the JIB fish sandwich was…the
Moby Jack! Yep, that’s right- the Moby Jack!
Now, don’t misunderstand me; I get the play on words with Mehville’s classic
Moby Dick. I get it, but don’t find it very funny OR clever! In fact, if I am honest, I find it…stupid! Always have, always will. Which leads me back to the fact that I refuse to same the name of the sandwich. Someone would order one as part of a larger order. When they were done, I would read the order back to them. “OK, 1 Jumbo Jack, 2 onion rings, a chicken sandwich, 3 large Cokes and a fish sandwich.” “Uuummm, I ordered a Moby Jack!” “Right…a fish sandwich.” “Is that the same as a Moby Jack?” Yes, it’s a fish sandwich!” “But is that a Moby Jack?” “Yes…” The whole thing began to sound painfully like and Abbott and Costello routine, and all because I refused to say Moby Jack! (It’s such a stupid name!)
What things are hard for you to say? Some would say “I love you” is the hardest thing to say. That great theologian Elton John says “sorry seems to be the hardest word”.  But I find that LOTS of people have a hard time saying that they are Christian. Think about it- they go to church on Sunday and all. But then, on Monday morning, there they are- hanging around the water cooler (does anybody REALLY use water coolers any more?) and trading off-color jokes and stories. They wouldn’t DREAM of sharing those same jokes and stories with…their pastor. But they have NO problem passing them on at work. They’re the same people who look the other way when people cheat, or lie, or steal, or bully one another. Why? Because they’re afraid of what people will think of them if they actually speak up.
Being a Christian is NOT easy…but it IS rewarding, and SO worth any fleeting grief you may get for it. Commit to Jesus now, change your heart, start down a new path, and experience for yourself the joy, beauty and grace of a life lived in Him!
Thanks for stopping by-
I pray you have a blessed day! Please come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Like a Fish Out of…the Bathroom?

fish-bowl-toilet      My wife and I were in a restaurant once and when we were getting ready to leave, I decided to head to the restroom. I went into the hallway where both the women’s and men’s rooms were, looked at the signs on the doors, picked the appropriate one, and went in.
Once inside, I began to seek out the dreaded but highly sought after urinal. (Ladies- trust me. If you’re a guy, that’s the porcelain fixture of choice in a public restroom!) But, much to my surprise…and dismay…there was NOT one! So, I picked out a stall, went in and began to…well…you know!
As I stood there, a horrible thought suddenly hit me- no urinal, no urinal, no urinal…aaawww snap! Am I in the women’s room by mistake?! Just about the time that distinct possibility sunk in…the door to the room opened! I looked over my shoulder in horror (the door to my stall was open, to make matters worse!) to see the gender of the person coming in. And for one brief, shining moment…I saw a woman!
As I began to frantically try to think of a way to get out of this mess, I Iooked again and…whew!…it was a dude! I was never more happy to see another guy in the bathroom! Turns out it was nothing more than a men’s room without a urinal! (What’s up with THAT?!) I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief, finished my business, washed my hands thoroughly and went to meet my wife, chuckling all the while!
Do YOU ever feel like a fish out of water? (Or a guy in the women’s room?!) Do you ever feel like you just don’t quite fit in…anywhere? You WANT to fit in. You TRY to fit in. But it just never seems to happen the way you want it to. If you have ever felt that way- welcome to the club! Those feelings don’t make you unique. We have ALL felt like that at some time or another.
But I am convinced that there is a place where you can feel a part of something bigger than you- a place where people will accept you for who you are. It’s…ready?…the church! Now, you might be saying, “Aawww, come ON, Pastor! I’ve been to church- they not only didn’t accept me any more than anybody else does, they accepted me even LESS! Don’t tell ME about the church being accepting!” First off, let me say, “Sorry.” I have NO doubt there are many churches that are NOT very inviting, welcoming or accepting. I’ve been to some of them. BUT…let me assure you that there ARE some churches that are all of those things. They are populated by folks who genuinely try to live out what Jesus calls us to do- love one another.
Try a church- if it’s a good fit…stay, get involved! If it is NOT a good fit…try somewhere else! And keep on looking until you find the congregation that is right for YOU. And once you do…stay, get involved! It will be the best thing you ever did!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

3 Simple Rules

threesimplerules     I teach separate 3 Bible Studies each week- Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening. And the Wednesday evening class is currently working through a study about living a contagious life. Each lesson focuses on a person from the Bible and how they impacted others through their faith.

Last night’s discussion led to a conversation that was very interesting. The basis of the discussion was this question- just because you CAN do something…SHOULD you? We talked about the mantra for the United States is, “I can do anything I want as long as it doesn’t infringe on YOUR rights and isn’t illegal”.

One of the members of the class correctly, and painfully, pointed out that perhaps I was being took kind with my “as long as it doesn’t infringe on your rights” comment. His take was that it seems more, “I can do whatever I want as long as it’s not illegal…and I don’t CARE about your rights!” Sadly, I think he may have hit the nail on the head for a lot of folks in this country. But that’s another discussion for another day!

So, back to the question at hand- just because you CAN do something…should you? Think that through with me, because there is a strong moral and ethical undertone to that question. What CAN I do? Anything that isn’t illegal. And if we take the question at face value, even that caveat isn’t valid. I CAN do illegal things as well…there is just a price to pay.

So the obvious answer to today’s question is “no”- I shouldn’t do something simply because I can. That means there MUST be some guidelines to what we SHOULD do- so overarching rules for behavior. OK- makes sense? BUT…what are they? Ah- there’s the crux of this dilemma. There are some universal guidelines that should govern our behavior, but we need to identify them.

There are a lot of ways I could phrase this and there are lots of sources I could cite. I am going to pick…one. And that one would be John Wesley- the founder of United Methodism. Wesley was an amazing…and unique individual. And he had something pretty clear to say about this topic. They are often referred to as Wesley’s 3 Rules or 3 Simple Rules. And they are, boiled down to their essence:

  1. Do no harm
  2. Do good
  3. Love God

Now, in our complicated, hi-tech world, those 3 simple rules might seem too…well…simple. And they ARE simple. BUT…they are NOT always easy. Think about them. First- do no harm. If you can’t do anything else, at least don’t cause harm. Bare minimum. Then, once you are not doing any harm, go to the next step- do good. And that is a much more directed focus than simply doing no harm. Do good. Do all the good you can in all the ways you can to all the people you can.

And then there is #3- love God. For me, the whole thing hinges on this one. If you do no harm, if you do good but you don’t love God…there is a disconnect there. In fact, the REASON I want to do no harm and do good is BECAUSE I love God. He has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. And because of that, I want others to have the same life-changing opportunity I had. I WANT to do good so that they might experience His love.

Do no harm. Do good. Love God. Those are the yardsticks that help us know what we should do! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!