Life Will Find a Way

First_Flowers_and_Shadow

    I was out walking the dogs through the yard the a few weeks when I happened to spy a splash of color in the midst of the colorless ground that is my yard this winter. Upon further reflection, it was a flower…THREE flowers, to be exact…growing out of the seemingly dead earth. I was surprised to see it there, and I tried to stand there and admire it for a moment, but the dogs had other plans!
I was amazed that this little plant was coming up out of the ground. I mean, I KNOW it’s been unseasonably mild this winter, but it IS March, and I DO live in central Illinois! We’re supposed to be shoveling snow, wearing heavy coats and opining the fact that Spring is still a little ways off. Instead, I have shoveled NOT ONE shovelful of snow for SEVERAL weeks and my coat has spent MUCH more time in the closet than on my person this season!
This little flower really caught my attention. Amid the dirt, sticks, dead leaves (themselves holdovers from the fall) and dormant grass, there is simply not supposed to be life. My yard…the world, for that matter…is dead for the season. No life outside the house. But apparently, nobody told this little flower that fact. He didn’t get the inter-office memo telling him that nothing should be growing and flourishing in that environment. And since he didn’t know he was not supposed to be able to…he DID!
As I looked at that little flower, so delicate yet so hardy, I saw the connection with our faith. When God is a vital part of our lives, then life where there was none is a very real possibility. On quite the other hand without God, REAL life is simply not possible. God makes a way in the wilderness, a light on the darkened path, and life where there was none. God brought Jesus back from the dead…and He can do the same for you. He can make life happen where there seems to be no hope.
Are you a little “short” in the life department? Seek God with all your, heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength, and He will give you a life that you never thought possible!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Ants!

small-ants

It’s anthill-kicking time! The church we currently serve is a busy place. There is seldom a time when nothing is going on. (Although I hear that 3AM on Tuesdays is pretty open…if you need to schedule something!) And when things are especially busy, I tend to describe it as looking like somebody kicked an anthill! So, again- it’s anthill-kicking time!

We, like MANY churches, have Wednesday night ministries. Dinner starts at 5:15PM and choir ends at 8PM. So the bulk of the building is emptying out a few minutes after 7PM and the sanctuary by a few minutes after 8PM. The class I teach ends at 7PM, after which I usually visit with folks here and there. I then make a slow, conversational sweep through the building, checking that lights are off and doors are locked. Then, I swing back to the Café, where the class meets, to get my wife, who is also visiting with folks. Then…home.

Last night, I started my sweep. I headed downstairs to check the dining room. Usually, the lights are out and everything is shut down. But last night…not so much! Lights were on. People were there. And tables were being moved!

We are hosting an event this Saturday- The Journey. Saturday morning, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 women will walk through our doors. Many of them will have already registered and paid. They will check in, get a nametag and move to the next stop. Those who haven’t yet registered and paid WILL, and then…you know!

The next step is The Café, where they will be able to get a variety of foods and beverages. The event itself starts at 9:15AM. From then until 2:30PM, a wide variety of things will happen. Live music will be presented. Videos, some original, will be shown. And 4 women will, one by one, stand before those gathered and share their story of faith. A great homemade, gourmet lunch will be served and the day will end with Communion.

This event takes DOZENS and DOZENS of people to pull off. Notice I said “people”. While a LOT of women are involved in planning and carrying out The Journey, the men of the church are involved as well. From parking through music to cleaning up after lunch, many men will also be involved.

One of the many things I love about this church that we currently serve is just that. Regardless of whether it’s a “women’s event” or a “men’s event”, everybody comes together and helps make it happen. We aren’t about whose ministry it is. Instead, we’re about connecting people to Jesus Christ. And HOW we do that is much less important than THAT we do it. As the “ants” scurry to and fro, getting ready, we march closer and closer to another opportunity to connect people to Jesus! 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!

Stand Strong

stand-strong

There are lots of things that are challenging about ministry. There is a HUGE demand for your time. Everybody wants it, but there is only so much of it to go around. The emotional demands of being a minister threaten to swallow you whole on a regular basis. If you don’t figure out how to compartmentalize, at least at some level, you will simply not be able to keep your nose up out the water long enough to avoid drowning. You are constantly challenged intellectually to a level that makes your brain hurt!

But perhaps the biggest challenge in ministry is when you want more for a person, or a group of people, than they want for themselves. Pretty much every aspect of this job aims at trying to help folks become more than they are. Think about it- I’m a manager/boss/CEO. If I’m NOT trying to help those on my staff improve themselves, then I am doing NO one any favors! I am a Mobilizer of Volunteers. Again, I’d BETTER be focusing on helping them grow and stretch! I’m a pastor and a counselor- the aim there is always to move toward a greater sense of wholeness.

So no matter how you might see or define my job, one of the foundational goals of it is to want the best for…and from…others. And frankly, I think that’s a GREAT goal to have. We should ALL want that. But that’s where the problem lies. We DON’T all want that. Or at least we don’t all agree on what constitutes “the best”.

I have had LOTS of employees in my 33 years of “post-undergrad” working life. And a fair share of those folks really didn’t want nearly as much for themselves as I wanted for them. Notice- not FROM them…FOR them. I have had LOTS of parishioners in my 20 years of ministry. Same things. I have even seen churches that, as a whole, didn’t want nearly as much for themselves as I did.

So what do you do? I had a pastor who was in a position of authority tell me that I should stop doing some of the things I was doing because…the next pastor might not be able to do those things! I sat in stunned silence for a moment and then asked, “So you’re suggesting that I intentionally refuse to use some of the gifts God gave me AND “dumb down” my ministry because the NEXT pastor might have different gifts?” A LOT of backtracking happened next!

That same mentality applies to this conversation. If I feel God is calling me to lead an individual or group in a certain direction…that’s the direction I’m going to go. If I meet with opposition…OK, WHEN I meet with opposition, then what should I do? A. Reevaluate whether or not I TRULY believe it’s what God is calling me to do and not simply what I want. B. If it IS what God is calling me to do, then C. Put my shoulder to the wheel and PUSH…even harder!

So what’s the moral of this story? Stick to your guns. Make sure you’re doing what God is calling you to do. Then…DO it. The disciples were martyred for their cause. Surely we can handle a little opposition! God is on His throne- large and in charge!

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

What’s a Christian?

christian

This past Sunday was the last session for this year’s Confirmation class. It’s the chance to wrap it all up in a tidy little package (Which is, of course, IMPOSSIBLE!) and to better prepare them for the actual Baptism/Confirmation/Membership event. And this coming Sunday…ALL of those things will happen!

One of the many things we talked about what “what does it mean to be a ‘Christian’?” One of the questions I asked them was, “Can you believe in God but NOT Jesus…and be a Christian?” My sense was that the kids KNEW the right answer but were a bit afraid to actually answer. You know- “I don’t want to say the wrong thing” and all of that!

So what IS the right answer? Well, what does “Christian” mean? Understanding that would get us closer to knowing for sure the answer. “Christian” derives from a word that means “little Christ”. Perhaps “Christ-like” or “follower of Christ” would be a better way to phrase it. So a Christian is someone who emulates Jesus, who follows Jesus, how strives to be more like Jesus.

OK- got it. Now, with that as a backdrop- can you believe in God but NOT Jesus and be a Christian? The answer is, simply, no. If the definition of “Christian” is “follower of Jesus” and I don’t believe in Jesus…well…I am not a Christian.

So is that being elitist? Is that being judgmental? Is that being exclusionary? Is that motivated by hatred or bigotry? No- not even a little bit. There are things that are objective- based on fact- and there are things that are subjective- based on opinion. “Okra is a vegetable” is objective- it’s a fact. “Stewed okra is a little too close to stewed mucus” is subjective- my opinion. (Although, in this particular case…it’s TRUE!)

Not being a Christian because you don’t believe in Jesus is objective- it’s based on facts. It BECOMES subjective when I editorialize about it. If I start to judge someone because they aren’t a Christian- that’s when the problems begin. The Bible is pretty clear (I was always told, “Don’t use the phrase ‘the Bible is clear’!” I clearly don’t always listen well!) when it says we are NOT supposed to judge. It says we shouldn’t judge unless we want to be judged. It also says we will be forgiven only as much as we are willing to forgive.

There are LOTS of people who don’t believe in Jesus. Many of those folks DO believe in God…and many of them DON’T. And, as Christians, it’s not our place OR our responsibility to place any judgment on that statement. We are called to love God, love neighbor. Don’t try to force Jesus down the throats of other people. Share with them. Tell them what He’s done in YOUR life. Even better- SHOW them what He’s done in your life. Plant the seeds. Not all of those seeds will take hold. Not all of them will germinate. And you probably won’t get to harvest very many of those seeds that you plant. But SOMEONE will!

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

Shocking!

shocking

     I was recently reminded of an interesting (and I usually think quite funny) phenomenon. And that is the apparent need some folks have to try and shock others. I saw a Tweet that said (and I intentionally misquote just a bit!): “I kick life square in the @&#%*, ^%#& it in the @&% and *@$ all over its $%@^! How’s THAT for an inspirational tweet?” And, I would assume, I was supposed to be shocked and outraged at that and respond with some scathing (and frighteningly un-Christian) response. Then I was probably supposed to remove this person from my Followers list. I THINK that was what I was SUPPOSED to do. And yet I fear that, like in so many cases, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do! So sorry to disappoint!
I am always interested when Christians are “baited” into acting in un-Christian ways. Now, don’t get me wrong- if you entice me to act a certain way, it’s STILL very much MY fault if I actually do it. You can’t MAKE me act a certain way, you can only enable me to. So ultimately the credit OR the blame for how I respond is mine…period. But it DOES make me wonder about the motivation behind such behavior from others. Why would you WANT to provoke bad behavior in others? It seems to me there are really only 2 possible answers to that question:
1. Your experience is that Christians are nothing more than hypocrites so you want to expose that, or
2. You feel really bad about yourself and so you want to “spread the wealth”
Either seems likely. I have certainly known LOTS of “Christians” over the years who seemed more than a bit hypocritical- they said one thing and yet did another. Likewise I have know LOTS of unhappy people who seem to want to make it their life’s work to make others just as unhappy. So what’s the answer here? Well, like the possibilities…it is two-fold.
1. There ARE lots of hypocrites out there disguised as mild-mannered Christians. And because they are so vocal, they are the ones that get the most attention and give the “rest of the bunch” a bad name. But like in any other setting, it is a poor choice to simply “throw the baby out with the bathwater”- to assume that all Christians are hypocrites because you know some who are is no better than assuming all fathers are bad because yours was.
2. If you are feeling badly about yourself, dragging others down there with you won’t help any…it will only make you sink a bit deeper into the morass. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with positive, “glass half-full” kinds of folks…that will begin to rub off on you. You will begin to feel yourself lifted out of that morass and into a better place.
Are you one of those folks who love to fire shots across the bow of others…simply because they’re different? Try looking at them as a human being and not as a category or label. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Likewise, are you one of those folks who seem to always be called names or made fun of simply because of how you look or what group you are a part of? Just remember…you ARE a child of God, regardless of what other people think, say or do. God loves you for who you are! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Creed: Ruler

Creed Ruler

     Daniel 2:44 In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
One Easter Sunday the Reverend Jones announced to his congregation, ‘My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons- a $100 sermon that lasts five minutes, a $50 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes and a $20 sermon that lasts a full hour. Now, let’s take the collection and see which sermon I’ll deliver!”
Today we continue our current sermon series- Creed. We are spending the 7 weeks leading to Easter walking through one of the foundational pieces of the Christian faith- The Apostle’s Creed. What we now know as the Apostles’ Creed seems to be a “fleshing out” of a piece known as the Old Roman Creed. The first known occurrence of the Apostles’ Creed, in a form that we recognize, was in the early eighth century. It gained acceptance throughout France and Germany, was officially recognized by King Charlemagne in the early ninth century, and eventually was incorporated into the liturgy of the Church of Rome. This long-standing statement of belief in many ways encapsulates what Christians believe. We will look at a small part of it each week. But we will recite the entire Creed each week as well. Would you join me?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day, He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
So, on Week 1, we started with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth“. Week 2, we moved forward as we looked at the next portion of the creed- “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord” Last week, we stepped deeper into the Creed and looked at, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried“. Today, we take the next step with, “the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
There’s a LOT to look at today. First- “the third day He rose from the dead” Third day. I don’t know how YOU count days, but if it’s 9PM Sunday evening and something is happening at 9AM Tuesday morning, I would describe it as a day and a half away- 36 hours. Well, Jesus died somewhere in the neighborhood of late morning/early afternoon on Good Friday- let’s call it noon, for the sake of argument. OK- so noon Friday to noon Saturday would be one day- 24 hours. He arose at dawn on Sunday- let’s say 6AM. That’s another 18 hours. 24 + 18 = 42 hours- 6 hours shy of 2 days. But we’re told that on the THIRD day…He rose from the dead. So what’s what with you know what?
It was the custom of the day to call each portion of a day…a day. So, He died on Friday- Day 1. He was still dead on Saturday- Day 2. And He rose from the dead on Sunday- Day 3. On the THIRD day..He rose again.
Next- “He ascended into heaven,” The ascension story, found at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, is one of my favorites. Jesus takes the disciples out to mountain, gives them their marching orders (“Go forth and make disciples of ALL nations”) and then, right before their very eyes…whatever “very eyes” are…He rose to Heaven.
What the Creed doesn’t touch on here is that He didn’t rise from the dead on Easter morning and immediately take the disciples out to the mountain and ascend to Heaven. Instead, He was on Earth for 40 days after Easter morning. And that is not an arbitrary number. The number 40 in the Bible is symbolic of a period of testing. Noah’s faith was tested with 40 days and nights of rain. The Hebrews were tested in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus’ fasted and temptation in the wilderness lasted 40 days. And now, He spends 40 post-resurrection days testing the faith of others. He appeared to hundreds of people during those forty days. And then…He ascended to Heaven.
Next- “and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty” First of all, you can hear the “King James”-ish influence in the language- “sitteth”. You, of course, won’t hear that word much in everyday conversation. “Methinkest I shall sitteth upon yon chair!” But obviously…sit. He SITS at the right hand of God.
But why the RIGHT hand? It really is as simple as the right hand was seen as the hand of power while the left hand was seen as evil. My wife’s grandpa had his left hand tied behind his back when he was little to MAKE him be a right hander. So to sit at the right hand of an earthly king was a place of honor, showing a special trust from and relationship with the king. Sitting at the right hand of the King meant you acted with his authority. Those who came to you would treat you with respect and obedience- as if you WERE the king. He sits at God’s mighty right hand.
Then we get one of the more challenging parts of the Creed. “from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” First off- “thence”. NOT a word that gets a lot of use today. What in the WORLD does it mean? It means “from a place or source previously mentioned”. So, “from thence” simply means “from there”.
Then you’ve got “come to judge the quick and the dead”. That part of the Creed tends to produce negative responses. And they tend to grow out of the idea of judgment. But I wonder if, instead of negativity, this section should produce a sense of comfort, even joy. Think about it- it makes it clear that Jesus isn’t done with His work yet. It makes it clear that, one day, He WILL come back. It confirms the promise He made before He ascended into Heaven after the resurrection. And John 3:17 tells us that He DIDN’T come to condemn us…but to SAVE us.
Okay- but what about “the quick”? I mean, “the dead” I get. NOT hard to understand. But “the quick”? Does that mean that really fast people- Jesse Owens, Usain Bolt, like that- will be judged separately? Not even a little bit!
“Quick” is an old-school word that simply means “the living”. In fact, when a woman was in the neighborhood of 4½ months pregnant and began to feel the baby move, she was described as experiencing “quickening”. So “quick” means “life”.
Jesus rose from the dead, three days after His crucifixion. He made several appearances to hundreds of people over 40 days. He then ascended to Heaven. Once there, He took His place at the right hand- the seat of power- of God. And then- there is the promise. One day- we don’t know the day, we don’t know the time- He will return. His work is NOT done. He will come back for the living AND the dead. He will come back to, once and for all, unite all believers in His holy city- the New Jerusalem- come down from Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.
    1Peter 3:15a But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
One last thought- ONE day He will come back. ONE day. Not some SPECIFIC day but ONE day. Why doesn’t God just say, “Tomorrow- Monday, March 27, 2017, at 8AM- Jesus is coming back!” Wouldn’t that be SO much easier? Well…yes it WOULD be. And that’s EXACTLY why God doesn’t do that!
Think about it- if we knew the exact day and time Jesus was coming back, we would do whatever we want ahead of that day. It would be like what that great theologian Prince said, “2,000, zero, zero, party over! Oops! Out of time. So tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999!” We would live any old way we wanted to, doing any old thing we wanted to do. And then, RIGHT before He was to show up, we would jump on the straight and narrow, asking God for forgiveness and wiping the proverbial slate clean. You know- “death bed confession” and all. But since we DON’T know the day and time, we are instead called to live each day to the fullest, to live each day the way God wants us to live. Live according to the Golden Rule- “do unto others…” Live according to United Methodist founder John Wesley’s 3 Rules- 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good, 3. Love God. Imagine if we all lived our lives that way? He IS coming back and I want to be ready. I believe.

To Bash or Not To Bash

bash

    I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my lifetime. It seems to cross ALL lines- racial, gender, age, heritage, orientation, religion…doesn’t seem to matter. It is an equal-opportunity offender! And here’s how it usually plays out. Some group (again, really doesn’t seem to matter WHICH group) has an ax to grind. They feel that some OTHER group (again…doesn’t matter) is “out to get them”…discriminating against them, demeaning them, devaluing them. And, of course…sadly…it happens all the time. And it should NOT happen…it’s wrong, regardless of who you are. But what I want to focus on today is the RESPONSE to that fact.
What often happens (please note the word “often”…I am trying to NOT simply paint with a broad brush and lump everyone into one tidy package!) is that the group who feels they are being attacked…lashes back. They point out that the attacking group is showing prejudice in their behavior. And they decry that prejudice. So far, so good. However, it’s the next step that’s often the problem.
After they have identified the presence of prejudice…they begin to participate in it! As they decry the prejudicial behavior, they exhibit it themselves, resorting to the same name-calling and slandering they railed against. And USUALLY, they don’t even recognize that fact. And it becomes a vicious cycle.
Sometimes, groups that are often the target of this type of behavior don’t even wait for the first shot to be fired…they begin lobbing cannonballs over the port bow preemptively. And yet they are the first to cry “foul” when someone starts in on them. Perhaps the most obvious current example of this is political ads that simply sling mud at the opponent, completely ignoring the qualifications of the candidate who actually paid for the ad. But don’t misunderstand- this is NOT just a political thing- it goes on all the time, in nearly every setting, with nearly every imaginable group.
So, what do we do about such behavior? It’s really pretty simple (not necessarily EASY…but simple)- we refuse to participate in it. And when we catch ourselves doing it, exhibiting behavior to another person or group that we would not want aimed at us…stop. The Bible says that, along with loving God, we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Sounds pretty… Pollyanna-ish, I know, but imagine a world where this would be the norm, not the exception. A world where we realize that while we aren’t all alike, that we aren’t going to agree all the time, we can still treat each other like…what?…oh, yeah…people! Give it a shot- it won’t be easy, but it can be VERY rewarding!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

65 Years of Wedded Bliss!

hank and betty

Yesterday was a milestone in my wife’s family…OK…MY family! My in-laws celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary yesterday. 65 YEARS! That’s amazing! 1952. That’s a long time! And what is even more amazing is that I have known them for 40 years. Yep! They have been married for 65 years and I have known them for about 62% of that time. To put an even bigger number up, I have known them 71% of my life! I met them when I was 16 years old and I am about to turn 56!

There are SO many memories I have of them. I remember them accepting me right from the start- this young, upstart farm boy wanting to spend time with their “baby” daughter! I remember them attending all of our band performances in High School. I remember sitting in their Family Room on cold, winter nights, playing Gin Rummy with my mother-in-law while my wife and my father-in-law watched TV and talked. I remember them standing by me when I was…less than perfect! I remember the day we got married. I remember them letting us- me, my wife, our older son AND the dog- live with them for 3 months when we had a house fire. I remember them watching our older son every day after pre-school AND watching our younger son every Friday. I remember all of the health issues they had…and we had. And I remember them living with us for 4 ½ years before moving into the place they now live not quite a year ago.

I remember SO much. They have been a major part of my life. But perhaps the single most important thing I will remember is how they, rather quickly, became a second set of parents for me. They always made me feel welcome. They always made me feel like a part of the family. They were always willing to make me a part of what they were doing. They helped teach me how to be a man- how to be a better person.

We have had our ups and downs. We have had knock-down drag-outs. But we have always had each other’s backs. And for me- that’s the definition of family! Families don’t always agree. They don’t always get along. But they always love. Thank you, second Mom and second Dad, for accepting me as a part of your family all these years! Happy 65th!

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

What Do You Want People to Say?

who am i

A church member died yesterday. I chose that word- “died”- carefully. Years ago, I spent 3 months in a Hospital Chaplain Residency program, as part of the requirement for ordination. I would drive an hour to the hospital on Sunday afternoon, getting there ahead of 5PM, when my “on call” shift started. I was on call from 5PM Sunday evening until started my “regular” shift at 8AM the next morning. (I would sleep in the hospital, in a room attached to the Chaplain’s office.) I would work and attend classes all day Monday, drive the hour back home to spend Monday night at home, turn around and drive the hour back early Tuesday morning, work/classes all day Tuesday and then drive the hour back. Then, I was done for the week! (Done with THAT! I still was pastoring a church full-time!)

The woman who ran the Chaplaincy program had very specific ideas on lots of things regarding chaplaincy. And one of those specific ideas revolved around what word you used to describe someone who no longer was alive. Her take was that we didn’t lose them. They didn’t pass away. They aren’t gone. Instead…they died. At first, I was a bit bothered by her insistence on using that word above all others. But after a while, I began to see the value of calling it was it was- claiming the word so that the event could be better understood and processed.

So, again, a member of the church we currently serve died yesterday. We all knew she was dying, we just didn’t know when. I was out of town when the news came in. But when I got back IN town, mid-afternoon, I tracked down a family member and found out that the family was meeting with the Funeral Director at 3PM.

So, I met them there to help make plans. The date and time of both the visitation and the funeral were set. And then, we spent some time talking about the service itself. We talked about Scripture. We talked about music. We talked about who would speak at the service. We then moved on to one of the most important questions I ask at a time like this. “Imagine for a moment that there is someone at the funeral who never met her. What would you want them to know about her?” That conversation typically starts slowly but builds like a snowball rolling down a hill. Soon, stories are being told, people are laughing…and crying. It’s a powerful time.

With all of that in mind, what would you want people to know about YOU after you died? What would you want YOUR legacy to be? The truth is…you have a lot of impact over that answer! What do you want people to think about you, to KNOW about you? Are you living your life in a such a way that will lead them to that understanding? IF not, WHY not?

Ask yourself these questions: 1. Who do I want to be? 2. AM I that person? 3. IF not, what can I do differently to become that person? And then…do it! Become the person you feel you can be. Better yet, become the person God ,made you to be!

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

This Seems…Familiar!

deja-vu   Tuesdays are a busy day in the life of a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister! I teach a class at 9AM every Tuesday morning. That means arriving at the office at 8AM, take 25-30 minutes to catch up on emails and other messages and take care of a few other little things. Then, at about 8:30AM, I head to our Café (where the class meets), make sure everything is set (our awesome Worship Director comes in and gets everything set up for that class, including getting the lights on doors unlocked AND coffee made so it ‘s always ready!) and then head to the lobby for my “Walmart Greeter” job! I spend from about 8:35AM to just before 9AM opening the door for folks coming to the class and greeting them. I look forward to those few minutes every week!

The class is from 9AM to about 10:15AM, closing in prayer. (Right now, we are working through a VERY “deep” about the Trinity. If you’re not careful, it makes your brain hurt!) It’s then a quick run next door to the house to take the dogs out and refill my coffee before heading back to the Café for Staff Meeting at 10:30AM, followed by Worship Planning meeting about 11:15AM.

Each week, we end our Staff Meeting with a short devotional from one of two “books” I have in my Kindle that focus on leadership. At yesterday’s Staff Meeting, the devotional led to a conversation about comfort and complacency. I shared that it is REALLY easy for weekly worship to become TOO comfortable and TOO complacent. And usually, when that happens, it is the pastor who A. created that scenario and B. can avoid it or stop it.

It happens with the best of intentions. Worship leaders work hard to make the service as smooth and flowing as possible. And as you do that, a comfort level starts to be created- patterns start to emerge. And if you’re not careful- sometimes REALLY careful- those patterns become the rote pattern of EVERY worship service. I mean, you do one…or two…or, in our case THREE services each and every week, 52 weeks each year. It’s something worship leaders, me included, need to watch for and work to avoid. Familiarity does, after all, breed contempt!

The take-away for folks who DON’T lead worship is pretty much the same here. Don’t let life get too predictable, too patterned, too comfortable. When it gets that way, it also gets too boring and lifeless! Be willing to stir things up a bit. Notice what you do without even thinking and then…think about doing it some other way! Be unpredictable. Live life. Have fun. Go off-script sometimes. It’s a LOT of fun and makes life more enjoyable!

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

A Teen Shall Lead Them

Teens_Praying

Last night was our monthly United Methodist Men’s dinner/meeting. And since it was guys, the food was typical great. (Although honestly, at THIS church EVERYBODY produces great food!) After the dinner, we had our “business meeting”. For us, that amounts to how many opportunities to serve are coming up, how many me we need to make those events happen and who’s going to sign up! (Our mantra is, “We don’t fundraise…we serve!”)

After the business meeting, we had not one but TWO “presenters”. (We typically have some kind of program.) The first was a couple of guys from the group who went to do street ministry at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They go every year as part of a larger group. They showed a PowerPoint presentation and talked about the impact of the trip.

Then, we had four kids from our Junior High Youth Group who came to share about a Youth Conference they recently attended. This is the 4th year we have sent youth to this conference and some of those who came to share last night have been all 4 years! They each talked about why they go and what impact it has on them. It was SO cool to hear them talk about how the music, the prayers and the speakers had such a positive effect on them!

When I was in Junior High, I was barely able to find my way home at night. (The fact that we live RIGHT next door to the church helps a LOT now!) I was NOT a church goer. I was NOT a believer. In fact, I made fun of the people who WERE! So to see these kids be so spiritual and SO willing to show that is SO refreshing! It takes great courage to stand tall in your faith as an adult in the midst of a world that says you are wasting your time. Imagine how much MORE courage it takes for a teen to do that!

It is an honor to be a pastor. And it is an honor to be the pastor of young people who have such strong convictions. I am proud to call them church family!

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

Epic Fail!

epic fail

     If you know ANYTHING about me, you know that I am a bit of a techno-geek. I love technology and what it can do. I embrace it and I am always trying to learn more about current and emerging technology…and how it might be applicable to my life and/or the church. Because of that fact, I have NO problem with technology being a part of the worship experience. It’s a ministry tool, just like nearly everything else. And in this day and age, it DOES help many better connect with worship.  

     On a regular basis, technology is a pretty central part of worship at the church we currently serve. There is the sound system– not all that we will one day need but MUCH more advanced than many. There are the microphones- wired, wireless, headset. They, along with a cadre of rechargeable 9V batteries, get used a LOT on Sundays. Amplifiers, direct boxes, speakers, monitors and hearing assist devices round out the sound technology.  

     Then there is the computer. Sitting in the sound booth, it connects to two monitors on the sound booth desk, along with two projectors mounted in the ceiling- one “throws” on the front wall and one on the back wall. (The front wall one is the one 98% of the people in the room look at. The one on the back wall is GREAT for those of us who are “up front”, with our backs to the main screen.) Song/hymn lyrics, Scripture, sermon slides, prayers and creeds, as well as 2-3 separate videos are incorporated into the mix on any given Sunday. We offer 3 Sunday morning worship services- 8AM, 9:15AM and 10:30AM. They each are built around roughly the same level of technology…which works GREAT…when it works! 

     Yesterday was an interesting day- technologically speaking! At precisely 8AM (If you don’t start on time, then people who are late don’t KNOW that they’re late!), I stepped into the Sound Booth and gave the “high sign” for the Call to Worship video to start. (It’s an original music video, connected to the day’s message, that I produce weekly.) The sound operator opened the proper channel on the sound board and made sure the volume was in a good spot. Then, the computer operator started the video. It ran JUST fine…except there was NO sound!  

     We quickly decided that the obvious things- channel muted, volume set incorrectly- were correct. So…what’s the problem? I had them reboot both the sound board and the computer. As soon as that happened, we restarted the video and all was well. For a moment! Part way through the video, it suddenly froze. I decided to just go ahead, hoping that they could get the issue fixed before the weekly announcement video needed to run…which was NOT much time! We would then run the Call to Worship video before the sermon. 

     The announcement video started fine. But about 2/3 of the way through…it restarted! I had the tech folks shut it down and we just went on. Over the next few minutes, the computer was rebooted, software was shut down and restarted…they tried everything they could think of! But- it was NOT to be! During a spot where something that didn’t involve me was going on, I slipped into the Sound Booth and just had them shut it down- it was no longer a “rescue mission” but just a distraction. I told the congregation that there had been worship a LOT longer than there had been computers and projectors- SURELY we could manage without! 

     The songs were a bit tough, since the congregation didn’t have lyrics to use. I have moved pretty far away from my sermons depending so heavily on “visuals”, so that wasn’t a problem. And in the end, we finished that first service just fine, thank you! 

     We had SOME issues at the second service, but not nearly as many. And by the third service, we had apparently worked the bugs out because that service went off pretty much without a hitch! 

     Is this a cautionary tale, warning all who will listen to NOT rely on technology in their worship? Not even a little bit! Instead, it’s a reminder that, if the wheels fall of the bus, if the technology denigrades into an epic fail in the middle of the service…you can STILL worship God just fine! You may need to drop back and punt, but it’s only a major problem if you let it be. Go with the flow. Be flexible. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And, for me, it’s almost ALL small stuff! 

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

Creed: Sustainer

Creed Sustainer     Isaiah 11:2-3 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord- and He will delight in the fear of the Lord.
It was Christmas time and the Sunday School teacher was teaching her class about the life of Jesus. They talked about His birth and the events surrounding the stable, the angels and the shepherds, about Joseph taking the family to Egypt, about Jesus in the temple at the age of 12 and on down the line. The teacher then asked the children to draw a picture of something they had learned. She then had each student show their picture to the class. One kid drew a picture of the angel coming to Mary to tell her she would have a baby. Another kid drew a picture of Jesus teaching the rabbis in the temple when He was 12. It was then little Timmy’s turn to show his picture. The teacher was more than a little surprised and more than a little puzzled by Timmy’s drawing. It showed what clearly seemed to be a passenger jet! And standing next to the jet was a pilot with 3 people who were obviously the Holy Family standing nearby. The teacher asked Timmy, “I don’t really understand your picture, Timmy. I don’t remember there being an airplane in the Bible!” Timmy frowned and said, “Sure you do! Don’t you remember? That guy is Pontius the Pilot and this is the flight to Egypt!”
Today we continue our current sermon series- Creed. We are spending the 7 weeks leading to Easter walking through one of the foundational pieces of the Christian faith- The Apostle’s Creed. What we now know as the Apostles’ Creed seems to be a “fleshing out” of a piece known as the Old Roman Creed. The first known occurrence of the Apostles’ Creed, in a form that we recognize, was in the early eighth century. It gained acceptance throughout France and Germany, was officially recognized by King Charlemagne in the early ninth century, and eventually was incorporated into the liturgy of the Church of Rome. This long-standing statement of belief in many ways encapsulates what Christians believe. We will look at a small part of it each week. But we will recite the entire Creed each week as well. Would you join me?
     I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day, He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
So, on Week 1, we started with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth“. Last week, we moved forward as we looked at the next portion of the creed- “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord” Today we step deeper into the Creed and look at these words, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried“.
Let’s walk through today’s portion of the Creed a bit at a time. We start with, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit”. Let’s unpack a key word from that phrase- “conceive”. According to dictionary.com, it has several meanings and, in their own way, they all pertain to today’s discussion. It means:
1. To form an idea or purpose of- to imagine
2. To hold as an opinion- to believe
3. To express
4. To beget
So, “beget”- by defining ONE word, we find another one we need to define! “Beget” is a very Old Testament word that may, or may not, make a lot of sense in today’s world. Here’s what it means:
1.  To procreate or generate offspring, especially from a male parent
2. To cause or produce as an effect
So, God formed an idea, a purpose- He imagined a new and better way for His people. He believed in His people and wanted to develop a more personal relationship with them…us. So, He set out to express that desire- put the plan into motion. And so, He beget His only Son. And more than generating offspring from the male parent, He produced an effect- Jesus- that continues to have a profound impact on the world 2,000+ years later.
And how did that happen? Test tube baby? In vitro? Parthenogenesis (reproduction without a male)? How about…the greatest story ever told? Admittedly, that title is a bit “After School Special” in its tone. But that doesn’t make it any less true- or amazing. God had planted all the seeds in the Old Testament. Then there was 400 years of waiting. And then, it was time. God came down to earth, in the form of His Holy Spirit, to put in motion the plan…THE plan that would forever change…everything. The Creator came to Earth as the Redeemer, made human through the efforts of the Sustainer. Father. Son, Holy Spirit. Conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Then what? Well, He was “born of the Virgin Mary”. Obviously, the word that catches everybody’s attention in that phrase is “virgin”. We know what it means…and it makes us uncomfortable to talk about in places like church- or home- or the car- or…! It’s helpful to look at the languages that produced the written forms of the Bible to help us better understand that word. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek or Aramaic. The Hebrew word for “virgin” is “almah” and the Greek word is “parthenos”. IN both cases, they absolutely refer to a woman who has not been with a man. But in both cases, they also mean “a maiden”. A young woman. A girl. And that is an important distinction to make here. It doesn’t negate or cheapen the primary understanding of that word that we all have. Instead, it enhances it. This woman- Mary…Mother Mary…was young- by our standards, a girl. She was, it is thought, around 14 years old. Jesus was born of a girl- young, pure and clearly not only very well-briefed in Old Testament Scripture but also in possession of an incredibly deep and abiding faith in God. Let it be so.
What’s next? “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. OK- we KNOW he’s NOT Pontius the Pilot and we KNOW he did pilot Jesus’ Flight to Egypt! But who WAS he? There was a title used by the Romans- Prefect. A Prefect was a Roman official who served as the Roman Empire’s representative ruler in a specific area. Pilate was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, which included Jerusalem. He was Prefect of Judaea from AD 26–36, serving under Roman Emperor Tiberius. In all four Gospels, Pilate lobbies for Jesus to be spared crucifixion, giving in only when the crowd refuses to back off. In Matthew’s Gospel, he even ceremonially washes his hands to show that he’s not responsible. Some use those passages to show that he wasn’t a bad guy, but in the end, he caved to public opinion and allowed it to happen.
Todays’ portion of the Creed ends with, “He was crucified, dead and buried.” Crucifixion was a favorite of the Romans- cruel and unbelievably painful, it was designed to keep the people in their place. Roads would sometimes be lined…LINED with people hanging on crosses. No one wanted to be one of those people. And that fear and intimidation brought about the unholy environment the Romans sought all along. They called it Pax Romana…Roman Peace.
In the end, after suffering terribly, He died. No one TOOK His life from him. When the time was just right, He willingly laid down His life for us. “It is finished.” And then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (the Pharisee known as the Teacher’s Teacher who came to Jesus at night to find out more) came, took His body down off the cross and, gently and lovingly, laid in Joseph’s tomb. He was crucified, dead and buried.
A key part of this section of the Creed is that it is intended to remind us that Jesus’ life and death were all fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Psalm 2:7 says, “He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.”Conceived by the Holy Spirit“. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.”Born of the virgin Mary“. Isaiah 53:7 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”Suffered under Pontius Pilate“. Isaiah 53:12 says, “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great because He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” And Isaiah 53:9 says, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”He was crucified, dead and buried“.
So there are two key parts to today’s reading. One is the “formal” introduction of the Holy Spirit- the last part of the Trinity. The Great Three in One. God is the unmade Maker of all things. He chose to come down to earth in human form- Jesus- to live among us, experience what we experience. And when that time was complete, and not a moment before, He went back to Heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit behind to live within us- guiding, leading, protecting. God is the Creator. Jesus is the Redeemer. And the Holy Spirit is the Sustainer.
John 14:26-27 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The other key part is the emphasis on the nature of Jesus. He is fully God. In the beginning was the Word. The Was with God and the Word WAS God. He is the only begotten Son of God- Emmanuel…God with us. But He is also fully human. Born of a woman. Physically suffered at the heads of a despotic ruler. Was crucified. Suffered horribly. Died. Laid in a borrowed tomb.
Jesus is fully God…but He is also fully Man. He created all things because He was there in the beginning. He was born into our world as a helpless infant. He lived like we lived…and He died like we died. And He was laid in a tomb, a stone rolled over the mouth to make sure that was the end of the story. But it was NOT the end of the story. I believe.

It’s a Subway Card!

subway

As a pastor’s family, you get gift cards. Not a TON of gift cards, but…gift cards. And if you are like us, they go in a spot in our house…and they tend to sit there! And they sit there NOT because we aren’t appreciative of the gift, but instead because we have the best of intentions of using them but tend to find ourselves somewhere, saying, “”SHOOT! We have a gift card to here! But it’s at home!” So I started carrying a larger wallet…and all the gift cards! It took a bit of getting used to, but it has worked well.

Yesterday, we were near a Starbucks, about to start a 3-hour drive AND a couple of Starbucks gift cards in my wallet! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! So we drove through, ordered (a caramel macchiato and a white chocolate mocha, thank you very much!) and then drove up to the window to pay and get our coffee. The guy…sorry- barista- opened the window and told me our total. I pulled one of the gift cards out of my wallet and handed it to him. I then turned to say something to my wife. As I did, I heard him say something, but with my hearing loss, I had no idea WHAT he said. So I turned back to him. “I’m sorry?” He smiled and replied, “I said, this is a Subway card!”

Sure enough, I had pulled a Subway gift card out instead and handed it to him! And at that moment- I had a choice to make. I could have been embarrassed, taken the card back and given him the right one. But where is the fun in THAT? So I smiled and said, “Would you like a sandwich?!” (I WOULD like to point out that BOTH the Subway card and the Starbucks card are GREEN!)

So what’s the moral of this story? Order “sweet” coffee drinks at Starbucks? Yes, that IS one of the take-aways from this story! But the main one is- lighten up! Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be willing to laugh at yourself. Be willing to poke fun at yourself. The bottom line is that you are GOING to mess up- period. And since that fact is a given, then the only thing you have control over is how you react to it. And how you react to it goes a LONG way toward both how people see you and how you impact others! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need for a Subway sandwich to chase that caramel macchiato!

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

You Let HIM Paint Your House?!

paint     I grew up out in the country- our closest neighbor, geographically, was 1/4 of a mile away. Most of the money I made as a kid/youth was made doing some kind of manual labor: picking up hay, cleaning out barns, tending animals, mowing, etc. But the summer of my 14th year (sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it?), the widowed neighbor lady (the one who live 1/4 of a mile away) hired me to paint her house and garage. I had never painted a house before in my life, but assured her I could do it! (“Sure- I can ride a horse!”) She got all the paint and supplies (rollers, brushes and the like) and I was ready to go. 

     I started with the garage, because it was small and easy to get to. (Picture a building that would JUST hold a car…and nothing else…literally!) I scraped it (which, at least for me, is by FAR the worst part of painting!) and then started painting. I painted what I could reach from the ground first, then got the step ladder out and began painting the top half. I was about halfway through the top half when…disaster struck! I had a big container of paint on the ladder, and instead of taking it off first, I decided I could move the ladder with it on there!      Oops! The container tipped over…right onto me! The paint hit me just below the chin (at least it missed the face!) and POURED down the front of me! The front of my shirt, my arms, and part of my legs were covered in white paint! I stood there for a moment, frozen, trying to decide if that REALLY happened or not! But ONE look down was all I needed to convince myself that, yes, it did indeed happen! So, I did what any self-respecting 14-year old would do…I ran! I actually ran to my bike, flew home, got cleaned up, washed the paint out of my clothes, got fresh clothes, and then pedaled back to keep painting.
     Later on in the job, I got to a part of the house that was on the 2nd floor. The house had a Loft-style 2nd floor that only covered part of the 1st floor. It wasn’t reachable with a ladder from the ground- the only was to get to it was the roof of the 1st floor. BUT…the roof of the 1st floor had such a steep pitch (the angle of the roof), that it was nearly impossible to stand on it at all, let alone actually paint something! What to do, what to do! Aha! I went home and got a long rope we had. I tied it to the front porch railing of the house I was painting. Then I threw the rope over the house, climbed up on the roof on that side, TIED myself to the house…and painted that part! 
     In the end, the neighbor lady was quite please with the job. (She told me, after the fact, that people told her she was CRAZY to let a 14-year old paint her house! Looking back…they MAY have been correct!) The paint job held up well for years, in fact. But what I took away from that job (other than the money I made!), was the need to be flexible and creative. And that awareness has served me well, in a VARIETY of settings, over the years.     
     We so desperately want life to be cut and dried, black and white. But in the end…its just NOT! And if you try to FORCE things to fit into that cut and dried/black and white mold…you end up banging your head against the wall, over and over. If, on quite the other hand, you are willing to be flexible and creative, you will be so much more ready to meet what comes. Things may happen the way you thought they were going to…but you are READY for that! You bend, you shift, you adapt…and life is a whole lot more interesting and satisfying. 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Pizza Boat Ministry!

pizza boat

The fleet came in last night! As you know if you A. attend the church we currently serve, B. attend nearly ANY church very often or C. read this blog very regularly, we do a dinner every Wednesday night! The groups who host/plan/cook/serve the dinner change from week to week. Over the course of the school year, MANY different groups “take” a dinner.

Last night, my wife’s Tuesday Afternoon Women’s Bible Study did the dinner. They did Pizza Boats! (If you could see/hear me right now, you would know that I am imitating a tugboat whistle! Lame, thy name is Rev. Mark!) It’s a GREAT meal to offer because not only do we get a large delivery of bakery goods from a local grocery store chain every Saturday morning but Pizza Boats are a perennial “big hit”!

SEVERAL loaves of French bread were saved from the bakery delivery. (Did I mention…several?!) Each loaf was split in half, longways. They are then toasted. (We have, along with a “residential” oven AND a commercial oven, an AWESOME commercial convection oven in the church kitchen. They are GREAT to cook with!) After toasting, the sauce is added. Then, the cheese. And then, everything else. Pepperoni. Sausage. Mushrooms. Onions. Green peppers. Black olives. Nearly every possible permutation, including “cheese only” and “veggie only” were assembled. We even made one with a gluten-free crust because we are trying harder to make dinner more accessible to more people.

(On a side note, the “veggie only” version was quite the surprise! It was GREAT for those of us who have gone vegetarian for Lent. I mean…GREAT! But the surprise was that we made some of those, but more that were “cheese only”- thinking that the “cheese only” would be more palatable to kids and others! In the end, while we didn’t have much left over, ALL of the leftovers were “cheese only” while  people were opining the lack of more “veggie only”!)

It was a pretty simple dinner to make. While the topping cost money, the bread- ALL of that bread- was absolutely free. So it was a relatively inexpensive meal to produce. And it was WELL received! We had one of our largest attendances of the season. It reminds me that dinner for such a large group doesn’t have to be terribly fancy or terribly expensive. It was delicious and they loved it!

The fellowship that grows out of events like this one is very valuable. Coming together in corporate worship is, in my way of thinking, invaluable. But offering opportunities for folks to get together in a more relaxed, conversational setting is a powerful way to build community. And building community is vital to faith building! Thank you, Pizza Boats!

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

“Of COURSE I Can Ride a Horse!”

Billy Crystal

I have shared before that there is this overarching “truth” in acting- if the casting director says, “Can you ride a horse?” You answer, without hesitation, “Of COURSE I can ride a horse!” And then, if you get the role…you run out, quick like a bunny, and learn how to ride a horse!

That mentality was already pretty ingrained in me before pursuing acting. Growing up as a “farm kid”, that’s the way life is. Something needs done- you do it. And if you don’t know HOW to do it, you figure it out…and then DO it!

As it all turns out, that mentality is also a GREAT asset in day-to-day ministry. I had a seminary professor who told us that, one day, we would come back and tell her ALL the things she didn’t teach us. She was SO right! There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week and so many weeks in three years of a Master’s Degree program!

You get in a church and suddenly…you have to “know stuff”! And it is a diverse list of “stuff”, too! You need to have some understanding of heating and cooling- HVAC as they say “in the trades”! You have to know something about Property and Casualty Insurance- that would be P and C!

You have to know something about employment laws. You have to know something about budgets- how to write them, how to read them, how to evaluate them and how to stick to them! You have to know how to manage a staff. You have to know how to make sure the snow is plowed and the grass mowed.

You need to know something about sound systems. Lighting. Music. Choir. Praise bands. How to put together a cohesive worship service. How to pull off a cohesive worship service. How to write a sermon…EVERY week…and still do anything else! How to know when to plow ahead in worship and when to just let go of the reigns and let God do His stuff.

You need to know something about Social Media. About websites and the internet. About advertising. About marketing. About writing. About relationships. About reading people and meeting them where they are. And it doesn’t hurt a BIT if you know something about cooking and putting on a meal!

Do I know everything about all of those “line items”? Of course…NOT! But so I know more NOW than I did when I got my first set of building keys to a church 20 years ago? You bet! There is a lot to be said for repetition and experience, to be sure. But there is also a lot to be said for not being intimidated by something you don’t know by instead being determined to LEARN how. Never quit learning. Never quit striving. Never give up. Never. Never. Never!

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

A Rural Church, a “Bird” Colonel and Makeup!

clown    Clowns are an interesting phenomena. I have never been one of those folks who are frightened by clowns. But I do “get” how people could be afraid of them. All one needs to do is see a movie that includes an evil clown, and suddenly ALL clowns seem a bit…untrustworthy.
On quite the other hand, clowns can be great fun. I remember as a kid watching The Red Skelton Show. He would do his famous clown character Freddie the Freeloader. It was marvelous, funny and often very touching. And then there are the clowns at the circus. How can you go to see Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey and NOT enjoy those clowns?

     But one of the most unique ways I have personally been involved with clowns is through clown ministry. Several times in my ministry, I have put on clown makeup and entertained folks in the name of Jesus Christ!
     There was the time in the rural hills of West Virginia. We were doing a Vacation Bible School for the kids of this extended rural community. Preparing for the event put me in the position to hear someone who was on the trip with me to say, and I quote, “So, when you were going to seminary, did you ever imagine you would be standing in a bathroom in a rural West Virginia church with a full bird Air Force colonel, putting makeup on?!”
     Then there was the time in Biloxi, Mississippi, when I went into the local Taco Bell in full clown makeup and costume and bought lunch for 54 people. The employees thought I was completely insane…and perhaps they were right!
     And who could forget the year I was on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, just down the road from the Little Big Horn Battle Site. I had chosen a long, rather stringy rainbow clown wig. That, combined with my choice of costume and makeup, earned me the title “Angry Biker Clown”! Now THAT’S a name I didn’t seek!
     Clown ministry, while not for everyone, is a powerful tool. It can reach people in ways that “normal” ministries cannot. It puts people at ease and catches them off-guard and off-balance. It also provides the person DOING the ministry with a mask to hide behind. the makeup and  costume offer an anonymity that allows folks who would NEVER get up in front of people an unprecedented comfort level.
     But even if you DON’T do clown ministry…even if you would never in a million years put on makeup and crazy clothes, you can still be a “fool for Christ”! How? Step out of your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable. Be willing to do things for Jesus that are not what you would normally do. It is then that God can best use you. It is then that you can best reach other people. And it is then that you can draw the closest to Christ!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

 

“Quit Your Whinin’, Ya Wee Gurl!”

scotsman

It is a 45-minute drive from our house to a larger, metropolitan area. My wife and I needed to make that trip sometime between yesterday morning and tomorrow evening. We had planned to make the trip tonight. But there was also this pesky business of a winter storm warning- snow was supposed to start late last night and potentially accumulate up to 6-7 inches. (As I write this, it is actually Sunday evening, so I have NO idea if the snow actually happened or NOT!)

So as we sat together in the front pew (Because NO ONE wants to sit in the front pew so, when you come in as the new pastor/family, it’s the safest place to sit!), she leaned over to me and whispered, “Since the snow might be coming later, do you want to go do those errands this afternoon instead?” With absolutely NO hesitation, I whispered back, “Not even a little bit!” I then started to explain, stopped and simply said, “Let’s talk about this over lunch.”

Over the next few minutes, in between this and that, I had a moment or two to think about our conversation. On the one hand, there were these facts: A. I get up EARLY on Sundays, B. I lost an extra hour because of DST, C. leading 3 worship services in the span of 3½ hours can be a little draining and D. I had been planning my afternoon nap since my feet hit the floor when the alarm went off! On the other hand, there was the fact that A. my wife made a simple request, B. she would feel better to have the errands done before the potential snow and C. if we went, I would get to spend 3-4 hours with her…and NO interruptions! So leaned over and said, “Upon further reflection- forget what I said! If you would like to go this afternoon, I would be HAPPY to go with you!” In other words, I grabbed myself by the collar and, in my best Scottish brogue, said, “Quite your whinin’, ya wee gurl!” So, after church, we ran home and ate lunch. Then I ran back to church to help teach Confirmation. Then, at about 2:15PM…off we went!

After the 45-minute drive, our first stop was the drive-through at Dunkin Donuts. NO- we didn’t get any donuts. Their coffee is THE best coffee…period! So, two extra-large coffees with just cream and three bags of regular whole beans later, we drove on to the next stop!

That stop was at Aldi’s, where we got a pretty decent amount of supplies for home and a few…but extremely important things…for the church. (My wife’s Bible Study class is preparing our Wednesday Night Fellowship Dinner this week.)

Our last stop was at the dreaded but highly sought after Super Walmart. (It’s like a REGULAR Walmart…only SUPER!) We needed to pick up a few things for my wife’s parents. Then, it was back in the van for the 45-minute trip back home. AND…we got home in time for our younger son to have to…eerrr…GET to help us unload the groceries! Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

It really struck me- this woman, this beautiful, sweet, awesome woman WANTED to spend time with me. ME- King of the Geeks, Lord of the Dweebs! And I was willing to trade that…for a NAP? I. Don’t. Think. So! Fortunately, that reality hit me pretty quickly!

Don’t take life for granted. Don’t take the people in your life for granted. Live life to the fullest. Embrace every moment. Live completely. Love extravagantly. Forgive completely. Life is simply TOO short!

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

Creed: Redeemer

Creed Redeemer

     Psalm 2:7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to Me, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.
There is a Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter named Bob Carlisle. If you listen to current Contemporary Christian music, you may not know that name. His body of work doesn’t get much if any airplay these days. BUT- there was a time when he was BLOWING UP Christian radio. And the song that was doing the blowing up? Butterfly Kisses. (An aside, in case you aren’t familiar with that term, butterfly kisses are when you graze someone’s skin with your eyelashes.) If you are familiar with the song, which was released in 1997 and won a Grammy and 3 Dove Awards, you know it’s a sweet, sentimental song about his relationship with his daughter. The song walks through the girl’s “growing up” years and how their relationships changed and adapted. And the “hook” is about butterfly kisses and putting little white flowers in her hair.
As I said, the song was a MASSIVE hit. And because of that, there were LOTS of interviews to be had. One interviewer talked to Carlisle about the beauty of the song and the way it captured so poignantly the relationship between a father and daughter. He then said, “I understand you also have a son. Is that right?” Carlisle nodded and said, “Yes, a younger son.” The interviewer then asked, “Have you written a song that captures the relationship between you and your son?” Carlisle again nodded and said, “Yes, I have. It’s called…’GET Down Off There!'”
Today we continue our current sermon series- Creed. We are spending the 7 weeks leading to Easter walking through one of the foundational pieces of the Christian faith- The Apostle’s Creed. What we now know as the Apostles’ Creed seems to be a “fleshing out” of a piece known as the Old Roman Creed. The first known occurrence of the Apostles’ Creed, in a form that we recognize, was in the early eighth century. It gained acceptance throughout France and Germany, was officially recognized by King Charlemagne in the early ninth century, and eventually was incorporated into the liturgy of the Church of Rome. This long-standing statement of belief in many ways encapsulates what Christians believe. We will look at a small part of it each week. But we will recite the entire Creed each week as well. Would you join me?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day, He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”
So, last week we started with “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth”. Today, we move forward as we look at the next portion of the creed- “And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord
Let’s spend some time unpacking today’s reading. Last week, it was only 12 words. Today, it’s only 9! Is there much to be found in 9 words? Oh, yeah! First, there is the word “And”. And…WHAT? Well, the “and” refers back to the word “believe”. “I believe in God the Father AND in Jesus.” It’s NOT an “either/or”…it’s a “both/and”. So when we say “and” here, we are being clear to note that we believe not only in God but in Jesus. And the “and” is a link to the concept of Trinity- Jesus as SON of God…Jesus AS God with us…Emmanuel.
OK…but Who IS Jesus? The name Jesus is a rendition of the Hebrew name Yeshua. Joshua is a variation of the name. It comes from a Hebrew root word that means “rescue, deliver”. The Old Testament is 36 books devoted to the story of God creating us and then trying to build relationship with us. And then, after 400 years of “silence”, along comes the New Testament and God’s new plan. He chooses…CHOOSES…to come down among us, wrap our injured flesh around Him, breathe our air and walk our sod, live like we do, experience what we experience. Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus.
And then there is the word “Christ”. Jesus CHRIST. So, is that like His last name or what? Jesus- Mr. Christ? Sorry, but no! Turns out that the word “Christ” is one of the most important words in a Christian’s vocabulary. But it isn’t until you dig into the Bible’s ancient context that you that see its surprising imagery and some of its most important implications.
The word “Christ” comes from a Greek word- “christos”. It means “anointed”.  It’s equivalent to the Hebrew word “mashiach”- Messiah. Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, is the anointed one of God. But what does anointed mean? Literally, it means to have sacred oil poured on one’s head, designating that you have been chosen by God for a special task. Priests were sometimes anointed. Prophets were sometimes anointed. But the phrase “anointed one” most often referred to a king. And while Jesus has a priestly role and a prophetic role, He is most prominently seen as the King. And when He returns in glory, every knee will bow, every tongue confess that He is King.
Next, we get 3 simple words that change everything- His only Son. His. When I was in seminary, we were not allowed to use gender-specific words to describe God. No “He”. No “Him”. No “Father”. The explanation for that rule depended on who you asked. It was either A. because there are people to whom “father” is a less than pleasant word or B. because none of those gender-specific words adequately define God. God is MORE than a gender.
I couldn’t agree more that “father” is a bad word to some. And I couldn’t agree more that God is more than a gender. But the truth is that there is NO word that doesn’t offend someone and there is NO word that adequately describes God. So, we each should use the descriptive words that make the most sense to us. For me, therefore, God is Father. He. His. His only Son.
Wait! Why is Jesus God’s ONLY Son? I thought we were ALL sons and daughters of God? Well…we are. But there is a word that some versions of the Apostle’s Creed include right here that better explains this part. And that word is “begotten”. His only BEGOTTEN Son. Jesus is the only child of God Who was biologically produced through Him. I get that. We have 2 kids- 2 sons. Our only begotten sons. But there are other kids who have been…or are…LIKE our children. For example, there is Josh. My wife started watching him 8-5 Monday-Friday when he was a newborn. He practically lived with us for 2½ years. Was he biologically ours? Nope. But we always looked at him as our 3rd son. We are ALL created by God and adopted fully into His family. We are all the fully loved adopted kids. Jesus is the One and only begotten Son.
And then we come to the word “Lord” here. Jesus’ disciples, along with others who came in contact with Him, who believed in Him, referred to him as “Lord”. They were giving Him a great honor. Along with King, to call Jesus “Lord” is to address royalty- like saying “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness.” It reflects an attitude of obedient submission.
As a quick aside here, Lord creates a potentially challenging dynamic. Why? Because of that pesky word I mentioned a second ago- obedience. For to see Him as Lord, we have to be obedient. If we’re aren’t willing to be obedient, then we really don’t see Jesus as the Lord of our lives.
And if you’re like me, “obedient” is a tough one. I have issues with authority. Being willing to let go of a sense of control (Which we don’t really have, anyway!) and be obedient to anyone or anything can be tough. But I have found that, when I am able to set my own stubbornness and hardheadedness aside and be obedient to Jesus and His call on my life…everything changes!
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.
9 words- “and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”. On Facebook, when people have a relationship that’s hard to define, they often write “it’s complicated” in the “relationship status” slot. That’s a fair statement here, as well. The relationship between God and Jesus is complicated. Jesus IS God’s one and only begotten Son. But Jesus is not only God’s Son…He IS God. God in human form. “In the beginning was the Word- Jesus. And the Word- Jesus- was with God. And the Word- Jesus- WAS God.
Jesus is not the abolishment of the Old Testament- He is the fulfillment of it. He didn’t come to do away with anything…but sin and separation. He came to offer us redemption- saving us from sin and death. He is not only the one and only begotten Son of God. He is our Redeemer. He broke into time and space. He split history in half- before Christ and in the year of our Lord. And He came to make a better way for us- His adopted brothers and sisters. I believe.