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!