Closing Night Strike: Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Closing Night Strike Still Havent Found

     A few of years ago, my family and I were driving to a place in the middle of nowhere we had never been to, so I was using GPS. Suddenly my phone said, “You have LOST GPS signal.”  “Come ON!” We wandered around a bit but couldn’t find what we were looking for. Just as we were ready to give up, my phone said, “GPS service!” We broke into, “Victory in Jesus”!!
Today we continue our relatively short, 4-Sunday walk through the post-resurrection (that is to say AFTER Easter) appearances of Jesus. The series has an odd name that might seem a bit of a mystery at first glance- Closing Night Strike. Closing Night Strike is a theater term. In educational theater, we would do the play or musical over two weekends- 6 performances. And then, after closing night, we would “strike”- put away the set, the costumes and the props. After months of work, the show opens…and closes. A couple of hours of clean-up and it’s all gone. And you’re left with a strong sense of, “What NOW?!”
Churches spend SO much effort and energy getting to Easter. The worship services are powerful, meaningful. And then…Monday comes. Show over, sets struck, costumes in storage. And the church is left to ask, “What NOW?!” Each week has a song tied to it that relates to the story.
Today’s song is Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2. The song was a collaboration- lead vocalist Bono (NOT the name his mama gave him!) was interested in the theme of spiritual doubt. Meanwhile, lead guitarist The Edge (ALSO not the name his mama gave him!) had written the words “still haven’t found what I’m looking for” and a chord progression to go with it. They put it all together and ended up with the 2nd track for their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. The lyrics include- “I have spoke with the tongue of angels. I have held the hand of a devil. It was warm in the night. I was cold as a stone. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Sounds very much like someone crying out to God, looking for what they don’t have. And then, as if Jesus is responding to us, the song offers, “I have climbed highest mountains. I have run through the fields only to be with you. I have run, I have crawled. I have scaled these city walls, these city walls, only to be with you, only to be with you.”
Have you ever been near the end of your rope and then, somebody says something, or you hear a song or read a story, and you realize it’s a message from God?
     2Chronicles 15:2b-4 The LORD is with you as long as you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you abandon Him, he will abandon you.
     Israel turned their back on God. But in their time of deepest need, they turned back to Him and found He had been there all along- waiting for them. Sometimes the answer is right in front of us.
One of the oldest and most time-worn conventions in all of entertainment is that of mistaken identity. What 60’s and 70’s sitcom didn’t use the “evil twin” convention? Movies like The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin, The Court Jester and North By Northwest and books like The Prince and the Pauper A Comedy of Errors are squarely rooted in the premise of someone being mistaken for someone else. In today’s story, Jesus shows up in an unlikely place and is met with a case of mistaken identity and some surprising results.
Luke 24:13-18, 27-32- That same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a town named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking about everything that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking with them, but they were kept from recognizing him. Then he said, “What are these things you are talking about while you walk?” The two followers stopped, looking very sad. The one named Cleopas answered, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened there?” Then starting with what Moses and all the prophets had said about him, Jesus began to explain everything that had been written about himself in the Scriptures. They came near the town of Emmaus, and Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they begged him, “Stay with us, because it is late; it is almost night.” So he went in to stay with them. When Jesus was at the table with them, he took some bread, gave thanks, divided it, and gave it to them. And then, they were allowed to recognize Jesus. But when they saw who he was, he disappeared. They said to each other, “It felt like a fire burning in us when Jesus talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us.”
Today’s story takes place on the road to Emmaus. 2 amazingly ordinary people are walking along one amazingly ordinary road, wallowing in grief, when suddenly an extraordinary stranger shows up. People ask about these 2- Cleopas and Friend- “How could they NOT recognize Jesus?” Well, He probably looked a bit familiar- “Haven’t we seen you someplace before?” But you have to remember- they weren’t LOOKING for Him…He was dead. Recognition isn’t just a function of memory- it’s also about relationship. Is this story about a stranger who turns out to be Jesus, or is it a story about Jesus…Who turns out to be a stranger?
Did you notice that our 2 travelers weren’t following directions? They weren’t on their way to Galilee to meet with Jesus. They weren’t staying in Jerusalem, waiting for the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit. They were out for a Sunday afternoon stroll, trying to put some distance between them and their crumbling world.
We’ve all been on the road to Emmaus- that temporary hiding place, that momentary distraction, that change of scenery. When the hurt gets so deep, sometimes you just have to get away. And let’s be honest- some days we ARE Cleopas and friend- trying to get away from it all. Then we hear footsteps behind us- a stranger, intruding on our misery. We don’t want to talk to anybody, and this stranger doesn’t even know what happened! So we tell him…and He starts lecturing us! We invite him in for dinner. We pass Him the bread- first. And suddenly…we recognize Him- it’s Jesus! “Lord, forgive us! We didn’t realize it was You!”
It was only when they broke bread together, when they did something they had done so many times before, that Cleopas and his friend recognized Jesus. Their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. And then, in the twinkling of an eye, He was gone! And they were left to ask each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” After that revelation, they immediately returned to Jerusalem and met with the other disciples, telling them what happened and how they recognized Jesus when He broke the bread.
The reality of this story is that moments of TRUE revelation are, more often than not, frighteningly ordinary times. When our eyes are opened and we suddenly recognize Jesus for Who He is, then we know- really know- that God understands. He understands our tiredness, our sorrow, our sadness. And in those moments, with groans too deep for words, we make a strong, personal connection with Jesus. We can hear Him say, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Emmaus reminds us that our God will never leave us alone, even when we’re hurt and disappointed, even when it seems that the brightest and best in life is gone, over, destroyed. God loves because God IS love. And when the love of God is alive in us, Jesus is alive in us.
I don’t know about you, but I’m delighted about the fact that Jesus being alive today isn’t dependent on my ability to understand how the Resurrection actually happened. We tend to keep on misunderstanding Who Jesus is and what He’s about, just like those 1st disciples did. We keep right on worshiping the wrong things, chasing the wrong dreams, being taken in by false messiahs. And in the midst of it, God just keeps right on loving us, often despite us. Emmaus moments happen. Emmaus moments are those times when, right smack in the middle of life, you meet the Risen Christ. And when that happens, Easter is so real you can taste it.
Jesus is alive, up close and personal. He cares about you and wants to reveal Himself to you, just like He revealed Himself to Cleopas and Friend on the road to Emmaus. He’s NOT dead and buried. Instead, He’s alive, well and with us. That’s what 2 travelers discovered on the road to Emmaus. They were discouraged, downhearted, defeated. And just when they were about to give up, they encountered Jesus.
People say to me, “I don’t need to go to church to find God! I can find Him just fine on the golf course! After all…isn’t God everywhere?” True enough- He is. But in worship, in the presence of other believers, when the Scriptures are shared and the bread is broken- that’s where you are most likely to encounter God. Why do we come to church? Because it’s the decent thing to do? Because you like the music? Because it looks good to other people? Because it serves as inexpensive medication? The best reason to go to church…is to find God. Or better yet, to open yourself to God. In worship, we here the echoes of eternity. When we bow before the throne, God is here. We need to open ourselves to God and hear Him speak to our hearts.
Ephesians 1:16-19 I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength.
Back to the song for a moment as we close. This last verse offers us the true meaning behind the Emmaus story- “I believe in the Kingdom Come, when all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one. But yes, I’m still running. You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, of my shame. You know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
In God’s Kingdom, all the colors bleed into one. There IS no black, white, old, young, male, female, rich, poor, whatever. We are radically equal in God’s eyes. And yet, we still run, we still search. But the Good News of the Gospels is that Jesus broke the bonds and loosed the chains. He carried the cross of OUR shame. Have YOU found what you’re looking for? If not, stop looking- it’s right here. What you seek, that part of you that simply refuses to be complete, can be made whole only in the healing and saving presence of Jesus Christ. Turn to Jesus on YOUR road to Emmaus and say to Him, “My Lord and my God.”

The 1st Stage of Grief


This past Wednesday evening, we started a a new “Bible” Study. I put the word “Bible” in quotes because the study really isn’t a true Bible Study. Instead, it’s a topical study that, as part of the approach to the topic, references Scripture. And the topic at hand is Grief.

The study I WAS teaching was coming to an end on the 19th, so I needed a new study. I looked at several potential studies, but the topic of Grief just kept coming back to me. So, I began to focus on what was available. I found a great study that, week by week, walks through the stages of grief.

The first stage- the one we looked at this past Wednesday- is denial. And let me tell you- denial ain’t just a river in Egypt! (Rimshot! “Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Try the veal! Be sure and tip your waitresses!”) We talked about the fact that grief often sends us first into a defensive mode- “I don’t want to believe that whatever happened is true…so I WON’T!”

Denial is a logical first step. Something happens that turns our world upside down. Why wouldn’t we automatically step into the Denial Mode. The easiest, most logical thing to do at a time like that is try and convince yourself that it didn’t happen. Denial.

We also talked about the varied reasons for grief. We obviously lean toward death as the impetus when the topic of grief comes up. And we all have lost someone that send into grief. But there are LOTS of potential sources for grief. A broken relationship. A lost job. A devastating diagnosis. Financial struggles. The list goes on and on.

And while there are those who would want to try and “grade” grief- most to least- the truth of the matter is that your grief is as real and as important as anybody else’s, regardless of the cause. If something happened in your life that causes you grief- own it. Accept it. Claim it. And be willing to invest in the process of working through it. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. But if you are determined to not get stuck in it but to work through it, there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

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

Not Your Father’s Church Announcements!


There is an interesting…”thing”…that has developed over the last several months at the church we currently serve. Last summer, we were gearing up for the launch of a new, 3rd Sunday morning worship service. Let me assure you, after having done this very thing at now all 3 churches we have served, it is a herculean effort!

The new service meant, among other things, that MUCH thought had to be given to the Sunday morning schedule. How long would each service be? How much time would there be BETWEEN services? When would the morning start and when would it end? In the end, we went with a 1-hour service at 8AM, 15 minutes of transition followed by a 50-minute 9:15AM service, and 25 minutes of transition followed by another 1-hour service at 10:30AM. So the day starts at 8AM and ends at 11:30AM…more or less!

In an effort to try and make better use of the time we had- focus more on actual worship- we decided to stop doing “live announcements” and move to pre-recorded video announcements. The live version tended to drag, involved multiple people who may or may not work to be brief and…seemed to be more than a little ineffective as to folks actually, you know, LISTENING!

I had seen many versions of church announcements. Mostly, actually entirely (based on what I saw), they fell into the “attractive, articulate person smiling and talking” category. Not too shabby, actually. But they made me wonder if people actually paid any more attention to then, after a few weeks, than they did the live version. And so, an idea was born!

Our weekly Announcement Video very much has an “entertainment” factor to it. A series of characters and/or spoofs deliver the announcements each week. They are brief (usually about 4 minutes) and rather unpredictable. Those characteristics have created two realities- people are actually paying MUCH greater attention to the announcements and they try to get to church on time so that they don’t miss them!

I continue to marvel at how God has used the rather…bizarre…skill set I have. I use my Master’s Degree in Theology constantly. But I also use my Bachelor’s Degree, along with 46 years of playing the drums, on a VERY regular basis! So here’s the deal- whatever you are good at (And YES- you ARE good at something!), God is MORE than willing to find a way to translate that gift to ministry. It may not look the same when the dust settles, but it will be SO cool to use those gifts to glorify God!

If you haven’t seen any of the Announcement Videos and would like to, here is a link:

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

Closing Night Strike: The Long and Winding Road

Closing Night Strike Long Winding Road

     A man was on trial for murder. There was convincing evidence, but no body. The defense lawyer, worried that his client would be convicted, resorted to a trick: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all. Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked at the door with anticipation. I therefore put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.” The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. After only a few minutes, however, they returned with a guilty verdict. The defense attorney was stunned, “How? You must have had SOME doubt, I SAW you stare at the door.” The jury foreman replied: “WE looked at the door…but your client didn’t.”
James 4:4-8 Let your patience show itself perfectly in what you do. Then you will be perfect and complete and will have everything you need. But if any of you needs wisdom, you should ask God for it. He is generous to everyone and will give you wisdom without criticizing you. But when you ask God, you must believe and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like a wave in the sea, blown up and down by the wind. Such doubters are thinking two different things at the same time, and they cannot decide about anything they do. They should not think they will receive anything from the Lord.
Today we begin a relatively short, 4-Sunday walk through the post-resurrection (that is to say AFTER Easter) appearances of Jesus. We won’t talk about ALL of His appearances by any means, but we WILL get an overview of what happened AFTER Easter morning and BEFORE Jesus ascended into Heaven. The series has an odd name that might seem a bit of a mystery at first glance- Closing Night Strike. Closing Night Strike is a theater term. In educational theater, we would do the play or musical over two weekends- 6 or so performances. And then, after closing night, we would “strike”- put away the set, the costumes and the props.
So, what’s the connection between Closing Night Strike and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus? “Seems a bit of a…JUMP, Pastor!” Here’s the deal- when you’re in a play, you work for months on the show- memorizing lines and blocking, doing character development, etc. And then, the show “goes up”- it opens. You do several performances. And then…it’s over. Closing Night Strike. A couple of hours of clean-up and it’s all gone. And you’re suddenly left with a strong sense of, “What do I do NOW?!”
THAT’S the connection to post-Easter. Churches spend SO much effort and energy getting to Easter. Excitement builds. Expectations are high. Easter comes. Everybody looks great. The worship services are powerful, meaningful. And then…Monday comes and it’s all over. The show has closed. The sets have been struck. The costumes are in storage. And the church is left to ask, “What do we do NOW?!”
Don’t get me wrong- Easter was great. Between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday, we had 566 people worship with us. 566! That’s unbelievable! It’s also the biggest single week in a LONG time at this church. Great Easter. But the last verse of “Up From the Grave He Arose” isn’t the end- it’s the beginning. That first Easter morning began 40 days of Jesus appearing to hundreds of people. And we’re going to look at 4 of those stories that capture the power and beauty of the post-resurrection appearances. Each week’s message has a song tied to it – in fact it’s the name of the message – that relates to the story we’re looking at that week.
We’re a skeptical lot by nature, aren’t we? Actor Gary Cooper, as he turned down the iconic role of Rhett Butler in the movie “Gone With The Wind”, said, “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” Decca Records, as they rejected the Beatles in 1962, said, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” A professor of Electrical Engineering at New York University said, “The supercomputer is technologically impossible.” Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., in 1977 said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” And perhaps the most all-encompassing statement of skepticism EVER comes from Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents who, in 1899, said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” EVERYTHING! In 1899! Humans, by nature, are a skeptical lot, and that was just as true of the 1st Century disciples as it is today.
     John 20:24-29 Thomas (called Didymus), who was one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other followers kept telling Thomas, “We saw the Lord.” But Thomas said, “I will not believe it until I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side.” A week later the followers were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came in and stood right in the middle of them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand here in my side. Stop being an unbeliever and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you see me. Those who believe without seeing me will be truly blessed.”
It’s important to understand that Thomas isn’t singled out as an example of “doubt” here because of weak commitment or a watered-down faith. In fact, earlier in the Gospel of John, it’s Thomas who bluntly declares his willingness to follow Jesus back to Lazarus’ tomb, even though Jesus had nearly been stoned by those same people just a short time before. While the other disciples were being prudent and cautious, it was Thomas who said, “Let’s go, so that we might die with Him!” And his steadfastness was rewarded with a ringside seat for the staggering miracle of Lazarus walking out of the tomb- a foreshadowing of Easter morning. Thomas’ commitment to Jesus was enthusiastic and wholehearted.
Thomas’ “seeing-is-believing” faith had served him well so far. Why change now? What Thomas missed was that Jesus’ ministry had taken a quantum leap forward on Easter morning. The resurrection hadn’t yet moved him forward. What prevents you from moving forward? I think for most of us…it’s fear, because when the ground rules change, our greatest strengths often turn into our biggest liabilities.
You’re probably thinking, “That’s ridiculous! How can my strengths become weaknesses?” Take a lesson from the Borden Company. Back in the day, few companies were more familiar, respected or successful than Borden’s…think Elsie the cow! But what made Elsie end up in almost every refrigerator in the country is also what eventually led to the company’s downfall. Borden’s strengths became their weaknesses. First, companies like Frito-Lay and Doritos started taking a larger share of the chip market, but Borden saw no reason to change or add to its existing Wise potato chip brand. Next, premium ice creams like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs appeared on the scene, but Borden saw no reason to change or add to its traditional, lower-priced Lady Borden ice cream brand. Then, easy-to-prepare meals like Rice-a-Roni became popular, but Borden saw no reason to change or add to its Prince spaghetti and Classico spaghetti sauce brands. And that unwillingness to change is what eventually brought Elsie to her knees. After significant financial losses in the early 1990s, equity firm KKR carried out a successful leveraged takeover of Borden in 1995. In 2001, they shut down Borden’s food products operations and, by 2005, they had divested ALL of Borden operations. The Borden dairy brand now only exists through licensing agreements with other companies. In the end, poor Elsie was led to the slaughterhouse at a price per pound that was MUCH lower than anybody imagined possible, all because they were unwilling to change.
Psalm 31:21-24 Praise the LORD. His love to me was wonderful when my city was attacked. In my distress, I said, “God cannot see me!” But you heard my prayer when I cried out to you for help. Love the LORD, all you who belong to him. The LORD protects those who truly believe, but he punishes the proud as much as they have sinned. All you who put your hope in the LORD be strong and brave.
A healthy amount of doubt isn’t a bad thing. If you never sincerely doubt, then you’ll never completely believe. Thomas showed us how to escape the trap of depending in your own strengths. After hiding behind his strong commitment to the visible signs and wonders of Jesus, Thomas ultimately had the humility to accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and love when He showed up, alive and well. When confronted by a living Jesus, Thomas didn’t even have to touch the nail holes. Instead, he stood, in wonder and amazement, and said, “My Lord and my God!” As I pointed out last week, Thomas responded in faith to Jesus’ love and forgiveness by allowing himself to be weak enough to accept the fact that he simply wasn’t strong enough on his own.
The Long and Winding Road, written by THE most successful songwriter in history- Paul McCartney- originally appeared on The Beatles’ Let It Be album. It was their 20th…and last…U.S. #1 song on May 23, 1970. It was also their last new single ever released. The song has a lot to say about life, and faith…and doubt. The words include: “The long and winding road that leads to your door will never disappear- I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here; lead me to your door. Many times, I’ve been alone and many times I’ve cried- anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried. And still they lead me back to the long winding road.
Life leads us all over the place, winding in and out, up and down. And sometimes, life finds us alone and brokenhearted. But it’s Jesus Christ Who continues to call us forward, looking for deeper understanding and stronger faith. And that unending road of life always leads us back to Him…if we’re willing to stick with it.
Writer Herb Caen said, rather bluntly, “The trouble with born-again Christians is that they’re often an even bigger pain the second time around!” What’s your greatest strength? That’s quite possibly also where you are the most vulnerable. Has your greatest strength become your greatest weakness? Jesus’ gift to Thomas was to empower him to stop doubting and believe…and it can empower us, too. Instead of “show-me” signs, God offers us an unmerited gift of faith…one that we can’t earn and don’t deserve. And that gift is nothing less than the love, forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ.

Bullies BUG Me!


     I hate bullies. I KNOW…we’re not supposed to hate things. But I’m not gonna lie…I HATE bullies!
When I was a kid, I wasn’t really bullied very much. On the one hand, looking back, that surprises me. I was a rather shy kid who went out of his way to avoid conflict. But on quite the other hand, it really doesn’t surprise me at all. I was also a ticking time bomb with enough rage to lift a city bus seething JUST below the surface, and woe to the fool who decided to bully me or someone close to me!
My guess is that many of you are reading that last sentence and thinking to yourself, “Ticking time bomb? rage? Seething? YOU? Come on, Rev. Feel Good!” But it’s true. I was raised in a rather dysfunctional home, and that led me to have some rather serious anger issues. I had…and have…a rather long, slow fuse. But if that fuse burns all the way down…not pretty. I have been known in my lifetime to suddenly become a different person if someone is trying to bully me…or even worse…someone I love.
So…bullies make me mad! Why? Because they take no one else into account. Everything is about them, and apparently they could care less about how their actions impact others. They say, over and over, through their actions, “It’s all about me. As long as I get what I want, I could care less what happens to anybody else.” And I simply don’t have a gear for that kind of behavior- never have…never will.
In the Gospels, the Powers That Be try to trip Jesus up. They mention the 10 Commandments, the foundation of the Old Testament, and then they ask Him which is the greatest of those commandments. They are sure they “have” Him- regardless of which one He picks, He is rejecting the others. “Ha! In Your face, Jesus!” But He proves He is up for the task. He tells them, “The greatest commandment is this- love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like the first- love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
I would argue that, if you are a bully, if you try to manipulate and force people to do what YOU want, for YOUR purposes, then you are simply NOT following what Jesus said were the greatest commandments. Can’t be. Not possible. No way, no how. When we are like a freight train, running roughshod over everything…and everyone…in our path, we are absolutely  no better than the schoolyard bully who takes everybody’s lunch money. Nobody wanted to be around that kid…and nobody wants to be around adults who act like that, either.
We are NOT called to try and make people bend to our will. We are, instead, called to pull a Rodney King and all get along. We don’t always have to agree. In fact, we WON’T always agree. But we DO need to try and get along. We DO need to try and be civil. We DO need to try and be polite, taking the other person’s feelings, needs and thoughts into account.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

3 Years Later

3 years later    It’s amazing what a difference 3 years can make. 3 years ago- 3 years and 2 days, to be exact- life was a bit…tenuous. My family was in St. Louis, MO, having arrived the day before. We got to Barnes Hospital at 5:30 the morning of Thursday, April 17, 2014. I checked in and then…the fun really got started!

It all started in late May, 2013. I started losing the hearing in my right ear. In addition, I felt a constant pressure- as if someone was pushing on my right ear from the INSIDE. On May 28, 2013- our older son’s birthday- we found out I had a golf ball-sized tumor sitting on the top of the “guts” of my right ear. A biopsy (They took my right ear OFF, dug around in there and then sewed it BACK on!) revealed that it was a Giant Cell Reparative Granuloma- an aggressive but slow-growing non-cancerous tumor. It was NOT cancer…but it acted like it.

It was extremely rare- I am the 19th recorded case of THIS tumor in THIS location acting THIS way. No one knew what to do with it. Therefore, I had a HARD time finding a doctor who would even try. Fortunately, we found one! (In the end, three!)

We began an experimental treatment in an effort to shrink the tumor. It didn’t work. So we began a different experimental treatment. It took a pretty substantial toll on me…but also didn’t shrink the tumor. In early April, 2014, a CT scan and an MRI revealed that, in fact, the tumor had grown. AND…the right half of my face, almost overnight, was paralyzed.

So, the surgery was scheduled immediately. I wanted to wait until after Easter, which was on April 20 that year. My surgery, in a nice way, said, “Are you an idioit?!” So we went to St. Louis! Again, we got there that morning. I was prepped for surgery. They did a LAST minute CT scan to have a current view of the tumor. And then- surgery. Over the next 10-ish hours, they drilled a chunk out of my skull. They then used some kind of cutter to cut away MORE of my skull. Then they spent hours cutting out the tumor. The last little bit was attached to the dura- the sack that protects your brain- and they didn’t want to risk damaging or nicking the dura. So they cauterized that portion.

It was then rebuild the skull and the cap that hold the jawbone on (The tumor had destroyed that, along with the bones of the inner ear) with titanium screws and mesh, install 2 different drains in my head and sew it all back up!

I spent Friday, April 18, 2014- Good Friday AND my 53rd birthday- in Intensive Care. (The staff brought me a birthday cupcake!) Saturday morning, I was moved to a regular room. And then Sunday- Easter Sunday, 3 days later- I was released! By 3PM that afternoon, we were eating Easter dinner at my brother’s house!

So, how are things going? Well, on the downside, I am COMPLETELY deaf on the right side, along with partially deaf on the left side from years of playing the drums. I have constant ringing in the ears (Even the deaf ear!) 24/7/365. There are ALWAYS 3-4 identifiable, different sounds and it’s pretty loud. I suffer from more facial paralysis than most people realize. (I have learned to hide it pretty well!) If I get very hot at all I get nauseous and dizzy. And yet, I get cold easily- which is VERY different than I used to be!

On the upside- I’m alive! God gave me a second chance in a MAJOR way. I have an AWESOME wife and AWESOME kids. I serve a GREAT church and an even GREATER God. Are there things I could regularly complain about? Honestly- yes. But I have SO many things to be thankful for…and so I focus on them! I can’t change the negatives- they are what they. So I thank God daily for another day to be upright, breathing and about His business! God is good, all the time!

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

Creed: Savior

Creed Savior

     Habakkuk 3:18-19 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.
It was Easter Sunday and the church was FULL! The service was incredible and the music inspiring. Afterwards, people were filing out, shaking hands with the pastor as they went. The pastor spied a man from the community in line- a man that he knew seldom came to church. He saw this as an opportunity. As the man walked up to him, the pastor shook his hand and said, “My son, you need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man quickly replied, “Pastor, I’m already IN the Army of the Lord!” The pastor pulled him in close, frowned a bit, cocked his head and asked, “Then how come I only see you at Christmas and Easter?” The man pulled in even closer, looked side to side, put his finger to his lips and conspiratorially whispered, “I’m in the secret service!”
Today we wrap up our current sermon series- Creed. We’ve spent the 7 Sundays of the Easter season 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.
7 weeks ago, we started “at the very beginning”. Today, we arrive at the very END- “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Forgiveness. Resurrection. Life everlasting. The “tail end” of The Apostle’s Creed is aimed SQUARELY at Easter. And it is NO “happy accident” that we end up here…today. The heart of the Creed, the heart of Easter, the heart of the Christian faith is found in an understanding of forgiveness and new life. Also at the heart of Easter is hope.
Where do YOU go to look for hope? I’m going to bet that you could give me 5…10 separate answers and not ONE of them would be “cemetery”- right? I mean, who would look THERE for hope? That can’t be right! Our journey of hope CAN’T lead us…to the cemetery…can it?
As Christians, we are called to never give up. We are promised…PROMISED that hope is just around the corner and that death does NOT have the final word! The power of Easter is that, when all hope seems lost, it is truly just the beginning. Mary Magdalene and the others came to cemetery that first Easter morning looking for hope…and they were NOT disappointed.
Comedian and director Woody Allen once said he would gladly believe in God if He would just send him a sign. When asked what that might look like, he suggested that a large deposit in a bank account under the name “Woody Allen” just might do it! And let’s be honest- there is nothing new about the desire to have a sign from God. Like everybody else, we want confirmation- we want proof.
Maybe, some days, we doubt the Easter story. Maybe, some days, we doubt God’s love. Shoot, maybe some days we doubt God altogether! We probably don’t DENY Him completely- we probably wouldn’t be here this morning. Instead, we’d be neck deep in the morning newspaper, a cup of coffee in hand, breakfast in front of us and an Easter egg hunt ahead! We WANT to believe, but we catch ourselves wondering– what if? And what if NOT?
But we make a mistake when we suppress or ignore that doubt. We make a mistake when we PRETEND to be faithful. It’s like ignoring that sharp pain in your chest and hoping it will just go away. Our doubt isn’t evidence of a lack of faith. Instead, it shows a desire to ground our faith in facts.
When the King of the Doubters- Thomas- was convinced, he looked at Jesus and cut right to the chase, “My Lord and my God!” That is the only place in the Gospels where the name “God” is used to describe Jesus without any qualifications attached to it. The most blatant doubter of the resurrection utters the greatest confession of Who Jesus Christ is, and it’s both unexpected and convincing. The one unequivocal statement in the Gospels of the Divinity of Jesus comes from none other than Doubting Thomas. Thomas got answers to his questions and came out stronger on the other side. He was willing to ask the hard questions…AND accept the life-changing answers.
If I told you there were 4.2 billion fiber strands in the carpet of this room, you’d probably believe me…mostly because you really wouldn’t care one way or another! Doubting shows, among other things, care. It points to something worth investigating. Which faith is greater- one that never doubts or one that doubts, investigates and then believes?
If you know me at all, you know I am a rather rabid baseball fan and a student of the game and its history. The history of Major League Baseball is rich and varied. One of the BEST…or, depending on how you measure it WORST…trades in baseball history happened on December 26, 1919. The Boston Red Sox had a relatively successful pitcher by the name of George Herman “Babe” Ruth who wanted a raise to $20,000 for the 1920 season. Club owner Harry Frazee didn’t want to pay that much. He also was trying to bankroll the Broadway premiere of a play called My Lady Friends. So, he sold the disgruntled Ruth to the New York Yankees. Frazee was paid $25,000 up front, along with three promissory notes of $25,000 each. He also got a $300,000 loan, held against the mortgage on Fenway Park. That made the deal worth $400,000 — nearly the full amount Yankee owners had paid for the entire New York franchise just four years earlier. We all know that Ruth went on to become a legend while the Red Sox suffered for DECADES through “The Curse of the Bambino”!
That’s a pretty impressive trade. But THE most impressive trade in history is the one we celebrate today! Jesus Christ traded His death for our forgiveness, His life for our eternity. And it’s not just an amazing trade- it’s an offer that is made to anyone who will receive it.
There is this thing in our bodies called laminin.  is a glycoprotein that is a component of the body’s connective tissue. It’s a glue-like protein that holds cells and tissue…and life together. And a few years ago, scientists found out something fascinating about laminin. Using the most powerful electron microscope, they have identified the SHAPE that is the core of this protein that binds us together. And guess what the shape is? A cross! Is that a coincidence? A flight of fancy? Wishful thinking? Or is it Divine design? Is it God’s stamp on His Creation?
People complain, “The church isn’t meeting my needs. The church is here to meet my needs!” Know what? No it’s not. The church doesn’t exist to meet our needs. We exist to carry out the work of the Church- God’s work. The great Vince Lombardi was asked what it took to have a winning team. He said that lots of teams know the fundamentals and have discipline…but don’t win. He said they are missing that 3rd ingredient- they have to care for one another. They have to love each other. Each player has to think, “I have to do my job well so he can do his.” In a healthy church, each Christian learns to care for others.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
This Easter, I invite you to wrestle with your faith. I encourage you to bring your doubts to the tomb, ask the hard questions, examine things and then figure out what’s going on. Do you have doubts? It’s best to face them and search for the answers- in church, where your church family can nurture you, help answer your questions and help your faith grow.
A little boy asked his Grandma, “How old are you?” She replied, “39…and holding!” The boy thought about that for a moment, then responded, “How old would you be…if you let go?” Here’s my challenge to you- let go. Let go of your doubt, your uncertainty, your unwillingness and your fear. Let go…and …come to Jesus.