Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Pain After Childbirth

Parents will understand when I say that if it were not for bedtime, my wife and I might never have a conversation uninterrupted. Even then it is not a guarantee. I remember when I was the only one clamoring for my wife's attention. And like a fool, she gave me her undivided attention. It was only foolish because it developed into a habit wherein I believed I could always have her focus.

I haven't had that sort of attention in about 9 years. Sometimes, in the wee hours of the night, after our personal collection of little needy people are asleep, we sometimes ask ourselves, "Selves, what did we do with all our time before children?" I must be honest and say this lack of attention is somewhat painful and hard to bear.

I don't wish to complain when so many wish they could have children. I could segue and talk about how incredibly busy I am with ministry right now. But that also seems foolish, given how many would like to be busy with a job. But this is the life I have chosen, although at times it feels like it has chosen me. And it too is sometimes painful.

I know I'm not alone in this wondering about why life is the way it is. Bart Millard, from Mercyme, penned the following;

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus bring the rain


That sounds like an open invitation to god to do whatever He wants with your life. Very dangerous. But isn't this what giving your life to God should look like? Shouldn't we be saying that what God wants trumps what we want? Again, it's dangerous, but who is to say that it's not better?

Pain often comes with change. But we often overlook the peaceful and easy times. Here are some more words to bring balance to our thoughts;

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
~Lamentations 3:21-23

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Unsuspecting Volunteers

Busy, busy, busy. Everyone is busy. Always busy. Do you remember when there was a time when it seemed like you had busy seasons but you also had slower seasons? I’m sure I did, but I haven’t had time to go back and see when that was.

Now it seems as though busy seasons only lead into other busy seasons. And to trump them all is the SUPER-busy season of fall. I’m wondering if someone looked at the church calendar and had the following conversation.

Someone: I have a great idea.
Unsuspecting Volunteer: What’s that?
Someone: Do you know how school is about to start and days are getting shorter?
Unsuspecting Volunteer: Ummm….yeah.
Someone: I think we should kick off all of our ministries at once during that same month. And I’m so grateful that you love God and children enough to help me.

There’s no out for the unsuspecting volunteer who just had the Love God & Children card played on them. So, with summertime waving goodbye, I give you my top 4 ways not to view this Fall’s ministry schedule.

1. TV Viewing Inhibitor.
Unless you really enjoy watching people fail at comedy, talent shows, or maintaining their balance while being sprayed with tons of shaving cream, your television viewing has been limited this summer. But when the new fall line-ups bring out your favorite shows as well as many attempts to fill the void that ‘Lost’ left, you’ll find yourself questioning how much time you have to give. How about we learn how to use our DVR and set free some nights for ministry? You can cram in your shows on Saturday, when we’re not having work days.

2. Jewel in Your Crown.
Did God give us talents to use in ministry? Yes. Shouldn’t that be enough? Yes. But we Christians do like to get something back in return. When the church budget is slim and nothing earthly seems to be coming our way, we remind ourselves that we’re getting a jewel in our crown in Heaven. That may be true, but how about we view ministry as an opportunity to serve instead of a chance to improve our after-life résumé?

3. Thorn in Your Flesh.
This is #2 gone awry. When you start to view ministry opportunities as something you struggle with, it’s time for a reality check. Each week this fall we have an opportunity to share words of life and words of hope. Children, teens, or adults are opening themselves up to what you have to offer. This is an honor, not a punishment.

4. Last Year, Redone.

Haven’t we done all of this before? Perhaps. But unless you’re holding back students who haven’t figured out the answer is ‘Jesus’, then you probably have new faces. Each year we have is another occasion to offer truth. Every week we meet is another invitation to share God’s life and make it our own.

Is the ministry schedule busy? I prefer to think of it as full. As you get involved this year, don’t come as an unsuspecting volunteer. Come expecting great things from a great God with a whole lot of great love.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flipped

Have you ever felt like something just wasn’t right? You’re not sure what, but something felt...wrong. Perhaps it was the way a friend treated you. Maybe it was an exchange between people that you couldn’t believe was happening. Or it could be the Mexican food you just ate. Whatever it was, something was backwards about the whole thing.

Flipped.

Sometimes we come across a book or a teacher that just blows our mind away. KABOOM! Call it a case of perfect timing, but you were ready and open for new information. And when they delivered, your life was changed.

Flipped.

In a very real sense, that is why Jess came. Jesus was all about making things that weren’t as if they were. Take blind people for example. Jesus helped them to see. The deaf could hear. Those who were dead were brought to life. Check it out in Matthew 11. Jesus tells people exactly what He’s doing.

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He came to deal with our hearts as well.
I think this is a large part of why many people had a problem with Jesus. He challenged the status quo. He shove din on our comfort zones.

Flipped.

Jesus said it didn’t matter if people hated us. We should love in return. He said it didn’t matter if life was unloading on us. Live with joy. And Jesus railed against our self-obsession over and over. We may not understand the math, but less of us is more. And when we choose to lose ourselves, that is when our true life is found.

Flipped.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ellen Degeneres as a Role Model?

I think she was serious when she said it. And what's more, I think she believed it. Whatever you think of Ellen Degeneres, I believe her comments have to tell us a little something about where we are as a society. She was recently at the Teen Choice Awards, a wonderful use of two hours. Here's what she said;

"I hope to not only be a comedian, but also to be a role model, because I feel that there are not too many women who are role models to teens, and I am talking about one woman ... Betty White. I would like to impart some wisdom on you: stay in school — I know, it’s hard, to listen to your parents and don’t pierce that."


Ok, let me be honest. I find Ellen humorous. I think she made American Idol bearable. But...a role model? I suppose I should ask, what if she is a good role model? Understand that I know nothing about her except the obvious. She has chosen an alternative lifestyle, to use society's terminology. 'Sinful' is the word I would use. But that's besides the point.

Assuming that being a homosexual is her only flaw, is she less of a role model than someone who lashes out in anger too often? Or compared to someone who loves money too much, is she less responsible?

There aren't enough good female role models in society at large, certainly not any I would point to at the Teen Choice Awards. Being a man, I am not qualified for thsi job. However, I would like to urge young ladies to be careful about who and how they choose someone to follow. Because I think some of the people we choose to follow, popular or not, are not much better than Ellen Degeneres.

What about you? How do you choose who to follow?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Free Methodist Church!

It was August 23, 1860 when the Free Methodist Church was born. She was 9 pounds, 8 ounces....wait, no she wasn't. She was a young upstart, founded by Benjamin Titus Roberts, proud owner of a neck-beard. (Link to FB group)

It was on this day in history that the FMC adopted a Discipline and elected B.T. Roberts as the general superintendent. This happened in Chesbrough Farm, Pekin, New York. A month later a second FMC was founded in Buffalo. A month after that, the Genesee Conference was organized with two districts.

From there they spread across the United States. North and East and South and West, much like a contemporary praise and worship song. Then they went Southeast to the Sunshine State.

In the 1970's a young pastor and his family moved to Cape Coral, Florida and began a community church connected with the FMC. Though somewhat hidden, this church grew and extended its arms to families through youth and children's programs. It was somewhere in 1986 that a young girl invited another young girl, her next door neighbor, to a midweek activity. She had a great time and told her family how friendly this church was.

The entire family visited the next week and stopped looking for a church home. That young girl was my sister. It was at the Cape Coral Community Church that I grew in my teen years, meeting friends who would challenge my faith in a good way. It was there that a youth pastor would challenge me to answer the call of God on my life. It was from there that I would attend a couple of different Free Methodist colleges, Central Christian College and Spring Arbor University.

I have never been an apologist for the Free Methodist Church. I would never say that we have the only market on Jesus. But it was through the FMC that I have come to be where I am. For that, I am very thankful.

Happy Birthday, Free Methodist Church.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why We All Suffer

My wife isn't one to hold grudges. It's a good thing, too, because otherwise I would not be in good standing in her eyes. But 14 years later, she loves me. This despite my many imperfections.

But mention running in gym class and she remembers. She remembers the stupid boyfriend of her gal-pal who said the wrong thing to the wrong gym teacher. This gym teacher was not to be trifled with. But instead of merely correcting the offending party, the gym teacher made everyone run laps.

You've no doubt seen this kind of correction take place. Punish everyone for one person's bad deeds. This way you turn a whole class into a miniature version of vigilantes ensuring justice is brought down.

It just goes to show that gym teachers are reading the Bible for disciplinary techniques. What, you ask? Oh yeah, this is a technique Nebuchadnezzer perfected back in Daniel's day. Dan asks if he could have the vegan special instead of all that fatty food. I've thought about doing that before, but then I recall how good cheeseburgers taste.

Well, Dan convinces the guards to a 10-day test as they train for the king's service. And surprise, surprise, surprise. Who would have thought that veggies and water would be more healthy than bacon and beer? I know, it surprises me too.

How popular do you think Danny-boy was with the other guys when the king decides to make them all go vegan? I can't imagine that went over very well. Much like the clown in gym class, they were all running laps now, just waiting for the perfect chance to thank him.

I guess that's why we do the right thing for the right reason.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can God Hear Us Now?

Without hope. It is a very scary feeling. Ever felt it? Ever seen it in someone else?

I used to think that 2 Kings 25 was the most depressing chapter of the Bible. It details the last days of Jerusalem before falling to Babylon. It is depressing. After all, with different kings coming and going, the people had probably still held on to hope. Hope that this king might be different. Hope that people would start to reform their ways. Hope that God would once again bless their nation.

But I think hope left the building a bit sooner than that. I'm reading through the prophet Ezekiel, who was one of the first to be deported, before the fall of Jerusalem. It doesn't take all that long for God to begin giving him the bad news. Just 8 chapters in, Zeke proclaims God's judgment on the wickedness happening in His own temple. "Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them." (Ezekiel 8:18).

Surely you've wondered if God is listening to you. We have each had those times when we felt the neediest and Heaven felt the quietest. We wanted to hold on to hope, but...

God could not be clearer. "Shout all you want Israelites. I won't be listening." This sort of feels like hope not only waved good-bye but added an obscene gesture just for affect.

Sitting in your classroom at the start of another school year may give you that same feeling of hopelessness. It's hard to hope for the end when you've barely just begun. But hold on. There is hope. The story did not end with prophecies from Ezekiel or histories from 1 & 2 Kings.

"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). That's God's word for His people. That's God's declaration for you. No matter where you are. No matter where you've been. No matter what you've done.

Can God hear you? Absolutely.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My 8-Year Old Gets It

I can remember when I first started watching sports. I was around 14 years old and it was all so new. I became enthralled with basketball, football and baseball. The competition was fierce and so real, unlike the ‘sport’ of professional wrestling, which I had been engrossed with before then. Go ahead, judge me.

Anyway, I have noticed over two decades what some of you have probably noticed over more or less time. Some things change. Champions come and go. But many things stay the same. The winner is still the team with the higher score, interviewing athletes reveals why they play sports and Brett Favre is still considering retirement. Perhaps the saddest aspect that never changes is the clamor for more money.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to rail against players receiving huge contracts. They do what they love and the business affords them that money. I do what I love. If someone wanted to pay me a million dollars to do youth ministry, I would find a way to spend the money, after my tithe, of course. What I will shake my head at is athletes who do not yet understand how fortunate they are to make money for playing sports.

The latest example is a football player for the New York Jets, Darrelle Revis. Understand that I know very little about how these contracts work, so we won’t get into the nitty gritty. Just know that Revis is a great player who wants more money. But in order to get more money, he’s opted out of his current contract, which would have paid him over TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS over the next 3 years.

As I was talking with my wife about this absurdity, my daughter, who was listening in, said, ‘He must care more about money than he does playing football.’ She’s 8! If my 8-year old can get it, why can’t professional athletes? On the other hand, my son, 7, asked, ‘Are there little leagues which pay money?’ I’ll have to keep working on him, I guess.

Let’s keep things in perspective. What’s your example of losing perspective?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Look What I Found!

As people gathered for worship they noticed that the pastor had a very different look on his face. He seemed more excited than usual. Perhaps more excited than he had been for several years. The mystery of his excitement was contagious and would not be contained for long.

After everyone was together and ready to begin, the pastor made this announcement, 'I was cleaning through the church yesterday, perusing old files and organizing stacks of books. That's when I found it, underneath layers of dust. It's the Bible!'

I don't know about you, but if this story were true and I were sitting in that group, a few questions would pop into my head. When did you lose the Bible? How have you been teaching us for however long it's been lost? And none the least of the questions would be how you lose THE BOOK that is supposedly most sacred, most important and most needed in our lives?

Hard as it may be to believe, this is exactly what happened in 2 Kings 22:8. It seems as King Josiah was interested in seeing the Temple repaired, so he sends word to the priest to tidy up and collect the money together to pay the workers. So Hilkiah the High Priest does this and what do you know? 'Do you recall those words that God spoke and Moses recorded?' 'Yes.' 'Well, we found them. It was weird. Somehow they got hidden behind the Asherah poles and the altar to Baal. It's always the last place you look.'

How dirty is your temple when you lose the sacred books?

My kids often find toys they forgot they had.
My wife has even been known to find a child under a layer of dirt around bath time.
I have been surprised to discover lost treasures in mountains of notes and books.

But imagine the pastor at your church getting up one Sunday and telling you a marvelous story of how he found his Bible, after years of not knowing where it had been. It seems to me that this happens in a hundred different ways in our lives each and every day. Great and necessary habits are cast aside because of many distractions. Prayer time is squeezed out because of phone calls. Taking the time to encourage a person is left undone because of a favorite TV show. And sadly, the reading of God's word does not happen due to forgetfulness or busy schedules.

Who knows how long Temple life had gone on before anyone even noticed that God's Word was missing? And how long do we go in our lives, dependent on our own wisdom, such as it is? It seems to me that we lose more than we realize when we lose time with God. Perhaps it is time for a little cleaning up in your life. If so, I have great news. In the Bible are words of life and hope and salvation. I have found them. You can too.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tree Ball 2.0

How much do you want Jesus?

Stop. Go back and read that question again. Read it a few times if you need. (I'll wait here before I go on.)

How much do you really want Jesus? I posed this question last week in the ridiculousness that was Tree Ball. I referenced Zac the tax collector who climbed a tree to be noticed by Jesus. It paid off. He got a dinner invite. Actually, Jesus invited Himself to Zac's house. I wonder if I could pull that off. Can you imagine a pastor ending a Sunday service by looking around and just picking someone? "Mrs. Jones, I hope you made extra. I'm coming over."

But this doesn't seem to be a problem for Jesus as many were honored to have Him in their home. Stories abound in the Bible of people who clamored for Jesus' attention and touch. They yelled and screamed, tore roofs off houses and pushed and shoved to be near Him.

Do you want Jesus enough to cause a scene?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Life on the Sea

Twice in my life I have been on a cruise. Both times were on the dime of my sugar-grand-momma. Both times were awesome. Very awesome. What can be better than sailing the open sea, not getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle, eating a lot and eating some more. It’s been 20 years since I last went, but I can still feel the rocking of the boat. (By the way, I still have my Cabana-wear for any sugar-grand-mommas that would like to take me on another cruise.)

I think I just got lost in thought on an endless buffet. Where was I going with this? Oh yes, I remember! Taking a cruise. I learned a lot of lessons on those cruises, number one being that I am super white and 3 layers of sunscreen (SPF 5000) is not too much. Here are some others…

Turning left on a ski-do
While docked in Cozumel, Mexico my dad afforded each of us children a choice of one activity. I chose to take my sister out on a jet ski. I was not old enough yet to drive a car in the US, but my dad agreed to let me drive my sister and I to our watery deaths out in the Gulf of Mexico. After giving us brief instructions, I raced out to open sea, only to realize that I couldn’t turn left. (Years and experience have taught me that I could, but choppy waters made it a tad difficult.) I mentioned my inability to turn left to my sister, which caused her to sink her nails into my skin while screaming that she was too young to die. So now my arms hurt, I couldn’t hear and I couldn’t turn left. Once my head cleared from the pain, it occurred to me that this was not a one-way gulf. So I made a right turn.

Sometimes life (and ministry) is like that. For whatever reason, one direction will prove to be difficult, if not impossible. We may want to turn left. We may be used to turning left. But perhaps God wants us to turn right.

Balancing Buffet Plates
Nobody wants a cruise to end, unless they were on the Titanic, but it’s probably better for our health that they do end. (Again, not for those on the Titanic.) After all, how long can you continuously eat at buffets and play shuffleboard? Even though walking can be good exercise, I’m not sure the boats are big enough to walk off each meal before the next one comes. Sure, they have exercise rooms and lots of activities, but I didn’t want to be late for any of those buffets.

The predicament is finding balance. That is true in the real world as well. We do need to eat (spiritual food as well) but the reason we eat is important. We eat to have energy to go and do. That’s true in our spiritual lives as well. We can digest sermon and lesson and study one after another. But if we do not use this energy (knowledge) to serve, then we are on a continuous buffet schedule. It might taste good, but what good does that do anyone else?

Waves can be rocky
Anyone who has been on a boat of any size can tell you that sometimes they rock. Thankfully they are normally like a Weeble (who wobbles but doesn’t fall down). Yet they can still cause some discomfort and sometimes causes some of that yummy buffet food to be re-gifted.

Again, life mirrors the cruise life in this way. Sometimes we want the world to stop spinning so we can get off. But just as our bodies adjust to a gentle, though constant, rocking, so also our spirits can adjust to whatever comes our way in life. Part of that is our trust that God is greater than anything this world can throw our way.

So as we cruise on ahead, keep your balance, adjust for opportunities and don’t be afraid of new directions. Oh, and don’t forget to bring some sunscreen.