Friday, February 22, 2013

Prepared for Sno-megeddon 2013

I went to the grocery store to grab a quick salad from their salad bar at lunchtime on Wednesday, and the store was crowded.


Really crowded.  


Like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day crowded.


Usually when I show up at lunchtime at my local Hy-Vee, it’s me and two 84-year-olds examining the tomatoes. But this past Wednesday there were so many people gathered at the grocery store, I thought that they were giving out free boxes of Cap’n Crunch. Of course, you will recall that lunchtime on Wednesday was just hours before this year’s version of “Sno-megeddon” was to strike. And the good Kansans with visions of “Sno-pocalypse 2013” were stocking up on milk and bread as if the Y2K predictions were finally about to come true. In fact, judging by the amount of food in their shopping carts, I think the good shoppers believed the snow would not melt until Independence Day.


I know I’m a Michigander. As such, I am obligated to write about my growing up days in the giant Mitten with absolute zero temperatures and schools only cancelled unless the snowfall reached Sputnik. None of that is true– except the “my being from Michigan” part. Still, with risk of sounding snow-snobberish, the brouhaha over this latest snowfall seemed a little silly to me. (Honesty alert: Upon seeing the crowds at the grocery store, I called Karla to see if we needed anything before we “hunkered down for the long winter’s night.” She said we needed bananas and apples. Let it be noted that the Princes would not face the piles of snow and ice without fruit salad!)


If your house is like mine, you would be able to survive a night with the groceries that are already in the cupboard. Even if the roads were unsafe and no one could venture out for a day or two, I doubt that many of us would have trouble finding something to eat. There’s always an extra can of pork and beans somewhere—isn’t there?


And yet, my neighbors headed for the grocery store to make sure their shelves were stuffed just in case. They wanted to be prepared for a two day (at most) inconvenience. It sounds almost unbiblical that our homes (because of our inability to traverse icy roads) would become a land where there is no milk or honey. So we stocked up on the essentials. Mind you−I’m not throwing stones (or snowballs)− remember I bought apples and bananas “just in case.” If I could have found the manna aisle, I would have bought a pack of that too.


Here’s my point: A lot of people were making sure they were prepared for a two day “snow in.”


Here’s the truth: We are going to spend a whole lot more than two days time in eternity. 


Here’s the question: Are we equally determined to be prepared for eternity as we were for “Snowquake 2013”? 


Unlike the local TV weathermen, I don’t think the world is going to end tomorrow.  And I’m not trying to be Chicken Little. The sky is not falling− that’s snow. (I told you, I’m from Michigan. We know these things.) I also know this— all of us one day will have a face to face encounter with God Almighty. The question on that Day will not be, “Is there coffee and marmalade in the cupboard?” but rather, “Is Jesus living in your heart?” Paul said it this way: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)


Forget our latest “Snow-Tsunami,” are you prepared for that Day?  


Friday, February 08, 2013

Four Churches in Cuba

Last Sunday I was in Cuba and went to four different churches in the morning. (I’m not implying that you are a slacker for only attending one church last Sunday morning, I’m just reporting that I happened to be in four). In fact, I’ve known people (nice people) who don’t make it to four church services in a month. Since all the churches were wesleyan in theirleanings, one could say on Sunday I experienced a Wesleyan quadrilateral of worship. (That was a little theological humor for the two Wesleyan theologians who still happen to read these musings. Don't sweat it− they didn't think it was funny either.) And don't be too impressed by my worship-times-four morning− according to our Sunday School counter extraordinaire, Ruth Vail, I only get credit for one Sunday attendance in my permanent record in heaven. Ruth knows these things.


The first church wasn’t technically having a service when I was there— but I was still there with the pastor and the folks on our Cuban Partnership Vision Team− and we prayed together. Haven’t you ever read the verse about if two or three are gathered in Jesus name? I say that counts. 


The second church was meeting in a shed. A small shed. Behind a small house that most of us would say also looked like a shed. I’m not sure which was bigger the worship house shed or the house that looked like a shed− or exactly what differentiated the shed from the house. But I know this—the people were praising the Lord as if they were in the biggest church in the world. They didn't seem to mind that they were worshipping the Creator of the universe in a shed.


The third church we referred to as the “bouncing church” because they were bouncing as they praised the Lord. They were singing loud, waving their arms like they were trying to run down a city bus in New York City, and, of course, bouncing like their shoes were equipped with springs. We could use a little more bounce in our church. Bouncing is good.

The last church allowed me to preach. No one bounced when I was done—but they didn’t throw rotten tomatoes or, more probable, rotten mangoes either. So I’d say it went well.


Here’s what I observed in the four churches I visited last Sunday:


No one seemed to care that the music was loud.

No one complained that the pews weren’t padded (maybe if our pews weren't padded we'd bounce more).

No one seemed to care that the conditions were not pristine.

No one seemed to notice that the preacher didn’t have a tie on. (Well, I preached in a tie, but the guy in the shed didn’t have one.)

No one fussed that the sanctuary was too cold (with 70 people jammed into the shed on a tropical island, I don't think that is ever a problem).

No one seemed bothered with the expectation that every member tithe. (In all four churches, even the shed, there was a tithing billboard next to the door with an envelope for each member to contribute. They all did.)

No one seemed to look at their watch to see if it was time to leave or checked for the latest news on their iPhone− they simply worshipped God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength until they were done (OK− truth be told, I don't think any of the folks even owned a watch and I doubt they had ever seen an iPhone).


The people gathered with one purpose: they were there to praise the Lord and praising the Lord is exactly what they did. I kind of wish we were more like that.


I wish all the external things that occupy our time and thoughts on a Sunday morning were put away, and we just determined to worship God when we gather. I hope we could be like my new found Cuban friends. Not worry so much about many of the things we worry about, and just gather in Jesus name, ready to be fully engaged in worshipping and praising our God.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cirque du Soleil and the Gospel

Karla and I were able to attend a cirque du soleil dinner event recently. There were jugglers, magicians, feats of strength and agility. The performers were quite amazing.
One lady balanced a cello with her feet above her head−juggling it and turning it all with her feet. Another lady changed her clothes over and over again in a manner of seconds. (I've asked Karla if she could work on obtaining that skill.) There was one guy, whose physique was absolutely nothing like mine, flexing his muscles and displaying his strength. (I asked Karla if that guy reminded her of me. She said an emphatic, “No!” a little too quickly for my liking.) All this to say each performer was quite amazing.

 The show began with a woman in a huge champagne glass twisting and turning. She was quite "bendy." I think she scratched her shoulder with her opposite foot after taking said foot first around her head. It hurt me just watching her. I don't even know how you get that skill (or quite frankly why you would want it−unless you had very itchy ears).

While I'm not ready to be twisting around in a big glass on a stage in front of hundreds of people, I do want to be flexible. I don't care if my foot can scratch my ear, but I do want to be able to be able to evaluate my environment and do the most good in it.

Here’s the deal: If we are serious about reaching people for Christ (our mission from Jesus is to make "more and better disciples"), then I think being flexible and willing to change in a changing world is part of it. As our world changes, we need to be "bendy" too. Not changing our message−the message of Christ is timeless−but changing our methods when necessary. Paul had this “bendy” attitude toward the methods of reaching people when he wrote to the Corinthians:To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)

I wish one of our core values would be "everything is an experiment." The stakes (eternal life and eternal death) are too high to not try. I have too many neighbors and too many friends and acquaintances that desperately need us to keep trying, keep experimenting, and continuing to be willing to be flexible with our methods so that we might proclaim the message of Christ. 

I'm not ready to hop into a big champagne glass (and no one would want to see that fiasco) but I do want to be flexible. The message is too important.  


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cubbies Never Win: A Sad Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a man named Cubby who had a wonderful outlook on life. Every day he would awaken like it was a National holiday and grin like he just received straight A’s on a report card. He’d take a deep breath, pretending to be in the Rockies, as he listened to the birds singing their morning songs. The Cardinals, Orioles and Blue Jays’ squawks and tweets were like music in his ears. Even better, he planned to marry his little Philly, a girl named “Angel” in a seaside wedding. The honeymoon was to be on a Mariner’s boat where they had hopes of great adventures and catching a Giant Marlin or a Tiger shark and then living happily ever after.

  “Even if I was from a Royal family my life could not be more splendid. To be any happier, I’d have to be Twins!” he thought to himself.

The wedding day finally arrived and the warm Rays of the sun were breaking through the clouds. Like every other day, Cubby thought all was wonderful. But in his excitement and unbeknownst to him, he put on one White Sox and one Red Sox. Wearing his mismatched footwear, he made his way to the beach whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy the whole way.

Immediately, when Angel saw her potential groom and his multicolored stocking feet, her face turned Red and she stormed off the beach as if Astro particles were falling from the sky.

Padre,” Cubby said to the minister, “Arrgg! What happened? Even though I said, 'Arrgg!' I’m no Pirate. And even though I am wearing mismatched socks, I have not been frequenting the various Brewers in my town. I'm just an unlucky guy― maybe I'm cursed."

“Be Brave as an Indian,” the minister encouraged, “I can get your Diamondback.”

“I don’t care about the stinking ring. I'm no Lone Ranger—I need Angel,” Cubby shouted as he chased after her.

After a long race, Cubby finally Met up with Angel and said, “Why did you run away?”

“Oh Cubby,” she answered, “When I saw your mismatched socks I realized how cold my feet were and I fled. I’m not sure I’m ready to be married.”

“I’ll wait for you,” said Cubby with a smile. “Even if it takes 104 years or even longer I will wait and when you are ready we’ll get married and go on a boat and catch a big fish on our honey moon.”

“Roger Dodger!” Angel said and she gave him a hug and walked away.

Cubby never saw Angel again.

The moral of the story is either:
The Cubbies always lose in the end, or
Don't get married if you have cold feet, or
Don’t wear mismatched or matching socks on the beach, or
A pastor should never attempt to write a story using all 30 Major League baseball teams― or he will end with a very goofy fairy tale with no spiritual point whatsoever.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Father and Son Father's Day Sermon

I’m a little nervous about this Sunday’s sermon. The jitters are not because of an outlandish preaching experiment that could possibly offend someone. The problem is not an extremely difficult to explain Biblical passage (It’s Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child…”). As far as I know there is not going to be a celebrity in the crowd that would make me antsy (Both Barry Manilow and Alice Cooper will be in Kansas City this weekend. While it is unlikely, I suppose one of them could slip into the early service. But even if they do, I don’t think Pastor Kevin will do a tribute of either Alice Cooper’s “School’s out” or Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”). So those guys are not why I’m jumpy. I’m nervous because this Sunday my son, Ben, will help me preach the Father’s Day sermon. This will be his first ever sermon. Ever. I remember my first sermon. It was on a Sunday night in Alanson, Michigan following my sophomore year of college. I hand wrote the sermon manuscript in a blue spiral notebook. My text was from 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In that passage Paul encouraged the believers to run in such a way to win the prize. I think I chose that passage because I knew more about sports than the Bible and that was the only sports reference that I could find in the Bible (not counting the classic biblical baseball text of Genesis 1:1, “in the big inning…”). My sermon on that night will not go in the annals of Christian history as one of the greatest sermons of all time. I preached that sermon in the summer of 1983. 29 years ago this month. And I still remember it. The good, bad and ugly—I remember it all (there was more bad and ugly than good, in case there was any doubt). Ben will always remember this Sunday. I don’t think I will forget it either. My concern is not that he perfectly articulates each point. I won't be worried if he happens to stumble through a few words (my goodness I have preached over 2,000 sermons now and if you've sat through any of those 2,000 "gems" then you know I can butcher the English language with the worst of them). Here's my prayer-- that Ben will faithfully proclaim the Word of God. I don’t care if he botches the pronunciation of “Nebuchadnezzar,” but I do care that he always is faithful. I hope that he preaches 'full of grace and truth" in a manner worthy of Christ. For our family, this Father's Day will be one we won't forget. My prayer is that God uses both Ben and I and that those listening will long remember the morning not because of what was said by a preacher and his son-- but because of what God does deep in their heart. See you Sunday-- but please leave your rotten vegetables at home-- just in case it doesn't go well I don't want to have to dodge a flying tomato.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Hosptials and Me

This week I’ve been at a different hospital each day visiting folks. Here are some hospital observations and memories:

I like hospitals with clergy parking. Kansas City’s Children’s Hospital has the best clergy parking. If it was any closer to the hospital, it would be in the operating room.

In Michigan, several hospitals have fast food franchises located inside the hospital. I’ve eaten at Wendy’s, Mr. Pita, Schlotzsky’s Deli and Little Caesars― all while never leaving the hospital. I am not sure, but I think those hospitals’ cath labs get a percentage of the profits from the fast food joints.

I know a couple of people who like the food at Shawnee Mission Medical Center so much that they will go there for lunch—even when they don’t have any family or friends in the hospital. Who needs a Wendy’s if you can have tuna casserole over rice?

I like hospitals with good, free coffee. Shawnee Mission Medical Center has several options with Keurig Coffee makers located throughout the hospital. Hot. Fresh. Nice.

Maternity wards generally have the nicest rooms in the hospital. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that after nine months of pregnancy, morning sickness, swollen ankles, maternity clothes, contractions, and giving birth, new moms deserve to feel like they are a queen at the Grand Plaza Hotel.

I was nearly attacked by a mother goose entering a hospital. It was at Menorah a few years ago—either I got too close to her eggs or one of her relatives honked about the goose liver pate I once consumed.

I was involved in an accident while praying for someone in a hospital carport. At Overland Park Regional Hospital, while I was standing on the outside of a parishioner’s car and praying with the passengers on the inside of the car, a somewhat dazed driver rear ended their car. Jesus said we could move mountains in our prayers—apparently my prayers move Chevy Tahoes.

In a Detroit hospital emergency room, I sat next to a guy handcuffed to his chair. I wasn’t quite sure how to start that conversation. “Hey, I guess this isn’t where you expected to be today…” didn’t seem quite right.

I’ve been stuck in an elevator at a hospital. Thankfully I’ve never been stuck on an escalator in a hospital.

I’ve been mistaken several times for a doctor. Unfortunately, not once in my basketball playing days was I ever mistaken for Dr. J.

One time I had a person visiting the hospital with me, and when the recently operated upon patient decided to show us his new scar (that happens a lot by the way), my guest passed out. Kerplunk!

I’ve seen more body parts, more disgusting fluids, and sniffed more unholy smells while in a hospital than OSHA requirements allow. Chalk this up to –some things they don’t prepare you for in seminary.

Some of the most needed and meaningful times of sharing God’s grace throughout my years of pastoring have taken place in hospitals. Praying, counseling, reading scripture, crying, laughing, hoping, expecting, and leading a few people to Christ—have all happened on hospital visits.

I think Jesus would be at hospitals. Matthew 4:23-24 says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and He healed them.” Seems to me if we want to be like Jesus—we’ll be where sick people are too.

All this to say: I am thankful for the opportunity to serve and I love seeing God’s healing work and loving presence in the midst of the challenging moments of life. And of course―the added bonus when at Shawnee Mission Medical Center—you can get all of that grace, a good cup of coffee, and a tasty lunch too!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Confessions

It’s Monday morning and these are a few of my confessions:

I confess that the jeans I wore at Sidedoor last night felt too short.
I confess that I don’t like it when my jeans feel too short.
I confess that these feelings probably stem from the days when my mom would buy me Sears and Roebuck Tough Skin Jeans two sizes too big (so I could grow into them); and since those jeans were made to withstand a nuclear blast, I would be expected to wear them until they were two sizes too small.
I confess that whenever I see short jean wearers I have flashbacks.
I confess this whole ordeal has probably scarred me for life.

I also confess that we don’t seem to make real confessions in church very often. Maybe it’s because people are afraid of what others might think. Or maybe it’s because of a misrepresentation of our holiness message. Or maybe it’s because of a sinful obsession with self.

I also also confess that we need to be more confessional. That is, we need to be more open and forgiving and prayerful and honest and loving and redemptive and holy than we sometimes are.

Boom. I’m done.