Thursday, December 04, 2008

No Christmas Village at the Princes

We’ve been getting our house ready for Christmas—decorations, lights, the works…but I am not getting out our Christmas village this year. That doesn’t make me a Junior Ebenezer Scrooge, does it?

You’ve seen these villages before, haven’t you? Some ceramic maker or the good folks at Hallmark or a marketing guru somewhere decided that Christmas isn’t Christmas unless you have little ceramic houses and buildings with a little light bulb inside and little ceramic people in winter clothes and little ceramic snowmen all sitting on top of white polyester fluffy stuff that is suppose to look like snow.

Every year from the very first Christmas that Karla and I shared together as husband and wife, we have had a Christmas village. In those early years, it was more like a Christmas “widening in the road.” We had two houses, a church and a post office in our “village.” But over the last twenty years, we’ve added buildings and houses and little fake people and little fake street lights. We now have a full fledge ceramic metropolitan area—the only thing missing is a little ceramic greeter for our little ceramic Wal-Mart (OK, we don’t have a ceramic Wal-Mart. If we did, we’d have to board up all the other buildings in little Christmas village, since they would have gone out of business). Anyway, you get the idea. We have a full ceramic city now.

And this year, I’m not getting it out. It’s staying in the boxes in the basement along with the unused Christmas bulbs and the Christmas lights that don’t work (seriously, how come those little blinky lights only work one year and no more; and how do those blinky lights get so incredibly tangled just sitting in a box all year? Is there a Christmas blinky light gremlin that sneaks into my house in July and ties those strings of lights in knots and burns out one bulb on each and every string?).

I am not starting a campaign to rid the world of little ceramic villages. There will be no petition drives or boycotts. I am not hoping that President-elect Obama will put a ceramic village moratorium across the land. And if you have a Christmas Village and if you are setting it on your shelves this year, I am not trying to imply that you are akin to a terrorist or a Christmas distorter of the highest order. I am just saying that for me, this year (maybe next year I’ll feel differently), I am leaving the village and the polyester snow in the box.

It doesn’t add to my Christmas cheer or joy. Sometimes when the little bulbs don’t light or the cords get tangled or the little ceramic people take a dive onto the hardwood floors and break into littler ceramic pieces or when the white fluffy polyester snow is either too fluffy or not fluffy enough—it adds to my Christmas frustrations. But even when all goes well, I am not sure how a little ceramic village sitting on white fluffy polyester snow contributes to my celebrating the birth of my Lord. A nativity scene, I get. A beautiful well lit tree, I understand. But a ceramic village sitting on top of fake polyester snow? Bah Humbug. (Maybe I am a scrooge… yikes).

After spending last Christmas in St. Luke’s Hospital, I think I am viewing Christmas a little differently this year. I think some of the things I used to think were essential to having a happy Christmas are not so essential any more.

I don’t remember the gifts I received from last year (except for a pair of slippers, that Alex promptly claimed as his own), but I do remember the family gathering around the hospital bed and the boys opening a few presents and eating a meal provided by a nice family so we wouldn’t have to eat hospital food on Christmas day. I remember feeling blessed to be alive and thankful to God for his miraculous touch upon my life. There wasn’t a tree or stockings or a ceramic village in the room, instead I was surrounded by what was truly important: family, friends, and the grace of a loving and healing God.

If you are like me, every year we say things like: “I want to keep Christ in Christmas,” and “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” But then we go on doing the same things we’ve always done and we are just as busy and our lives are just as crowded as they have always been. And too often at the end of the holiday season we say, “Whew… I’m glad we don’t have to start thinking about Christmas until August when Wal-Mart puts the Christmas displays back up and starts playing carols over the loud speaker again.”

Well, I am hoping that this Christmas will be different. I want this Christmas to truly be more about Jesus and less about all the stuff that crowds Jesus out. I know there will be parties and gatherings. I will still be shopping and preparing for Christmas too. But I want my focus, my devotion and thoughts and prayers to be on Christ. When I read the Christmas story (that I’ve read thousands of times) I want to approach it like it’s the first time. And when we sing carols in church or when I hear them on the radio or my MP3—I want to sing maybe not with the same beauty or the same majesty of the angels in the Bethlehem sky, but with the same desire to praise the God who came as a baby born in a barn and ultimately died for me.

As I celebrate Christmas this year I want to be faithful and generous. I want to be joyful. I want to be triumphant. I want this Christmas season to truly be one that daily rejoices—even moment by moment rejoices-- in the glorious news: “For unto us a Child is Born, unto us a Son is given… and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

And for this year anyway, I don’t need a ceramic Christmas village with fake polyester snow to help me celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Openin' Day

November 15th is this Saturday. Back in my home state that is a very important day—the opening of firearm deer season. The roads heading north (where there are more deer than people) will be filled with men and women ready to locate a majestic, beautiful trophy buck. And shoot it dead.

When I pastored in the Great Lake State there were a few years, when I went out with some fellas on the holiday known simply as “Openin’ Day.” My intention was never to shoot one of God’s creatures; I went more for the coffee before the “hunt” and the stories of misses after the “hunt.”

Someone would loan me the necessary hunting items: a gun; a bullet to keep in my pocket like Barney Fife; and an orange hat (When I protested that orange is not my color, I was informed that state law required every human in the woods to wear orange. The thinking is that a deer would not be caught dead wearing orange, hence if a trigger-happy hunter saw something moving and it wasn’t wearing orange, it must be a deer. That was mostly bad news to rabbits and raccoons who rarely dress in orange unless they were still wearing their Halloween costume.).

I never used my bullet. Never shot a gun. Never killed a deer. (Please know that my not shooting a deer is not because I am a card caring member of PETA and think there are some moral issues with shooting a deer. Some of my best friends love hunting. Love eating venison. Love the thrill of being in the woods on the hunt. Love the camaraderie of deer camp. I have no problem with any of that—I’m just not a hunter and venison makes me puke.)

But I did like hanging out with my friends. So they would take me to the woods and set me up in a prime hunting spot. Usually I would take a pocket full of candy and my Bible and while I waited for Bambi, I would pray and sing and read and munch on chocolate bars and hope that everyone else in the woods could see my orange hat.

There was one occasion when (what I can only I assume) a deaf and blind deer walked within a few feet of me. I could hear her coming through the woods, so I sang a little louder (that has been known to send humans running for cover. Maybe I should have started preaching… she would have fallen fast asleep), but she kept coming in my direction. With my heart beating a mile a minute, I had a decision: Will I live and let live? Or will I be like Dirty Harry and say, “C’mon Doe Make my Day.” I put down my candy bar and Bible, located my gun—it was on the ground covered with candy wrappers, grabbed my bullet, wrapped by finger around the trigger and …. couldn’t do it. Even though the whole purpose for me sitting in the woods wearing a dopey orange hat was to shoot such animals, when the time came, I just couldn’t do it.

I think there are plenty of times we have the goal within our sight, our finger is on the trigger, but for whatever reason we can’t pull it. Unfortunately, this happens in things that matter a whole lot more than a freezer full of venison.

We know we need to start exercising or start attending church or start tithing or start eating better or start reading our Bible in a more consistent way or take steps on improving our marriage or call a friend and ask forgiveness or call a lonely person and offer encouragement, but we just can’t seem to “pull the trigger.”

In most cases, this is not a decision that we even have to pray: “Is this God’s will?” Of course, it is God’s will to live healthier; of course it’s God’s will to reconcile relationships; of course it’s God’s will to make improvements in our Christian practices and disciplines. The question isn’t “does God want me to do it,” but rather “am I willing to do it”. Am I willing to step out and do what I know God wants me to do? Am I willing to see the goal and move forward in faith?

The Bible says: I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it. (Philippians 3:14-16. The Message). Like Paul let’s determine to stay focused on the goal and when opportunities to move forward and improve our walk with God arise, we will pull the trigger and do what we know is best!

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Bad Day

I had one bad day! (Well, actually it was a bad 42 hours— which technically is more than a day).

My bad day started when we returned home following dinner with friends, and discovered that all the technology stuff in our house had gone “kapooey.” (“Kapooey” is not a technical term, but I think it adequately describes what had happened. Nothing was working). No Phones. No Internet. No TV. No problem, right? I called our technology provider and they told me that a fine technician would be at our house the next afternoon. I can live without phones until the next day I assured myself. It’s not so bad, I said. In fact, I might welcome the silence.

The next day, a fine technician arrived at my door ready to restore all of our missing services. (Here’s a handy piece of information: If a computer technician shows up at your house sporting a college baseball hat, it is preferable that the college of choice would be Stanford or MIT or Harvard— a school that knows a thing or two about technology. You do not want the technician wearing a hat from a certain school south of here that is known for football, paying recruits under the table and hog tyin’. You guess it. Not only was my tech wearing the afore mentioned school’s hat, I think he might have been the “hog tyin team captain). Even still, he assured me that he would have our phones, TV and computers “up and runnin’ in no time.” Well, to quote the famed theologian Meatloaf, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” Our TVs and phones were up and running quickly— but our computers were another story. He worked. And worked. And worked. Until Karla came to me and said those fateful words: “Rob, the tech guy just crashed your computer.”

NOOOOOOOOOOO! That is bad.

And it was true. My computer that contains most of my life from the last three years crashed. By the way, it appears it crashed really bad, really, really bad. This was no fender bender. This was a full blown semi truck meets Ford Pinto type of crash. Best Buy’s Geek Squad couldn’t fix it, neither could the “disaster data recovery guys,” (if the guy whose job tile is: “disaster recovery guy” can’t fix it…. Then my friend, you are in trouble. Make that, I am in trouble!). So as I type on my makeshift computer, my real computer is at some mysterious lab undergoing some top secret computer recovery procedures. They tell me I will know in a week what (or “if” something) can be recovered.

If you are keeping score at home— that’s one crashed home electronics system and one crashed computer. It gets worse.

The next morning I went to the ATM machine to get out my weekly allowance. The ATM machine informed me that my card had expired. Like a scene from a horror movie, the machine laughed at me (well, it seemed like it was laughing) and said in a voice that sounded eerily like Newman from the old Seinfeld show, “There’s NO MONEY FOR YOU. HA HA HA….”

I went to the church— with no money for my morning coffee. No money for lunch. It gets worse.

Speaking of lunch, the staff went to a local eatery. Of course, I had no money so I used my credit card— which I promptly forgot to take with me when we left the restaurant. After much worrying and searching I finally remembered where I had last seen Mr. Visa. I guess I will know in next month’s billing cycle if the fry cook was an honest fry cook after having my credit card for about 30 hours. I sure hope he was an honest fry cook.

Still keeping score? One crashed system. One crashed computer. No working ATM card. One lost Credit card. It gets worse.

After the grueling day, I was ready to go home. My sermon preparations were not going great. (Hopefully, by Sunday it will have gotten much better). The news on my computer was not great. My back up computer did not allow me to receive e-mails or print or have some necessary programs. My gluten free diet must not have been gluten free enough— I was having some tummy troubles. The election talk was getting me down. My dentist called to remind me that this week he is going to “crown me with many crowns.” My head was hurting. Enough is enough, I figured. I just needed to get home— at least at home my family would remind me that none of that stuff matters. That stuff is just stuff and it’s relationships that matter. So I slowly walked to my car, a little beaten up maybe, but not knocked out. I got behind the wheel, turned the key….. and nothing. That’s right— my car would not start. Like Howard Cosell in the Thrilla in Manila, I think someone was yelling, “Down goes Prince. Down goes Prince.”


Ever have a day like that? Nothing seems to be going right. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong. You’ve told yourself, “Nobody died. No one is in the hospital… things could be a whole lot worse. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Still the day stinks, stanks, stunk. Yea, we’ve all had days like that. So what do we do? Go home, get under the covers and say: “Wake me up next Tuesday”? I suppose that’s one option.

I have a better idea. How about focusing on my favorite Bad Day Bible Verse: Isaiah 41:10. It says: “Don’t be afraid for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” It’s good to be reminded that we are not alone. When cars and computers breakdown— we are not alone. When things are lost and trouble mounts— the One who created the Universe is close by. We all need to be held up by God from time to time. We all need to be strengthened and reminded to not fear. Isaiah 41:10 is a good reminder that even on the lousy days God is still God and He is still Good.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Ben and I decided to have a “TacoBellpalooza” on Tuesday. “What is a TacoBellpalooza?” you ask. Good question.

On Tuesday, from 2 PM until 6 PM most of the 5,800 Taco Bell restaurants in the USA were giving away a free taco to anyone who came in and asked for one. And I got the bright idea that it would be fun to see how many Taco Bells we could visit (that’s the palooza part… it was kind of a Taco Bell extravaganza, a festival of Taco Bells). There would be no drive through windows for us—the plan was to dine in and munch down our free crunchy taco and then move on to the next Taco Bell. (Alex could not participate in our TacoBellpalooza because he had to work. Karla also was at work, but she joined us at Taco Bell stop #3). The TacoBellpalooza was a great idea on Sunday when Ben and I first discussed it. It was truly inspirational before we started wolfing down taco after taco, but now that the TacoBellpalooza is over my tummy tells me it wasn’t such a great idea at all.

Ben, Ben’s friend, Cole, and I started our adventure at about 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon. We went to the following Taco Bells:

• Santa Fe by Hobby Lobby in Olathe,
• Blackbob and 119th in Olathe
• Quivira across from the Oak Park Mall in Lenexa
• 87th Street across from the Police Station in Lenexa
• 87th Street in front of the Sear’s Grand in Lenexa
• Santa Fe west of I-35 in Olathe
• And finally, the Taco Bell in front of the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe

If you are counting, that’s seven Taco Bells and seven tacos each. Let the record show that Karla joined us at the Taco Bell visit #3 and ate a taco at the next three stops. She refused to eat one at the final destination. Wise lady, she is. But your honor, let the record further show that the boys and I ate the whole taco and nothing but the taco at all seven stops. Burp.

I discovered yesterday I am no Takeru Kobayashi. You know him—that’s the skinny hotdog-eating champion guy from Japan. I was feeling a little green under the gills at taco #5 (I can’t politely describe for you my feelings after taco #7, but suffice it to say, “It wasn’t good”.)—So how does that dude eat fifty dogs in ten minutes? And how does he stay so skinny?

I like Tacos. They are tasty and crunchy and meaty and yummy. But after taco #7, I was referring to them as greasy and messy and icky and yucky. In fact, according to the rhinoceros that now occupies my tum tum, I won’t be visiting Taco Bell for quite some time. Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.

There could never be too much of a good thing in the church could there? We could never pray too much or read too much of our Bible or worship too much-- right? I’m not so sure….

Do you remember when Jesus and a few of the fellas hiked up the mountain for what had to be the world’s greatest worship service of all time? There was not a song sung or an offering taken, but check this out: Jesus’ faced glowed; his clothes became whiter than anything Clorox Bleach could ever do; a couple of guys who had been dead for only several hundred years showed up—Moses and Elijah; and the crème de le crème of the whole deal was when God Himself said, “This is my Son… listen to him!” Only one word could describe all of that: WOW! (Read all about it in Matthew 17 or Mark 9 or Luke 9).

Do you remember Peter’s response? He was ready to stay there forever. He wanted to build a retreat center—or at least build three shacks one each for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. I can imagine old Pete saying, “This is the coolest thing ever Jesus! Let’s never leave!”

But Jesus knew that his mission wasn’t to hang out on a mountain top and with a glowing face, rather his mission was to save the world. His mission was to reach out to the hurting, the poor, the messed up and troubled. The Bible says, he came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) So as awesome as it must have been, I think we could say too much of a good thing would have been a bad thing—had Jesus followed Peter’s suggestion and stayed on the mountain, he would not have accomplished his mission.

It’s the same with us. Jesus doesn’t call us to simply sit in pews and “do church” and glow. He calls us to make disciples. He calls us to make a difference. And if the extent of our commitment to Jesus is simply sitting in a pew (even if it is an awesome service with a fantastic sermon and the greatest music ever—in other words a typical Sunday at Central. hee hee! ), then we are simply experiencing too much of a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong—worship services are important, and I think we should be in one every week (see Hebrews 10:25). I love to worship God with God’s people. But that cannot be the extent of our Christian experience. Worship is meant to be a place to express our praise to the Lord and to prepare our lives to reach the world for Him. Every Sunday should be a celebration of the Resurrected Lord—but we can’t be content to keep the celebration to ourselves. We’ve got to break out of the pews and get out of the church and start rubbing shoulders with those who are getting beat up in the world and share with them that Jesus cares and Jesus loves and Jesus is the answer to life’s deepest needs.

Anything less is just filling up on tacos while the rest of the world starves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SHARE-- the sermon series begins this Sunday!

Blue Prince?

When my #1 Cherub was born,Karla and I had a very difficult time naming the boy. Truth be told, he didn’t have a name until day five of his life. On that day a somewhat perturbed nurse burst into Karla’s room at the Bay Medical Center (in beautiful Bay City Michigan) and informed us that we had to name the baby. I guess the nurses were getting tired hearing all of the other newbies in the nursery calling him “hey you” (or whatever it is that babies call one another when they are hanging out in their cribs.). Looking at us like we had committed some hideous crime, Nurse Meany of the Maternity Ward glared and sneered and said, “You have to name the child!”

It wasn’t my fault the boy had no name. I had plenty of names. Great names. But Karla did not like any of my suggestions. I don’t know why. My favorites were Foot, Finger or Blue.

In my thinking, if one day our child became a beach bum what better name could he have than “Foot” Prince? I know it would have been better if we spelled our last name “Prints” instead of “Prince” but if you say it quick enough “Prints” and “Prince” sound exactly the same.

Or maybe our off-spring would be a famous police detective one day, wouldn’t “Finger” (Prince) be an awesome name for a super crime fighter?

Or what about “Blue” (Prince) for an aspiring architect? I thought it was perfect. Still, Karla said, “No!”

When Karla failed to see the wisdom of those choices, I suggested that we could give our boy a “normal” first name-- on the condition that his middle name would be “Isa.” Of course, his official name would have been something like Harold “isa” Prince. Again she said no.

Karla had names she liked too—mostly dumb names. She said she like the name “Austin.” Austin? Why would anyone want to name their precious child after the home city of the University of Texas Longhorns? Are you kidding me? I vowed to call him some other Texan city—any other Texan city but Austin. “Come here, El Paso, it’s time for supper,” I threatened to say. My goodness, if we were going to name him after a college town wouldn’t it have been better to name him Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately, as all Johnny Cash fans know, naming him “Ann Arbor” would have been akin to naming a boy “Sue.” That’s probably not a good thing. Especially given the fact that Karla and my child’s gene pool would never be such that we would be buying him “Husky” Toughskin jeans from Sears and Roebuck, I worried that naming a boy “Ann” would not be beneficial to his health. If we only knew that one day we’d be living in Kansas we could have considered naming him “Lawrence.” That’s a college town and a boy’s name.

Finally on day five, with the prodding of Nurse Meany, we decided the young Prince should be “Alexander.” I think it’s been a good name… it doesn’t have the same pizzazz as if his name were “Finger,” but I don’t think Alex is heading toward a career in law enforcement anyway.

Why the walk down memory lane with you on this cold October morning?

Parents, we have a responsibility to our kids. To give them a decent name that won’t cause them bodily harm on the playground is only the beginning. We have a responsibility to show them the love of Christ. We have a responsibility to point them to the things of God and keep them from the things that will hinder their walk with God. I don’t know any perfect parents. We all make mistakes. Still we should strive to model before our kids someone who loves God, loves them, loves our spouse (if married), and really strives to provide a healthy loving Christ-centered environment.

The Bible says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands… Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” (Deut 6:5-8).

Moms and dads, let’s not stop showing our kids and telling our kids and retelling them about the great the love of God. It’s a never ending, 24 hour job…. But you can do it!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Calgon, I think I'll Stay

You didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to give it. Today is my official day to complain. So buckle your seatbelt buckaroos, because boy oh boy do I have a list!

• All of my favorite professional sports teams stink. (If you’re from Kansas City, then your favorite teams stink too. Sorry for pointing out the obvious, but I believe in the old adage “Misery loves company.”)
• The stock market stinks (even worse than all of our team’s locker rooms combined).
• My office stinks. I had a small chili from Wendy’s yesterday and our usually terrific janitors missed my trash bucket and now my office smells like yesterday’s chili. I assure you it smelled better yesterday.
• Speaking of my office, when the toilet in my office is flushed it is really loud… really, really loud. Sonic boom loud. So when “nature calls” not only does everyone in the office know but half of Johnson County and parts of Wyandotte County know it too. That stinks!
• Speaking of things loud and stinky, I awoke this morning to a zit on the end of my nose. For someone who is already quite “nasally endowed,” the new real estate on the end of my beak is an unwelcomed addition.
• Speaking of awaking, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. (Can you tell?) My dog thinks my bed is her bed. It’s not, but just try convincing her of that. She is not very reasonable.
• I’m having a bad hair day (my hair is not very reasonable either).
• I spilled my lunch on my shirt.
• I’ve got a headache.
• The Presidential mudslinging gives me a worse headache.
• So does the Vice Presidential mudslinging.
• In fact, this whole political season has given me a headache. When will November 5th arrive?
• Blah, Blah, Blah! “Calgon, take me awayyyyyyyy!”

OK… I’m done complaining. Do I feel better? Not really. Do you feel better from reading my complaining list? Probably not.
So why complain?

Good question.

Looking back over that list… every complaint is dumb. (Am I complaining about my complaints? I think I am… wow that’s weird!) Here’s the scoop on complaints: If I can’t fix the problem, if it is out of my control-- then why complain? After all my complaining, the problem will still be there. And if I haven’t tried to fix those things that I can fix—then why complain? I need to quit complaining and fix the problem. Bottom line… why complain?

The Bible goes so far as to say: “Do everything without complaining.” Philippians 2:14

When we complain, aren’t we in a roundabout way saying: “God can’t take care of me”? Listen, if God is in control (and He is) and if I complain (and sometimes I do) am I not saying during those moments, “I don’t like the way you’re running things, God. I think I could do a better job.” News Flash: I can’t do a better job. Not even close. I don’t want to be a complainer, I want to be faithful—even when the skies are grey and the stock market flops.

So instead of counting my losses, I want to be a person that counts my gains. Instead of making a list of my woes, I should be making a list of my blessings. Instead of seeing all the problems—I want to look to the Ultimate Problem Solver. And when I do those things— whether the problem is the stock market or a zit on the end of my nose, I know that my troubles aren’t forever, but God is. My troubles will soon be gone, but God will be by my side. So, never mind Calgon, I think I’ll stay.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The 100th Anniversary Celebration

I know there are other good churches besides the Church of the Nazarene. I know entry into heaven will not require a Nazarene membership card or the ability to name all of the General Superintendants or know the secret Nazarene handshake (you don’t know the secret Nazarene handshake? I can’t tell you, it’s a secret). I know there are lots and lots of people who have never heard of Phineas F. Bresee or Pilot Point, Texas and don’t know the difference between NMI and NYI that will still make it through the pearly gates. Still, I am thankful for the Church of the Nazarene.

I know it’s not always popular these days to claim denominational loyalty. I suppose some folks even view denominations as an out dated expression of the Church. And I know the Nazarene church isn’t perfect. (They let a guy like me be a member for crying out loud, and I am far from perfect). It has some flaws. Still, I don’t know where I would be if not for the Church of the Nazarene. Yes, I am thankful for our 100 year old church.

On Sunday, we will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Church of the Nazarene. We’ll have cake and celebrate the anniversary, and like all Nazarene churches around the world we will celebrate communion together. We’ll still have Sunday School and I’ll still continue on our “Elephant in the Church” series (This week it’s the “Mean Elephant” of judgmental attitudes), but Sunday will also be a day for us to say “Thank You” to God for the Church of the Nazarene and ask for God’s blessing for the next 100 years.

A Bus Hit the Church!

Last Thursday, one week ago today, life was quite normal within the hallowed confines of Central church. I was putting the finishing touches on my Sunday morning sermon. The secretaries were busy getting the Sunday worship folder ready, the food pantry was about to open for business, the other pastors were taking their well deserved day off— so it was mostly quiet around these parts. When we received a phone call from next door-- it was the friendly police dispatcher. (If you have never visited Central Church, the Lenexa police department is our neighbor. Biblically speaking, I suppose one could say our stretch of 87th Street is “Romans 6-8” Law and Grace. Don’t you love theological humor? Hee hee!).

The dispatcher explained that as she was entering the Police Station, she observed that a Johnson County Bus smashed into our building. You read that right— a bus hit the building. How does a bus hit a building? Ram a car speeding through an intersection? I’d say, “Accidents happen.” Strike a jaywalking pedestrian? It would be tragic, but understandable. Flatten a raccoon, bunny or squirrel? By the road kill I’ve observed—sadly it seems to be a frequent occurrence in the animal kingdom. But how can a bus run into a mostly stationary building? I don’t know, but it did.

Apparently the woman driver (with every ounce of my being I am resisting the temptation to tell a joke right now) was planning on delivering some people across the street at the Social Services building and was in the wrong lane on 87th Street, so she proceeded into our parking lot. Unwilling to make her U-turn in our wide open parking lot that is relatively free of buildings (and I don’t think that there were many cars in it either…it was a Thursday morning after all), she decided to go through our carport (unfortunately she literally tried to “go through” our car port). In her turning around, she apparently did not realize that her 10 foot high bus probably couldn’t squeeze under our 9 foot high carport. (Hmmm… maybe that’s why it is called a “carport” and not a “busport”). I guess buses can’t duck… who knew? So as Karla would say to our pre-potty trained boys, “We had a little accident.”

A bewildered bus company inspector came to examine the damage, pick up the assorted bus parts that were still lying on the ground, and assure me that the bus company would make our building “good as new.” I’m sure they will. (The first estimate for the building damage is over $5,000—I didn’t get a look at the bus, so I don’t know the cost of its repair.).

I tell you that to say— I long to have the Holy Spirit crash into this place. I long to have God—unexpectedly maybe, from “out of the blue” possibly-- so break up our routine that we would be forever impacted. Of course, when God smashes in there isn’t collateral damage—when God breaks in there is power and glory. I heard of one meeting (a few years back) when 120 people gathered in an upper room and were praying for God’s Spirit to come and God came in such a powerful and unmistakable way—that the world was forever changed! Read all about it in Acts 2.

I believe God still wants to impact his followers. I believe God still wants to fill us. I believe God still longs for us to be in such a place that we are forever moved. I still believe in the Pentecostal Power! And believe me, when God comes it is no accident!

Monday, September 29, 2008

A favorite time at Central!

Yesterday services were really good.

I especially liked our Connecting Service at 6PM. If you haven't checked it out-- plan on it. We meet in the Student Center-- with everyone-- and the goal from start to finish is Connecting-- with God and each other. I think that is happening. It's becoming one of my favorite times at Central.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Day at the Nazarene Publishing House

I was asked to speak at the Nazarene Publish House chapel service this week. It was fun to be back at the ol’ Pub House. Twenty one years ago during my seminary days, I was an NPH employee: A sanitation engineer and building cleanliness expert (a janitor). Some of the people, who were in the chapel service, were my fellow employees back in the day.

I confessed to those fine folks of eating some of their candies off their desks while cleaning, after they had gone home for the day. I admitted to playing Wiffle ball past my break time. And I even confessed to my only foray with tobacco.

Here’s that story: One of the tasks of the janitorial crew was to clean the Nazarene Bookstore, which at the time was located by the Headquarters building (a few miles from the Pub House). It was always a treat to be chosen to clean the book store—it was akin to a field trip because you got to leave the premises, get out in the fresh air, take the Publishing House van, and usually there was time for a little detour for a Wendy’s Frosty.

One time we were going over to the Bookstore, and as it happened the previous night my co-worker’s wife had given birth to their firstborn child (why he was working and not at the hospital with his wife and new baby I do not know). Anyway, to celebrate this fact, he brought cigars for everyone. Not bubble gum cigars, mind you— cigar cigars. Real cigars.

I had never smoked a cigar before. I had never smoked anything before. I had been taught many lessons on the dangers and evils of the tobacco leaf—in one Vacation Bible school we even learned this cheer:

Do we use it? No. NO. NO.
Big Green Worms upon it grow.

I think big green worms are occasionally on a variety of good for you foods like tomatoes and corn too, but I guess big green worms are especially gross on the T-O-B-A-C-C-O. Still, I ignored the warnings, and on the way to the bookstore— falling to a peer pressure I had not experienced since Jr. High, my co-worker and I lit those babies up like we were some Wall Street Fat Cats. We were puffing away, puffing away, puffing away, when it dawned on us— “We are in the Publishing House Van! You are not supposed to SMOKE in the NAZARENE Publishing House van!” We tossed those half smoked cancer sticks out the window faster than you could say, “Bud Lunn is watching you.” (Bud was the long time manager of the Publishing House, and rumors were that he had been given special abilities to know everything that happened within the confines of NPH). Although it was the middle of winter, we rolled down the van windows and desperately tried to air out the cheap cigar fumes. We were convinced the next day would be our last day as employees of the Nazarene Publishing House.

But our secret was never discovered, and until Tuesday morning’s chapel service, no one at the Publishing House ever knew that my one and only time of lighting it up like a Marlboro Man was in the Nazarene Publishing House Van.

Thankfully, the NPH employees were gracious and kind and forgiving (and Bud Lunn is now in heaven and can’t fire me even if he wanted). We had a wonderful chapel service. As they say, confession is good for the soul.

In a much more serious look at confession-- last Sunday, we began our new sermon series, “The Elephant in the Church,” and our focus was on the Fake Elephant of hypocrisy. Rather than being frauds and phonies, we stated that the path to authenticity was confession. Our key verse for the morning was James 5:16: Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. (The Message)

At the end of the service, rather than a traditional altar call, we provided confessional cards to everyone in the sanctuary and asked people to confess attitudes and/or behaviors that were less than pleasing to God. We called on people to admit to those things that we keeping them from having the “mind of Christ.”
The response was overwhelming.

Approximately 250 people moved forward and dropped their confessional card into one of two boxes. One box was labeled “JUNK” (I promised that no one would read those cards), and the other box was labeled “SHARED JUNK” where the confessions would be read. In the SHARED JUNK box there were 195 cards. WOW… 195!

This week I have read and prayed over all 195 cards from the SHARED JUNK box. Some people confessed to selfishness, anger, worry or greed. Others confessed fears and various sins. Nineteen confessed to an addiction to pornography.

If you were one of the 250 people who stepped out from your seat and dropped a card in the JUNK or SHARED JUNK box or if you are simply reading this e-mail and are reflecting on your own “junk.” Then hear this: GOD’S GRACE IS BIGGER THAN ANY SIN or problem or worry or fear. Confession is the first step to freedom. In fact the Bible says: If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9-10. NLT).

You need not be gripped in the debilitating grasp of sin, God’s grace is greater! He is able to cleanse all that junk and all the guilt and give you the mind of Christ!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Turning Central into a House of Prayer

The Church Board Meeting was last night-- and we spent most of the time in prayer. One of the most important aspects of leadership is knowing the absolute necessity of leading from one's knees.

We split up and prayed for the ministries of Central. We prayed in the classrooms and in the meeting places. We prayed for the children, students, everyone else. We prayed for the finances and the mission pledges. Then we all gathered in the sanctuary and prayed around the altars. If Central is going to be the great church that God calls us to be-- it will be as we renew our efforts to be a house of prayer." The Board is leading the way!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Global Outreach Report

I loved our Global Outreach Sunday.

Rev. Simon Pierre was fantastic. He is a humble and great man of God. His story of God’s grace in the midst of chaos during the worst of times in Rwanda was truly inspiring. It causes me to want to do so much more for Christ than what I am doing.
And in the Sunday @ Six Service, we were given plenty of options for making a difference. Work and Witness, Child Sponsorship, and serving in our Carlyle Apartments after school program, Kansas City Rescue Mission, in our Spanish or Arabic Services were some of the options given.

I am so glad to be part of a mission focused church. Yesterday’s totals for our Global Outreach giving were as follows:

Pledged for World Evangelism and Work and Witness: $35,828.
Cash given for WEF and W&W mission trips: $234.
Cash given for Rev. Simon Pierre’s church in Rwanda: $1,330

It’s a start but we have a long way to go!

The Elephant in the Church

This Sunday begins my new Sermon Series: The Elephant in the Church. I am excited and nervous about this one. There will be some hot potatoes that we will address in the coming weeks, so will you pray? Pray for me. Pray for my preparation. Pray that I will be true to Scripture and true to what we need to hear from the Lord. Pray that God will work in awesome ways!

And INVITE! I think this will be a great series to ivite friends as we address some common opinions that non-believers have about the church and Christ followers.

See you Sunday!

Welcome to the neighborhood

Our frineds who work at Nazarene Headquarters (forever now called the Global Ministry Center) are moving into their new digs today. Happy New Office Day! I think Central is the closest church to the GMC. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Friday, September 12, 2008

We Can Do More

According to the “Where I’ve Been” feature on Facebook, I have been to 17% of the world. Don’t be too impressed—I think that statistic is a tad bit misleading. For instance, it gives me credit for being in the whole country of Russia (including Siberia) when in fact I’ve only been to Moscow and Volgograd. I haven’t been to 17% of Russia, much less 17% of the world.

I certainly have never been in 151 world areas. What’s so big about 151 world areas? That is the number of countries where we have missionary efforts and people worshipping and doing the work of the Lord. I’ve never been to Papua New Guinea, but we have a hospital there. I’ve never been to Nairobi, Kenya but we have a university there. I couldn’t find East Timor on a map, but (you guessed it) we have missionaries there.

Aren’t you glad to be a part of a church that oozes missions? We are part of a church that takes serious Jesus’ call to “make disciples in the nations” (including East Timor). We are part of a church that says we want everybody—people across the street and people across the world to hear the best news of all—Jesus loves them! We are united with a community of believers from every inhabitable continent on the planet (I think that means in Antarctica there’s only penguins. No Nazarenes. But we are everywhere else), and I’m glad (glad about being missions coo-coo, and not so worried about our lack of penguin evangelism in Antarctica)!

I’m glad for a few reasons.

I’m glad we are mission-obsessed because Jesus said to be.

I’m glad we are mission-focused because there are millions (no billions) of people living on this planet that need Jesus. If you haven’t checked on the date—today is the infamous anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The memory of that awful day tells me again and again how desperate our world needs Jesus, and how incredibly necessary it is for the world to know the Prince of Peace.

I’m glad we are Mission crazy because I’ve been to 17% of the world (yea, right!)--- well, I’ve been to enough places to know that there are millions (no billions) who need to experience not only the love of Christ in their hearts, but need Christ followers like you and me who have been blessed beyond measure to share Christ’s love through acts of compassion. I’m glad our church sponsors children around the world so they can receive education and their basic needs. I’m glad for the hospitals and clinics that we sponsor. I’m glad for the hundreds of dedicated “good Samaritan” points where thousands of volunteers serve the needy (like our own Lord’s Food Pantry, for instance!).

I’m glad we are mission-passionate because I want my boys to be mission-passionate too. I want them to be about something bigger, way bigger than themselves—and making more and better disciples around the globe certainly qualifies as something way bigger than themselves!

I’m glad that this weekend is our Global Outreach Weekend. It’s all about missions! Our special guest, Rev. Simon Pierre from Rwanda, will share his powerful story of God’s grace and God’s empowerment which allowed him to shine the light of Christ during one of the darkest times in our world’s history (the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990’s). YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS THIS POWERFUL SUNDAY! Bring any friends who are interested in knowing how God can work in even the most awful times!

To prepare for the weekend with Rev. Pierre, I watched Hotel Rwanda (it had been a while since I saw it)—I was struck how Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved 1268 lives at the Milles Collines Hotel, when being thanked for his efforts at the end of the movie said, “I could have done more.” It was eerily similar to Oskar Schindler at the end of Schindler’s List saying the same thing. He could have helped more people. He could have given more. He could have done more. It made me think about us. We aren’t living through a holocaust or genocide, but we do live in a world where billions don’t know Christ. And I wonder, will we be saying those same words, “I could have done more” at the end of our lives? We have been blessed. Even with economic down-turns and high gas and grocery prices, we have all been blessed. So… what are we doing to reach our world for Jesus? Could we give more? Could we pray more? Could we care more? Could we do more?

Last year people from Central gave nearly $300,000 to missions (in one form or another), that’s a lot of money, but we could do more! Last year, we pledged $85,000 toward the World Evangelism Fund (WEF pays missionary salaries, trains national workers, supports hospitals and clinics and so much more in the 151 countries) and mission trip supplies—but guess what? We could do more!

It is my prayer that this weekend we not only pledge money, but we pledge our lives to making a difference, to being a light, to becoming even more mission-obsessed than ever before. It is my prayer that Central church learns that as we give of ourselves and really focus on the lost in our world (down the street or around the globe) that God will bless in an even greater measure!

Our goal for the WEF and Mission trip supplies is $100,000, we can do it—in fact, we can do more!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Selah Week

Following Monday, I haven’t been in the office this week. It’s not a vacation or a busy schedule. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’ve been having a “Selah.” Selah is a term that Bible scholars don’t always know how to translate—in fact, some have called it the most difficult word in Hebrew to translate. (I’m not a Hebrew expert… but I dare say there are a lot of difficult Hebrew words to translate. So for “Selah” to be in the conversation as the “most difficult word” then probably this little e-mail is not going to do justice to the hours of scholarship needed to adequately discuss the word). Whew…. having given that disclaimer, the most basic and simple translation of the difficult word, “selah” is based on the possibility that it is a musical term (it’s found a lot in the Psalms) and means something along the lines of “Stop and Listen.” So with that perspective as my guide, my goal this week has been to “Stop and Listen” to the Lord—selah, in other words.

What exactly does that mean? What does it mean “to stop and listen” to the Lord? It means that I am trying to put aside all distractions so that my entire focus can be on God.

How do you do that? I’ve gotten away (not far, just away.) I’ve unplugged the TV. (No Democratic National Convention, no ESPN, and no Seinfeld reruns for me this week). I originally wanted to have internet access in my room where I am staying and originally they said I would have internet, but when I got here—I don’t. I now think that’s a good thing. (Didn’t someone preach on godly “detours” recently?) I think God wanted me to be more on my knees than on-line.

I have determined to focus on prayer and fasting. So to that end, I am praying a lot and listening a lot and skipping at least one meal a day. I am using the Psalms as a guide. In these three days, I will read all 150 psalms. Not in one sitting. It’s not a race. It’s more like a three day journey. So I will read them (no more than 10 at any one time, and then pray.) Sometimes, I will put some praise music on my MP3 player and sing along. (I hope these walls are thick! The manager hasn’t called to complain… yet). Sometimes, I have gone on a prayer walk. Determining to pray for the sights and sound and things and reminders that God has put in my way. Sometimes I have been journaling. Sometimes I’ve read other Christian’s words on their spiritual journey. (I’ve liked Henri Nouwen’s stuff the best).

Here’s a good quote from Nouwen: “If we really believe that God not only exists but also is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give God our undivided attention.” Not to be outdone, here’s a good quote from Jesus on the subject: “Here’s what I want you to do: find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6, The Message). That’s I want this “selah” to be about!

Throughout this time, I have been seeking the Lord in regard to the church and to my own journey with God. Quite frankly, I have felt like the “batteries were a little low lately” and needed a fresh charge. I think the Master is providing that. As I write these words, I am about half way through the journey and already sense a keen closeness to the Shepherd. God and I have had some heart to heart chats so far. I’ve been honest, and He’s been faithful. “Sweetness” is one way to describe what’s going on.

God is giving me rest too (another thing I desperately needed.) For those of you who know me well, you know that sleep and I are sometimes strangers. I wake up early no matter what time I go to bed—frequently getting by on just a few hours of sleep each night. Moreover, when I am away at a hotel or someplace not called “home”—it is usually worse. But guess what? Last night I went to sleep at 10 PM and I didn’t wake up until 7 AM (for me that is majorly sleeping in! Nine full ours of sleep? Are your serious? Wow! God knows what I need this week—and he is providing.

And the last part of this Selah week is to map out some directions for Central and goals and do a little sermon series planning too (through the end of 2009). As I prepare for the months ahead, I really have needed to take time to seek the Lord for his purpose for the next 18 months or so at Central. He is providing that too—I think we will have some great sermon series and great days in the coming months!!

So that’s where I’ve been this week. I am thankful to you and the church board for allowing this time of solitude and rest. I think I will be a better pastor, husband, dad, and person because of this time with the Lord.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I can't wait for the Weekend!

This weekend is going to be great!

Saturday is the youth BURGER BASH. It is one of their yearly outreach events. Be praying for a great night!

Following that, I am going to sneak into our Saturday Night Arabic service-- I've been hearing great reports about what God is doing.

On Sunday, it will be the first time since the beginning of Summer that I will be preaching both AM services and the Night service too. In the Morning, I am really excited about this week's message "iServe with Joy." And in the Sunday @ Six, I'll be wrapping up the Summer series: Being a Person of Integrity from James 5. We will be meeting in the Student Center in the PM Service--

And keep praying for our Spanish Service. Last week, two young men who had never been in our church before, were here and accepted Christ! How about that!!!!

God is working!

Olympics and More Olympics

This week, like most of you, I have continued my nightly ritual of watching the Olympics before bed time. Last week I watched a lot of swimming. This week’s it’s been gymnastics. In both weeks, I’ve gotten a little less sleep than normal.

In the swimming competition, it was easy to determine the winner. There’s a pool. There are swimmers. The first swimmer to touch the wall after swimming one or two or four laps wins. Pretty simple. And as we saw, Michael Phelps (from the University of Michigan, by the way) was the first to touch the wall in all of his races—once by merely .01 of a second. Wow!

But gymnastics is not like that. Gymnastics is much more complicated-- judges decide the winner. Judges that can be subjective and political and down right dumb. (I have had some conversations where I have made the case that if a judge decides the winner then it’s not really a sport. It’s a competition maybe. It’s an athletic endeavor, no doubt. But does that make it a sport? )

Of course, in the Gymnastics competitions we’ve all complained about the Chinese girls who “look like they are twelve but their government issued passport says they are sixteen so they must be sixteen” snafu. Not so in swimming. There’s a pool. There’s a swimmer. Who’s fastest? Period. (Well, actually “question mark”… but you know what I mean).

Not only that, when I was a kid a perfect 10 was the best score a gymnast could get. Remember Mary Lou Retton? She got a ten. She was the winner. Simple. But now, a “10” won’t get the pint sized, whirling dervish on a four inch beam even into the final round. A "perfect 10" in gymnastics is not so perfect any more. I remember that a pretty girl used to be called a “10.” It meant that she was incredibly gorgeous. Now when I see a pretty girl (read: Karla, of course!) do I have to say she's a 16.725? That just doesn’t have the same romantic zip.

All this is to say, I am ready for track and field or basketball or some of the other sports that are not going to be decided upon by a judge.

Of course, the Bible says that one Day, we will all stand before the Judge. On that Day, He will not be concerned on whether we could do a perfect jump or flip or pirouette. (And thankfully, He will not care if we can spell “pirouette” either, which-- just to let you know--took me a couple of tries before I was successful.) On that Day, Jesus said: But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'

37 "Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40 "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'( Matt 25:31-40)

On that final Day, no “10’s” will be given out. No “16.725s” either. Unlike at the Olympics, when all is said and done, I won’t need a gold medal or a bouquet of roses. There need not be a podium and the National Anthem doesn’t need to play. On that Day, all I will want to hear is one thing: “Well done my good and faithful servant.” That’s it. If I hear those words from the Master, then I won’t care one bit if a gold medal is dangling around my neck. Besides, for those who hear the Master’s “well done,” in the place where they are going, gold is used like we use asphalt-- to pave the roads!

The Judge is paying attention. Are you living your life in a manner that will result in a “Well done!” from the King? Are you running to win the prize? In the end, it’s better to have gold under your feet than around your neck.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Wild Goose Chase (Book Review)

Mark Batterson, author of a book that I have recommended in the past (In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day), has a new book coming out tomorrow. Guess what the title is? Central folks you should love it, the title is: Wild Goose Chase.

And like our Wild Goose Chase Sunday Nights—when we pursued the Holy Spirit—this books is all about pursuing the Holy Spirit. It’s about getting free from the cages that so frequently bind us (things like guilt, failure and fear), and chasing after God sized dreams.

Here’s an excerpt to which I would give a “Preach it!” and a hearty “Amen” to:

If you would describe your relationship with God as anything less than adventurous, then maybe you think you're following the Spirit, but you have settled for something less--something I call inverted Christianity. Instead of following the Spirit, we invite the Spirit to follow us. Instead of serving God's purposes, we want Him to serve ours. And while this may seem like a subtle distinction, it makes an ocean of difference. The result of this inverted relationship with God is not just a self-absorbed spirituality that leaves us feeling empty; it's also the difference between spiritual boredom and spiritual adventure.

Listen, if you have been trapped into some spiritual boredom… read this book. In fact, I have a free copy of it to the first person that sends me an e-mail asking for it.

(If you want to know more about Mark Batterson or the book check out: Mark’s 10 Steps to Setting Life Goals.)

And if you aren't the first e-mailer to me--and you want to spend your own hard earned money-- you can pick up Wild Goose Chase at a Christian Bookstore around town or at any of these places:

Speaking of A Wild Goose Chase, we are wrapping up our Sunday Night Series from James this Sunday Night… It will be a Wild Goose Chase night… plan on a great night in pursuing the Spirit!

Weekend Recap

The Weekend services were great!
  • Our Mission team from Iowa returned and told how it was a good trip-- but much more work needs to be done to help the flood victims!
  • Saturday Night's Arabic service was very good from all reports.
  • Both AM English services were great as we looked at "iServe using my gifts,"
  • In the Spanish service-- two men gave their hearts to the Lord! Awesome-- it was the first time they were in our church, too!!!
  • And in the Sunday @ Six, Pastor Cory did a great job in continuing our study from the book James.

This week-- we will continue iServe in the morning-- "iServe with Joy" and in the Sunday @ Six, I will wrap up the James series. Of course, both the Arabic and Spanish Services will be worshipping too!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Olympics and Central

If you are like most Americans, you have been tuning into the Olympic Games. You’ve been seeing the American quest for Gold and Silver and Bronze. You’ve been watching “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Me too. And as I’ve watched, I’ve come across a few questions and lesser known facts from the Beijing Olympic Games that in some cases pertain to Central Church in Lenexa. For instance:

1) Michael Phelps, the Gold Medal Machine, eats between 10 and 12,000 calories a day! A day?!? Wow! That is closing in on the caloric intake possibilities of all who will be at Central for our annual Labor Day Sunday Picnic on August 31!

2) With the news coming out of China that during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies some of the fireworks were fake and a little girl singer was deemed to not be cute enough to be seen worldwide (the so-called homely kid was replaced with a more cute, lip syncing replacement), I want to assure the good people of Central, that we have never used phony fireworks in any of our services and according to his wife, Julie, and his mother, Diane, our resident singer Pastor Kevin is more than cute enough.

3) How come the guy beach volleyball players are wearing shorts and t-shirts and the girl beach volleyball players are wearing not much more than dental floss? Is modesty only a male event? (Don’t ask the male synchronized divers that question—they have their own modesty issues.)

4) We have been kicking around the idea of having a Synchronized Baptism Event at Central, but have decided that since we have no underwater cameras, a small baptistery, and questions whether the baptismal robes would be a help or a hindrance for a Synchronized Baptism Event—we have decide to “tank” the idea (pun intended).

5) If “Central Super-Counter” Ruth Vail were in China—we would not only know the exact ages of those “aren’t even close to 16 year old” Chinese Gymnasts, but we would also know why those little 12 year olds weren’t in Sunday School last week.

6) Gossima, Whiff-Whaff, Flim-Flam and Ping-Pong are alternative names for the Olympic event known as “Table Tennis,” but in my basement that same game is referred to as “The game that no one can beat dad in.”

7) Speaking of “The game that nobody can beat dad in” (Ping Pong), should it even be an Olympic sport? And if ping pong makes the Olympic cut, why not have other basement games like pool, darts, air hockey, foosball and, of course, video games? If video games were an Olympic sport, I know some basement dwelling, Nintendo 360 playing Centralite teenagers who could quite possibly qualify for the 2012 London Games.

8) And while we are adding Olympic events, since Badminton is an Olympic event, why not have other back yard activities like croquet, lawn darts, and, better yet, outdoor grilling as Olympic Competition? I have tasted some of the barbequing of some Centralites and I would say it is “world class” and gold medal worthy. Yum! Who knows -- with a Hibachi, a little practice and just the right marinade maybe I could be an Olympic class Barbequer too!

9) I have other burning questions about some Olympic events that I wish Bob Costas or someone at the NBC studios would answer for me, such as:

a) Isn’t “Women’s Yngling” missing a vowel? Can’t we buy yngling a “U,” “O” or an “A” from Pat Sajak? In case you don’t know, yngling is a sailing event. There is also a sailing event in the Olympics called “49er.” I think a San Francisco football fan had something to do with that name.
b) Why do the synchronized swimmers wear a nose plug? The weird kid in my swimming class growing up wore a nose plug? Don’t you think those swimmers should know how to swim without a nose plug? You don’t see Michael Phelps wearing a nose plug.
c) Apparently “Men’s Trap” has nothing to do with a gold digging woman looking for a “Sugar Daddy.” Men’s trap is a shooting event. Strange but true.
d) And “Women’s Sculls” has nothing to do with anatomy or pirates or poison. Sculls is a rowing event. Who knew?

I might not get answers to my Olympic questions in the sport pages of the newspaper, but there are some life answers in the sport pages of the Bible (You didn’t know that there is a Sports Section in the Bible? There is. Check this out:) Paul writes: Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT)

How is your race coming along? Are you running to win an eternal prize? Paul says to “run with purpose in every step!” In other words, make each step of your life meaningful, thoughtful and faithful!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ten Things I didn't learn in seminary

A friend asked me to put together a list of ten things that I didn’t learn in seminary about ministry but would be good to know if I were just starting out. (Wow… I must be getting old. No one asked me those types of questions a few years back when I was the new preacher kid on the block. Now I’m viewed as the wily seasoned veteran. UGH! I feel like I should say, “Come here, grasshopper, and I will share with you great wisdom.”)

Knowing I write this little letter on Thursdays, I thought, “Hey, maybe I can kill two birds with one stone” (sorry PETA). I could make the list for my friend and send that same list to my Thursday e-mail friends (besides I think there are some principles at work here that are good for everyone, whether in full-time ministry or not). So, from the wily veteran pastor to all you whipper-snappers out there in cyber land, here’s my list...

1) Grow spiritually. Sermon preparation and Bible study preparation are no substitute for personal private time with God. It is so easy for those of us in full-time ministry to seek God for others instead of seeking God for ourselves. The best ministry happens out of the overflow of what God is doing in our lives!

2) Be positive. Attitude really is everything. Let me just say it like it is: negativity stinks. Make Zig Ziglar look like a sad sack. Be the most up-beat, positive pastor your folks have ever had.

3) Have fun. We all have bad days. We all have long days. We all have days that we wish we would have stayed in bed with the covers over our head. But if ministry isn't enjoyable you need to try a new gig.

4) Make mistakes. What? That’s right… don’t be afraid of mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t experimenting enough. Everything should be an experiment. Part of the deal in experimenting is tripping up and falling down and learning how you got there. (Isn’t it weird that tripping up and falling down leads to the same place… face down in the mud?) Mistakes aren’t the problem, making the same mistake over and over again— staying in the mud--that’s a problem!

5) Always strive for excellence! A healthy dose of divine discontent is good! Strive to keep getting better and better at whatever you do.

6) Be not afraid of tough and loving conversations. Life is too short to hold a grudge. Use John 1:14 as your conversational model. Jesus was full of grace and full of truth. Truth means I'm going to be honest no matter what. Grace means I'm going to love you no matter what.

7) Most stuff is small stuff. Most stuff that happens in a church isn’t HUGE and earth shattering. Most stuff is rather manageable especially if you keep in mind that the garbage still needs to be taken out on Wednesdays and the dog needs a bath. In other words, life goes on. Don’t be consumed by the small stuff. And (remember this) even if the “whatever-it-is” you are dealing with is a Big Stuff kind of thing, guess what? God can handle the Big Stuff.

8) You are not Superman (or Superwoman). Even if you own blue tights and a red cape (ok that would be a little creepy if you owned such apparel and you are over 9 years old), you are not called to be the fix all, be all, answer all to the needs of your church. The church doesn’t need a Super Pastor (or Dear Abby or Dr. Phil or anyone else) they simply need a real person, being led by the Living Lord!

9) You are a Servant! Be prepared to work as for the Lord-- even when no one notices or when the job that needs done is yucky or when you think someone else instead of the “high and lofty pastor” ought to be doing it or when the task is not on your gift inventory list or when the matter at hand leads you to a place of thinking “I’m too good for this.” In such a moment repeat three times: I am a servant. I am a servant. I am a servant of the King!

10) Don’t worry about lists that people want you to make up. If you can only think of nine items, and they want ten… just give them nine. Or make up something dumb for the tenth item, like “why you shouldn’t worry about lists that people ask you to write.” Our way might not be exactly the way someone thinks it should be done… and that’s OK if in your way of doing it, you are doing what Jesus called us all to do: Love God. Love people. Turn our world upside down for Him!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Weekend...mostly Good (some bad)

It was a mixed review for the weekend. Good and Bad.

Bad... the rain almost washed out the Sr. High Pool party at our house.
Good... it stopped raining and we all had fun!

Good... two Arabic services (Saturday and Sunday Nights... wow! A mini-revival!)

Good... Rodney Kilgore and Eric Kesselring filled in great for vacationing Pastor Kevin Yesterday.

Good... the video in the first service
Bad... the technological problems that caused the video to be lost in the second service

Good... The teen service last night.
Bad... my teen's car breaking down after the teen service

Good...our friends Jim and Lori visiting from Michigan
Bad... the news that Lori's cancer has returned.

Good... the news that they believe to have caught the cancer early
Better... the doctors will be investigating...
Best... God is still the "Great Physician."

Add it all up... still a pretty good weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Me and the Tigers

I am ashamed to admit this… but I went to all three of the Tiger games.

The first game I went to with Ben, Pastor Jeremy and Justin Eller. We stayed to the very end—even though the J-Men are Royals fans and their team lost 19-4. Justin is in the Army reserves and the Royals give all military men and women four free tickets on Mondays. So the game was free.

The second game I went to with a couple of different guys from church-- Denny Wadsworth and Kelly Patrick. Denny's son, Scott works for the Royal (is the director of Ticket sales) so again the tickets were free. We had pretty good seats. That was the rain delayed game—but again we stayed until the very end. There were only about 500 or so fans there at the end. It was fun… although I didn’t get home until abut 1:45 AM.

Game three was yesterday and once again I had free tickets. The Nazarene Publishing House has tickets—and David Nash got me their seats. So Alex and I went to the game.

It was a busy baseball week! But the Tigers won all three so that makes me happy!

Hanging out in some hospitals

I’m hanging out at some hospitals today. Two people with Central connections are having surgery—in two different hospitals, in two different parts of the city. I don’t know when I’ll get back to the church— but that’s OK.

I like praying with people in hospitals. I like getting to know their loved ones who also gather at the hospital. I know some pastors these days don’t have the time or don’t feel the need or whatever—but I really like being there. When people are going through a difficult time (and I think being in the hospital preparing to “go under the knife” automatically qualifies one for having a “difficult time”), I love being able to go before the Lord with them—and remind them that the Great Physician is always “on call.”

I have had some different experiences in hospitals. People are not generally at their best in the hospital (again I think being in the hospital automatically exempts one from having to be “at their best”). I always try to knock on the door before entering a room—yet I have still managed to walk into some strange situations for which my seminary education did not prepare me. Seeing parishioners without wigs, teeth and necessary articles of clothing can be more than a little awkward (to say the least). I’ve been mistaken for a doctor, the husband or son or dad of the infirmed. I’ve been mistaken for the grandfather (ouch!) of a new born baby. Not known for having a particularly strong stomach, I have been in rooms when all sorts of bodily functions have been taking place—which has nearly caused my own unwanted bodily function.
Once a lady was about to have her foot amputated. It was the grossest thing in the world. Gangrene had set in. It looked bad. It smelled bad. It was bad. Even the medical team of foot specialists had never seen such a nasty foot—they were taking pictures. Knowing the grossness factor was off the charts, the doctors tried to shoo me from the room (to which I was more than happy to oblige) but the dear, sweet saintly lady just wanted her pastor to be by her side. “It’ll be alright, my pastor doesn’t mind staying.”
Ummm… my eyes, nose and stomach thank you very much for the confidence you have shown in me.

I’ve been with people when they have received wonderful news:
“The surgery went great!”
“The cancer is gone.”
“Your heart is better than ever.”
“He’s a boy!”

I’ve been with folks when they have received the worst possible news:
“I’m sorry, we couldn’t fix the problem.”
“It was far worse than we anticipated.”
“You should call in the family.”
“Your husband didn’t survive.”

Besides in churches, I’ve been able to pray with more people in hospitals than anyplace else. I’ve prayed for healing, salvation, peace and comfort in hospitals, and God has answered those prayers. In all my years of ministry, in various hospitals and seeing literally thousands of people—I only remember one time when someone refused prayer for their situation (I always ask permission to pray with the person). It’s been a privilege and honor and blessing to be in these circumstances, its one of the reasons I love being a pastor.

I write all of this to say— God works in hospitals. God still hears our prayers. God still heals. God still brings peace in the most trying, chaotic, awful times. So today, I’m hanging out at some hospitals anticipating God doing awesome things, and knowing that He will be with us.

Here are two things to take with you…

1) Pray always. If you know of someone or if you are going through a physical trial, keep on praying. Don’t quit. God hears! God heals! Praise the Lord!!

2) Visit or call or send a note or make a meal. In some way, make a connection with the one going through the trial. That’s a job not just for pastors. You too can be a blessing and know the joys of being blessed for your efforts!

Whether in a hospital or not… have a terrific day!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My visit to the Dentist

The dentist this morning upon seeing the inside of my mouth, burst into song: "Crown him with Many Crowns!"
When I shared with Karla this news, she and my wallet were equally singing: "Let your Heart be broken" (Hymn #543 if you are singing along!)

Some random thoughts….

Did you hear Josh Hamilton testify during the Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby on Monday Night? Repeatedly when asked about his accomplishments on the field, the outfielder gave the glory to God. After several of these exchanges on the air, one of the commentators for the event, Rick Reilly, responded, “It’s a bad night for atheists at Yankee Stadium tonight!” Josh Hamilton, you are my new favorite player!

We had our New Board cook out on Tuesday. What a great church board Central is blessed to have serving us! As we began to organize for the coming year, Dan Rexroth was re-elected as the Secretary of the Board and Tim Dykman was re-elected to serve as the church treasurer. The executive committee for the following year will be Dan and Tim and Missionary President David Cooper, Buildings Chairman Glenn Harding, Kent Kirby and Dr. Linda Alexander.

My son, Alex, is a new and proud employee of Chik-fil-a. But as I understand it there is no “family and friends discount.” Hmmm … that’s a bummer.

Can you believe that our kids will be back in school in less than a month? WOW! Where is the summer going?

We have extended an invitation to Rev. Carol Rittenhouse to be our new Connecting Pastor. Rev. Rittenhouse is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene (1987) and Nazarene Theological Seminary (2006). She has been on staff at Shawnee Nazarene and currently works with Mike Stipp in Clergy Services at Nazarene Headquarters. Carol will begin at Central on August 3.

I go to the dentist later this morning; I know what he is going to say: “This Prince needs a crown.” I know what my wallet is going to say: “NOOOOOOO!”

In my three years in Kansas City, I have not been to Oceans of Fun. Am I missing something?

Last night, I sat in on a little bit of a meeting (long enough to get some rice and chicken… yummy!) with our Arabic service leaders. They are a wonderful group of people that love the Lord. Keep praying for this group and for Pastor Jaime as he gives leadership to this ministry.

If I could add one thing to Kansas City… it would be a professional hockey team, so I could see the World Champion Red Wings play every once in a while. (If Karla could add anything to Kansas City, she would add a Great Lake… which is kind of hard, unless we have another Ice Age, and according to Al Gore that might not happen anytime soon. Even if Al is wrong, I think adding a hockey team might be a little easier.). Next week the Detroit Tigers will be in town… so if you have an emergency that requires a pastor, I might be a little late in getting there because there is a good chance I will be travelling to the hospital (or wherever your emergency is) from Kauffman Stadium.

Speaking of emergencies, Karla thought that I croaked the other night. Fortunately, she was mistaken. I was sleeping. Very soundly. I was not moving, appeared to not be breathing (no snoring from me, thank you very much), did not respond when she said my name (did I mention I was sleeping?), so Karla smacked me. “HEY!” was my groggy response. “I was worried you were dead,” was her answer. “Umm… I guess I’m not.”

Hey, we have a missionary coming on Sunday Night: the Taylors from the Philippines. Speaking of missions….

Did you know that over 120 Centralites have gone on a mission trip this year? It’s true. Not only that, we have several from Central going on the district mission trip to Mexico this week, and there is still time for you to go to Iowa for our next mission effort as we help the victims of the recent floods. Contact David Cooper for more info on Iowa. We are Mission Trip Crazy! I love it!!!

Of these events from the last year, what should I be more excited about?
Summer Fest (we had more people attend than ever), or
Biker Sunday (our first annual …. which got off to a great start), or
Vacation Bible School (after a two year hiatus it was back… better than ever!) or
Collide (remember last winter’s intergenerational, revival, gathering time?) or
The new Spanish Service that started in March, or
The new Arabic service that also started in March?
You’re right… I should be excited about all of these outreach ministries! And I AM excited!!!!

Have I mentioned lately that I am glad I am your pastor? I am that too!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Missions Matter

Our students returned on Saturday night from their mission trip to Nashville. Except for some bus troubles and not enough showers in the church where they were staying, it was a good trip.

Just in case you are keeping score at home that makes the third mission trip of the year by Central. So far this year, we've had 52 people in El Salvador, 60 in Nashville and (I think) 9 in Oklahoma City. At the end of the month we are sending a team to Iowa to help the flood victims. (Contact the Church office or David Cooper if you are interested in going to Iowa). Next year, plans are in the works for a mission trip to Africa-- and I am sure some other domestic locations.

I am glad that missions matter at Central!

This Sunday in the Sunday @ Six Service, we have missionaries to the Philippines Greg and Terry Taylor with us. I am looking forward to hearing how God is working in that part of the world!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Quote of the Week

"If you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water . . . in the church at the present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs.” - Bernard of Clairvaux

Facebook and Me

I have a Facebook account. For those who may not be aware of Facebook allow me to explain. Facebook is a social networking website launched in February of 2004 by a Harvard sophomore named Mark Zuckerberg. Today over 80 million people are on Facebook, and some have estimated that the company is now worth 8 billion dollars (that’s billion… with a “B”!) Suffice it to say young Mark Zuckerman probably isn’t eating Raman Noodles for dinner anymore. Facebook originally was limited to Harvard students, it then expanded to other colleges and high schools and the day before my 43rd birthday (September 26, 2006) was expanded so that anyone over the age of 13 could join.

My question became: Is it hip or creepy that someone my age has a Facebook account? My sons are both on Facebook. Several of our high school and college students are on Facebook. But should someone born before JFK’s assignation be on Facebook (I was not quite two months old on that fateful, November day in 1963, still I was alive and well and presumably sucking my thumb.)? So, to Facebook or not to Facebook that became the question. On Sunday, I decided to jump in.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the first four days of being on Facebook.

1) It was sad when I first signed up and read, “Rob Prince has 0 friends.” I quickly realized I had to invite others to be my “friend” or they had to discover my profile on other friend’s lists. I was so happy when I got my first “friend.” It was Jim Knight. Jim was a childhood chum, whose family moved to Colorado Springs when we were pre-teens so Jim’s dad could attend Bible College. I hadn’t see Jim in years.

2) Not wanting to look like a stalker or something, I decided to not ask anyone under college age to be my “friend.” If a student asks me to be his or her friend, and I know this person, I will happily comply, but it seems a little creepy for me to be asking students if “I can be their friend.” (Of course, I’ve asked Alex and Ben to be my “friend.” Ben said “yes.” I’m still waiting on Alex’s reply.)

3) I’m not the oldest person on Facebook. I have discovered that there are lots of us old guys on it. Both of my sisters (who technically are not “old guys” but do happen to be older than me) are on Facebook. My District Superintendant has a Facebook account. My goodness, Derl Keefer, who is the PrimeTime Director (read: Old Folks Director) for the Church of the Nazarene is a Facebook guy. (Although maybe Derl doesn’t count because besides having a really cool first name, Derl is a pretty hip fella with or without Facebook!)

4) All of the Central Staff has a Facebook account except for Jeremy Bond. Hmmm… maybe Jeremy needs a “Knuckleheadbook” account. (If you do not attend Central… this means nothing to you… sorry for the “insider” humor. To get these and other quirky bits of humor that often sprinkle these little pages…. attend Central church on a regular basis!)

5) After four days I now have 73 friends (I wish Central was growing at this same rate!).

6) It has been fun reconnecting with old college friends and folks from Michigan and fellow Centralites. My furthest away “friend” is Rod Green—he lives in Jordan. My closest “friend” is Ben Prince he lives down the hall.

7) The Facebook phenomenon is a tremendous example of the fact that we all have a desire to be connected. God has placed the need in us to be a part of a community, a group that is welcoming, inviting and loving. And the best news is that Jesus himself has said he wants to be connected to us. (Read all about it in John 15… that’s the Bible passage about Jesus being the Vine and we are the branches. There you can read such wonderful words from Jesus such as: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” John 15:4). I don’t think Jesus is one of the 80 million Facebook members, but I know this: He invites all of us to be his friend. Jesus said: “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.” (John 15:16). His desire is that we are connected not just to a group of people, but to Himself and to His Kingdom.

It’s been a fun few days on Facebook. If you are on Facebook and need another friend… send me an invite. If you could care less about Facebook, we can still be friends… just the “old fashioned way” of phone calls, lunches, letters, e-mails, etc. (which in my old fashioned, born pre-man-on-the-moon ways… still seems better than Facebook). But in all things, whether we are “Facebook friends” or regular friends or even if you view me like your strange cousin Harold (and want to avoid me at all costs) -- make Jesus your friend and always stay connected to Him.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Our Economic Stimulus Check

On Monday it arrived directly from the US Department of the Treasury. The Prince’s economic stimulus check-- one thousand eight hundred smackeroos-- arrived in my mailbox. Yippee! Thank you, Mr. Mailman, Mr. President and all the members of Congress.

Now I understand that $1800 is not like winning the lottery or playing professional baseball. Karla and I can’t take the money and catch the first flight to Tahiti or some exotic place. You won’t see me rolling into the church parking lot with a new Ferrari on Sunday. Still 1800 beans is nothing to sneeze at.

Ben thought that he should receive his $300 portion. He thought that since each kid ups the amount received by $300 that he should have it. (Of course, this is after we have spent far more than his “share” of the $300 for his summer camp, baseball team, clothes, shoes, food etc…). I said I would be happy to give him his 300 greenbacks the next time (which will be the first time) he helps pay his share of the mortgage, the grocery bill, the light bill, the tax bill, the… well, you get the idea.

Since Ben’s not getting it… the question becomes what should we do with our Economic Stimulus check?

Hmmm…. according to, $1800 will purchase…
· 936 pair of Spiderman underwear (that’s a six pack for $11.48)
· 1260 baseballs (you can get 5 dozen balls for $82.98)
· Three Briel Multi-Pro Prestige Espresso Machines (at $512.95 each)
· Nearly one Sony Bravia 46” HDTV and Home Audio System (it’s $1898)
· A one carat diamond solitaire 14kt white gold split bale pendant-- IGI certified for $1,699.00 (Did you know that Wal-Mart sells diamond necklaces for 1700 bucks? I didn’t know that either. You can also buy a signed baseball from the 1986 New York Mets for $1050. Who would buy a baseball with the 1986 New York Mets signatures from Wal-Mart? Now if it were a signed baseball from the 1984 Tigers, I could understand. I knew Wal-Mart sold drain cleaner and socks and motor oil and toothpaste, but diamond necklaces and sports memorabilia? I had no idea.).

While I am sure my baby would look nice wearing a Wal-Mart diamond necklace, and I sure could use a double espresso about now, and my family room would sure look nice with a big ol’ flat screen TV hanging on the wall, I’m not convinced that any of those options are good choices for us (besides I really don’t think I could ever wear 936 pair of Spiderman underwear.).

With just a little “googling,” I discovered that most of the world lives on less than $2000 a year. So for a little more than what the government sent our family to stimulate the economy there are plenty of families in the world trying to make ends meet for the whole year. Wow! With the money that we will spend to kick start our economy—there are families that will budget their entire year. Double wow!

I write this not to make you feel guilty or to tell you to need to send all the money into the church or Nazarene Compassion ministries or some other worthy cause—but rather to simply remind you once again how blessed we are in America. As we celebrate our Independence tomorrow, take time to be thankful. I know it stinks that gas costs four bucks a gallon and a gallon of milk costs three. I know it’s bad that babies are still being aborted, and crime still happens and the coming presidential election will have more mud flying than a Monster Truck Competition. Still we live in a blessed place. We don’t need to pray for “God to Bless America,” He already has.

And because we are so blessed, doesn’t it make sense that we should complain less and be thankful more. Maybe we should waste less and give more. Maybe instead of praying for God to bless us, since He already has blessed us-- we should pray how we can be a blessing to others. Somewhere I read “that to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

What will you do with your economic stimulus check? That’s up to you and your family and God. I just pray that we are faithful—in how we spend our money, in how we spend our time, and in how we spend our lives!

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Great Day at Central

Wow what a day around Central. Following two great morning services, we had a very beautiful Memorial Service for Diane Garrison and following that our Summer Fest began.

The weather was perfect. The crowd was great. The music and games and food were terrific. There were a lot of guests. It was a good, good day to call Central home!

Back Home

Our stay in Michigan has concluded while there we: visited family, camped on Lake Michigan, cut up two 80 foot trees, visited old neighbors, stopped by our old church, viewed Get Smart, saw two of our old houses, played in the sand dunes of Silver Lake, went to a Tiger's game, ate Duncan Donuts, drank Vernors, went to my old favorite restaurant in Detroit, visited the people that used to watch our dogs, went to Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, played miniature golf, and drove a about 2000 miles.

It was a good trip. It's good to be home.

Monday, June 23, 2008

No Camping, no problem.

We are enjoying family in Michigan these days. We were suppose to be camping, but some truck troubles to my father-in-laws chevy caused us to spend an extra night at Karla's sisters house. I'll be honest... spending an extra night in a bed instead of camping was not the worst thing in the world.

We went to Rob Bell's Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids yesterday. Rob Bell wasn't preaching, but it was a good service nonetheless.

Today, we should be camping. Tomorrow it's off to my folks.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Go Celtics!

I am beginning to write this article on my way back to Kansas City. If you hadn’t heard, I made a quick get away from the Sunflower State because my friend Larry gave me a ticket to see his favorite team (the Boston Celtics) play a basketball game. Well, not just any basketball game, the NBA Finals basketball game. All I had to do was get to Boston. Here’s where the story gets even better… my father-in-law heard about the offer from Larry and said he would pay for my airline ticket. So except for some meals, I went to the NBA Finals for free. One word: SWEEEEEET!!! And now, I am writing about the whole experience from 30,000 feet in the air somewhere between Boston and Minneapolis.

There are a lot of great things that happened in the game—especially if you are a Celtics’ fan. Boston won something like 496 to 27 (and it wasn’t that close!). Larry bought me a “Beat L.A.” t-shirt to wear to the game so I would look like I was a real Celtics fan. (I think he was worried I’d be wearing a Pistons shirt, and he didn’t want to be responsible for me getting beat up). I am not really a Celtics fan (I usually root for those Detroit ballers), still one couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the evening.

The fans in Boston know how to cheer their team to victory. Besides the expected chants throughout the game of “Beat L.A. Beat L.A.,” “Defense. Defense.” and “Seventeen! Seventeen!” (a reference to the number of championships that the Celtics have won), the fans were quite creative in their chants and songs (many of which I can’t write about in this family friendly little prose). For instance, whenever a referee whistled a foul against the home team the fans always (I mean ALWAYS) took exception to the “bad” call and shouted a reference to a male bovine’s bodily function. And when one of the opposing players stepped to the free throw line to attempt the shot, the crowd would chant something about a past indiscretion in the opposing player’s life. One player apparently had a problem with an illegal weed that some people have been known to smoke and the crowd chanted “Reefer! Reefer!” (Only in their New England accent it sounded like: “Reefah. Reefah.”). One player‘s only “sin” was that he was born in Spain, and when he stepped up to shoot the crowd chanted “USA. USA. USA.” Some of their other chants were not as nice and definitely not as “G” rated. Still, all in all, it was a fun, once-in-a-lifetime type of event that I was very glad I could attend.

As the game was winding down, I even joined in the singing of “Na, Na, Na, Na. Hey, Hey, Hey, Good Bye,” and when it was all over I sang “We are the Champions.” Maybe the leprechaun on my T-shirt was having some kind of effect on me or maybe it was my Irish heritage coming out or maybe it was the thrill of seeing so many people so happy. After the game was over with confetti flying and music blaring, the crowd was ecstatic. They were jumping and shouting and hugging complete strangers-- you would have thought a war had ended or a cure for cancer had been found. I can’t imagine euphoria any greater.

Maybe I’m goofy (OK I know I am goofy), but I kept thinking about the referees and the opposing players and their life’s indiscretions and sins and mistakes open for all to mock and question. I know taunting and teasing are a part of the game. I’ve done it myself. (I think I yelled to an umpire following what I believed was a blatant missed call: “Hey Ump! If you had one more eye we could call you Cyclops!”) It’s all in good (although as the Boston fans demonstrated, not always clean) fun. Still, I would not want my every sin shouted from the top of 20,000, beer saturated sets of lungs. I wouldn’t want my every decision scrutinized and jeered.

Well get a load of this-- the One whose opinion matters most, the Lord, has promised to throw our sins into the “sea of forgetfulness” and not hold them against us any longer. Once we seek his forgiveness, the Bible tells us “that he is faithful and just to forgive anyone who calls on His name.” In other words, you’ll never hear the Lord rehashing your past forgiven sins. The angels aren’t pointing at you and taunting about a bad decision. I am glad that when I step up to the line—he doesn’t view me as the guy with all the problems or the guy born in the wrong place or the guy who stumbled and fell—but rather He views me as the one that He loves. The one He has forgiven. The one for whom Jesus went to the cross (you are that one too, by the way!). He views us as His children!

Let the confetti spray and the music blare….that’s worth shouting from the top of our non-beer saturated lungs, “We are the children of the King!”