Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Regular Sunday

No graduations, no holidays, no special emphasis.... this week will be a normal, regular, wonderful Sunday at Central-- and I can't wait. I'll be preaching in both the morning and evening services. In the AM, we are continuing our Home Cooking Series-- this week we will look at our relationships-- especially those with children. And in the PM, we will being a new series on Being a Person of Integrity. It will be a study from the Book of James.

Ben the Hero!

On Sunday Night we invited the pastoral staff over for a pre-Memorial Day Barbeque. (Well, it wasn’t really a barbeque, because my grill is broken and I can’t find the replacement parts. But that’s another story. UGH!) Anyway, the staff came over for a little food, fun and swimming in the icy waters of the Prince Pool.

At Karla’s request, Pastor Jamie brought his dog, Riley. Karla thought that Riley and Maggie (the Prince Pooch) would have great fun playing together. She believed that Maggie needed a new friend. While Maggie has never indicated to me that she lacked fellow canine companionship, I certainly did not object to the idea of Maggie playing with a new puppy friend instead of “hounding” the rest of us for food and attention.

You need to know a few things about Riley. Pastor Jamie and Heather think he is a mix between Chihuahua and Jack Russell terrier. He is the size of a Chihuahua, but looks like a Jack Russell. About six months old, Riley is still very much a puppy and very cute. If you know much about the various dog breeds then you know that both Chihuahua’s and Jack Russell’s tend to be a little active. Anyone who has been around puppies of any kind knows that they tend to be a little active too. So with that combo of Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix and being a puppy-- think of Riley as a doggy version of an A.D.H.D., whirling dervish. Einstein was wrong, it’s not E = MC2, its E = Riley!

Well, Jamie brought Riley and this is what happened:

No sooner had Riley set his paws in our back yard, he started chasing Maggie. Maggie, not quite sure she liked this barking ball of energy, retreated to the far side of the pool. Riley was in hot pursuit, when he reached the pool. It’s my assumption that Riley had never seen a swimming pool in his six months of life, but apparently he is a believer in the fact that the closest route between two points is a straight line. Or maybe because of the fine theological influence of our own Pastor Jamie, Riley asked himself, “What would Jesus do?” and determined that Jesus would have walked on the water to get to Maggie. Whatever his thought process, in a split second Riley was making like Greg Louganis and dove into our pool.

Riley didn’t respond as Jesus would. And he’s no doggy version of Ian Thorpe either—maybe more like a doggy brick or a doggy anchor. Riley quickly found himself in the middle of the deep end of the pool (I think he got there on pure momentum from the swan dive), trying to dog paddle but not proving to be very successful in his efforts.

Karla, meanwhile fearful that we might have the first swimming pool casualty, was trying to say to anyone within listening distance to get the long handled, pool skimming tool to pull Riley out of the water, but she only managed to stutter, “Get…get….get… get…” All the while, Riley was swallowing more and more of our over-chlorinated pool water. Ben (my thirteen year old dog lover) had seen and heard enough. Ben can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound and he’s not faster than a speeding bullet, but in a move that would have made both Aqua-man and David Hasselhoff (the Baywatch dude) proud, Ben dove into the frigid water, grabbed Riley and saved the day! FYI-- no mouth to mouth was needed.

All the participants seemed to survive the ordeal. Riley was wet and cold, but did not seem any worse for the wear and it didn’t take him long to go regain his non-stop running, yapping, whirling dervish self. Ben, quite proud of his heroic efforts, is waiting for some kind of special commendation from PETA and has new friends in Riley and Heather. And the rest of us are happy that it was Ben that jumped in the cold waters, that Riley is OK, and that no one had to give a dog mouth to mouth resuscitation.

I tell you all of that because I know some people who are a lot like Riley. Not the A.D.H.D., whirling dervish part and not the non-stop yapping and running part—but finding themselves in deep water and not knowing how to get out part. It seems every week I talk to someone who is in over their head with problems, debt, trials, sickness, sin, you name it. Barely treading water, they don’t know what to do or where to turn.

Isaiah quotes God saying:
"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God.” (Isaiah 43:1-3. New Living Translation)

It’s a great quote and some of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. Next time you find yourself in deep waters, know that God is with you. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. You don’t need “Super Ben” to rescue you—the Lord has said, “You are mine.” You can always count on Him to help you to overcome the deep waters, the burning flames, the troubling times!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Detroit Sports Fan's Dream (almost)

One of the great sport nights in Detroit history was tonight. I had the remote working, and my lap top buzzing. At the same time... the Tigers were crushing the Twins at Comerica Park (19-3), the Red Wings were winning game one of the Stanley Cup Finals over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Joe Louis Arena (4-0), while the Pistons lost to the Celtics at the Palace of Auburn Hills in the third game of the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Pistons had won the only thing better would have been the return of Jesus.

A good quote

Do you like good quotes? Try this one on for size:

Vince Antonucci said this recently, "If you aren't close to someone who is far from God you may not be as close to God as you think."

How many non-Christ following friends do you have? Who are you trying to impact for Christ? Jesus hung out with sinners-- when was the last time you did?

Our Home on the Range and Encouraging Words

Do you know what the official state song of Kansas is? It’s Home on the Range. Since, I did not grow up in the Sunflower State, this was news to me. (I don’t know what the official state song of my home state (Michigan) is—given the fact the auto industry is having really bad times these days, it might be “Turn out the lights the party’s over.”) But in Kansas our song is Home on the Range. Good thing you are reading this little prose and not listening, because right now if you were sitting in the hallowed offices of Central Church you would hear a wretched noise emanating from my office. It’s far from David Cook and his American Idol fame and fashion, as I bellowed out for no one in particular to hear:

Home, home on the range.
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

I suppose my home is technically on the range, (Is Olathe on the range?), but I have yet to see a single deer or antelope play. A few bunnies and squirrels may be around, but there are definitely no deer or antelope in my neighborhood. On occasion, I have heard a few discouraging words (especially as it relates to gas prices) and the skies today are more than a little cloudy. In fact, it’s pouring down liquid sunshine as I type out these words.

I guess the song is a little inaccurate. There’s no deer and antelope; plenty of discouraging words; and the weather man says the skies will be cloudy all day. I can’t do anything about the non-playing and non-existent deer and the antelope. And controlling the weather is a little out of my pay grade too, but I can do something about “discouraging words.”

I remember seeing a Far Side cartoon years ago where a deer and antelope were discussing the ugliness of a certain buffalo to which another dear (or maybe it was an antelope) overheard them and said, “I think I just heard a discouraging word.”

If you listen in on many of the conversations at your work place and home and sometimes even church, like that eavesdropping antelope (or was it a deer?) you might also conclude: “I think I just heard a discouraging word.” It’s easy to fall prey to saying discouraging words. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to find something to complain about, but why? What good does it accomplish? Rather than being a person that finds and focuses on the negative, I want to be a user of encouraging words and attempt to be positive in all I say. Solomon once said:

The words of the godly are like sterling silver;
The heart of a fool is worthless.
The words of the godly encourage many,
But fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense.
(Proverbs 10:20-21)

Why not have encouraging and sterling silver words, whether your home is on the range or not? Who knows—maybe your use of positive encouraging words might even chase the grey clouds away and deer and the antelope might start playing again. Positive encouraging words make a big difference!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hooray for the Red WIngs!

Who cares about the Tigers... the Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup Finals!

Biker Sunday Recap

Thanks to all who helped make our first annual Biker Day a good success! We had beautiful weather, wonderful music, great preaching (by Bob Humphrey), fantastic food, neat door prizes, fancy shirts, and alittle over 50 motorcycles and lots of volunteers to make sure everything went great! Besides have a doozy of a headache, it was a good, good day.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Biker Sunday

I am really looking forward to Biker Sunday this week. Lots of food and events are planned for the afternoon at Central. The Morning schedule will be the same as always: 8:30 and 11:00 Worship-- with Sunday School sandwiched in between. Biker Events start at 1 PM. Food, Music and a special message. Whether you are a Biker or not... join us this week!

Bird Brain

I am a “the root beer glass is half full” kind of guy. In fact, I’m a “the root beer glass is half full and I think I even see a scoop of ice cream in the cup” kind of guy. I usually see the most optimistic, most positive, most hopeful side to things. If Robert Schuler called for people to take the lemons they’ve been handed in life and make lemonade—then I would add, “And open a lemonade stand, make some cash and use a portion of the profits to sponsor a child in Zimbabwe.” I don’t have a cool name like Zig Zigler, but I’m generally a pretty positive guy.
Having said all of that, even the most “Johnny Blue Skies” among us might be getting a little nervous as the world events seem to be getting more and more uncertain. A quick look at the newspapers reminds us that:
· The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on.
· Is it just me, or does it seem like there has been more than our share of natural disasters lately? A cyclone in Myanmar, an earthquake in China, and tornadoes in the Midwest to name the tragedies from this week alone.
· Gas prices are high.
· The economy is low. (At the present rate, I think that by the time my economic stimulus check arrives, all I’ll be able to afford is one tank of gas and a Snickers Bar.)
· There are food crises in Haiti and Egypt. People can’t afford the most basic of staples like rice and bread.
· The Presidential politics and the obligatory mud slinging that follows will be a dominant theme for the next few months. Whether you are “O Baby” for Obama or McKooky for McCain—I think by November, most of us will be glad the campaign is over. (And if you are a “Silly for Hillary”… well… better luck next time).
· Even the weather has been pretty stinky this spring (although the last couple of days have been better).

So what is the Christ follower to do? I suppose we have several options and quite frankly all are for the birds…

The Ostrich Approach: Step One: Locate Sand. Step two: Stick head in it. Step Three: Stay there until 2024. Generally, ignoring problems is not the best way to overcome them and besides having all that sand in your hair is not recommended by Vidal Sassoon as proper hair care.

The Chicken Approach: Look at all the above facts and say, “I want out of this chicken coop! With all of this bad stuff going on, Jesus must be coming back tonight so I am emptying my bank account, giving away my flat screen TV to my sinner friends (‘cause I’ll be in heaven and I hear they have 200 inch Plasma TV’s in every mansion), and heading to the mountains to watch for Jesus’ return.” The problem with the Chicken Approach is that there have been those “chickens” that are more concerned about getting out of the coop than carrying about the other “chickens.” So they plan and strategize and act like Jesus’ return is coming before the evening news. But Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven…” (Matthew 24:36) Do you remember Peter’s instructions? He wrote: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) In other words, Jesus’ return keeps getting delayed because God so loves the world. Hey, I’m glad he has waited—because I know some folks that aren’t quite ready to meet Him. If it means a few more days in the coop for some of my friends to find Jesus, I can wait.

The Sparrow Approach: Look at all the above facts and say, “Wow… that’s a lot of bad stuff, but I know this… God is in control.” Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:26-27) So it doesn’t matter what is happening in the world; it doesn’t matter who is living in the White House; it doesn’t matter how high the price of ethanol rises; and it doesn’t matter who wins the World Series. Jesus is in control. He calls us to love Him and love people and let him worry about the rest.

The Eagle Approach: Looks at the above facts and like the sparrow says, “I’ve got no worries” in fact, I’m going to move beyond the circumstances of the day and soar. Isaiah said, “God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31. Italics mine). An eagle looks at the news and says “God has given me this excellent opportunity to make a difference. With Him, I can soar above the situation. With Him, I will have the strength. With Him, I can be victorious. With Him, there is not a situation that I can not overcome! God is bigger than wars and earthquakes and hunger and presidential politics. God is bigger than the temporary problems and my hope is in Him! Not only will I not worry, but I will be victorious!

So if you must be a bird brain and get your feathers in the ruffle over the events of the day, then pick the right bird to follow. As for me, I want to soar with the Eagles!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tomato Canning Day and Moms

Tomato Canning Day at the Prince’s was like no other day. Besides the obvious of “putting up the maters” for the following year, Tomato Canning Day was easily the messiest day of the year.

On Tomato Canning Day my mom was immersed in making tomato juice, tomato sauce, and canning stewed tomatoes. For those of you unfamiliar with the necessary tools of Tomato
Canning Day allow me to explain: Mom used a “Juicer” for the project. A “Juicer” was a stainless steel contraption that had a hopper at the top that held the cut “maters and a handle on the side. There was no electricity needed for the Juicer. All the necessary power was in the arm of the person turning the handle. As the handle was cranked with one hand and the tomatoes were mashed into the machine with the other hand, the freshly squeezed “mater” juice would go one way and the yucky “tomato guts” would go another.

This all sounds nice and neat, but it was anything but nice and neat. Sometimes the juice would miss the bucket, and sometimes the goop would miss whatever the goop was suppose to go in to and sometimes a kid (read: Rob) would coming running in from outside and not see the bucket of juice or pan of goop and purely accidentally send one or both pans (and all of their contents) flying in all directions. In other words, “cleanliness is next to godliness” is a fine saying for most things, except for Tomato Canning Day. By the end of the day, everything was covered in tomatoes. My mom’s spic and span kitchen was splattered with tomato seeds, spilled juice, and tomato goop. It looked as if some overly zealous vegetable terrorist had let off a tomato bomb in our house. Tomato residue was everywhere. Even my usually neat and tidy mama by the end of the day looked more like Bob the Tomato than my dear sweet mama.

To make matters worse— Tomato Canning Day in Michigan always came at the end of August— when the tomatoes were good and ripe and the days were good and hot.

OK— you have the scene in your mind. It’s Tomato Canning Day. It’s hot. It’s messy. And my sweet conservative mother— who never, ever, ever, wore shorts (To be honest— I’m not sure if she has ever worn shorts since) was wearing the most hideous, most awful pair of shorts that had ever hung on a K-Mart clearance rack. She certainly did not intend to leave the house— it was Tomato Canning Day—and she was wearing shorts and covered from head to toe in tomato.
Moms, you know what’s going to happen-- don’t you?

Bam Bam. Bam. Someone was beating on our door like they were Muhammad Ali and the door was George Foreman. It was the neighbor’s kid informing my tomato-gooped mom that my brother had fallen off his bike and did a nose dive into the curb. The curb was fine, but my brother’s noggin was not so fine. (This incidentally explains a lot about my brother Fred to this very day!) Upon hearing that news, my mom took off down the street. She did not take the time to change from those awful, hideous, shorts. She did not take the time to remove the tomato goop from all over her. She heard her boy was in trouble and she took off running. She did not pass go. She did not collect 200 dollars. Her child was in trouble and she was off to be by his side.

That’s how it is when your child is in trouble. You don’t worry about what you are wearing or what you look like— you just go. A “whatever it takes” type of mentality takes over. “My kid is hurt, I must go! I will do whatever it takes to make it better. I’ll do what I have to do to make it right.” I suppose all good moms would have similar thoughts if in a similar situation. In fact, there’s a great story in the Bible when a mom does what it takes to get her daughter to Jesus. Read all about it in Mark 7. It’s a great story of a mom who would not quit before her daughter was helped by Jesus.

My mom ended up riding in the ambulance and sitting in the emergency room wearing her clearance rack shorts and tomato residue. Worrying little about her appearance and a lot for my brother, she waited patiently by his side as he was being examined, x-rayed, and spending the night in Annapolis Hospital. (In the end, Fred was fine—a curb is no match for my brother’s bean. My sister brought my mom a change of clothes, the tomato juice was eventually canned, the kitchen was cleaned up, and life went back to normal.) But I don’t think my mom ever wore those shorts again.I tell you that to remind us all that this week is Mother’s Day. Even if your mom never did a Bob the Tomato impersonation in a hospital emergency room, no doubt there are reasons to be thankful for her. So take time to say “Thanks.” Even if your mom was far less than perfect, take time to forgive. Don’t let Mother’s Day pass without thinking of and/or praying for the lady that brought you into the world and in most cases did so much more (sometimes while wearing hideous K-Mart clearance rack shorts.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Summer Reading List?

As many of y'all know, I am a reader. For what it's worth, these are a few of the books that I've read in the last couple of months.

The ones I didn't like-- Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna.
God is a Salesman by Mark Stevens.

The ones I liked a little: The Shack by (I can't remember the author's name... oops)
The Appeal by John Grisham
The New Atheist Crusaders by Becky Garrison

The ones I really liked: Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer
I became a Christian and All I got was this lousy T-shirt by Vince Antonucci
The Deity Formerly known as God by Jarrett Stevens

With Summer around the corner, I would recommend any of the last three books for sure-- and lots of people I know loved The Shack, I just wasn't as crazy about it as others.

My current reading list includes:
The God who Smokes by Timothy Stoner
I'm fine with God, It's Christians I can't stand by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz
The Multi-Site Church Revolution by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What are you copying?

A “pleasant” conversation at the Prince house:

Ben: I am the greatest baseball player in the world.
Alex: I am the greatest baseball player in the world.
Ben: Are you copying me?
Alex: Are you copying me?
Ben: Stop it.
Alex: Stop it.
Ben: Stop copying me.
Alex: Stop copying me.
Ben: I am a big, fat dummy!
Alex: Ben is a big fat dummy!
Ben: Daaaaaaaaad!

UGH! The joys of parenthood! I am sure that your cherubs would never taunt and tease one another. It’s only a pastor’s kid thing, no doubt. And pigs fly and the Royals will win the pennant and….

Even more annoying than the copying game between brothers is the copying of our dominant culture that takes place all too often.

This week I am preaching from Paul’s words, “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2) Is there a more relevant, needed, and timely passage in the entire Bible for believers than that one? It’s not the people who completely ignore Paul’s words that worry me, but rather it is we followers of Jesus who read Paul, like Paul, and after perusing such a passage promptly offer a hardy “Preach it, Paul!” Then nearly as prompt do our very best to copy the world.

I know, I am sounding old fashion. Trust me I am not sitting on my davenport, working on my Commodore 64, waiting for a telegram from my grandmother as I write this article. And I am not suggesting that we dress and act like the Amish to prove a point. (I’ve grown rather fond of electricity.). But I am suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we need to rethink how we approach our sex-crazed, materialistic, “anything is OK just as long as you are happy” culture and say, “Hmmm, maybe God has something better.” Maybe, just maybe, we need to have a God powered, transformation—in our brains and in our culture. Maybe, just maybe, we need to reexamine our priorities and attitudes and ask, “Am I a cultural copy cat?” Do my attitudes and behaviors reflect Christ or reflect what some Madison Avenue marketing guru says is important and necessary for my life? Do I mirror Jesus or Abercrombie and Fitch?

I read a quote from Billy Graham this week, he said: “Give me five minutes with a person's checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” It probably wouldn’t take the good reverend that long. In the next few weeks, we tax paying Americans will be getting our economic stimulus checks; how you spend it will tell a lot about what priorities you have. I am not a tele-evangelist or the son of a tele-evangelist and I am not suggesting you send all your money to Central, but I am suggesting that you think (and pray!) before you spend. Are you going to simply copy culture or will you allow Christ to transform you and your spending?

The same can be said about what we watch on TV, what websites we visit, and how we spend our entertainment hours. Are we allowing God to transform our minds into his “good and pleasing and perfect will” or are we going along with what our culture says is good and pleasing? Because as far as I can tell, what God says is pleasing and what our world says is pleasing at times are very far apart.

When my boys play the copying game it’s irritating and childish. When we copy the world and its false dreams and hopes, it’s even worse.