Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wisemen Shopping

Everyone with their Christmas shopping done, raise your hands.

Everyone who wants to give the people with their hands raised a “Noogie” raise your hands.

Everyone who thinks that the people who get their Christmas shopping done before Christmas Eve are a little too organized, raise your hands.

Thank you. Hands down.

Is this my weekly letter on an AA-like confessional?

“Hello my name is Rob and I am a Christmas Eve Shopper.”

I don’t know why I procrastinate. I just do. I know I need to buy presents. I know that all the cool stuff will be gone by Christmas Eve and I will be left to choose between an assortment of Snuggies, Chia pets and jars of pickled herring. Still I wait.

I’ve tried to excuse my procrastinating for economical reasons: “Our credit card cycle is later in the month, and if I wait to purchase gifts then we won’t have to pay for them for an extra 24 days.”

I’ve made an effort to illicit my doctor’s support: “Are you sure doc there is not a life threatening condition known as “Wal-Mart Intolerant”?

I’ve even attempted to make this a spiritual matter: “Since the Lord could return any day now, why buy presents for people who are going to be raptured outta here? I don’t want the brand new sweater I paid $7.95 on the clearance rack at Target just lying on the street in a pile after they’ve been caught up in “the Big Whoosh” to heaven and I don’t want their sinful relatives using the Chia Pet I bought after their gone either.”

The truth is—the reason I procrastinate is, “I hate shopping.” Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

And I’m bad at it.

I’ve bought Karla plenty of lousy gifts down through the years. She no longer allows me to buy her clothes (my taste and hers are not the same); If the present is used for cleaning, she has promised to clean my clock with it (and I don’t think she means my Timex); and I’ve learned she doesn’t like footballs, Frisbees or any other sporting equipment—so what’s left to buy?

I blame the three Wisemen for my dilemma. They are the guys that started this whole gift buying frenzy. Had they not brought their gifts from the east then maybe we could just celebrate Christmas by singing carols and eating gingerbread. I sometimes wonder if they had to battle the crowded malls to get the frankincense if there would have been only two gifts. You think parking your Nissan Altima is hard, try finding a spot for a camel. Moreover, the Wisemen didn’t have to wrap the gold in a fancy box (gift wrapping another thing I am horrible at--by the way. The greatest invention ever: The Christmas Gift bag), they didn’t have to wrap the gifts but the Magi did have to make sacrifices to get the gold to Jesus. They probably weren’t asking,” Is my myrrh missing a vowel,” but neither were they saying, “Is it worth it to take these gifts to a King?” According to the Bible, when the Magi “saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)

All this to say, I don’t think the Magi were procrastinating or complaining about the gifts they needed to get-- because their trip wasn’t really about the gold, frankincense or myrrh—it was about worshipping the Christ child. It was about finding the King.

It’s the same with our Christmases. Whether your shopping has been done for weeks or if you are going to do it next Thursday afternoon in Walgreens remember this: Christmas isn’t about the gifts, it is about the Gift that came from heaven. It’s about worshipping that King!

Everyone thankful for that Gift raise your hand. Me too!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Severe Snow Warning!

Some of you may have heard that I am from the Great Lake State; aka The Wolverine State; aka The Winter Wonderland; aka Michigan. Because of that fact, there are a few experiences afforded me. I always carry the state map (at least the Lower Peninsula of the state map) on my hand; I know plenty of people that used to work in an automotive factory; and I am long suffering (I am a Detroit Lion’s fan).

From time to time I am made aware of some differences between my home state and my adopted state of Kansas. This week was such a week. As you might know, in Michigan usually from mid November until early April cold white flakes fall from the sky on a rather frequent basis. When Karla and I lived in Alanson—Alanson, by the way, is located at the tippy top of your ring finger when looking at the backside of your left hand—there was snow on the ground from late October until early May. In other words, Michigan gets a fair amount of the frozen sunshine known as snow. The hardy souls of Michigan shovel it, scrape it, ski it, snowmobile it, sled it, throw it, create art and angels in it, and in all ways embrace it.

In Michigan, a “Severe Snow Warning” means (believe this or not) that there may be a foot of snow on the way. It is a time when children are giddy with anticipation of the coming mountains of white, fluffy snow. Forts will be built. Snowmen made. The older youth see dollar signs as they use their dad’s snow blower to clean off the neighbor’s sidewalks and driveways. A Severe Snow Warning means (believe this or not) that an enormous amount of snow will soon be dumped on the affected area.

This week we had “a Severe Snow Warning” in Kansas. They were talking about this coming snow fall for weeks and weeks (OK maybe not “weeks and weeks,” but I think since last Thursday). By the way some weather forecasters were telling the story it would be the “Mother of all” Snowstorms. The city would be shut down. Life would be interrupted. Mayhem and destruction were distinct possibilities. The apocalypse was sure to follow.

Finally, oh so finally, the Monster Snowstorm of 2009 struck!

I awoke yesterday morning ready to break out my snow blower (the same snow blower that as it was being unloaded off the truck four years ago in the 100+ degree heat, the moving guy said, “You won’t need this.” I don’t think I used the old Toro even once all last winter in Kansas). Still, I was ready to shovel and scrape and remember the good ole days of frozen finger tips and hot chocolate warm ups. But instead I awoke to a grand total of an inch of snow maybe less!

Are you kidding me? I’ve seen more snow on the walls of my freezer.

In my home state we call that “a heavy frost.” We don’t even cover our tomatoes for an inch of snow. We wear shorts, t-shirts and flip flops and wonder when is “Winter comin’” when there is a mere inch of snow on the ground. We…. Ok, I’m exaggerating. We might not do those things, but when a grand total of one inch of snow is coming it is not called a “Winter Storm Warning” and it is not the talk of the news reports for three days in a row.

I write this not to solely complain about the hysteria of the weathermen in my adopted state, but also to reflect upon this Advent Season. Advent for the Christian is the season of preparing for the arrival of the Christ child on Christmas Day—but the Advent Season also carries with it the knowledge that Jesus is coming again. Like weathermen with an approaching snow storm, the Bible is full of warnings and reminders of that Second Coming. The warnings are not about the prospect of slippery roads and snow days for school children—but about the coming of the end of all things. In Revelation 3, Jesus said, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 3:11). In Mark he said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch” (Mark 13:32-33). In other words, the end is coming. Make sure you are ready.

I’m afraid that when thinking of the Second Advent and that “Jesus is coming again” we treat it like the news was being shouted by some wild haired, crazy guy on the street holding a big sign saying “The End is near.” Or at best, we treat the news like a hysterical weatherman on the local news is discussing a nonexistent snow storm and we conclude, “Well it might happen, but it won’t be today.” We don’t seem to treat it with the giddy excitement of children missing school or the opening of presents on Christmas Day.

This fact remains: Jesus is coming again. I don’t know when. I’m not painting my big sign to say “the end is near.” But I know He IS coming again. And like Jesus tells us, I want to “keep watch.” I want to be ready for that day. I want to make sure that my relationship with God is current and up-to-date. As we await the advent of his second coming, I want to be giddy with anticipation for the time when all believers will be faithful, joyful and triumphant.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Weird Week

My weird week began, when my previously only occasionally irritating phone, decided on Saturday that it would become a permanent irritant and refuse to turn on. I don’t know why it stopped working, it just did. Knowing that a friend had some used T-Mobile phones lying around his house, I called to borrow one. Thankfully he agreed to allow me to use his daughter’s old phone until I can get a new one later this week. So now my ring tone is some crazy rap song and there are several teenage girls’ phone numbers in my possession. If someone listened or looked at the phone I am using without knowing the full story, I’m sure they would assume my name is “Pastor Creepy.” Weird!

The weird week continued when I was preaching in Sunday Morning’s second service—a sermon that was to be enhanced by my preaching in a darkened sanctuary with only a single light bulb to illuminate the message (you had to be here…); the only problem was that the light bulb worked for approximately 1/100th of a second. UGH! Thankfully, Pastor Kevin found an alternative lamp and after a minor delay the sermon was droning on. Still, it was not the way I envisioned the sermon to go. (By the way, in spite of the “technical difficulties” several people became Christ followers on Sunday Morning!)

The weird week rolled on when we received a call at the church that someone had hacked into our phone lines and had made hundreds of calls to (get this) Liechtenstein. You read that right: Liechtenstein. According to Wikipedia, Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries (about the size of Overland Park), has a smaller population than Lenexa and it is the world’s largest producer of false teeth and sausage casings (insert your own joke here). Liechtenstein was also the recipient of numerous phone calls from the Central Church of the Nazarene from Saturday Night until Sunday morning at 8 AM. Maybe there was some Liechtenstein phone-a-thon going on. Weird.

There were other weird things occurring this week like the temperature going from a pleasant 60 degrees to a freezer-like 30 degrees overnight. The wreathes that Karla had me put up when the weather was balmy last Saturday are now blowing in the wind and scraping on the windows. Twice now, I’ve awoken thinking some burglar is outside my bedroom (Quite honestly, if I were a burglar it would probably be easier to break in a first floor window rather than my second floor window, but in my sleep I’m not thinking logically). Speaking of Christmas decorations (the wreathes, remember?) my house looks like an elf convention gone badly—there are Christmas supplies everywhere. Weird!

I’ve been to hospitals, counseling sessions, and Tuesday night was the District Pastor’s Christmas Party. As you well know, pastors are “party animals”—thankfully the weirdness of the week did not include anyone doing anything that will cause them to lose their credentials. Although I must admit that our own Pastor Cory Stipp would have been elected as the best dressed if such an election were held. To quote the rapper on my borrowed phone, “He was looking fly.” Weird!

I know I am not alone. Famous people like Tiger Woods and football coaches, Bobby Bowden and Charlie Weis, also have had a weird week. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes our weird week happens as a result of someone else’s behavior, sometimes we are the reason for our weird week, and sometimes life just happens that way.

Remember Paul’s words for weird weeks: So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message) In other words, Hang in there in the weird and wacky weeks. God is in control. He’s on the throne. Keep trusting Him!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


When I was a young, hot out of the seminary oven preacher boy, I would go to the Four Season’s nursing home every Thursday morning. The fine residents of Four Seasons didn’t know it, but they were my Guinea pigs. They would get a “test run” of Sunday’s message before the congregants at the Bad Axe Church of the Nazarene got the real deal three days later. I had been using Karla as my Guinea pig, but when she didn’t like something she let me know it—the Four Seasons crowd was much more genteel or maybe their hearing aids were turned off. Either way, I didn’t have to dodge shoes and other assorted items when I preached at Four Seasons. (Of course, I’m kidding. It’s true that I used to practice my sermons on Karla, it is not true that she threw things at me when I did).

The service at Four Seasons was very simple: three songs, a prayer, and a sermon by me. The hymnbook that we used consisted of 15 songs in a super-sized font that Bartimaeus could have read-- even before he met Jesus. So we frequently sang the same songs. A half blind, half deaf lady volunteered to play the piano, the residents would choose the songs, and I (never to be confused with Bill Gaither or Steven Curtis Chapman) would lead the music. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir we were not.

One of the regulars at our little church service at Four Season’s was Tessie. Tessie had suffered a stroke when she was young and been in the nursing home for quite some time. She had trouble walking and had never had any type of speech therapy following her stroke, so she had a very difficult time speaking. Most people could not understand a word that Tessie said, but I think that was because they didn’t try. Oh, one more thing about Tessie—she loved Jesus. With all her heart, she loved Jesus.

Like the Detroit Lions losing football games, every week I could count on Tessie to lift her crippled arm and request that one of the three songs that we sing would be “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Every week-- “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” I think she would have chosen that song if there were a thousand songs in the hymnbook and not just fifteen. She never grew tired of it. Tessie couldn’t even sing the words (not in a language that most people could understand)—but she deeply knew the friendship of Jesus.

I want to be like Tessie—no matter my difficulties and even if no one quite understands it-- I want to sing out: “What a friend I have in Jesus.”
Moreover, I hope this isn’t sacrilegious (I don’t mean it to be), I hope Jesus is singing, “What a friend I have in Rob” too. In all the best friendships I have had—it’s been a “two way street.” When I need a friend, they are with me and when they need a friend, I am there. That’s what true friendship looks like. While I am absolutely convinced that Jesus will never leave me; I want Him to know—through all the times in my life, through all the trials and all the storms, when people let me down, when church folks act like Darwin was right, when life is downright stinky—that I am not leaving Him. He can count on me to keep trusting, keep giving, keep believing, and keep expecting greater things.

Is Jesus singing, “What a friend I have in __________ (Fill in your name)”?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stolen Pumpkins

Someone swiped the pumpkins from our front porch.

There’s a pumpkin thief in the 66062 area.

Why would someone steal our pumpkins? They were not particularly large pumpkins. They were not the $8 big boys; I think they were the $5 specials. They were not unique and home grown (I have a little trouble growing pumpkins, although I’ve tried every year for the last 15 years to grow a single pumpkin. Karla recently told me I needed to water the seeds that I planted. Wow, I wish she would have told me that fifteen years ago.). The pumpkins on our porch were Wal-Mart’s “you and a million other people in mind” pumpkins. They were not carved in the likeness of anyone famous or painted with fancy designs. In fact, if memory serves (how quickly one forgets the distinguishing characteristics of their pumpkins once they are gone) one of our pumpkins had its stem broken off. Who steals a maimed, five dollar Wal-Mart pumpkin? I don’t know who done it… but my pumpkins are gone.

Karla had gotten some hedge apples (not to be confused with road apples) from the tree behind the church and was placing them in a bucket to go alongside the pumpkins on our front porch when she made the discovery—there were no pumpkins on our front porch! She did not call 9-1-1 upon this revelation. She was just a little sad. If you know Karla I am not sure if she was sadder that the pumpkins were gone or that the $10 dollars she spent on the pumpkins was now wasted. In either case, she was sad. Me too.

On our nightly walk through the neighborhood, I noticed some of our neighbors still had pumpkins on their front porches. Obviously, the pumpkins bandits didn’t steal everyone’s pumpkins—just ours. The policeman down the road had several pumpkins on his porch, driveway, and practically everywhere. The fact that he parks his patrol car in the driveway and has a big, mean police dog in his backyard that barks at the sound of a flea jumping from his tail onto the ground might help stave off any potential pumpkin crooks from his yard. Still even neighbors that do not presumably “pack heat” did not have their pumpkins stolen. Just ours. Bummer.

While disappointing, I guess in the whole scope of life--not having pumpkins on our front porch is not too big of a deal. I’ve known people who have allowed far worse thieves steal far more. So keep watch for these thieves:

Don’t let bitterness steal your joy.
Don’t let doubt steal your hope.
Don’t let anger steal your peace.
Don’t let the past steal your present.
Don’t let circumstances steal your contentment.
Don’t let negativity steal your optimism.
Don’t let injustice steal your passion.
Don’t let a bad report steal your trust.
Don’t let gossip steal your godly conversation.
Don’t let greed steal your generosity.
Don’t let judgmental attitudes steal your zeal.
Don’t let hypocrites steal your faithfulness.
Don’t let laziness steal your service.
Don’t let hatred steal your love.

Don’t let our enemy, the great thief, steal the abundant life that our Savior, the Great Hope Provider, has for you!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hanging Out at O'Hare

I am beginning to write these words from the Chicago O’Hare Airport. Airports are great for many things (besides air travel of course). They are great places to overpay for a hamburger (oops, don’t tell Karla that I had a Big Mac for lunch. I’m not sure those tasty little morsels are in the “Mrs. Prince’s Approved Diet Plan”). They are also great places to pay for Wi-Fi. Who pays for Wi-Fi? Not this cheap, internet-less pastor. Even worse than charging for Wi-Fi, airports are places that actually charge for electricity. I could not believe that in Kansas City’s Airport one has to pay two dollars—TWO DOLLARS!!!—to plug in a laptop computer to an electrical outlet by a seat in the gate area. Are you kidding me? The notion of charging for the use of an electrical outlet was so upsetting to me, I nearly became Amish. Thomas Edison cannot be happy right now!

In spite of all that, airports are great places to watch people. As I type these words, across from me is sitting a man who looks a lot like Uncle Joe on the old, old Petticoat Junction T.V. Show. (I know I am dating myself right now, but the dude seriously looks like Uncle Joe. You have to be over 50 to remember and appreciate Petticoat Junction but it was a great show with the famous line in its theme song: “and there’s Uncle Joe, he’s a movin’ kind of slow at the junction, Petticoat Junction.”). I think the sleepy, snoring man with Velcro sneakers is a dead ringer for Uncle Joe (Probably a poor word choice of “dead ringer” since Uncle Joe has long, long gone to his Great Reward). Across from him is a man reading today’s edition of USA Today, he looks a little like Cheech (or is it Chong? Again I’m dating myself.) I can never remember who is who. There is a family with a little girl and boy. The boy is acting like the seat next to him is Indy 500 race track for his toy car. I don’t think the man that is occupying that seat is amused.

In my G-7 gate waiting area, there are people dressed in designer clothes and those of us dressed in sweatshirts. There are black people, white people, Latinos and Asian people. There are old and young people. There’s an old guy with a pony tail and a young lady without much hair at all. Interesting. There is a grey haired man who is with a young lady that I initially thought was his daughter, she is probably much younger than his daughter if he had a daughter, but from the way they are now “carrying on,” I think it is safe to assume that they are definitely not daddy and daughter. And I am pretty sure that their behavior is not acceptable, even if we were in an airport in Sodom or Gomorrah. Yuck! There are more people in this area than there are seats. It’s crowded in here. Grandpa and his wife (girlfriend?) are sharing a seat.

So what’s the point? There are tons of people in this airport. From all over the world, from different walks of life, from different socio-economic backgrounds—and all of them, I mean every single solitary one of them is loved by God.

As I sit here typing, I am also praying. I am praying that God will send someone to talk to the sleeping young man with his iPod blaring who seems quite oblivious to the things of the world. I pray that he is not oblivious to the things of God. And I pray that the business man wearing a Rolex and a very expensive suit will have someone share with him the love of Christ too. I’m praying for that family with the two kids, the Uncle Joe, Cheech and Grandpa and his young lady. And I am praying that God will give me an opportunity (maybe to someone in this waiting area or on the airplane) to be able to share the love of God.

I want to be like the Apostle Paul who said, “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6). I think that applies to airport waiting areas, travel mates on the airplane and any place where we find ourselves. Could it be that God has arranged a Divine appointment for someone and you and Him?

Oh my, the gate agent has just announced that my airplane is not leaving from gate G-7 after all but will be leaving from gate G-1. I’ve got to run like O.J. through this airport (like in the Avis commercial… before all of his troubles… OK if you were counting that’s three times I dated myself in this brief article. UGH! I’ve got to get on my airplane.).

(Interesting editorial note: I prayed that God would use me on the airplane—that God would set up a divine appointment. My Bible was ready. My courage was mustered. Once on the airplane, I walked to my 14-C seat and guess who was the only person on the entire airplane that did not have a fellow passenger in the next seat? Me! I’m serious. The airplane was totally booked minus one seat. A big guy sat next to me for about 15 seconds and then moved forward to sit next to his wife. Maybe God thought I needed a divine appointment with sleep instead.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Man and the Restaurant… A Parable

There once was a man who found a very nice restaurant. The food was good. The service was fast. The other patrons were friendly. He decided that it was his favorite restaurant and went there every week. Every Sunday morning, he went there. “What better way to start one’s week than to have a tasty meal,” he thought as he drove to his favorite restaurant.

He liked the food so much that he ate as much of it as he could whenever he was there. As strange as it might seem to people who eat every day (and even more so for those that eat three times a day), this man only ate when he was at his favorite restaurant. Every Sunday morning he ate and ate and ate, but for the rest of the week he starved. Once in a while he would go to the restaurant on a Wednesday night where he’d get a little snack and that would help tide him over until Sunday. Some of the restaurant’s patrons would gather together, eat in their homes and talk about their favorite recipes; the man was invited but never went. He said he was much too busy for that and he wasn’t comfortable eating when just a few people were around. So for the most part, he was a once-a-week eater. And if he happened to go on vacation or if he was sick or if he simply overslept on Sunday morning, then he wouldn’t go to the restaurant for two weeks or maybe more.

If you happen to be one of those people who eat every day (or even three times a day), then you might not be aware of this fact: once-a-week eating can leave a person very hungry. Moreover, if a person skips eating all together for a week or two, then one becomes quite famished indeed. It’s hard to maintain one’s strength when you only eat one meal a week. It’s easy to become grumpy when you only eat once in a while. So not surprisingly, the man started losing his strength and getting a little grumpy.

He went to the restaurant manager and said, “Sir, I’ve been coming to this restaurant for a long time now, but I am starving! I am losing my strength and my wife says I’m getting grumpy.”

The restaurant manager was taken aback by that statement (not that he was grumpy, but surprised that he was starving). The manager told the man that the restaurant had many patrons that had been coming to the establishment for years and were quite satisfied and filled. So he asked him about his daily eating routine on the six days when he was not at the restaurant. “Do you eat a good breakfast? What do you normally eat at lunch time? Tell me about your dinner habits?”

The man quickly replied, “Oh I never eat at home--only here. And quite frankly, I am not being fed enough here. I might have to find another restaurant to eat at-- one where I can eat and eat and eat and be full all week long.”

The restaurant manager said, “I am unaware of such an eatery. There are many fine restaurants and some serve excellent food, but if you only eat once a week even if it is the best restaurant in the world, with a well-known chef and most efficient waiters, you will still be hungry by the end of the week. You really need to eat something every day.”

The man had plenty of excuses why he only ate at the restaurant once a week. He was much too busy to prepare himself a meal. His home cooking wasn’t the same as the restaurant’s entrées. He never seemed to get anything out of the cookbook when he read it on his own. And he concluded that if the restaurant manager couldn’t promise a more filling once-a-week meal, then he would have to go to the restaurant down the street.

And that is exactly what he did.

Every Sunday (when he wasn’t on vacation or sick or simply sleeping in) he woke up and went to the restaurant down the street, received a good meal and then went on his way. The man was starving most of week, getting grumpier and grumpier, losing strength and thinking if only he could find the perfect restaurant with a once-a-week meal then he would never be hungry again. A friend at work told him that the restaurant in the next town over had good meals, a nice manager and very friendly patrons; maybe he’ll try that one next week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Parking Lots and Patience

It’s been said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But I say if the Roman mayor and city council had hired our parking lot repair company, then Rome would still be under construction. To say the progress on the church parking lot has been a little slow is like saying counting each grain of sand in the Sierra Desert might take a little time. If our parking lot repair guys were in the race with the turtle and the hare—they would have finished not only behind the turtle and the hare, but also behind the snail, the sloth, and the gimpy legged opossum. The job that was supposed to take one week to complete (and was supposed to have begun on August 3) is now set to be completed on August 26. If you were a betting person (a betting person in a non-gambling sanctified way, of course) then I would strongly urge you to not bet on the August 26 completion date.

I’ve been told that there are numerous reasons for the delays. Wrong sized saw blades and bad weather and a few reasons only the company knows. There is no truth to the rumor that the construction team took a day off to celebrate St. Mac Day (the patron saint of cement workers). Maybe the company only hires preachers—for the last twenty years I have heard from smart aleck parishioners that preachers only work one day a week. Of course, even if that were true (which believe me is NOT true), it would still be an improvement over the “work” being done in our parking lot. Bottom line: Our parking lot still is under construction and the East entryway is still blocked off and people are still forced to turn around in the parking lot when they are “passing through” because they discover that they can’t “pass through” after all. A fact that someone has said has caused more profanity coming from the U-turning cars in our parking lot than in the Chief’s parking lot following a loss to the Oakland Raiders. I wouldn’t know about that…

Here’s what I do know: Things don’t always happen in our desired time frames. Whether we are talking parking lots or lots of others things—our timing and the actual timing of events are not always the same.

We want the oncology reports yesterday. We want to hear about the job interview at this instant. We want the repair man to return our calls as soon as we have left the message. We want patience… NOW.

You and I both know it doesn’t always work that way. The Bible tells us that “Love is patient and love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). So there are times when our loving patience will be put to the test. Sometimes we simply must wait. That’s true when dealing with construction workers, doctors, potential employers, and it’s even true in our waiting on the Lord.

God’s timing is always perfect. He is never early; never late; He is always right on time. So we wait. Often we don’t know why we are waiting, but we wait anyway. We might wish we were not waiting. Still we wait. And in those moments, the faithful are convinced that Isaiah 40 is true when it says: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV). In other words, when the period of waiting is over—whether the outcome is as we would have liked or not— through God’s power we will be stronger, better, and closer to Him than ever.

Are you waiting for something in your life a lot more serious than a messy parking lot? Keep trusting in God. He knows what you need, when you need it. You can always trust in His timing. And together you and God will always win! You might not get to park your car in the west parking lot, but you will win.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Endure and buy a mac

From the time the OU hat-wearing, probably 19 but looked 12, AT&T guy entered my home to “fix” my non-broken computer until now (in other words, in the last 9 months), my computer has experienced a series of unfortunate events. Here’s the list: the hard drive completely and totally went kapoot (by the way, the good folks at the AT & T have still not compensated me for that loss— I have called and called and called, I believe U-verse really means “Universe,” as in “they must be in another Universe, because they do not contact people living on planet earth.”); the internal wireless thingy went ka-pooey; the built in mouse pad has a rodent mind of its own and will without warning send the curser to places unknown (which has tempted this normally mild-mannered pastor to want to “curser” too); the battery lasts about as long as it takes to my dog Maggie to eat a rebel hot dog that has rolled off the grill (read: no time at all); and this week’s latest computer catastrophe, the internal video card went belly up leaving my screen in total darkness.

Many friends have offered me advice about this situation. I’ve heard everything from “getamac” to “get a gun and shoot it.” I’ve been told that my computer brand name HP actually stands for Hardly Performs. I’ve been tempted to see what my dear sweet mother did with the manual Remington typewriter we used to have (For all of those under twenty reading this: A typewriter was kind of like a computer without a memory and no video screen. One would type letters directly onto a sheet of paper, and if the person typing wanted to have music while he or she worked at this typewriter, then the only options were to hum a happy tune or play music on a thing called an 8 track machine or record player).

The fine tech team at the church has decided enough is enough and it’s time for my computer go to the great computer lab in the sky— or more than likely, because of all the frustration it has caused, it may be traveling to another place. I find it hard to believe that my little anxiety producing machine is going to be taking the elevator up (if you know what I mean). In any event, my trials should soon be over.

Unfortunately, more times than not the sources of our frustrations are not so easily remedied. We can’t just start over. We can’t simply say “out with the old and in with the new”. Instead, we have to do the hard work of working on the relationship, mending the broken fences, apologizing or forgiving. Frequently, all we can do is endure. Endurance is a Christ-like quality that too few of us want to cultivate. But Jesus said, “if we endure to the end we will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Moreover, the Apostle Paul who knew a thing or two about enduring in difficult situations (he frequently found himself in a rat infested prison for the cause of Jesus Christ) wrote these words, “Endurance produces character and character produces hope” (Romans 5:4).

Our choice is to have some kind of Star Trek-like teleporter remove us from all the frustrations and sticky situations of life, but maybe what’s needed is some God-empowered endurance. Hear this from James: Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. (James 1:12 The Message) So the lesson learned is endure… and buy a mac!

I scream. You scream. We all Scream for Ice Cream

A mantra that has done me well through the years is this: “I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream!” I love ice cream. My favorite is Blue Bell. Although Karla says we can’t have it unless the price comes down or Hen House puts it on a crazy three-for-one sale. Karla doesn’t know how important good ice cream is. She thinks the no-named ice cream that comes in a clear plastic tub is just as good Blue Bell. For an ice cream connoisseur (she says “ice cream snob.”) like me, I say, “Blaspheme!”

So why did I throw away four cartons of ice cream yesterday morning? (In case you are wondering: three Breyers and one Blue Bell. I think the Blue Bell carton happened to find its way into the cart when Karla sent me to the grocery store for milk or eggs or something. But I digress….). Someone left the freezer door just slightly ajar. I am not a Maytag repair man, nor the son of a Maytag repairman, but I do know this: Freezer doors need to be closed to keep things frozen. When I discovered the slightly opened door, the ice cream was more like a chilled smoothie. I like ice cream, but only when it is frozen. As if I even have to write this, re-frozen ice cream (even when it is Blue Bell) is just plain gross. So, yesterday morning with a tear in my eye I said, “Goodbye mint chocolate chip! So long cookie dough! Adios rocky road! Sayonara Neapolitan. Good bye, my dear friends” as I tossed them into the trash bin and then took it to the curb.

Ice cream that’s not frozen is no good at all.

Jesus said similar things about salt that is not salty (see Matthew 5:13), water that is lukewarm (See Revelation 3:16) and plants that produce no fruit (see John 15).

I think the point in all of this is that we are to fulfill our purpose. Just as ice cream is to be a refreshing frozen treat on a hot summer day, we believers are to be a welcomed refreshing delight to our world. We were created to bring glory to God. We were fashioned to bring praise to His name. We were designed to live holy lives. We were made to ooze the love of Jesus with those we encounter.

So when our blood boils at needless things, when we get hot under the collar about non essentials, when we burn with a little sanctimonious self-righteousness it’s like leaving the freezer door open on a hot day. We become mushy, yucky un-frozen ice cream—what was intended to be a treat is a treat no more.

Let that never be said of us. Our world desperately needs the followers of Jesus to bring refreshment and delight—like a Blue Bell double dipped cookies and cream cone on a hot July day. Yum!

God says, “I hate divorce” and so do I.

I read a letter recently written from a person to their ex-spouse. The letter contained harsh accusatory language. There was selfishness and brokenness oozing from each word. I am not exactly sure why the letter was sent. I know it caused more pain and more hurt. It showed again the ugly side of divorce (is there ever a “pretty side” in divorce?) that seems to happen all too often when a marital relationship ends and children are left hanging in the balance. It made me sad reading the letter.

Not too long ago, I met with a person who informed me that this person had never (never ever) loved his/her spouse. The marriage was a mistake from the beginning, I was told, and divorce was the only option. I left that conversation feeling the same way as I did when I was done reading the letter. Sad. Very Sad.

Last night I met with two couples preparing to get married. I asked them the simple question that I ask every couple I meet with before they get married. “Do you love one another?” (Seems like a downright silly question to ask a couple a few months before their wedding day, doesn’t it?)

Both couples convinced me. They told me that they really love one another. They looked in each other’s eyes. They smiled and held hands. They told me how when separated they can’t wait to see one other and how they look forward to talking to the other person. They told me how they care for one another, how they love to surprise the other one, and how they enjoy being together. I believed them—I think they love each other.

My guess is that if I had met with the couples from paragraphs #1 and #2 before they got married and asked them that same simple question, “Do you love each other?” I think their answers would have been just like last night. Holding hands, looking happy, “Yes!” they would have said. “We love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together.” I think they would have convinced me too.

I know the person in paragraph #2 said that there was no love between husband and the wife and never had been. Quite frankly I didn’t believe it. Nor have I believed it the bazillion other times when someone trying to justify his or her reasons for getting a divorce have looked me straight in the eye and said, “Pastor we have never loved each other.”

Contrary to those statements, I think most people are in love when they get married. Remember I get the best “seat” in the house at most of the weddings I attend. I am standing right in front of the groom as he gets that first glimpse of his bride walking down the aisle. I see the look in his eye as he sees her holding onto her daddy’s arm. I am just a couple of feet away when they stand face to face, holding hands and stating those most important promises: I will ALWAYS be there… for better or worse, for richer or poorer… til death do us part.” I believe they mean it.

Oh, I know it happens occasionally (that two people not in love get married)— and maybe if I was one of those mail order preachers that operated an Always-open Wedding Chapel in Vegas I would have a different opinion. But for the weddings I officiate in Kansas, I think most of the couples do love each other. I think most couples mean it when they say, “Whether we are rich or not, healthy or not, whatever may happen-- you can count on me.”

So what happens in between those lofty promises and looking all lovey dovey into each other’s eyes and those who abruptly announce, “I wanna divorce”?

My answer is pretty simplistic. Too simplistic some would say. But take this from a guy that has counseled hundreds of couples down through the years and have witnessed a reoccurring theme when it comes to divorce—it’s selfishness. One way or another, selfishness is involved. Either from the selfish one who is “looking out for #1” and ready to move on to something (or someone) “better” or from the one who is fed up living with a self-centered one. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard one or all of the following: “I want my way. I don’t care about the line “for better or worse.” I’ve had it. I’m out. I don’t care about my spouse. I don’t care about my kids.” (By the way in last week’s Time Magazine there is an article making the case that children of divorced people are always negatively affected by the divorce). “I am done!” They say in one form or another.

Moreover, as far as I know—there is still only one sure fire remedy for self-centeredness. It’s Jesus Christ. If one or both in the relationship are displaying self-centered tendencies—what is needed is not a self-help class or two hours of watching Dr. Phil episodes. Jesus Christ is needed. Jesus needs to fill the husband or wife or both with a healthy dose of the Fruit of the Spirit. What marriage could not use more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:21-22)? We used to believe that God provided that fruit to those who sought them—I still think He does. And I think if every marital partner displayed the fruit of the spirit in their homes—there would be far less divorces.

I told you it is simplistic: Our homes need more of Jesus and more of the fruit of the Spirit that only He gives. Simple.

Listen, I’ve been at this pastoring gig for a long enough time to know that sometimes some really wonderful people endure divorce. Sometimes, some fantastic people experience the reason why the Bible says, “God hates divorce.” It’s because divorce is painful and it hurts. (By the way, the Bible says “God hates divorce” it does not say, “God hates divorced people.” God loves everybody—even the most self centered of us. Always has. Always will). Still, there have been plenty of times I have wished there were a magic wand that I could wave that would take the pain and the heartache from the mostly innocent victims in divorce. But I there is no such invention.

I know that there are some reading this that have been victims of divorce and others reading this who have a selfish past that led to a divorce and that has since been gloriously forgiven-- please know, this letter is not meant to heap any needless guilt on anyone—it is simply to say from the perspective of one pastor in Kansas: I am tired of divorce. I am tired of the pain it causes. I am tired of Satan rearing his ugly head in our homes. I am tired of kids suffering; extended families grieving; all the while two hurting individuals with broken hearts and broken dreams saying “we’re through.” God says, “I hate divorce” and so do I.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tonight's Chicken Nugget Eating Contest

On July 4th at Coney Island in New York an event will take place—as it has every year since 1914. While it occurs on the holiday known for flags, parades, fireworks and barbeques, this event does not include bottle rockets or John Philip Sousa songs. Still some have said it is “Americana” at its best (or worst).

Last year, over 30,000 spectators (and a TV audience of 1.5 million) watched as Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs conducted a hot dog eating contest – where the contestants had ten minutes to eat as many hot dogs as they could stuff down their pie holes. I guess nothing says “patriotism” and “independence” like a gluttonous adventure into the land of hot dogs. Maybe way back in 1914 when the idea of a hot dog eating contest arose, someone sighed, “only in America” and the rest is 4th of July history.

The winner the past two years has been a guy named Joey Chestnut (you’d think with a name like that he would be gorging himself with Christmas cookies over an open fire, not Independence Day wieners on Coney Island). In last year’s “glutton fest,” after ten minutes and 59 hotdogs (That is not a typo-- Joey ate nearly five dozen hot dogs in 600 seconds. For you non-Phi Beta Kappa’s that’s just about one hot dog wolfed down every 10 seconds. Burp.), Mr. Chestnut was tied with the six-time champion Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi. In order to determine the winner, the two men then had an “eat off” where each one was given a plate of five additional hot dogs to see who could eat them the fastest. As the wiener eating winner, having consumed 64 hot dogs in less time than it usually takes for me to get my order from the arched burger joint down the street, Mr. Chestnut received a trophy, two cases of Nathan's Famous hot dogs (he should have been given two cases of Pepto Bismol), the famous Nathan's Mustard Belt (whatever that is), and $10,000 (that might help pay for the quadruple by-pass surgery that is surely coming down the road). Double burp.

Having written all of that, tonight (thanks to Pastor Cory and his “volunteering” me in both services last Sunday morning), I will be participating in an eating contest too. There will be no hot dogs and no $10,000 prize. As far as I know, my competition will not include Mr. Chestnut or his Japanese rival. (Although our brand spanking new children’s pastor, Rev. Andy Foster will be there joining in the contest… he is in town looking for a house). Still, against my better judgment and with strong protests from my sensitive tummy, I will belly up to the counter to see how many chicken nuggets I can consume without hardening an artery, tossing my cookies and/or losing all dignity. Can one be in an eating contest and be free from the afore mentioned hazards? We’ll see.

The Olathe Chick-fil-A (at 119th and Blackbob) is sponsoring a fundraiser for our youth mission trip tonight between 6 and 8 PM. Simply mention that you are from Central Church and 15% of your meal cost will be donated to our youth mission trip. Throughout the evening, there will be lots of fun, prizes and of course the dreaded nugget eating contest. I hope you can come and join in the fun and support our students as they prepare to minister in Indianapolis this summer. I also hope that I can consume just enough nuggets to satisfy my hunger, but not enough to be embarrassing.

So as I prepare for tonight’s eating adventure, I have been trying to think if there might be some spiritual lesson I can glean from this experience. I know heaven is sometimes describes as “feasting at the banquet table,” but will it be like munching down a mountain of chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A? Probably not. I used to sing in church the old song, “Come and Dine” but honestly, I don’t think the hymn writer had the deliciously slightly battered chicken morsels and tasty waffle fries in mind. Moreover, I am fully aware that during the Middle Ages gluttony was listed as one of the seven deadly sins, ummm… I will do my best to not step over the line. So what can I learn from tonight?

I think the best thing I can glean is that tonight is about having fun and raising money for missions. It’s about being together as a family and enjoying one another’s company. It’s really not about chicken nuggets. It’s more about community. I am thankful that Chick-fil-A has generously offered their facilities and will donate 15% of the proceeds to our youth. I am thankful for a youth program that recognizes the need to get our students involved early and often in missions. And I am thankful that Karla is out of town this week, so I don’t have to hear that “chicken nugget eating contests” are dumb.

As I reflect upon Barbie Q (the cow that was given to us by the Swazi chief in Africa) and how she gave her life to those who came to our free medical clinic day. Then surely, I can give my tummy to help raise a few extra dollars for the youth mission trip.

See you tonight!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Next to Last Day in Africa

We have had such a wonderful time in Africa.

Yesterday we left Swaziland and headed to South Africa-- to Kruger National Park more specifically. We went into the park and began to look for wild animals. We saw Elephants (lots of elephants), giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, crocodile, lots of impala, kudu, and a few other things. We will go back today for a more guided tour-- and then tomorrow its back to Jo-burg and heading for home.

All are enjoying the sites and I think all are getting ready to head back home-- but we have had a wonderful time in Africa.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Africa Day Ten

Saturday's Highlights in Africa include:

1) On the way to the work site we discovered that "Click it or Ticket" applies in Swaziland. One of our vehicles was pulled over by the police-- and since the passenger did not have a seat belt on-- we were ticketed. We had to pay on the spot 60 rand (about $7.50). When trying to get out of the ticket the "nameless team member" said, "I did not know it was the law in Swaziland." To which the officer replied, "Is it a law in your country?" Honestly admitting it was-- he then received his ticket. Now we know..

2) In the afternoon many from the team went to a traditional dance given on our behalf-- provided by the local chief (the chief that also gave us a cow). We were afraid that it might be a "little too traditional" but we were also afraid we would offend the chief and hinder the work of the church if we did not attend. So we decided to have some of our team attend but not our minors and some others of us-- it ended up being the G rated traditional service (All the women were wearing T-Shirts.) All enjoyed the cultural experience.

3) We completed most of the work on the nurse’s quarters. They were so happy-- even moved in some brand new furniture that we provided. They loved it.

4) Had a celebration service with all the Swazis that have helped us this week. We ate a little more of Barbie Q, our cow. She was a tough lady.

Now today will be church with our friends! I will be calling to our services. Have a blessed Sunday.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Africa Day Nine

Yesterday the Luke Commission-- led by Nazarene Mission Corp doctor Harry and Echo Vanderwal came to Endzingini with there team of nurses and helpers to give a free clinic.

People started lining up before 5AM to see the doctor-- and the lines lasted all day. Hundreds of people were treated; many tested for HIV, screened for other diseases, fitted for glasses, and prayed over. Members from our team worked alongside the Luke Commission medical personnel and the local Swazi nurses.

As people waited in line-- our cow (Barbie Q) who yesterday met her demise-- was put to good use as 100's of people were fed with a meal of beef and "mealie meal" (a corn meal entree that looks like masked potatoes). They all seemed to like "barbie" very much.

The construction crew made great progress again on the nurse quarters. Today will be the last day of work and so we will do our best to get it done and "Move in Condition."

The team is still doing well-- although we are getting a bit tired. I think we wil welcome the lighter schedule today.

Keep us in your prayers. I hope to call back to both the 8:30 and 11:00 services tomorrow.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Day Eight in Africa

Sany-bo-nani (Spelling is wrong but it means "Hello Everyone!")

Our trip continues to be going quite well. Yesterday here's what happened:
The Construction team made great progress on the nurse’s quarters. The nurses are currently living is a rat and bat and bug invested house-- these renovated quarters will allow the critters to stay out-- while a new place is being built. Later these temporary quarters will be use by the clinic. The construction team has been doing electrical, plumbing, painting-- you name it. We really want to get it done by Saturday before we leave... pray that we can.

The Medical Team went to Piggs Peak to work at the clinic there-- they were busier than in previous days-- seeing several people.

Rev. Micheale (pronounced McHale like in McHale's Navy) Lavigne and Yona Schroeder, and I met with the Pastors of the Hho Hho Region. What a great group of men and women. We sang together and prayed together and Rev. Lavigne and I led in a teaching time-- then we went to lunch at the Highlands Inn. The restaurant was OK-- certainly not a five star place-- but many of the pastors indicated that they had never eaten in a restaurant in their lives before-- they were so thankful that we had bought their lunch. We also gave them books and Yona had taken a picture of the group and of them individually-- which we were able to print out and given them. They were so thankful.

There was no VBS yesterday because there was no school for the younger children.

Last night we showed the Jesus film. Over 400 people showed up-- we printed 200 response cards and everyone was taken and that does not include the 70 children that moved forward. The say the response was overwhelming would be an understatement! God moved in a powerful way. Isn't that why we came? To see God heal and work and bring peace and salvation! It's happening!

I must report some sad news... our cow (That we named Barbie Q) met her demise yesterday. Dan Rexroth and several from the team had to travel to pick out the cow and then she came to a bitter end. She is dinner tonight (gulp!)

Also there was a three or four foot tree snake that wanted to come to the Jesus film last night. Just prior to her entrance the Rev. Dlaminni sent her to Snake heaven (Is there such a place? Probably not).

Today is the free medical clinic day. We are expecting over 1,000 people. It will be so busy--please pray that we minister in Jesus name.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Day Seven in Africa

Yesterday was a big day as the Prime Minister from the Kingdom of Swaziland came in the morning. This was a very big deal-- for it wasn't "just" the Prime Minister but there were several members of Parliament, chiefs (not the Kansas City variety), other ministers.

The Prime Minister is a Nazarene (and a Preacher's kid... maybe there is hope for my boys!). He was also born in the Endzingeni Clinic where we were working. They put a plaque on the wall of the clinic honoring his birth. He gave a speech as did other officials-- and Dan Rexroth represented the group-- and gave greetings to everyone. I closed the morning with a prayer for the health of the Prime Minister and the well being of the Swaziland. Following the speeches the Prime Minister left-- but he provided wonderful lunch for everyone to share.

Oh, I almost forgot-- one of the area chiefs (not the Kansas City variety) was glad that we have come to work that he gave us a cow! Central Nazarene has a cow. Well not for long-- as is their custom the cow will be um... invited to dinner for everyone on Friday night. I have learned they cook every part of her-- from head to hoofs. I am hoping for something in between the head and the hoofs.

After all the hoopla, we got back to work. The construction team has a long way to go if we are going to be done with the nurse’s quarters before we leave-- pray that we get it done. The Medical clinic saw a few more patients (many people are waiting to come until Friday when there will be a free clinic day), and the compassion team held another VBS-- this time for the 5, 6, and 7 grades. Between 300 and 400 children were there. I wish you could have heard them sing-- to say Awesome is not good enough. It was so beautiful.

Today-- more construction will be happening, I will meet with the pastors of the Hho Hho Region and the nurses will work in the Piggs Peak Clinic. Tonight we will be showing the Jesus film (pray that it goes well!).

Again forgive all spelling errors-- there is no spell check.
Everyone is doing well-- there have been no injuries, no troubles, no problems of any kind. We have a great team!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Day five and six in Africa

I am typing from the Maguga Lodge before we head out for our Wednesday Activities. It's been a busy few days while I haven't been able to Blog (this computer is a dial up one-- it's been a while since I've used dial up-- hope it works).

I am to be with the group in 15 minutes-- so this will be brief:

Sunday: We worshipped in the Sharpe Memorial Church in the morning with around 1,000 of our Swazi brothers and sisters. It was a good morning. Following services, we ate dinner with Dr. Samuel Hind-- a pioneer missionary and medical doctor who came to Swaziland in 1925 as a baby-- he is 84 years old and is still seeing patients. We also met his daughter-- Dr. Elizabeth Hind and grand daughter. Dr. Elizabeth runs the orphanage that we visited on Monday. In the evening we met with more Swazi leaders.

Monday: We broke into two groups-- half went on a tour of the hospital and half went with the AIDS Task Force for home visits (and then we switched). I learned a lot about the medical care in Swaziland. They have many dedicated and qualified workers—with very difficult conditions to work in. For instance, there is not an MRI machine in the country. There are only a couple of CT scans (the hospital is hoping to get one later this year). The hospital average 25 births a day! They see so many patients it’s unbelievable for the small staff.

The in home AIDS visits were humbling. To pray with someone dying of AIDS is something I will ever forget-- we visited (all total) probably around 20 homes. We also took a bag of groceries-- the people were so very thankful. Some received medicines. Pray for Swaziland and the AIDs epidemic-- 42% of the population has HIV/AIDs.

We then went to the New Hope Center-- the orphanage. What a joy to see these children happy and singing. It is a wonderful place of love and acceptance. They currently house about 40 children-- but they are making plans for many many more. We planted gardens in the plots that Central Church provided-- my group planted onions, beats, spinach.

Tuesday: Our work began on the medical clinic-- much construction was done. The medical workers saw a few patients, and the VBS crew got ready for the afternoon VBS-- we were anticipating 50 children on the first day-- 500 showed up! Had to go to plan "B" but all was good.

Our accommodations have been nice-- we will be here for a few more days working, seeing sick folks and holding the VBS.

Oh yes, today-- the Prime Minister of Swaziland is suppose to join us! WOW!

I'll try to write more later. Sorry for the spelling errors-- I am five minutes late!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Africa Day 3

We arrived yesterday at the Tums George Hotel (sounds like an antacid doesn't it? But its a relatively nice place) in Manzini. After a nice dinner (chicken, a meat I think was beef, and fish) we met with an amazing couple-- Dr. Harry and Echo Vanderwal. They are doctors who have been in Swaziland for five years. Last year alone, they saw over (hold on to your hat) over 50,000 patients. There is such great need here in Swaziland. We will be working with them on Friday-- when over 500 patients are expected to arrive. The Vanderwal’s will take the 2,000 pair of glasses that we brought with us and distribute them in the coming weeks.

God has been using the Vanderhooks in great ways-- in fact the only fault I could find with them is their love for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Once again proving, no one is perfect.

Today, after breakfast we will head over to the Sharp Memorial Church of the Nazarene for church services. We will meet other leaders and begin to plan out our week ahead.

It's going to be a very busy week--working with HIV patients, planting gardens at the orphanage, holding medical clinics and training pastors, and construction on the nursing quarters. Again the needs are great... but God is greater!

The team is doing remarkably well. All are enjoying the sights and sounds of Swaziland. I will write more later... if I am able!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Africa after a night of sleep

Africa Day 2
OK, I’ve had a little sleep (so maybe I’m a little more coherent). Here’s what I learned after being on an airplane for more than a day:

1) You know it’s a long flight when you are served three meals. My three were pancakes, a chicken and potato mix, and some kind of meat sandwich. It wasn’t Cheesecake Factory but not bad.

2) On our flight was Billy Donovan (the head basketball coach of the University of Florida). Maybe there is a young man down here that is as tall as a giraffe and runs like a gazelle—or maybe Billy wanted to hang out in Johannesburg.

3) The flight also allowed one to pick their choice of movies to view. My choices were:

1) Escape to Witch Mountain (staring the Rock). A word of advice—if the Rock is starring in the movie, it’s probably not going to win an Oscar.
2) Marley and Me. Sad, very sad. (Karla if you are reading this: DO NOT RENT THIS MOVIE)
3) 12 Rounds. It was a guy movie: guns and car chases. Dumb.

4) All the luggage made it! This is a first for me in several mission type trips. Yipppeeee! Thank you Delta baggage handlers!

5) The hotel is nice- the best I’ve stayed at on a mission trip. But it was just for the night. We will leave idlers—you n a few hours for Swaziland. I don’t think we will have the same accommodations.

6) I brought a long a little book on prayer written by John Wesley to use as my devotions for the trip. This morning Wesley was writing on making sure we are up-to-date in our relationship with God. How I long to always be current. I hope this trip stretches me and calls me to be a better pastor, husband, dad, friend, and fellow citizen of the planet.

7) Keep Praying. So Far so good!

Friday, May 29, 2009

We are in Africa

We made it safe and sound to Africa and are right now getting ready for bed at the City Lodge in Johannesburg. After over 24 hours of travel—I don’t know if a shower ever felt better.

No funny stories or inspirational ones...just thankful for a safe trip.

Tomorrow we leave for Swaziland—it’s a five hour trip.

So far everything is going great.

I am not sure how much I will be able to blog in Swaziland—or how many pictures I will be able to post—but if I can…. You’ll see them here first.

OK Let’s see… I left the house yesterday morning at 6:30 AM it is now Friday Night at 9 PM. I’m a little sleepy. Keep praying for us.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Garden City is not my home

Last week, my siblings and I helped my mom sort through 56 years of living in our house on Rosslyn Street in Garden City, Michigan. In all likelihood, it was the last time I’ll sleep in my hometown and the last time I’ll set foot in the house. My mom will be moving to a senior citizen condominium complex in a few weeks.

As far as I know, Garden City, Michigan is known for the following things:
1) The very first K-Mart
2) The very first Little Caesar’s Pizza Parlor
3) The birth place of leadership guru John Maxwell

But, I know Garden City for my first 17 years of life. There were baseball games at Moeller Field and attending school at Marquette Elementary (since torn down), Radcliffe Jr. High (it closed too) and Garden City West High School (apparently West was not best—as our chant indicated, because – you guessed it, West closed after my graduation. So, if you are keeping score—every school I attended prior to college has shut down, even the church where I went to Sunday School for most of those years is a doctor’s office now… I am a little worried for Olivet and the Nazarene Seminary). I marched in the hometown Thanksgiving Day parades as a cub scout and later as a member of the Fighting Tigers Marching band (If you’ve seen my clapping “skills” in one of our services it may come as a surprise that I was a percussionist—a bad percussionist, but a percussionist none the less). I hunted for Easter candy and watched fireworks at the Garden City Park. As I drove out of town last Wednesday, I wondered if I would ever be back.

There are a lot of memories within the walls of the house on Rosslyn Street. In that house we had a “Party Line” with our neighbor which has nothing to do with dancing the conga, and everything to do with one phone line for two houses. We also had one bathroom for six people (my folks added a bathroom after all of the kids moved out. I guess one bathroom was OK for six people but not adequate for two). There were memories of my sister’s cooking experiments which to this day, to coin the cliché, have left a bad taste in my mouth, and seeing her smooch her boyfriend in the hallway which prompted me to make kissing noises and prompted her to get really, really angry. There were Wiffle ball and basketball games on the driveway, football in the front yard and “curb ball” games in the street. The back yard served as a pitching mound where I pretended to be Mickey Lolich throwing a ball against the garage (As you could probably guess, the Tigers always won those pretend games.), the home to our dogs Chester, Tramp and Goober, and the “final resting place” for at least one hamster. It was on Rosslyn Street that my brother learned that diving head first into cement curbs can really hurt, my dad learned you shouldn’t jump “incorrectly” off garages onto cement driveways (that hurts too, apparently jumping the “correct” way does not), and I learned if the garage door was a wee bit wider (or if I was a wee bit better driver), the side-view mirror wouldn’t get ripped-off my dad’s car.

As I stepped out of the side door and into my car—I knew I was leaving those memories behind.

32701 Rosslyn was my parent’s home and my childhood home, but it’s not my home. Jesus said it best: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3 NLT). I’ll be going home one day, but not to Rosslyn Street. My home is in the Father’s House, it’s a wonderful place of which Paul wrote: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (2 Corinthians 2:9) I am not exactly sure what Paul meant by all of that—but I think it means that my heavenly home will not need a window air conditioning unit to keep the upstairs cool in the summertime nor will it need the blanket supply of Fort Riley in order to stay warm in the basement. I think Paul meant, heaven will be more than a house, as you and I will finally be home.

Admittedly, I was a little sad driving away from my childhood house, but I can’t wait to get to my heavenly home.

Friday, May 08, 2009

My Mom and the Rubber Rat

As a high school trumpet player in the Garden City West Marching Band my brother went to New York City one year. Being the fine big brother that he is—Fred brought me back a souvenir from his trip. He did not bring be back a miniature statue of liberty or a hated Yankees’ baseball cap—instead having heard that one might find a rodent or two within the city limits of the Big Apple, he returned with a rubbery life-sized rat. He could not have given this fourth grade brother a better gift.

I loved the rat. My mom hated it. There is something you should know about my dear, sweet mother. While from time to time she may have sung at church the great hymn “All creatures of our God and King…” I don’t believe she meant it. The truth is she hates God’s critters. She hates mice. She hates lice. She hates rats. She hates bats. She hates snakes. She hates bugs. She hates creepy things that hide under the rugs. (I feel like Dr. Seuss ).

Knowing this fact, did not prevent me from strategically placing my New York Souvenir throughout the house. For instance, I would place my rat in the cheese tray of our refrigerator (a perfectly legitimate storage place for a rodent) or occasionally I would place my rubbery friend in a cereal box and then I would wait for my mom to get some shredded cheddar or her morning Cheerios. At those moments of discovery, my mom would let loose a scream that would make the producers of any cheap horror flick proud. While this hasn’t been scientifically proven, I believe the noise level of one of her hollers would compare to a 747 takeoff. Upon hearing the noises being raised in the kitchen, the windows rattling and the house shaking, I knew my rat had been found, as did half of the population in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. My mom knew the rat was rubber, that it was not a real rat still she would scream every time as if she encountered a living and breathing cousin of Willard.

One day my rubber rat went “a missing,” and while she never claimed responsibility for the disappearance, looking back now I do recall a hint of a smile whenever I inquired about the whereabouts of my rubbery friend.

My poor mother endured much more than the “old hidden rubbery rat trick.” In the days before video games and cable TV, before microwaves and all of our time saving devises (we had a ringer washing machine, for crying out loud—and the “dryer” was a clothes line in the back yard) my mom raised four kids. There were trips to emergency rooms (my brother found himself there more than the rest of us); sibling arguments for her to referee (as punishment one time she made my sister and brother hold hands and smile at each other—talk about cruel and unusual); meals to prepare (she still makes a yummy stuffed cabbage); sporting events and concerts to attend; cleaning, laundry and all the other household duties; and while not loving the critters she still welcomed into her home pet dogs, hamsters, turtles, fish and a salamander named Sam. (One lesson learned: Don’t play with a pet turtle in the driveway, at the same moment that your mom is returning home from the grocery store. That story does not have a happy ending.). All this to say my mom earned each and every white hair on her head.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day! It’s a day to honor all our moms (white haired and otherwise) and to tell them thanks for all they have done. So take time to say “Thanks”-- even if your mom accidently squished your pet turtle or in some other way was less than perfect. 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.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Betty and Easter's Good News

Black Betty (my 124,000 mile, 1992 Chevy Impala) is sick. I am neither a mechanic nor the son of a mechanic, but there are a number of reasons for my diagnosis:
• She doesn’t take bumps in the road with the smooth comfortable ride as she once did. Each crack in the pavement seems like I just ran over the grand canyon;
• She’s a little cranky when I crank the engine in the morning especially on cold days;
• She moans and groans and rattles like her arthritis medicine stopped working long ago;
• Occasionally, she just won’t start (that is a really annoying habit of hers by the way);
• I no longer lock the doors because I think there is a problem with the security system (see above comment on occasionally not starting);
• The “needs oil changing” light doesn’t go off—even after I have had the oil changed;
• One interior light on the control panel is out;
• The Lenexa police officer that pulled me over a while back said the license plate light is out too. I didn’t know Betty had a license plate light. I’ll take Officer Friendly’s word for it—why would he lie about such a thing? (By the way, in case you are wondering… no ticket for Rob, just told not to roll through stop signs. Thank you Officer. I wonder if telling him that I pastor the church next to the police station helped my cause.).
• Her carpet is ripped and there are scratches and dents and chips all over her exterior—and there’s a little green paint on the rear right panel that looks eerily similar to the garage door trim paint. I wish those garage doors were just a wee bit wider;
• And most recently her check engine light periodically comes on. It’s not always on, just some times on. As of this writing, it is on, but yesterday afternoon it was off.

I know one day Betty is going to drive her last mile. I know it’s bound to happen sooner or later (as I have exactly zero car payments right now, I hope it is later. Much later.) I am unsure how to measure the life of a car, but I think it’s kind of like dog years. The formula goes something like this: Every 10,000 miles is like one dog year which, as you know, is like seven people years. So when calculating the life of Betty using the “10,000 miles = one dog year = seven people years” formula then she is 86 years and 9 months old by my reckoning. That might not be ready for hospice, but I am looking for their phone number.

One day Black Betty is going to die. And while I refer to her in human terms (notice she is “Betty” not “the Impala” or “the Chevy” or “the rattle trap from Detroit”; and further notice my use of personal pronouns in reference to her—Betty is not an “it”) still, I understand that she is an automobile and not a human. She will not go to “the great parking lot in the sky” when she drinks her last quart of 5W30 motor oil, but rather she will go to the dump. That’s where dead cars go. When they are dead, they are dead (Profound, I know).

Not so with people.

My dad who “died” less than a month ago (on Easter Sunday it will be exactly one month), is more alive now than ever. His faith has been made sight. He is enjoying all that God has promised to those who have allowed Jesus to enter his or her life and establish a relationship with him. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are so wonderfully true. He said: “My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. Then you won't grieve over them and be like people who don't have any hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back again, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 CEV). In other words, ol’ Bob Prince is doing pretty good these days. No pain. No cancer. No troubles. So I need not grieve like those without any hope. I have great hope in the One who died and is alive again!!!

And that is the GREAT news of Easter! And that is why this Sunday is the day to celebrate like no other day. And that is why I am so excited about Sunday. And that is why I can’t wait for Sunday. And that is why I want all of my friends to celebrate too--Jesus is alive! That’s the best news of all time!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Al Kaline and my dad

In my office I have pictures and memorabilia of my favorite baseball player of all time, Al Kaline. Al Kaline played for the Detroit Tigers and retired back in the early 1970’s. In the sixth grade, I was hospitalized for a ruptured appendix and my sister waited in a long line to get my hero’s signature at an autograph signing. That picture is on my wall along with his jersey, several signed baseballs, other pictures and a collage of several of his baseball cards.

You’ve seen baseball cards. They have a picture of the ball player on the front of the card and all of their important baseball statistics on the back. On Al Kaline’s card, you could read about his 3007 base hits and 399 homeruns, how he was a perennial all-star and gold glove winner.

Al Kaline was my baseball hero, but my dad was my real hero. As far as I know, my dad never played baseball, never swung a bat, and never slid into home base. In fact, he said more than once, “I wouldn’t walk across the street to see those bums (the Tigers) play.” So he certainly never had a bubble gum card with his picture on the front.

But I got thinking… what if my dad did have a bubble gum card with his picture on the front? I think you would be able to flip the card over and read some stats that are even more impressive than Al Kaline’s hits and homers. You would read…
• Lived on this planet for 81 years.
• Married to my mom for 56 years.
• Worked for the Ford Motor Company for 43 years.
• Served his country in Germany during World War II.
• Became a Christian 49 years ago following a life of motor cycle gangs and alcohol abuse
• Father of four kids—all graduates of Olivet Nazarene College. A lawyer, a nurse and two preachers.
• Grandfather of eight—five of whom have graduated from Olivet (a lawyer, school social worker, teacher, and two in graduate school) and three who are still in school.
• Sunday school teacher, church board member, willing worker in all things church related.
• Recipient of numerous awards for his volunteer service in Detroit’s inner city.

I suppose if my name were Al Kaline Jr. I would have known how to hit a baseball a little better than I do. If my name were Michael Jordan Jr., I would have had a better jump shot. If my name were Bill Gates Jr., my bank account would be much bigger. But my name is Robert Samuel Prince Jr., and I wouldn’t change that name for any other name. My dad left me an example and legacy of faithfulness, loyalty and love. He taught me the important things of life—not simply through his words but more importantly through his actions.

A little more than a month ago, my dad walked into his doctor’s office with a tummy ache. A week after that, he had a test to determine the extent and the exact nature of his condition. A week after that, he was told he had pancreatic cancer. And two weeks later he died. My brother and I officiated at his funeral. While it was the most difficult funeral service I have ever participated in – still we were able to rejoice in the life my dad lived and the promise of eternal life that he is now experiencing.

Tag Team Wrestling

Before WWF, before Hulk Hogan, before Vince McMahon, before any of today’s over-the-top wrestling events and characters there was Big Time Wrestling. Every Saturday afternoon as a boy I would tune in our 15 inch, rabbit eared, turn the channel with needle nosed pliers, black and white TV to channel 50 in Detroit and watch Big Time Wrestling. I couldn’t name for you one current wrestler, but from my childhood wrestling days there were guys like BoBo Brazil, Haystack Calhoun, Pompero Ferpo (the 8th Wonder of the World), Andre the Giant, Dick the Bruiser and the Sheik.

My brother and I would faithfully watch the Saturday afternoon wrestling matches. And following some particularly exciting matches on TV, we would transform our family room into a Big Time Wrestling ring (minus the ropes and referees) and have our own Big Time Wrestling Brouhaha. Although I was a willing participant, this was usually not a healthy choice for me.

My brother Fred is seven years older and seven years bigger than me. Hence, the resulting wrestling match in the family room usually consisted of Fred pretending to be BoBo Brazil and I was the poor wrestling fodder that was the recipient of BoBo’s signature move “the Coco Butt” (in case you are worried, the “Coco Butt” had nothing to do with anatomy but was a “head butting” type of move). Rarely would our wrestling match end without me running and tattling to my mother that Fred was: a) mean; b) not fair; c) pretending to be BoBo Brazil and I wanted to be BoBo; or d) all of the above. The most frequent result from my whining to my mother was a several week ban of Big Time Wrestling in the house or on the 15 inch Philco TV.

I think I would have fared better (and with less bumps and bruises) had my brother and I been a tag team, rather than him acting as if he were Bobo Brazil and me acting (although I wasn’t really acting) as the guy beaten up by BoBo. Of course, the question is who would we have teamed against? My sisters were much to wise to ever participate in the family room Big Time Wresting matches. Still, I would have liked being part of a tag team. As all wrestling fans know, a “Tag Team Match” is when two wrestlers pair together to wrestle two other wrestlers. In such an event, only one wrestler from each pair is in the ring at a time (unless the wrestlers are unruly, unfair and downright un-American wrestlers like the Sheik or Pompero Ferpo, the 8th Wonder of the World), and when the non wrestling wrestler wished to get into the foray he would tag the hand of his partner and the two wrestlers switched places.

Why the wrestling trivia?

I think church should be a tag team event. Not so that we can beat up the Baptists or the Episcopalians (I’ve seen some Episcopalians and I think we could take ‘em, but the Baptists? I am not so sure. Just kidding, I don’t want to body slam anyone or any church), still we need to be a tag team so that we might impact our world. When Central folks walk in church, they tag our worship team and me (the preacher) and say, "Go for it." Meaning: Help lead us to a place of worship and praise and connecting to God. When Central folks walk out we tag them and say, "Go for it." Meaning: take the light of Christ and the things you have learned and the peace you have experienced and the joy in your heart to the dead and dying world. Don’t keep it to yourself.

As all tag team loving wrestling aficionados know, the best wrestling tag teams trust each other. They know that once tagged their partner won’t let them down. In our church tag team—I hope we can have the same confidence. So that when you invite a friend or neighbor and walk into church and tag us and say “Go for it” you will have confidence that we who are leading in worship will be real and authentic and prepared to lead us to God. Then when we tag you back and say, “Go for it!” we will have the confidence in you that you will keep being faithful and keep inviting, and keep being real and honest, and continue to live before your friends a Christ-like life.

By the way, Mr. or Ms. Newly-Tagged-member-of-the-Central-Tag-Team, the best form of advertising always has been and always will be word of mouth. For what it's worth, most Central folks came to Central because a friend invited them. It's as simple as that: friends inviting friends. This Easter we've invited several thousand people in our surrounding area through a direct mailer. And a few may come through that effort. Others will come to Central for Easter services simply because they drive by our church and will drop in or they will have hopped on-line and checked out our web-site and decided we are a nice place to visit. But most new folks will come to Central because somebody invited them.

This Sunday we will have touch cards (should I have called them “tagged” cards?) available so you can invite friends, neighbors, waitresses and sales clerks. You’ve been tagged to reach out-- think of it as one way of "going into the highways and hedges" and "compelling to come in" (Luke 14). And then this Sunday (or on Easter) when you walk through the doors you will tag us—and we will do our best to lead us all to the place where we can encounter a holy God!
OK… you’ve been tagged! Go for it!

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Valentine Dilemma

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I have a dilemma. What do I give my wife to commemorate the day? I’ve seen several television commercials and heard many radio ads that have tried to assist me with my predicament. They have indicated that to be considered a good husband I must do one of the following things:

· Purchase chocolates from a guy named Russell. With apologies to the Stover family, Karla would not want me to purchase chocolates in a heart shaped box.

· Buy flowers. As some of you know, last year I purchased my wife tulips. Unfortunately, they were dead tulips. So while I won points by not spending too much money (I got them half price), I lost what little points I might have gained by spending even one penny on dead flowers.

· Get diamonds in the shape of two hearts designed by that TV cowboy doctor lady. With apologies to “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” aficionados, I think the good doctor should stick to homespun cures on the range rather than jewelry designing.

· Order a teddy bear made in Vermont. If Karla was six or seven years old this would be a great idea, but since she is slightly older than that—I am not sure that purchasing her a stuffed bear from the Green Mountain State sends the message, “Your husband really loves you.”

· Send a Pajama gram. I’m pretty confident Karla does not want me picking out her pj’s. My idea and her idea of the perfect pajamas are rarely the same.

· Name a star after her. The last thing Karla would want is for me to waste my hard earned money on naming a star after her. I can see it now: In the 14th sequel of Star Wars, in a galaxy far, far way Luke Skywalker flies his spaceship into the blinding glare of a Super Nova and informs the star base command, “I am approaching Karla Prince. She looks hot.” That’s just weird.

Now please understand I certainly want my wife to consider me a good husband. But do I really have to purchase any of those things to prove it?

While I joke about them, none of those aforementioned items are bad (although seriously… who would name a star after someone?). There’s nothing wrong with flowers or chocolates or Vermont-made teddy bears. There’s nothing wrong with heart-shaped cards and candies and jewelry.

But can I tell you—as tasty as a candy heart may be-- the heart I want Karla to know best isn’t made of chocolate or diamonds. It’s the heart I gave her nearly twenty one years ago in front of our family and friends in Westland, Michigan. And when she looks deep into my heart, my hope is that she sees this heart of mine as:

· A loving heart. I want Karla to know that I will always love her. No matter what.

· An honest heart. I want Karla to know that I will always be honest. No matter what.

· An undivided heart. I am hers and only hers.

· A pure heart. A heart that has no room for the impure sights and images from our sex-crazed society.

· A committed heart. I will not waver on a promise I made to her on that rainy spring Saturday afternoon in 1988-- that she could count on me whether times were better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. She could count on me until to death us do part. And most importantly,

· A Christ-like heart. I am determined to be the man, husband, and dad that honors Christ.

Husbands and wives, for Valentine’s Day this year give each other a heart that is loving, honest, undivided, pure, committed and Christ-like. Determined to cultivate and develop a heart that is pleasing to your spouse and pleasing to Christ. Make your heart exude the love that Paul describes, when he wrote:

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.

Love doesn't strut,

Doesn't have a swelled head,

Doesn't force itself on others,

Isn't always "me first,"

Doesn't fly off the handle,

Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn't revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 The Message)

And if an addition to that faithful, loving heart—if you need to give a chocolate heart or a “Be Mine” cushy, velvet pillow then do that too. (Truth be told, I’m going to try it again with tulips. Only this year, I think I’ll buy living ones, even if I have to pay full price.).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My Free Breakfast at Denny's

While watching the Super Bowl I saw an advertisement from Denny’s restaurants stating that on Tuesday anyone who showed up from 6 AM until 2 PM could eat a free Grand Slam breakfast. That’s free pancakes, free bacon, free sausage and free eggs. Yummy! Since I live by the motto that free food always tastes better (with the exception of free liver and onions, of course), I thought this would be a wonderful exercise for my family to partake.

When the rest of the Prince clan discovered that to take advantage of Denny’s free breakfast offer and make it to school too—we would have to leave the house around 6 AM— both the oldest cherub and my fair maiden decided that no matter how free the food was—they weren’t leaving their comfy beds.

Ben, on the other hand, shared my enthusiasm for a free breakfast. Which upon further review is a bit curious, since technically, whenever Ben goes to a restaurant with me his meals are free (at least for him). I cannot recall a time in Ben’s nearly 14 years of living when he paid for a meal when I was present. So, I’m not sure why Ben was excited to go, but I am glad he came to Denny’s with me.

Tuesday morning, before any roosters awoke, when it was still dark and very cold, Ben and I (and two million of our fellow Americans) got a free Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s. When we walked into the Lenexa Denny’s, every seat was taken and there were approximately 40 people waiting to be seated. It was crowded. People were standing all over the place. I wasn’t sure where the hostess was to put my name on the “to-be-seated” list. I wasn’t sure how long the wait would be. I was worried they’d run out of eggs before we ordered. I was worried that I would have grandchildren before we ordered. The waitresses were having difficulty getting through the crowd to deliver the free breakfast orders to the other patrons. It was a little crazy in Denny’s.

If this day would have been a normal day (well if it would have been a normal morning—Ben and I would not have been there. I would have already had my breakfast of champions—a cup of Mickey D’s coffee—and Ben would still be asleep)—still, if this would have been a regular day and had I walked into a crowded restaurant at 6:20 in the morning, with forty people ahead of me—I would have been out of that restaurant quicker than you could say, “Where’s IHOP?”

But of course, this was not a normal day. Denny’s food was free. So I gladly stood in the foyer of the restaurant with my forty free food-loving friends. And once we were finally seated, I didn’t mind that the waitress was a little over worked and a little slow in filling my coffee cup. (Actually, I am amazed at how quickly I was served and how friendly the staff and everyone were on that morning. Believe me, I have been in other restaurants far less crowded and far less crazy, with a much more cantankerous staff and much slower service). With the promise of free food, the waiting and the crowd didn’t seem to matter much.

It was a good morning. We ate good free food; had fun conversation; and, Ben still made it to school on time. (And we saw of couple of other free pancake-loving Centralites, too!)

On the way back to the church after dropping Ben at school, I started thinking about the whole experience and wondered what I could learn from Denny’s that morning. I was reminded that:

1) People love a bargain. If it’s free… they will come. Hmm… isn’t God’s grace free? Isn’t the offer of forgiveness and acceptance free? Maybe we aren’t communicating what we need to communicate to the world—if we did a better job of letting people know of God’s free gift of salvation maybe folks would be lining up at our doors too. We need to get the word out! God’s gift is free. It’s a better bargain than free eggs and pancakes.
2) Free is no respecter of person. There were old folks and college kids. Well dressed businessman types and people who looked liked they just rolled out of bed. There were families and single people. There were black people and white people. Most of the people spoke English, but some did not. As I looked around, I thought: This is what the church should look like. All ages. All races. All together.
3) People were happy. Usually waiting in lines makes people cranky and not finding an up close parking spot makes people crabby too. But I didn’t see anyone cranky or crabby. The promise of free bacon makes people forget about those minor irritants and focus on the yummy stuff that is to come. I wish we in the church wouldn’t worry about the minor irritants and instead focused on the good that is yet to come. And,
4) When I finished my free meal and I was ready to leave, I left more than my usual tip. I assume most people did too (OK maybe the poor college kids in the booth behind me didn’t… but they were poor college kids after all). The service was good, the food was free, everyone was happy—so I wanted to share the joy of my free breakfast by leaving more tip for the waitress than I normally would have. Likewise, in the church when we experience the free gift of joy and peace from Jesus, we need to be generous and share so that others may know that deep down in your soul happiness too.

I don’t know if Denny’s is going to have a giveaway day again anytime soon. I know they got a lot of free publicity and general goodwill from their action. (I’m kind of hoping that Jack’s Stack Barbeque or better yet, Outback Steakhouse sees the light. I’d gladly eat a free juicy steak and bloomin’ onion.)—but I know this-- we can learn a thing or two from good business practices. We need to get the word out that Jesus’ love is free, and we need to get the word out that His love is open to anyone, anywhere. And for those of us who have already experienced the free gift of joy and peace, we should be happy and generous in all we do!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The family of God

Does anybody remember the old Gaither Song: “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God”? Back in the day, we would sing that song each week during the Passing of the Peace segment of the worship service. Only we didn’t call it “passing of the peace” way back then, I think we called it “Meet-n-Greet” or “Say Hey to your Neighbor” or something not all that spiritual. Anyway, we would sing Bill and Gloria’s ditty and shake a few hands and be thankful that “we were joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod.” I’ve got to be honest; I never really liked the “travel this sod” part of the song. Who travels on sod? Was that the best word that rhymes with God that they could come up with? I tried to make a better line. Maybe the lyrics should have been:

I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Except for the guy in the first pew, we’re not very odd
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God.

Or how about this one:

I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Our preacher’s quite boring, to sleep you will nod
For I’m part of the family,
The Family of God.

Or maybe this one:

I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Won’t you come to our pot-luck, but don’t eat the cod.
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God.

OK maybe the Gaither’s version was better after all. Even with the travelling on sod line, I really like the truth the song conveys. I really am glad that I am part of the family of God. Even if an odd guy is sitting on the first pew (Hey, wait a minute, I sit on the first pew!), and if the preacher is boring (that’s me too), and even if there are questionable pot-luck entrees (been there, ate that), I am still glad that I can be included in the family of God. Let the Biblical truth sink in: We are joint heirs with Jesus! WOW! As such, I’m glad that we can come together and laugh and sing and pray and cry and connect with each other and connect with the Lord. Yes, I’m glad I am part of the family of God!


I read an article this week that stated the FDA is considering a ban on a dye that is used in the making of red lipstick (That’s OK I told myself, I rarely wear red lipstick), red yogurt (I think I’ll miss the lipstick more than the yogurt. The way I do math, Yogurt = Yucky!), and red popsicles (Noooooo! Now, you’ve gone too far FDA! Why couldn’t it have been the dye used in making Orange popsicles? Who likes orange popsicles? Nobody! Red, as everyone knows, is the favorite popsicle of the people of the world. ).

The red dye in question is called carmine, and is made from the dried and crushed up body of a beetle. You read that right. Crushed bugs are in my popsicles (and lipstick and yogurt and other things I am sure). I do not know what beetle (hopefully not Paul or Ringo), still the notion that I’ve been lapping up crushed beetle parts with each lick of my red popsicle is a little unsettling. I thought I was eating a popsicle when all along it was a “bug-sicle”! Yuck!

I’ve eaten a lot of popsicles down through the years. Hundreds, maybe thousands of popsicles—and I usually ate the red ones first. It is impossible to know how many crushed up beetles I have consumed, but I fear the number is higher than the population of a small country. Excuse me while I barf.

And now, because of some reported cases of hives, sickness and otherwise bad happenings, the good people at the Food and Drug Administration are coming to the conclusion that eating dead, dried, beetle parts might not be the most healthy choice. Karla has wanted me to cut down on gluten intake and eat more salads, wait until she hears about the beetle gut popsicles I’ve been consuming for the last 45 years! Good bye popsicles!

You hear all the time about people finding gross things in their food. I have friends who have found among other things: mice parts in a dinner roll (yuck), ants in newly opened cheese popcorn (double yuck), a grasshopper in a can of green beans (triple yuck) and a tooth in a burrito (OK, that’s it… I’m making myself sick!) I guess the lesson through all of this “Oh be careful little mouth what you eat.”

You want to know what’s even grosser? (I know “grosser” isn’t a word, but in discussing the disgusting things that people have digested, I think it should be.) I’ve known people who have grossly and willingly fed their mind with even worse garbage. They have fed their brains a heaping helping of pornography and thought, “what does it hurt?” They’ve filled their head with disturbing angry music and reasoned, “It’s only music.” They’ve believed the anything but God lies of a science community and thought “Kind of makes sense.”

The Bible gives this simple instruction: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) In other words, feed your minds with things that will lift you up and lighten your load and help your day and illuminate the truth. Fill your head with those things that will draw you closer to God and you’ll be feeding your soul with spiritual filet mignon But fill your mind with the trash our society so frequently offers and be ready for something far worse than a case of hives caused from eating a red Bug-sicle.