Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rob's Handy Traveling Tips

Yesterday three people told me they were traveling to Ohio this weekend (which made the Michigander in me proud of their missionary zeal). It also reminded me that we are in the travel season and it may be time for “Pastor Rob’s Handy Dandy Travel Tips”. The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about modern transportation (although the old joke is that the disciples were in “one accord” for you Honda fans). While these tips might not rival the auto club in notoriety or even usage, they may come in handy for those traveling in the days ahead. So fasten your seat belt (literally) and listen up:

1) Remember to pray before the journey. Our family prayer always included something about no accidents, no car troubles and no speeding tickets (ahem… that last one takes divine intervention, a radar detector, and/or a less than heavy foot).

2) Always pack plenty of patience. Cars are small. Space is limited. There’s never enough elbow room. Everyone gets cranky when fueled by fast food and Skittles. So patience on the trip is an important item to take along. Do you remember Paul’s words in the love chapter (“Love is patient and kind.” 1 Corinthians 13:4)? I think those words are in effect even when traveling in a subcompact beater on I-70 in a traffic jam outside of St. Louie. Speaking of St. Louie…

3) Include a sense of humor on the trip. Last Christmas Eve our family left right after the service and headed for Michigan. You might recall that there was a pretty good blizzard happening in Kansas City last Christmas Eve, so we didn’t get nearly as far as I had hoped. In fact, we only traveled to this side of St. Louis when we had to stop for the night. It was cold, snowy, and late. I went into a Days Inn Motel and announced to the desk clerk that my name was Joseph; Mary was outside and was wondering if there was any room in the inn. After managing to stretch this three hour drive into six hours because of the snowy and blizzardy road conditions, I thought that was some very funny Christmas Eve humor. Apparently the desk clerk did not. Maybe he had another religion, maybe he was not happy about working on Christmas Eve, or it could be that he was cranky about his working conditions. (The original Mary and Joseph slept in a barn, this motel smelled like one.) In any event, he was not amused. Whether there was room at the inn or not, we didn’t wait around to see. The stable-like aroma convinced us to stay at the Comfort Inn instead.

4) Take a few moments along the way for family devotions. Don’t just move from one DVD to the next or have the kids in the backseat tuned out completely to the world and in “iPod la la land”. Take a few moments to read from the Bible together and pray together as a family. (Driver, you have permission to keep your eyes open during the prayer or you might be having your conversation with Jesus face to face.)

5) Remember, it’s the Thanksgiving Season, so be thankful. Be thankful for the ability to travel; thankful for the ability to see family and friends; thankful for the ability to move and breathe and enjoy life... we have much for which we can be thankful.

6) Take Jesus with you. Wherever you go; whatever your destination; make sure that Jesus is with you. Your family and friends need to see Jesus in you. Make sure you don’t leave Jesus in Kansas when you travel, but take him with you so that you may say as Paul did in Romans 15: “Pray that I may be kept safe….so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all.” (Romans 15:31-32)

If traveling from the area in the next week; be safe, enjoy, and bear Christ in all you do!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tater Tots and Me

As you know America has produced many fine inventors in her 234 years of existence: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and George Washington Carver are just a few of the fine contributors to the American way of life. But by my way of thinking two of the greatest American inventors were Nephi and Golden Grigg. (Did his mama really name her son “Golden”? Maybe she knew he was destined for greatness.)

“Who were the brothers Grigg?” you say.

Back in 1953, Nephi and Golden came up with the novel idea of chopping up potato slivers, adding flour and seasoning, then pushing the mash through holes and slicing off the cylinder pieces which came out on the other side. What came out on the other side was a little bit of heaven otherwise known as “Tater Tots.” The company that the Grigg brothers founded, Ore-Ida, has been selling tots ever since, and today Americans consume approximately 70 million pounds of tots per year. And why not--they are crispy, crunchy, and delicious! Napoleon Dynamite is not alone; how could anyone not love tots?

So this week when Karla informed me that she would not be home in time to prepare dinner and that the evening’s duty would fall to me—of course, my natural reaction was to think of the Griggs and their heavenly tots. Ben grilled the chicken; we sliced some cantaloupe; and I baked the tots. We all agreed -- it was a tasty meal.

Unfortunately, about 45 minutes after consuming our lovely dinner, Karla and I were at Ben’s meet-the-teacher night and a powerful headache came upon me. It was a doozy-- an extra, uber doozy. (For the last ten days I was doing pretty well in the headache department. In fact, on the way to the school that night I commented to Karla about how well I had been doing. Those proved to be famous last words because just as we were about to enter Ben’s fourth hour class… POW! Migraine city!). What could have caused such a reaction?

I’ve tried several tactics to curb these nasty headaches one of which is a very restrictive diet. Which as I have mentioned previously means —“if it tastes good I can’t eat it.” Certainly the chicken and the sliced melon did not cause my head to do the “crazy cranium crunch.” I don’t even want to say it…. but could Nephi and Golden Grigg’s wonderful invention “the glorious and delightfully delicious Tater Tot” be the culprit? Say it ain’t so, Napoleon.

When we got home from the school as I found the nearest, quietest, darkest room, Karla found the package of tots and sure enough they contain onions (a big no-no on my list of banned food substances). Who knew? Nephi and Golden put onions into their scrumptious recipe. You really can’t taste the ornery onion. You can’t smell the obnoxious onion. But my noggin knew that buried deep within the tasty, crunchy morsels of goodness was an evil onion and my noggin didn’t like it… not one bit.

The Apostle Paul never tasted delectable Tater Tots and the evil onions of doom contained therein—but he did know about dough and yeast and this is what he warned the churches in Galatia: false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! (Galatians 5:9) He was saying it doesn’t take much bad theology to mess up a good thing. It doesn’t take many lies to get good people off track. Just as it didn’t take a lot of onions to send my head into a tizzy; it doesn’t take much false teaching to lead people astray. That’s why it’s important for me to read the labels of the food I consume (no onions of destruction, please!) and it’s vitally important for all of us to consume the Word of God so we won’t fall prey to false teachings (no heresies please!).

Well, I’ve learned my lesson this week—I won’t eat tots without checking the label first—and I hope that all of us won’t venture far into our day without checking into God’s Word; thereby keeping us free from any faulty thinking and focused on the Truth of the Lord!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"God is really among us"

Yesterday I was reading a passage that we rarely read in our tribe (we rarely read it—and almost never on Sundays-- because Paul is talking about tongues in the passage and most Nazarenes get scared off the topic faster than you can say “Phineas F. Bresee.” Just seeing the word “tongues” gives most of my fellow Nazarenes the “holy heebie jeebies,” but that’s another topic for another day). Paul, in this passage, talks about an unbeliever going to a church service and at this particular service, prophesying is taking place (talk about the “holy heebie jeebies” daily double, this passage might be it—tongues and prophesying. Oh my!) But Paul seems to indicate that prophesying should happen among the believers; and he doesn’t act like this is an odd event at all but rather seems to imply that it should be a common occurrence. Anyway, that’s not my point, instead my point is… Something powerful happens to this unbeliever during this particular worship service—he is convinced of his sins and he proclaims “God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:25)

That’s the phrase that has captured my thinking—an unbeliever saying: “God is really among you.” How often do unbelievers proclaim that about us? When a visitor comes into our service on a Sunday morning is that what they would say first? “God is really among you.” You see, more than a comment on how lovely our sanctuary is or what nice people we are or what nice music we have or even what a nice pastor we have (ahem)—I want every visitor, every time to say, “God is really among you.” And quite honestly, shame on us, if a visitor leaves on a Sunday without that impression.

Will you pray that this Sunday we will have a “God is really among us” experience? That everyone—from the first time visitor to the longest tenured member would proclaim “God is really among us.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wedding Rehearsals

Tonight I will be leading a wedding rehearsal. I stopped counting how many weddings and rehearsals I’ve been at long ago, I am sure this is around my 475,985 rehearsal (or it just seems like that).

Wedding rehearsals are kind of fun. There is a nervous energy in the air. Everyone is getting ready for the big day; and when the dry run is over you get to eat. As the name suggests a rehearsal is a practice. It’s the time to work out the bugs. So by definition things aren’t always perfect at rehearsals. There are a few things that you can count on:

• Someone will be late.
• The bow-on-a-paper-plate bouquet that the bride carries down the aisle is half tacky; half terrific!
• If the Mother of the Bride (The MOTB) isn’t happy; ain’t nobody happy.
• If the Father of the Bride (the FOTB) looks broke; he is.
• If the Mother of the Groom (The MOTG) looks like she is about to lose something and gain something; she is.
• If the MOTB is blubbering away during the rehearsal make sure there are two boxes of tissue on her pew during the wedding.
• The flower girl will walk down the aisle flawlessly one time-- and one time only. It will either happen at the rehearsal or during the actual ceremony—but never both. Never. So if she walks down the aisle like an angel during the practice then beware during the real deal.
• If the ring bearer is under 3 years old, chances are Barnum and Bailey’s grizzly bear would have a better chance to bring the rings forward without turning the wedding into a circus than the toddler.
• No matter how much duct tape you put on the floor to remind the groomsmen exactly where to stand, they will find themselves in the wrong spot during the ceremony.
• There is at least one bridesmaid that should not be wearing the chiffon dress that the bride has picked for the ladies to wear.
• Twenty-two years ago, when I first started officiating weddings the groomsmen had tattoos and the bridesmaids had earrings; that fashion statement has been reversed—weird.
• No amount of reminding the Maid of Honor not to worry about the wedding gown’s train will keep her from adjusting it at least three times on the wedding day.
• Even if the wedding singer has sung the wedding song a bazillion times, he or she will still want to sing their song a bazillion and oneth time at the rehearsal with the microphone.
• If the soon-to-be-bride punches the groom during the rehearsal, that’s probably an indicator the wedding should be rethought (I had a ring side seat for that one.)
• Every soon-to-be-groom wants to practice the kiss (not sure about the groom that got punched).
• If the following people are invited to the rehearsal dinner: the minister, the grandparents of the bride and the fraternity brothers of the groom -- avoid having the frat boys offer a toast during the meal. (Two words: Awk Ward!)

There’s a lot of planning that goes into making the wedding day perfect. I pray that we put as much effort into making our marriages perfect. Much more than one good day; marriages are meant to last forever. With God’s help they can—it’s putting Him first and the couple moving forward through life hand in hand trusting God all the way. That’s my prayer for tonight’s couple; and my prayer for all of our couples-- that we would live by Joshua’s words, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Friday, July 30, 2010

I’m becoming less of the old me.

I’m becoming a whole new me. Or maybe a better way of stating it is: I’m becoming less of the old me.

I’ve told you about this crazy headache diet that my doctor has put me on. The basics of it are: If a food tastes good—I can’t eat it. The bad news is that I can eat nothing but dry salad, dry meat, and a few fruits and veggies. Yuck! The good news is that in the last three weeks I have lost 16 pounds.

And now thanks to my insurance company’s approval, on Monday I am going to have my first Botox treatment for my headaches. As you may or may not know, Botox has been used to turn aging, wrinkled, and past their prime Hollywood has-beens into non-wrinkled, past their prime Hollywood has-beens, but for me—hopefully it will turn me into a headache free pastor.

So if you are keeping score at home—while I am not quite svelte I’m getting “sveltier;” and while I’m not getting Botox for my wrinkles I will be “Botoxier;” and the calendar says in the not too distant future I will officially be in my late forties (right now, at 46, I say I am still in my mid forties but hitting 47 will definitely push me face first into my “late forties”). All this to say, as a “sveltier,” “botoxier,” older version of me—I am just a few gold chains, a couple of unbuttoned shirt buttons, and a white convertible away from a mid-life crisis. Karla is worried. Very worried.

I’m not exactly sure what one does in a mid-life crisis, but the name sounds like it can’t be good. Anything that ends with the word “crisis” is generally bad. The Cuban Nuclear Crisis wasn’t good. Neither was the “Iranian Hostage Crisis” nor was the most recent “Gulf Oil Crisis.” So if you don’t mind, I think I want to avoid a mid-life crisis. Besides I really can’t afford a convertible at this time (or a gold chain for that matter)—I have a son that will be a freshman in college in the fall.

In fact, the only good crisis I know of is the one Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! Whatever time in your life (mid-life or otherwise)—you can have an “all-new-you” life—a crisis in the best possible way! A God way!

Paul knew a thing or two about doing the ol’ 180 degree turn around in one’s life. He went from being a fiery, Jesus hater to an on-fire, Jesus proclaimer of the highest regard. He went from being the guy chasing down Christians and tossing them in jail, to being the one tossed in jail for his faith in Christ. And when asked if he would have it any other way he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Now that’s a crisis I wish we all would experience—and one added benefit of having a Jesus crisis-- you need not purchase a gold chain or a convertible to get it!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Firewords and the 4th of July on a Sunday

I like fireworks. I am more of a big lights in the sky kind of guy rather than a big boom kind of guy. But I like all of ‘em, truth be told. I like it when there are loud speakers or you can tune in your radio to a station playing patriotic music as the fireworks are bursting. I like it when you are in a place where you can see not just your fireworks display but other community’s fireworks displays too. I like it when families can make a “night out” of the fireworks event. They get ice cream. They have fun. They “ooooh” and “aaahhh” together at the pretty displays in the sky. I like it when the pyrotechnic technicians fake out the viewers into thinking we are seeing the “Big Finale” only to continue the show and then give the “real” Big Finale a few minutes later.

I am not sure who first said, “Let’s celebrate America’s freedom by blowing stuff up in the sky!” But whoever it was… genius. Pure genius. It’s a great way to end a great day!

Of course, this year the Fourth is on Sunday. So that means we have the opportunity to begin celebrating our Freedom by celebrating our freedom to worship. Which I guess makes sense. Since so many early Americans risked life and limb to come to a land where they could worship and pray and in a manner in which they pleased—it seems appropriate before we fire up the grill, break out the potato salad, and let Frisbees fly that we take time to worship. Long before gathering up the lawn chairs and the blankets to watch a fireworks display we gather and say, “Thanks to God from whom all blessings flow.” Could it be that the most patriotic thing we can do is not wave a flag or stomp to a John Phillips Sousa tune but bow our heads and seek the Lord and live by the words in 2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Multi-Tasking during the Soccer Game

I am not much of a soccer fan, but even I have been caught up in the World Cup mania. When Landon Donovan scored the last second, game winning, sending the USA to the next round goal in the yesterday’s game, I was sitting at my computer watching the drama unfold while talking with a young pastor in another state about a matter in his church. The conversation went something like this:

Him: Hey Rob, I need your opinion on an important matter…
(Donovan kicked the ball in the net)
Me (Screaming at the top of my lungs): GOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!!!!!!
Him: Umm… I am not sure that is the answer I was looking for…

I am not sure my friend will call back for advice anytime soon. Oops.

Multi-tasking is not one of my spiritual gifts.

God is different. It blows my mind to imagine with six billion people on planet earth at any given moment there are millions if not a billion or two prayers being uttered in one form or another. The Bible is quite clear that God knows not only the intricate detail of each and every request, but even knows the minutia like the number of hairs on even the most adamant atheist’s head. God is the Uber Multi-Tasker. Moreover, our conversations with the Creator don’t get lost in the shuffle of the millions of other appeals; they are not misplaced on a Divine “to-do” list that never gets done. God hears our prayers; He knows our needs; and He supplies them exactly when needed.

You’ve heard me say it before but it’s worth repeating: He knows what we need; He knows when we need it; we can trust Him.

I’ve had to remind myself of that truth this week. We returned home from our trip to Michigan to find that our house had experienced a few mishaps while we were away (a leaky roof; a wet basement; there was mildew and a “pleasant” aroma filling the air; a leaking pipe; and a broken dishwasher…. All in the 24-hour, welcome home period! WOW!) Now we could look at all of those troubles and lament: “Why us? Why now? Boo Hoo hoo…” (Ok maybe we did that for a minute or two, especially when we were running the rented carpet cleaner in the stinky basement).

But soon verses like Deuteronomy 7:9 came to mind: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” And Lamentations 3:22-23: “Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

In other words, God knows what’s going on. He is faithful. Maybe there are 6 billion others on this twirling globe, but He hasn’t overlooked you. He’s not so consumed with a soccer game that he’s forgotten you; He’s not sleeping; and He’s not on vacation. He is very much aware of your situation. In other words, He knows what you need. He knows when you need it. You can trust him. So hang in there and trust—we serve a faithful God!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Leaky roofs and flooding basements

I was sitting in my car;
In a traffic jam;
On I-435;
In the rain;
In route to my doctor’s office to receive a shot in hopes it would end a long lasting headache;
When Alex called me.
“Dad,” he said, “Our house is about to float away.” That is not how you want a conversation to begin. He proceeded to tell me that the great rain of Tuesday not only was finding its way into our basement, but was also coming in through the roof. The same roof that the roof guy “repaired” three weeks ago and assured me that he “got the leak, no problem.” In other words, we had what experts in troubles, problems and woes refer to as a “double whammy” – a flooding basement and a leaking roof.

Then I really had a headache.

When I got home I discovered that my #1 cherub is not a liar. Our house was collecting so much water—the people at the Schlitterbahn Water Park were calling to see if our place could be their next attraction. It made me long for the days of living in a parsonage. When the roof at the Bad Axe parsonage leaked; and when the sump pump stopped working; and when there were bats flying around our living room; and when there were mice in the kitchen; and when… well you get the idea-- the parsonage in Bad Axe would never have been confused with a mansion. Still when troubles arose, I made a phone call to one of the men of the church and he would come and make all things well. Parsonage living had its advantages.

Fortunately when I finally got home on Tuesday, Alex and a friend had everything under control. The water in the basement was sucked up and gone and there were buckets in strategic places in our hearth room. The next day, the roof guy came out and he believes that both my basement water and the roof leak are the same problem and that he can fix it…. “No problem.” (Haven’t I heard that before?)

In any event, we hope to have a handle on the house that is now a sieve.

Sometimes, like my house, it seems that our problems are coming from all sides. Look down - there they are. Look up and all you see is more trouble. You might feel like you want to agree with Woody Allen who once said, “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.” But instead of Woody-- I like the way the Message version reads the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4. It says: 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)

In other words, don’t look at the size or the number of the problems—look to the One who can help in all things. So don’t give up! Hard times are small potatoes! Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and He will see you through these “light and momentary troubles.”

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Swaziland Update #5

The Lenexa Central team has had a great week in Swaziland! Yesterday, Friday, June 4, was a busy, busy day for everyone. The education team met at the school for the opening assembly and then spent the next hour and a half talking candidly with the teachers of the primary school about the similarities and differences between the educational system of the USA and Swaziland. Then at 10:00 we were joined by the school board and commenced with a formal presentation. Drs. Linda Alexander and Romona Stowe presented special gifts from our team to the school’s principal and assistant principal. Each teacher from our team also presented gifts to the coordinating Swazi teachers and left candy and small trinkets for all of the students at the school. The final gift we left for the school was the beginnings of the first ever elementary library at the Enzengini primary school. There were over three hundred books, many balls, jump ropes, school supplies, and games given to the school. After tearful goodbyes to the Swazi teachers and students, the team headed to work with the ladies of the mission and continue putting up block on the home for nurses.

Since many Swazi ladies do not know their date of birth, the ladies celebrated a universal birthday party with cupcakes, party hats, blow horns, songs, candles, streamers and cards. The Swazi ladies also taught our ladies how to make a grass mat. They then lovingly gave the mat to our Central ladies. Today the ladies all met together and talked about “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel…” It then made perfect sense and fun to help the Swazi ladies make flip-flops by tying colorful balloons on each pair. The ladies were so impressed with their new shoes! Next they had a wonderful Spirit-filled time of devotions, songs and prayer. Wow! The power of God came on those ladies and each one was powerfully moved.

Today was the final day at the work sight of the Diane Garrison Memorial Home for Nurses. Our team worked for several hours and then met in the house to share a time of dedication. We were joined by the head nurse of the mission and several other Swazis. We sang three of Diane’s favorite hymns then heard some words of dedication from both Brent LaVigne and Dan Rexroth. Paul Garrison presented a memorial plaque and welcome sign to the head nurse who will be living in the home when it is finished. This service was again a special time for all the whole team. We loved Diane and were happy to be able to build a house in her honor.

Our team finished the day by visiting the famous Harmon Schmelzenbach rock where he saw the smoke from a thousand fires and committed his life to serving God in Swaziland. Many photos were taken as we gazed upon the beauty of the Lord’s handiwork in Swaziland.

We want to wish you all well and are praying that God will continue to sustain you until we see you again in a few days. From our team in Swaziland to our family and friends in the USA…We love you!

Friday, June 04, 2010

PALCON and Imperfect Umpires

I’ve been at PALCON this week. PALCON stands for Pastors and Leaders Conference, I think. I write “I think” because I’ve checked and rechecked the brochure and I didn’t come up with actual words for the acronym. So, with that being in mind, I decided to come up with a few alternative meanings for the PALCON acronym:

Please Admonish Lame Comments On Neanderthals (I like cavemen)

Permanently And Lovingly Consider Outlawing Neck-ties (I don’t like neck-ties)

Preaching A Lesser Christ Only Nauseates (It’s kind of theological, an occupational hazard of mine)

Maybe they should stick with Pastors and Leaders Conference.

I am really not much of a conference guy. I’ve said many times that the reason God called me to preach is that He knew I couldn’t sit through a church service. My mom used to say I have “ants in my pants” (not true by the way). But I am fidgety. I take candy. I try to listen. Still when the preacher mentions some scripture, my mind goes in a million directions on how I would preach the passage or what points I would bring out or what illustrations I would use.

To further complicate matters, last night a very fine preacher was scheduled to preach. Unfortunately, just before the service I checked the baseball scores on my phone. My beloved Detroit Tigers were playing the Cleveland Indians. When I checked the scores, the Tigers were winning 1-0 and Armando Galarraga (the Tiger pitcher) had not given up a hit. Wow! He was pitching a no-hitter.

So every few minutes when I knew the Indians were batting I would go back to my phone and check the score. Sing a verse—check the score. Pray a prayer—check the score. Galarraga continued to pitch great. In fact, he was pitching a perfect game—which means every batter he faced made an out. It was that way, all the way through the ninth inning. I know I was supposed to be listening or singing or whatever it was we were doing at the conference—but I was so curious—would Armando pitch a perfect game? (It has never been done in Tiger’s history. In fact, in all of Major League Baseball’s history it has only been done 20 times!)

If you are a sports fan, then you know the story. With only one out to go (Galarraga had gotten all 26 batters he had faced to make outs), the final batter in what would have been his perfect game hit a grounder to the first baseman. The first baseman caught the ball and flipped it to Galarraga who was covering first base. All the replays show that the batter, Jason Donald, was out, but the umpire mistakenly called him safe. In so doing, it ruined Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. AAAARGH!!! (I almost shouted a mean comment or two about the umpire right then and there, which would have been quite awkward with the PALCON service in full swing).

Some people are calling it the biggest blunder by an umpire in baseball history. The ump would later admit he missed the call, felt horrible and apologized. Lesson learned: Umpires are human too.

So are preachers. So are you. We all make mistakes. We all say dumb things. We all do dumb things. There are times when we don’t do what we know we should do (like paying attention at PALCON last night). That’s the problem with living on this sin-stained planet. I look forward to experiencing Jesus’ prayer, “On earth as it is in heaven.” I look forward to a time when I won’t be putting my foot in my mouth, when I won’t forget appointments, when I will know how to appropriately respond to all situations. But until that day, like Paul, I want to say “I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.” (Philippians 3:12-14 The Message) In other words, I might not be perfect, but I want to keep moving forward in becoming more and more the person God desires me to be.

Well, I am “off and running” back to PALCON. I sure hope the Tigers don’t have another game like last night or I won’t learn a thing.

Swaziland Update #4

Thursday June 3, 2010

Greetings from Swaziland. Another day has come to an end and as most of you wrap up lunch we are wrapping up dinner/devotions. The last two days have been busy for the entire team, which would explain our silence yesterday. The main event for Wednesday was time with The Luke Commission ( . This organization is composed of both Swazis and US Americans and serves all over Swaziland. It was started by a husband and wife who are a physician and PA team. Twice a week this organization sets up in various locations and provides medical care for everyone that shows up, including many who may have walked great distances. The care is free of charge and includes stations for eye exams and glasses, testing for HIV, blood sugar, blood pressure, tuberculosis, spiritual guidance, physical exam, post-test HIV counseling, special personal transportation devices for the disabled, and pharmaceuticals for any identified conditions. We don’t know how many patients were seen, but the team left the site at almost 10 pm. The educators continued to educate and the construction continued with only a minor “delay” from a broken down cement mixer. The women’s ministry has been fortunate enough to learn from the Swazi women some of the techniques used in their native handy-work including floor mats, beaded jewelry, clothing, etc.

Thursday Ramona, Mike, and Melissa taught the sixth and seventh grade students Excel bar graphs. The local pastor from the Endzingeni Church of the Nazarene spoke in the elementary school chapel for all of the students. The teachers sat in the front and the students stood for the entire service. The construction project and ditch digging (for a drinking water pump pipe) continue and the progress is beginning to be evident. Some of the team was able to listen in on choir practice at the high school and elementary school, both teams are going to competitions next week and are truly amazing. To date there have been no major injuries, thanks be to God. Tomorrow we hope to begin the trellis framework, assuming the materials arrive.

Grace and Peace from Swaziland.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Swaziland Team Update #1

We are in Swaziland enjoying a rainy Sunday.

The flights were long but uneventful. We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa about a half hour early and were able to eat dinner before making the 5-hour drive straight to Manzini, Swaziland. Even though many were very tired, we were all awake about midnight to go through customs into Swaziland. It did not seem like it had been almost 31 hours since we had left Kansas City.

Sunday morning we enjoyed a spirit-filled service at Sharpe Memorial Church with several hundred Swazi’s. Much of the singing was in Suswati until we sang the song "Our praises go up so the glory will come down". As we all sang, the Lord’s Spirit was so real as the words to the song came true. The pastor preached a great sermon that was translated into English about the wide and narrow gate as he compared it to the enthusiasm of the teams playing in the World Cup. It was a great 2+ hour service.

Later in the afternoon, we went to Brent and Micaele’s (Mission Corps Missionaries) house to load up 30 buckets of food that we will deliver Monday afternoon to those who are suffering with HIV. After putting the various basic food items into the buckets, Dan Rexroth lead us in a prayer of consecration, asking God to bless the $18 worth of food that we were delivering to strengthen the bodies of the sick. The money the Central Church is giving will be able to feed many people for a long time.

What a great day it has been. Tomorrow, we will visit the hospital and spend the rest of the day visiting those with HIV. Please pray that Holy Spirit will go before we visit and will guide our actions tomorrow.

Swaziland Team Update #2

Hey Everyone,

It’s Monday evening, May 31. We spent a very atypical Memorial Day! After breakfast we loaded up in our 3 vans and headed to Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital here in Manzini. It is part of the 25 acre mission compound which includes Sharpe Memorial Church, the nursing college, School of Education, a high school and missionary housing. For those long-time Nazarene’s, it is a place we’ve all read and heard about all our lives. The director of the hospital, Leonard, took half the group and Brent, the Mission Corp volunteer took the other and we spent probably 2 hours touring the facility. It was almost surreal to be there and meet the staff and see the patients. It’s the largest hospital in the country. Many different organizations have contributed to the growth of it including your US tax dollars! It was a very busy place. They have a separate entrance for the HIV/AIDS patients to use to help remove some of the stigma of having the disease.

When we left there, we went to the regional offices to pick up the leaders of the AIDS task force to go with us on the home visits. Our van had Mary Magagula who is the retired nurse who began the force along with Evelyn Shongwe and a man who is working with them. Each van had 10 large buckets filled with food and other necessities and a list of clients to visit. Our group was able to go into most of the ‘homes’ and look all around their homesteads. The first lady we visited was 65 or 70 and all alone. Her children had all left to work far away and could not be there to help take care of her. Her only visitor is the volunteer who comes to see her a couple times a week. She was beyond thrilled with everything but especially the 5lb bag of mealie meal which is a major staple in their diet. Mary said there had been a drought and no one had been able to harvest any so they were all thrilled. We sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and prayed with each person. Most of them were Christians and were thanking Jesus for this blessing. Mary was very compassionate with them and checked all their medical papers to tell if they were improving or needed hospital care or whatever. Our group also had small mirrors in rubber cases and we gave them to the patients and also to some of their families. They LOVED seeing themselves! We also passed out Tootsie Rolls and stuffed animals to the kids. We added a couple new clients today because one was visiting one of the clients we were visiting and she also had the disease and another as we drove by and Mary just wanted to stop and check on the people. That man had been sick for a few months and they used Becky Ellis’s stethoscope to listen to his chest and determined that he probably had TB and needed medicine. Mary told him to go to the hospital tomorrow and be checked. She said there is a very good cure rate for TB with the medicine.

The other two vans had even more exciting stories! (I forgot to tell you that our van went to Stegi and the others went other places.) Anyway, both other teams led people to Christ! One group was at a home where two brothers, ages 19 and 22, both had HIV/AIDS. Eric Kesselring was praying with them and asked if they knew Jesus and they said no. So, he prayed with them and they both accepted Christ!!! Isn’t that awesome!! He said you could really tell the difference in them immediately! Their mom was already a Christian but they were not. It was just an amazing experience for all of us. These homes were in very rural areas and many where exactly what you picture when you think of Africa…round huts with thatched roofs.

We all need to get to sleep early tonight because we still haven’t made up for sleep loss from the trip and tomorrow is a very early day, especially for the education team. They have to leave here at 6am to be in Endzengeni by 8am for a special school assembly planned just for them. It will be their first day of teaching. Please pray for them. They are a great group of girls and we have really enjoyed having them on the team. The rest of us will leave here at 7am and begin construction on the nurses house and do our women’s ministry. We will spend 5 days working and then go to church with the people next Sunday.

Please pray for all of us. We keep very busy and are all very tired, but thoroughly enjoying all aspects of the trip. It’s chilly in the morning and evening and warmed up nicely today. Wish we could tell you so many more details but that will have to wait till we get home.

Blessings to all of you.

JoAnne Rexroth

Swaziland Team Update #3

Swaziland Update #3

Hello All,

Roger Alexander reporting for the crew tonight from Maguga Lodge, Piggs Peak, Swaziland, SA. Look it up on the web…we are suffering with beautiful views and getting ready for dinner at 18:30. The lodge overlooks the Maguga Dam. Beautiful. Drs. Linda Alexander and Ramona Stowe and their seven MNU students along with MNU grads and teachers Mike and Cheralea Purcell woke this morning around 4:45-5a.m. to travel two hours to teach by 8a.m. The Purcell’s taught a 7th grade class and the others younger grades. The Purcells were prepared for the day but were surprised by the teacher asking them to do 30 minutes on American history…so, TIA (This Is Africa), they did 60 minutes on American history with the teacher asking most of the questions…”have you met your Prime Minister?...we don’t have one….what?...Have you met the President?...

Dan Rexroth, our leader reminded us in our meetings to be flexible… We are flexible! The construction crew joined with a team of workers from Manzini (about two hours away) who had already started their day by laying cinder block walls. Our team tried not to slow them down by joining them. By lunch time we all were in synch and made quite a bit of progress by adding around 5 more courses. One section of the Diane Garrison Memorial nurses dorm is almost ready for us to pour concrete for the tie beam (a beam that runs along the entire top of the outside walls tying it all together for strength. The Lord willing tomorrow we will be able to complete the other half of the dorm and do their tie beam….Lord willing. Other members of the construction crew started digging a foot wide trench, two feet deep and fifty feet long. They only hit one large water line and one small water line…repairs begin in the morning and the neighbors will be happy (a joke…the leaks are very small but supplies take time to get as everything typically comes the two hours from Manzini.) I have learned the dorm is basically a duplex with two bedrooms, a bathtub and sink room, a toilet room and a living room on each side for a total of 4 bedrooms for nurses. With this setup four nurses could be on each side or some nurses could bring a child to live with them in their room. TIA. The nurses will have to walk about 30 feet to the clinic.

Tomorrow a group of doctors and nurses will be at the clinic and have agreed to see every patient who is in line. The clinic will start early in the morning and has been known to run until one or two in the morning. People will walk for miles for this primitive care. It makes me want to stop complaining about traffic lights and having to wait five minutes in a Walmart line.

Everyone is fine (except the author who used his 6 foot 4 head to hit a 5 foot 10 inch door jam…not too many tall people around I noticed somewhat late so there is no need to waste wood on taller doors apparently). We are working in Piggs Peak, Swaziland area where the Church of the Nazarene’s first missionaries were stationed. I heard today that it took the missionary three years for their first convert. May we all be so persistent in sharing our faith. A little about the area, it is VERY hilly, about 5-6,000 feet, the sun is shining and dry, about 65-70 degrees. The local people are running around freezing with coats on and we are in shirt sleeves. Well, that is about all for now. Thank you for your continued prayers for our team. We are learning a lot about the country and ourselves.

God is good all the time.

Roger AlexanderCub Reporter

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Broken Toilets and Pulpits

The toilet in my office is loud when it flushes. Really loud. Windows shaking, “mountain-falling-into-the-sea” kind of loud. Until today. Today it sits in the water closet silent and broken. I don’t know why. When I push down on the little silver thingy there is no FLUUUUUSSSSH noise! It has never been my favorite toilet because of the aforementioned ear shattering, sonic boom decibel level flushes, but at least it worked. Until today.

The Plexiglas pulpit from which I stand behind each week also has had some “issues” this week. Until yesterday (It is now fixed thanks to Central’s able Facilities Manager and all around good guy, Ryan Forshee) the pulpit was shaky, very shaky. I think the front part of the pulpit was not connected to the back part or something like that—and last Sunday in the 8:30 service, as I was waxing eloquently I was worried that the pulpit and I were going to come crashing down into a Plexiglas and Preacher heap. Not good. I don’t consider myself a “pulpit pounding preacher,” maybe I am.

I cannot think of a scenario where there would be a connection between these two important objects in my life being broken at the same time. And while I am neither a plumber nor a fix-it-guy-- this I know: A guy wants his toilet to work. And a preacher wants his pulpit to stand tall during the worship hour.

Both items are not of much value when not doing what they were designed to do. As you know, a toilet is not a particularly comfortable chair. It’s not like I’m going to the little room just to check out the sink and the lovely decor. (For the record, I have no lovely decor in my little room.) And a pulpit that doesn’t reliably hold Bibles, sermon notes and the occasional No Doze (don’t ask)—isn’t much of value either. Toilets need to flush and pulpits need to firmly stand. That’s what they were made to do.

And people were made with a purpose too.

In Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians, he is telling them about Jesus return and what we are to be about in the meantime. It’s an “until then” kind of statement. Until then, until Jesus returns, this is what you need to be about. This is what he writes:

On the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:10-12)

Paul is telling this small band of believers—“Until then,” until Jesus returns let Him find you being “worthy of his calling.” That means fulfilling “every good purpose of yours and every act... of faith.” It means, as he goes on to say, “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”—that Christ is glorified in the way we live and the way we approach life.

It’s being who we were created to be. It’s doing what we were created to do. We were made to bring glory and honor to God. We weren’t created to make more money or to hit a winning golf shot; we weren’t created to sing beautifully at the Metropolitan Opera or win a Nobel Peace Prize. I was not created to preach sermons or write these articles or spend time with sick folks. Of course, we can do all of those things (and I really hope someone from Central does win a Nobel Peace Prize because how cool would that be to say “we know a Nobel laureate?). Still whatever it is that we do—we need to be doing it not for our glory but for God’s. In another place, Paul said: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

You see when we are not fulfilling our purpose, when we are simply about making money so our bank account gets bigger or hitting the game winning shot so we get all the praise or singing the song so that we get the adulation—then we are a lot like a toilet that doesn’t flush. It might look good. (Seriously has anyone thought, “Now that’s a good looking toilet? But you get the idea.) We were not created to simply take up space on planet earth—we were created to bring glory to God in all we do! So let’s be who we were created to be… a people who through our actions and through our words praise the Lord!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jesus is not a Condiment

Major League baseball games are fun for a lot more than the baseball being played on the field these days. (Insert your own joke here about the team that “plays baseball” at Kaufman Stadium). If you have been out to the “K” lately then you know what I’m talking about. There are plenty of games and activities to enjoy (read: to take you mind off) Abner Doubleday’s game. There are fine eateries, a carrousel, a playground, and between innings there are fun things on the mammoth Jumbotron to occupy your attention. Some of my favorite between inning fun times are: “The Kiss Cam” (where the camera randomly finds couples and they smooch for all to see on the big screen); Slugger shooting out hotdogs from a “hot dog launcher” (As the Royals have discovered – only occasionally-- like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”-- does Slugger shoot someone’s eye out); and of course, in between the seventh inning there is the traditional singing of “Take me out to the Ballgame.”

My favorite non-baseball activity is the Condiment Race that takes place on the massive screen. In this event, cartoon hot dogs featuring ketchup, relish or mustard race around the bases. There is as much drama as one can stand as the animated rolled bologna in a bun turns me into a hollering fool as I cheer for Mustard. I always cheer for Mustard. I relish the opportunity to cheer for Mustard hoping he will “ketchup” to the others (please accept my apology for that last sentence—even by my extremely low standards that pun was very poor).

What makes my love for the Condiment race even more curious is that I am not particularly a condiment person. Are you? Do you have to eat ketchup with your French fries? Is your hot dog not quite right without mustard? Is your taco naked without salsa? At Arby’s do you get the Horsy Sauce? At the Outback Steakhouse do you ask for A-1? Is your refrigerator filled with Soy, Tabasco, and/or Worcestershire Sauce? (I’ve long past the age limits for the National Spelling Bee Contest, but I must admit to you that I would never win anyway…it just took me about 37 tries to correctly spell “Worcestershire”… yickes!)

In admitting that I am not a condiment guy, please know that I am not opposed to condiments. I will not be attending an anti-condiment rally anytime soon. I certainly don’t look down upon those who indulge in condiments. Some of my best friends eat ketchup with their fries. I even know a person who has taken the little packets of mustard and relish and have consumed the contents on their own like they’re a tasty treat. I’ve got no problem with that. Still, simply put, I do not go out of my way for a condiment. I may eat ketchup or mustard if it happens to be on my burger, but just as easily I might eat my Oscar Mayer dog plain. Weird but true.

Who cares?

I was thinking about condiments and Jesus (it’s an occupational hazard… do I relate everything to Jesus? A lot of the time I do). Anyway, let me just write it: Jesus is not a condiment. Unfortunately, that’s how I’ve seen a lot of people approach our Lord. They might not say it, but through their life choices and their actions they convey the notion: “If I just add a little Jesus to my life-- it will make it better.” That almost sounds right too. Almost.

The problem is—rather than being consumed by Jesus, immersed in Jesus, having Jesus as their “all in all” what these “Jesus as a Condiment” people are really after is just a “squirt of Jesus” or a “teaspoon of Jesus.” They want a dash of Jesus to help them when life gets hard. They want a splash of Jesus to get them through a bad day or they really want a good dose of Jesus to help Aunt Millie’s cancer. So they call on Him to make life better, easier, and more manageable. They are not after a transformation, just a pinch of Jesus will do.

It seems to me that is not what Jesus is after in my life. He wants me--all of me. He does not want to be an add-on to simply give my life a little extra flavor—he wants to be my life. Jesus once said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Shortly after saying those words, Jesus was calling people to follow him and all the people have great excuses why they could not follow him at that time: one was worried about the living conditions, another had a funeral to attend, and the last guy had other family issues. They didn’t out-right reject Christ (few people do)—they just wanted Jesus to fit into their schedule. Just a dash of Jesus is what they were after.

But Jesus wants more. Being a Christ follower is saying: I will follow Him when it is inconvenient; I will follow Him when all is well; I will follow Him when all is lousy; I will not be deterred by money, things, or other opportunities. I want Jesus’ agenda to be my agenda. I want His will to be my will. I want His goals, hopes and dreams to be my goals, hopes and dreams. It’s saying, “I do not follow Him simply so that He will make my life a little better here and there, I follow Him because Jesus is my life!”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Karla and the RipCord

Tomorrow is Nazarene Night at Worlds of Fun and Karla has informed me that she would like to ride on the RipCord. If you are unfamiliar with this ride according to the Worlds of Fun website, the RipCord is “a Skycoaster attraction.” A “Skycoaster attraction” sounds like the patron is gently riding in one of those nice little high-in-the-sky, four-seater carts that travels from the near side of the amusement park to the far side, all the while the rider is enjoying a scenic view of the park and sipping on a slushy. That is NOT the RipCord. The website goes on to say the RipCord “features a 180-foot tethered free-fall. Guests wear a full body harness that supports the flyer in a prone position. The scale of flight is so dramatic that flyers accelerate to 60 - 80 miles per hour and achieve the sensation of hang gliding.” Allow me to translate: the RipCord is a death trap. It dangles you and a friend or two high above the earth, a bell sounds and the individuals are dropped like a sack of potatoes, because of this little thing called gravity (thank you Mr. Isaac Newton) the individuals fall toward Planet Earth at a speed of 9.81 meters per second squared (Thank you Mr. Mike Copeland, my 12th grade physics teacher) with the only thing keeping the thrill seekers from going splat like a bug against a windshield is a thread-- a tiny thread of bungee cord like materials. Has anyone ever had a rubber band break in their hands? I rest my case. And Karla wants to do this? Apparently so.

Moreover for this excitement one has to pay an additional fee (you read that right-- an additional fee!!!) to the normal park entrance fee. If she can find two other dumb friends (I mean, “two other adventurous friends”) to join in on the thrill-- it will cost her $18.02 plus tax. Why $18.02? I think the extra two cents is for people like me that will have given their two cents about the decision to partake in such a ride. As in, “Honey I love you, but I would prefer to not be a widower at this time.” Of course, this fee does not include the additional cost of new clothing that I would have to purchase after (let’s just say) “ruining” the ones I would have been wearing; or the additional cost of a new set of lungs after having screamed my original pair clear out of me. For all of these reasons and a probably a few more, no one will see me joining my bride on the RipCord.

The desire of Karla to ride the RipCord does not surprise me. She has indicated in the past her desire to hang glide over the ocean and parachute out of a perfectly good airplane. Adventure and Karla are like peas and carrots or ice cream and root beer—they just go together well. As for me, when it comes to rides at an amusement park, I’ll stick to the bumper cars and merry-go-rounds. Thank you very much.

Unfortunately, too many people take my non-adventurous amusement park philosophy into the rest of their life. And the result is no excitement; no thrills; no action. They seem to be content for the mundane and the uneventful. I believe God has more in store for us than that.

Faith is stepping out of our comfort zone and trusting God to do adventurous things through us. It’s going to Swaziland on a mission trip; it’s helping to serve the homeless at a rescue mission; it’s taking cookies to a neighbor and striking up a meaningful conversation; it’s sitting with the lonely person in the cafeteria; or befriending the hurting at your workplace. It’s putting ourselves in a position for God to do the extraordinary through us.

You’ve heard the cliché, “Nothing ventured; nothing gained.” It’s not in the Bible but it contains some truth. While I don’t care if that is said about my amusement park ventures, I do care if that is said about my faith ventures. I want to be a follower of Christ who will venture to new places and reach new people. I want to be a follower that says, “If you can use me Lord… Let’s go.” Like the old story about the Lord and a rider on a tandem bike, I want to say, “As long as you are leading and steering the bike, “I’m ready to go down whatever path you choose.”

Like Abraham, I want this said about me: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he …obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8) I love it. He was called to go—but he didn’t know the place; he had no GPS to give him directions; he never saw the spot on a map; and he didn’t read the AAA Travel guide on the location—still Abraham was called; he “obeyed and went” and what an adventure it was!

Faith is an adventure. I’m ready to experience a God-directed thrill ride—are you?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Easter is different now

Easter is different from when I was a kid. We used to get all dressed up on Easter Sunday—brand new clothes right down to our Superman underoos-- all to celebrate our Risen Lord. I guess nothing said “He’s alive” like brand new skivvies. The girls would wear new dresses, Easter bonnets and white lacy gloves. I haven’t seen an Easter bonnet in a long time.

At the church I attended we would have a sunrise service on Easter Morning-- a service at 6 AM. Which meant getting up at 4:30 AM (or earlier) so that all six in my family could use the one and only restroom in the house, get dressed, ready, and in the car by 5:30 to head to church. It didn’t take 30 minutes to get to our church (maybe five minutes), but my dad was convinced that we had to be the first ones in the church parking lot no matter what time the service started. Usually I was a little groggy singing “Up from the Grave He Arose” at 6 AM in the Sunrise service.

Following the service, we would eat breakfast in the church fellowship hall (Read: basement of the parsonage). I tried to tell Karla we needed to invite the whole church over to our basement for breakfast on Easter, she could make eggs and bacon and I would eat and talk to people—she looked like she was going to punch the Peeps right out of me for making such a suggestion.

Then we went back to church for our regular Sunday School and Easter Service. The church usually had a few more people than normal and we always sang, “He Lives.” But other than that, I don’t remember Easter Sunday worship being much different from any other Sunday Worship service. Unlike at Christmas time, the church didn’t give out boxes of candy and an orange and an apple. We just went home.

Once at the house, we would eat devilled eggs. Sometimes the white part of the devilled egg had some food coloring residue on them from our decorating the night before. I must say I was not a very good egg decorator. My eggs always had the same brownish-grey look to them. I could never do half green half purple eggs like my sisters. It seems I always dropped the whole egg into one of the food colors on accident—thereby creating the brownish-grey egg that no one wanted to eat. My mom would eat them. She was kind-hearted to her artistically challenged youngest cherub.

Mom always made ham on Easter. Never turkey. Never roast beef. We ate ham-- just like Jesus and the disciples (ummm… maybe not). And we ate bunny cake for dessert. I don’t remember my mom making a special cake for any other holiday, but every Easter she would make a white cake that looked like a rabbit. She’d stick paper bunny ears on it and sprinkle it with coconut. She’d place the bunny cake on a cookie sheet and put some dyed green coconut all around the cake on the cookie sheet to give it a grassy look and then she’d place jelly beans all around it. One year I put several black jelly beans near the back of the bunny on the dyed green coconut “grass,” my mom was not amused.

Following dinner, we’d look for our baskets and then head to relatives’ houses. Except for the fact that we couldn’t change into our “play clothes” so that my grandma and Aunt Alice could see our Easter outfits, Easter was always a good day.

Today Easter is different. No Sunrise service. No bonnets. No Bunny cake. My boys won’t be wearing new suits and ties and have shown no interest in decorating eggs. Still, I hope this remains: I pray Easter will be a good day—not because of all of those things mentioned above but because we will rejoice that Jesus is alive. His Resurrection completely changes everything. Sin and Death have been defeated. Life can be ours. Like the women who showed up at the tomb on that first Easter morning I hope we experience the exuberance of the news: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! (Luke 24:5-6) Maybe we won’t have on a shiny new suit, but we can still proclaim “He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Goatee and Amazing Grace

During Spring Break I decided to grow a goatee.

I have had a beard once before. I grew out my facial hair in order to look more “discipley” for an Easter Pageant about 15 years ago. I don’t know that the twelve disciples wore beards back in the day (The Bible never says “and Peter cutteth himself shaving and saith, “Ouchth!”)-- but it always seems that an Easter Pageant isn’t an Easter Pageant unless the “disciples” are wearing some sort of dress, have grown out their beards, and thanks to Leonardo Di Vinci are sitting on only one side of a long table. Now that I think about it, we want our disciples to look like the people some folks would avoid if they showed up in the fellowship hall for a potluck: an unshaven, cross dresser who doesn’t know about public decorum when it comes to choosing which side of a table to sit on. Strange but true.

This Easter I’m not dressing up like James the son of Alpheus or Simon the Zealot or any of the other disciples—I just decided to grow a little hair under my nose and on my chin. I’m not sure I like it.

Karla says she likes it (except when I smooch her—sorry that’s a little personal). I’ve had mixed reviews from the people in the church office (I assure you, I haven’t kissed any of them.). Still, when I look in the mirror and see a mostly grey, not completely filled, hairy upper lip and chin I think “Is that me or a Schnauzer or a slightly younger Colonel Sanders?” Mostly what I’m asking is: “Who is that guy?”
Lots of people have asked that last question about themselves—even if they do not have a goatee and look nothing like a Schnauzer. Often the question comes out after they have let themselves or someone they love down— and they’ve said: Who am I and why would I do such a thing?” Or during a time of deep introspection; when all is quiet and they can have an authentic moment to ask: “Deep down, who am I?”
When John Newton (the former slave trader and author of the hymn Amazing Grace) evaluated his life he concluded that he was a wretch, lost and blind. That evaluation isn’t just for slaver traders. In fact, the Bible says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In other words, when looking in the mirror and asking the question: “Who am I?” At some point, all of us will come to the same conclusion: “I am messed up and in need of a savior.”
We all know the first verse of Amazing Grace, but the second verse is powerful and strong when Newton writes:
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
Why fear? We’ve looked in the mirror and saw the ugliness of our sin. We’ve looked in the mirror and said, “Who is that lying, secret-keeping, angry, messed up person?” We’ve seen ourselves for who we really are; we know a little bit of God’s demands for holiness and righteousness; and have reached the conclusion, “I am in deep trouble. I am hopeless. I am lost.” Grace has taught my heart to fear… but (here comes the good news from the cross…)
And Grace, my fears relieved.In Jesus’ Amazing Grace on the cross—He took care of my worries, forgave my sin, renewed my hope and relieved my fears!

How precious did that Grace appear
How wonderful, how glorious, how precious to know all our sins (not in part, but the whole) are nailed to the cross and we bare it no more! In Jesus’ act of love on the cross we have hope and life and healing and help!

The hour I first believed.

The moment we discover that our sins have been forgiven; our hearts are clean; and our hope is restored is the single greatest moment of all!
Next week is Holy Week and we will be looking anew at the events leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We will be looking again at the cross. And one of the outcomes of seriously looking at the price that Jesus paid for our salvation is that we see the ugliness of sin. We see humankind at its worst. But when really honest (seriously looking at the mirror) we also see the ugliness of our sin. It’s looking at the cross and concluding: I’m no different. I’m no different from the fraidy cat disciples who abandoned Jesus. I’m no different from the pompous religious windbags. I’m no different from the angry mob. In fact, it was my sin, my burdens, my mess that put Jesus on the cross too. Like in Newton’s song, we not only see our grotesque sinfulness but at the cross we also see the love and the amazing grace of God. In the cross we see a God who keeps His promises and a God that will stop at nothing to offer His great love even to great sinners. No matter how messed up, no matter how confused, no matter who is looking back in the mirror Jesus says, “You can be forgiven and have life again.”

I don’t know if I will have the goatee when you see me on Sunday or not, but I know this: God’s grace is amazing—we will be celebrating it this week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

22 Happy Years

Twenty two years ago tomorrow, Karla and I were married at the Westland Church of the Nazarene in Westland, Michigan. It was a rainy spring morning on March 12, 1988, but when we came out of the church newly hitched, the afternoon sun was out and a rainbow was in the sky (we took that as a sign that there would be no floods in our marriage. If you count water in the basement as a “flood” then we’ve had a few, but if by flood you mean gathering animals and building a big boat—that hasn’t happened….yet).

Since that Saturday in March of 1988, Karla and I have had two boys, five dogs, two hermit crabs and a few dozen fish. We have lived in six homes in three different states and have owned ten cars, one snowmobile, a riding lawn mower and several bikes. We have endured two C-sections, a gall bladder surgery (Karla), a tonsillectomy (Ben), broken collar bone (Alex) and a subarachnoid hemorrhage (Rob).
There have been great days and lousy ones. I guess you could say there were days that could be characterized as some better, some worse; some richer, some poorer; some with sickness and some with health.

Because of my profession, Karla has had to put up with having family stories told (and written) to an entire congregation; a husband that has been known to keep crazy hours and has had to rearrange family schedules because of crisis, funerals and other pastorally things; and has lived life under the microscope known as “pastor’s wife.” She has sacrificed career, proximity to her family, and never sitting in a worship service with her spouse (truth be told, because of my singing skills, I think she is OK with that aspect of being a pastor’s wife).

And all I got out of the deal was a wife who is handier than Bob Villa, prettier than a Zooma, the beauty queen, and wittier than Ethel Merman (although that’s not saying much because I was never an Ethel Merman fan. “Who’s Ethel Merman,” you say. “Exactly!” is my response. ). In other words, I married up. Way up.
We haven’t the marriage longevity of some but we have lasted more than others. We are not the perfect couple and our marriage has not been perfect— but I cannot imagine being married to anyone else and in my totally biased eyes, Karla is the perfect woman for me.

On our wedding day, my friend Mark Parker (now the HR Director at the Nazarene Publishing House) sang the old hymn, Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. If you haven’t sung it in a while, the words go like this:
Savior, like a shepherd lead us; much we need thy tender care.
In thy pleasant pastures feed us; For our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.

Well, it’s been 22 years since I saw my bride walking down the aisle and hearing that song sung. And like Samuel as he raised the rock that he called Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7)—I can say, “Hitherto God has helped us.” God has been faithful. He has led us. He has fed us. He has cared for us. We were His on our wedding day, and we still are His all these years later. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for these past 22 years.

It is my prayer that all of our marriages can be like the one I have experienced. Where God has led, God has blessed and God has been honored. I hope that all of our marriages recognize that whether times are better or worse, God will “still like a Shepherd lead us” if we allow him to lead.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

It's been a year

A year ago today, my dad took his first steps in heaven. I’m no heaven expert. Don’t know a lot of the details—I can’t tell you for sure what all he has done this past year. Did he go fishing in the crystal sea? My dad wasn’t much of a fisherman. Did he examine his mansion? My dad really wasn’t much into big houses either. Did he enjoy the heavenly banquet? If it included pizza and Neapolitan ice cream, he probably did. I think just being with Jesus was enough for him, if my dad could just hang out with the One who completely and forever rescued him—then I think he had the best year imaginable.

Looking forward to see Jesus and my dad again one day.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Jesus said, "You make me sick!"

What is the worst thing that Jesus could say to a church? Think about it. Of all the things Jesus could say—what would be the worst?

Try this on for size: “You make me sick!”

That would be pretty bad, wouldn’t it?

Have you ever told that to someone? I can’t remember a time when someone so upset me that I uttered those words. I know I’ve thought it a few times. I’ve read about some terrible and disgusting criminal offense and I’ve thought, “That’s sick” or “we live in a sick world.”

We all know that Jesus had some serious public disagreements with the Pharisees but he never tells them, “You make me sick.” To the insulting people at Golgotha or to those people who beat him or spat on him and taunted him he does not say, “you sicken me, you nauseate me.” But He does say those words to a group—to a church group, no less. This is how the Message version reads Jesus words: “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold. You’re not hot— far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.” (You might recognize that those are the words he tells the Church at Laodicea in Revelation 3.)

OK here’s what worries me, while God is doing great things in our world (i.e the Horn of Africa, India, China)—the church in the USA can at best (at Best? I think that is accurate) be described as “stale” and “stagnant.” Our methods are old. We aren’t reaching many people. Revival is not occurring. (I know these are generalizations, but for the great majority of places and a great majority of churches these facts are very true).

So here’s my point-- what are we doing about it? I do not want to be stale. I have no desire to be stagnant. And I certainly do not want our Lord saying to us, “You make me want to vomit.” So what are we going to do about it?

It seems to me that we have two choices: 1) Act like Jesus didn’t say these words and be OK with the fact that we live in a spiritually stale and stagnant land; or 2) Decide to be part of the solution and take an “All out” and “Whatever-it-takes” approach to providing new, alive, growing, prayerful, ministry.

I beg you to join with me as we begin to explore what this means. Just in case you are wondering, I think it has everything to do with lighting candles in the darkness (and not hanging more chandeliers in the fellowship hall). It has everything to do with stepping out in faith, being risky, and not burying the blessings that God has given us. In has everything to do with not being satisfied with the status quo and determining we have this one life to make a difference and then going about (through God’s enabling) to make more and better disciples. Join me…. in this Great Adventure.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Finally a Shorts Day!

The weatherman said today was the warmest in KC in three months.... I wore shorts all day long! Come O Summer Come!

In Like a Lion (not a Detroit Lion)

March is here and today the temperature in Kansas City is to be in the sunny 50’s. Hooray! The weather story about March is that if it comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb (and vice versa). Since this week has been pretty tame – you might expect that the end of the month could be trouble. But maybe not…

As most of you know, I am from the city of Detroit, home of the Detroit Lions. Believe me, I know a thing or two about those Lions. I suffered through the 0-16 season (the only 16 game winless season in NFL history). I remember such notable head coaches as Tommy Hudspeth, Darryl Rogers, and Rick Forzano. “Who?” you ask. Exactly my point. In my lifetime the Lions have won exactly one playoff game (in 1991). I know the Lions. So if our month’s meteorology is going to go out like those Lions then I think it will mean-- that we will have little organization, little aggression, and little worry of anything even remotely close to a mean storm. In fact if the Detroit Lions were playing the lambs (and I was a betting man), I’d put my money on the lambs. As a lamb might say, “The Lions are baaaaaaaaaaad!”

Of course, as anyone who ever watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins knows (Remember that show? Now that was must see TV!): it’s not supposed to be that way. Lions mutilate lambs. It’s not even close to a fair fight. Lions chase them down, beat them up and conclude the evening with a tasty leg of lamb dinner. Lambs have no chance against a ferocious lion. That’s just the way it is.

Of course, that is also what makes Isaiah’s comments so compelling when he wrote that the lion and the lamb would lie down together—in the new kingdom. In Isaiah’s vision, the kingdom of God would be characterized when one time enemies like lions and lambs are friends. The community that God is building is one where the old rules die and new hopes and dreams become alive.

It seems that God’s plan for His people is to be a community where age, race, background, economics, nationality and/or any of other barriers that sometime might exist between people come crashing down through Jesus Christ. We are to enjoy a common bond in Christ—that is bigger and stronger than any other loyalty or any other bond. Can I just say it—I long for those types of relationships and that type of community. Because this I know, when the storms of life come (whether it’s in March or any other month) through Christ and his people, we will overcome!

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Whew, what a week it has been.

It’s Thursday morning as I am typing this and out of the last 100 hours, I have been at the church or doing church work for 62 of those hours. From Sunday morning at 6 AM until this very minute—it’s been busy, busy, busy. That’s what a week of COLLIDE will do for a guy. Of course I am not the only one that has been doing double duty this week. There are so many people to thank that helped make COLLIDE a HUGE success. Check this out (In listing all of these names, I am sure I will leave someone out… so in advance, I am sorry!):

In the Crisis Care Kit room: Ruth Ann and Riley Clark; Courtney Conant; Bethanie Rhodes; and Lexie and Jon North. They led us in putting together 845 Crisis Care Kits for Haiti!!!

In the Letter Writing Room: Forest and Amanda Fisk. Around 100 Notes were written!
In the Nursing Home Encouragement Basket Room: Sarah Foster. Baskets for 200 nursing home patients were made!

In the kitchen making our scrumptious dinners: Dan and Carissa Case, Clair and Michelle Plummer; Carly, Craig and Laurie Doane; Bethanie, Mattie, Harrison and Dee Dee Sills; Laura Clark, Glen Dikes and Karla Prince. This team of faithful workers came in hours early and prepared so that at exactly 6:30 we would be ready for a hot and tasty meal. They did great!!!

Our Left-Over Blessing Person: Elaine Saner took our left-overs to thankful families who couldn’t get out because of sickness of one kind or another.

Our counters: Keith Davis and Mark Hotle

Our Greeters: Jeff and Leslilee Stevens, Linda and Randy Downing; Lee and Christin Phillips; Pam and Brad Mohr; Jerry Brockhaus; Keith Davis; Clinton and Courtney Conant; Chris Carnaghi; and Mark Hotle.

Our Hostesses with the Mostess: Kathy Saunders and Joni Davis
All around great help: secretaries—Brenda Crow; Kathy Patchen, Pam Plummer and Sylvia Emrich

Our Janitorial and Facilities Crew: Ryan Forshee, Joe Hoffman; Sonya Barnes, Tanner Stevens and Eric Bowles

Our Folks working the nursery area: Brenda and Matt Crow, Alisa Whitacre, Hyon Clark, Andrea Hodgson, Shalyn Smith, Mollie Wilson, Tiffany Zehr, Karen McCoonse, Molly Hotle, Beth Kirk, and JoAnne Myers.

Our Business manager: Joy Hartke

And of course, thanks to all of our pastors who provided great teaching every night and Rodney Kilgore, Erica Hudson and Kelsy Ryan who led in worship before communion.
And there are so many more that lent a hand right when we needed it! Thanks!!! COLLIDE week went great!

If you were counting, that’s 73 people working together in one way or another to make it a great week! Way to go Central Nazarene!!!

COLLIDE by the numbers

845....Crisis Care Kits assembled (WOW! That's double last year's total)
200....Encouragement Baskets for Nursing Homes made
100....Notes to Homebound People
1200...Meals served during the 4 days of Collide

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

COLLIDE update

Two nights of COLLIDE are done, two to go. Last night over 300 people gathered and we once again had great food (Thanks Dan and crew!), great teaching time (Thanks Pastor Kevin and Pastor Molly); great service projects (in the Crisis Care Kit area—we have put together over 500 kits in two nights—WOW!!!!); and a great time of communion!

The Church family is growing, learning, loving… it’s behaving like the church! Yippeee!

Come out tonight at 6:30… and we need more SHAMPOO, HAND TOWELS, and COMBS for the Crisis Care kits. Bring some if you can!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No Varooooooom

Alex’s car wouldn’t start this week. The problem wasn’t a bad battery or a broken starter. There was plenty of gas in the tank. The problem was that the ignition key wouldn’t turn. It was stuck. Really stuck.

Now if the situation were on my car I could understand someone thinking that the key turner (that’s me) was experiencing a lack of muscular fortitude. No one has ever confused me of being a Mr. Universe candidate. My muscle tone (or lack thereof) was always more like the “before” picture on the gym advertisements rather than the “after” picture. But this was Alex’s car and Alex’s muscles. He tried. I tried. Even the most mechanical in our house, Karla, tried—all to no avail. The key would not budge. We jiggled it. We bought some stuff to spray into the key hole. It still wouldn’t turn. We turned the steering wheel. We kicked the tires. (I don’t know why we thought kicking the tires might make the key move—it didn’t). Nothing worked. If I didn’t know better I would have thought the key was singing that old Sunday School chorus, “I shall not be… I shall not be moved.”

While I am neither a mechanic nor the son of a mechanic this was a new problem to me. I guess I’ve always taken for granted that a key properly placed in the ignition would turn. Usually the car has made a varoooom sound following turning the key and occasionally it does not make a varooooom sound after turning the key (I hope all of this technical automotive lingo is not going over anyone’s head), but the key has always turned. Or so I thought.

Not on Alex’s car. No turning of the key. No varoooom. No driving for Alex.

Eventually, the car had to be towed into the shop where a new key turner thing-a-ma-bob (again, I hope this isn’t too technical for you) was installed. The key now turns. The car now starts. And while his bank account is a little lighter than it was a day ago, Alex has his wheels and life is back to normal.

I think we take for granted a lot of things in life besides the ignition key turning in our cars—especially we Americans that have heated homes, full refrigerators and healthy teenagers (albeit upset ones when their car is stuck on the driveway).

In the past week, I’ve been in contact in one way or another with plenty of people and situations where I’ve walked away with the lesson of not taking things or people or life for granted. For example…

• A family where the dad died at age 45. I’ve learned-- don’t take life for granted.
• A healthy college student hospitalized with a mystery illness. Don’t take health for granted.
• A lady younger than me battling cancer for a third time. Same lesson as above.
• A divorced dad juggling schedules of a “dual homed” family. Don’t take family for granted.
• A divorced mom struggling with kid issues. Don’t take Karla for granted.
• An unemployed man trying to make ends meet. Don’t take jobs for granted.
• People utilizing our food pantry. Don’t take food for granted.
• Our furnace broke: Don’t take heat for granted.
• Our washing machine broke too: Don’t take clean clothes for granted.
• We are assembling 700 Crisis care kits next week for Heart to Heart: Don’t take the basic necessities of life for granted.

You get the idea. It is so easy to overlook the everyday blessings in life. It is so easy to take for granted people. It’s easy to focus on irritants (see above comments about broken cars, furnaces and washing machines) instead of being thankful for the money to repair the car or appreciative of the friends that help when stuff is broken.

I’ve quoted it before, but I guess I need another reminder this week from Paul, maybe you do to: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13).

Sunday, February 21, 2010


You cannot know how much it pained me to postpone COLLIDE for a week. Michiganders do not postpone for the little bit of snow and ice we had (maybe I’m becoming a Kansan after all). But I thought it was too important of an even to have a third of a crowd at tonight. We really need our Seniors here to make this event a success and I was afraid they and others would not venture out on the roads. So next week….

Friday, February 19, 2010

The eye doctor

I went to the eye doctor today. I knew he would either give me a new prescription for a new set of glasses or put me on the rack to stretch my arms a few more inches.

I guess they don’t use a rack anymore. I’ve got a new Rx for some new glasses.

Karla says I should get some hip new glasses that will make me look twenty years younger. For that I told her—I wouldn’t need new glasses, she would need to get rid of hers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Church that became a Doctor's Office

The little church that I attended as a child never grew much. As I recall, we tried to grow. We had Sunday school drives, revival services, and one time we brought in a “Christian” clown. There were special “singspirations,” Christian Movie nights (cinematic “classics” like Thief in the Night and The Cross and the Switchblade were played) and an “old fashion” Sunday where people would dress up like during the pioneer days. Efforts to reach the lost and troubled were made—but nothing worked much. I guess the unchurched folks in Michigan didn’t want to be entertained by a Bible verse quoting Bozo the Clown or dress like Laura Ingalls. Who knew? Today the church is a doctor’s office and most of the members are either in heaven, moved away or have found a new church to attend.

I guess that happens to some churches.

There are reasons it didn’t grow. But I was too young to know most of those reasons. I remember that a preacher or two left because of questionable morals. And I’m sure we had more than our share of church going folks that didn’t always behave the best either. There are reasons the church is a doctor’s office today.

Sometimes we had children’s church, but usually we didn’t. I sat in big people’s church because there wasn’t a “little people’s church.” By the time I was in high school the youth group dwindled down to me (which made planning youth activities pretty easy). Usually the youth group activity planning committee went like this:

Me: “Where does the youth group want to go tonight?”
Me: “I think I’m going to McDonalds.”
Me: All in favor of the motion to go to McDonald’s say “Eye”
Me: “Eye”

Maybe some would look back at the church that is now a doctor’s office and say: “What a failure.”

I guess I don’t view it that way.

I can’t speak for anyone else who attended the Elmwood Church of the Nazarene except for me ((a.k.a the entire youth group)—and of course I was young, and it was 30 years ago (my memory might be fuzzy)), still I have many fond memories of those days. The handful of members taught me some important life lessons:

Mr. Kipp: Always had candy in his pockets for the kids. The lesson learned: Boys and girls matter to Jesus.

Brother Bond (we called some of the older believers “brother.” I’m not exactly sure at what age one made the crossover from “Mr.” or “Mrs.” to “Brother” or “Sister” but “Brother Bond” was old): He helped me with more than one school wood-working project. Lesson Learn: Helping children with school projects is part of being in the family of God.

Mrs. Buckley: I mowed her lawn. She always called me Freddy (my brother). Lesson learned: Mrs. Buckley had a bad memory.

Nell Norton: Piano Player. As my memory has it, she played most songs a little slow—except for Wonderful Grace of Jesus—she raced through that one. I liked singing Wonderful Grace of Jesus. Lesson learned: God can use your gifts whatever talent you have.

Mary Vail (my Junior Boys and Jr. High Sunday School teacher. Mary got promoted when I did): I have memories of fancy restaurants and baseball games with Mary. Again, I don’t remember any specific lesson ever taught—but I do remember that she cared for the kids in her class. Lesson learned: Junior Highers matter to God.

Norm Norton (my Sr. High Sunday School Teacher, and husband to Nell): he put up with a smarty pants church kid who was sometimes bored, sometimes mouthy, sometimes not the best student—and all Norm did was patiently teach with humor and grace. Lesson learned: Teenagers matter to Jesus.

I remember Mrs. Van Dyne’s meatloaf (Lesson learned: Nazarene’s are good cooks) and Norm Fisher’s haircuts (Lesson learned: Maybe the original “Nazarene” had long hair, but the ones in the 1960’s definitely did not). There was Brother Sexton singing with his guitar (before guitar playing in church was considered “contemporary”) and Aunt Myrtle getting pinched by the rickety old theatre seats and letting out a holler (everyone thought she was getting a blessing from the Lord. Sometimes they sounded similar from Aunt Myrtle, I suppose).

All this to say, my home church was small; never grew; and probably could have done a whole lot better in reaching people with the gospel—still the lessons I learned were that followers of Christ loved boys and girls and teenagers too. I learned that the church is meant to be a family that cares for one another. Old people and young people can share in life together—all of that’s a good thing. I honestly don’t know if I’d be pastoring today if it weren’t for some of those good influences in my life.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Last Night's Board Meeting

We had a long board meeting last night. Somethings had to be done: Tweaking our Child Protection Policy; approving those ministers in the credentialing process; treasurer's reports, etc.

But we also were able to talk about things just on the horizon that are really exciting-- "lighting candles in the darkness" stuff; getting every single ministry involved in Making More and Better Disciples; creating a means to share the success stories; and later in a committee meeting-- making plans for the Central Leadership Academy.

So thankful for a Christ-led board of leaders!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Preaching sick.

Preached sick yesterday... that's never good. But God gave the strength and we made it through.Our tech guys videoed the first service just in case I couldn't go in the second service-- it would have been the first video of a sermon at Central, but we didn't need it.

Seussapaloosa is done. Next up: GOLGOTHA: Objects from the Hill

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

COLLIDE is Coming

The Pastoral Team of Central is working on COLLIDE this morning: our inter-generational All- Church Worship and Service event that begins on February 21 and ends February 24.

This week is perfect for making Better Disciples (one of Central Primary Objectives) as we learn from one another-- Old and Young alike. We need everyone participating as we eat together, learn together, serve together and end each gathering with the communion.

I can’t wait! Plan on a great week!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Free Grand Slam

This morning I ate my free post Super Bowl Grand Slam breakfast from Denny's. Last year Ben went with me-- this year he decided it was too early for free food. I almost didn't go-- but the cheap side of me won the discussion in my mind-- and I found myself eating the eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes. Yum. Free is good!

Monday, February 08, 2010

NTS Chapel

It's been a while since I was in a chapel service at the seminary. (I admitted that I think I doubled my attendance from my seminary days). Still it was great being with the students-- who were very responsive to the message I shared. I am so thankful for my seminary days and the lessons learned both within those walls and outside of them.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Rememberin' Rasslin'

Todd Morgan (one of Central’s finest youth and a senior at Olathe East) was featured in a newspaper article recently. The article told how he is wrestling well for the East wrestling team and how hard Todd works. The article made me proud to know him; it also reminded me of my “rasslin’ days” (as my grandfather would have said).

You did not misread that last paragraph. I wrestled during my junior year in high school. Unlike Todd, I didn’t have newspaper articles written about my skills or my work ethic on the wrestling mat. No one was worried that I was going to become the next Hulk Hogan. I had no signature move like some of the WWE “rasslers.”

As I recall I was not a particularly good wrestler (shocker #1!). I wrestled in the 105 weight class and I didn’t need to lose weight to get there. I could have wrestled in the 98 pound class but the other 98 pounder in my school was a beast. Can a 98 pounder be a beast? Well, he was scrappy and he beat me every time in practice. So I moved up to the 105 weight class where I thought I would have a better chance of competing. I am not sure I did any better—instead of getting pounded by a 98 pound kid from my school in practice; I got pounded by 105 pound kids from other schools at the meets.

I am not sure why I decided to go out for the wrestling team. It was not because I looked good in the “uni-tard” and head gear that wrestlers are required to wear. It’s not that I had a best friend on the wrestling team that talked me into getting beat to a pulp every other day. It’s not because I wanted to impress the girls—no one showed up at our wrestling matches but a few parents. (I don’t recall my folks being at the matches but I am sure they were there. I imagine them sitting in the bleachers and finding time in the 42 seconds before I was pinned to say, “See that skinny kid who’s twisted like a pretzel? That’s our boy.” They had to be so proud.) As a matter of fact, I only wrestled half the year because of an injury (see above comment about being twisted like a pretzel and this becomes shocker #2). Still, for that half of a season I wrestled for the Fighting Tigers of Garden City West High School. I made the team; competed in a few tournaments with mixed results (read: lost nearly all of them) and soon put my uni-tard and the wrestling mat behind me.

Why the wrestling confessional?

When I look back on those days, I remember the hard work of getting in shape. I remember working out in practice. I remember the uni-tard, headgear and wrestling shoes. I even remember a few of the agony of defeats. But don’t remember much else. I don’t remember my coach’s name. I don’t remember most of the other wrestlers on the team. I don’t even remember the all too few victories.

Time has a way of blurring our memory. We tend to forget both the good and the bad stuff of our lives. I think that’s OK--especially as it relates to the bad stuff. We all have had bad stuff happen in our lives. We all have things that we wish we would not have done, and/or we have had things done to us that we wish had never happened.

One thing about the past—it’s past. And for the most part, we need to let it go. Obviously, there are some things that have happened to some people that are so deep and painful that they need help and counseling and the Lord’s miraculous healing touch to let those things go. I get that. Still we need to let it go.

And by the way, even the good things, we need to leave in the past. If I had been a great high school athlete—I would not want a “Hail Mary Touchdown or a Walk-Off home run” to be the defining moment of my life. I’ve lived nearly 30 years since my high school days; I don’t want to say that the greatest thing that ever happened to me was 30 years ago. When I am 102 (if the Lord let’s me live that long), I do not want to look back at some glory years in the “sweet by and by,” instead I want to be able to say: God is still doing great things in my life. Today is the day that the Lord has made! Our yesterday may have been great, but I always want to be living for a great new day!

I love Paul’s words to the Philippians: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14). I pray that I am always pressing on toward Christ—whether wearing a uni-tard or jeans or a suit and tie I want to be moving forward! (Ok, I have left the uni-tard permanently behind).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guard Rails and Speed Bumps

If you drive onto the hallowed grounds of Central Church this Sunday via the west entrance you will notice that there will be a shiny new guard rail where there was once only rocks and shrubbery. Moreover, in the next week or two there will also be a couple of speed bumps were there was once only smooth pavement.

Why the guard rail and speed bumps?

As you know, at the end of the hairpin turn that is the west entrance there is a ten to fifteen foot drop into a beautiful retaining pond that is usually less “pond” and more mud. Unfortunately over the years not only has there been mud, native Kansan grasses and occasionally water in our “pond,” there has also been a Toyota and a Ford. Don McLean could have sung: “We have a Chevy in our levy.” Down through the years, a few drivers thinking of themselves as Mario Andretti on the streets of Monte Carlo have gone too fast, and subsequently went “over the hilltops and through the woods” landing not at grandmother’s house but in the mud at the bottom of our retention pond.

We have tried to encourage slower speeds. Last summer when we resurfaced the parking lot, the parking lot resurfacing guys put into the tar mixture a “secret ingredient” (read: a handful or two of sand) that was supposed to make the entrance a little less slick. I’m not a “parking-lot-ologist” and I do not recall how much extra we paid for the “secret ingredient” but it is safe to say—it didn’t quite do the trick. We spray painted on the pavement the word “SLOW.” Apparently, the wannabe racers do not read. We have put up signs that say “No thru traffic” (Maybe we needed to be more specific by having them read: “Hey Speed Racer! If you are passing through our parking lot because you are trying to avoid the traffic light at Rosehill and 87th Street we would prefer that you not use our parking lot as a short cut. But if you must go through our parking lot-- please do not race around the corner or you will end up in our retention pond and that will not make us happy one bit and we might even wish a pestilence of Biblical proportions to besiege thy underarms—all in a Christian kind of way.” Of course, that’s a lot of words to put on a road sign and besides, if the would-be speedy short cut drivers can’t read the word “SLOW” could we really expect them to comprehend “Pestilence”? Probably not.

In all humility, I must tell you that I have driven on the west entrance as much as anyone in the last four and one half years. And not one time, not once, have I even bumped the curb. Please do not take this to mean that I am bragging of my driving prowess (my garage door, the lady driver in her 2004 Ford Mustang who mysteriously appeared behind me as I was backing out of a space in Hy-Vee’s parking lot, and my insurance agent will confirm that I drive more like a demolition driver than a NASCAR driver), still I have not taken “Black Betty” (my 2002 Chevy Impala) flying off the edge. I am not sure how drivers end up in the waterless pond at the end of the west entrance… but they do.

So tomorrow we will have rails and next week bumps (Sounds like a medical condition, doesn’t it?). I am not a fan of rails and bumps. I wish we didn’t have to take such measures. But I am also not a fan of cars at the bottom of the west entrance. It really causes an ethical dilemma to our Sunday School counters (If they intended on being in Sunday School and they are on church property do they count in Sunday School if they are sitting at the bottom of the church’s retention pond?) Sometimes, the best way to avoid trouble is to put in road blocks and guard rails and speed bumps that force one to slow down and stay on the right road.

What is true on our west entrance is also true in life. Sometimes we need to build in guard rails and speed bumps into our life. If life has been more like a rat race lately (emphasis on the word “race”), then put in a necessary speed bump you might slow down and enjoy the important things in life. And if unwanted worries, habits and temptations are trying to creep into your life, build a guard rail.

Jesus said to guard against hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and greed (Luke 12:15), and Paul simply said, “Be on your guard.” (1 Corinthians 13:16). To guard one’s heart and mind takes some intentionality. It doesn’t just happen. It’s not wishful thinking. If we sat around and said, “I sure hope no more cars go into our pond,” more than likely next week we’d be pulling out another Honda. And if you say, “I sure hope the sin that always is messing me up doesn’t tempt me anymore” then more than likely before long you will fall into the same old ugly pattern. So build a guard rail. Don’t go to that website. Don’t visit that store. Don’t wallow in that bitterness. Don’t dwell on that discouragement. Don’t put yourself in a place where you will fall off the same cliff again and again.

When the pace of life is going a little too fast, speed bumps are necessary tools to keep us on the right road. And when bad habits and temptations are trying to gain entrance into our life, guard rails can keep us out of the mud. All this to say, our west entrance isn’t the only place where guard rails and speed bumps are needed!