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!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


After taking a week away from the computer and the church—I had my annual COK meeting with pastor friends from around the country—I am back. Ready to preach tomorrow. Ready to blog some this week. Ready to tackle the week ahead. Ready to storm the gates of hell and do great things for God!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

De-Cluttering Our Lives

(Written at 6 AM on Tuesday Morning)
I like a clean desk. I think I work better with a clean desk. The cliché is not biblical but it sounds like it: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” So why is my desk so messy?

Currently on my desk are the following items:
• a wrapper from the new computer keyboard I had to purchase (I think the old one might have gotten messed up from crumbs and other assorted things being dropped on it—possibly from eating too many snacks at my desk these last four plus years. Shhhh… to tell our tech guys at church or Karla),
• last Sunday’s worship folder,
• the Michigan license plate holder I received for Christmas three weeks ago (You might be asking: “What’s a license plate holder doing on your desk? It is supposed to be on a car, not on a desk.” Good question.),
• a Christmas card,
• a rock—it was from a sermon I preached where the rock was meant to be like an altar to remind me of the blessings of God. I almost didn’t see it because it was buried underneath a bunch of stuff. (Hmmm… I think there is another sermon in there…)
• a thank you note,
• housing receipts from the last year,
• several books that I used for last Sunday’s sermon,
• the electric outlet adapter set that my friend Mark Lail loaned me for the mission trip to Africa (OK, that’s really bad—it has been sitting on my desk ready to return to Mark since June—JUNE!!!!-- Mark, I apologize and will return it to you soon!),
• napkins from yesterday’s breakfast of champions (a McDonald’s sausage burrito),
• (In the gross but true category) I see lurking behind my computer monitor a finger nail that I clipped who knows when—it’s just laying there laughing at me.
• the wedding program from last Friday’s wedding,
• a McDonald’s “States Avenue” game piece from the Monopoly game from last fall (I didn’t even play the game, I never play those games. So why do I have a game piece on my desk and who put it there?),
• other assorted books, notes, reports and two copies of last Sunday’s sermon—all that should have been filed long before now.
Why do I have junk on my desk, when I really work better with no junk on my desk? I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “”Hmmm… I think I would like to pile my desk high with stuff.” No, it happened one wrapper, one book, and one report at a time.

My desk became messy, the same way that our lives get too cluttered. No one starts out and says, “Wow, I would really like a too busy life: too busy for my family, too busy for devotion time with God, too busy to be effective at work, too busy to look after my health. Being too busy is good.” Who says that? No one I know.

But many of us are too busy. We add something here and something there. Usually they are good things. We have trouble saying “No.” We like to please people—again who doesn’t? So we say yes to this project and yes to the kids wanting to be in bazillion different activities, and then there is the church stuff that we “have to do,” and blah, blah, blah. Until we wake up one morning exhausted from our cluttered life.

Maybe there is a better way.

(Written at 7 AM on Thursday morning)
My desk is cleaner now. The junk has been tossed (including the McDonald’s game piece and the finger nail—who’s laughing now!); the books are where they belong, the adapter is still there but soon Mark will have it returned to him. I feel much better with a cleaner, tidier desk. I am sure I will be more productive!

How did I clean it up? The same way I messed it up—only in reverse. I took care of one item at a time. How will you un-clutter your life—same way: One item at a time.

David recognized that we have this one life to live (sounds like a soap opera), when he wrote:
“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.” Psalm 39:4-5 NLT

Today you will have 24 hours. Me too. Let’s not try to cram 28 hours into our day, instead let’s do the important things, let go of the unimportant and in all things live our lives to the glory of God.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Something to Think about…

Yesterday in the Green Eggs and Ham Sermon, I touched on the issue that I think happens too often for believers who have been on the “inside” for a while. That is-- viewing others as on the “outside.” It is so easy to forget from where we have come. It is easy to lose track of the fact that had God not stepped into our lives we’d be just as messed up as they are. It is easy to become enamored with our standing or our position or even our Christian walk—instead of being enamored by the One who made us well and has given us “every good and perfect gift.”

Let’s be enamored by Jesus. Let’s not forget (as the exiled nation of Israel forgot) that we have been redeemed from nothing and became something. God has made us beautiful, but let’s not love our beauty more than the One that makes us beautiful.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Baby, its cold outside!

Baby, its cold outside!

Usually when I make such a comment my Kansas friends say something like “You are from Michigan; you are supposed to like this kind of weather.” As if all Michigan babies were born in an igloo, used icicles as pacifiers and had snowmen as their obstetricians.

I like to point out that I moved away from the frozen tundra.

Still because of my 40 years as a resident in the Winter Wonderland known as Michigan, I feel that I am qualified to give my non-snow loving Kansas friends a few tips for dealing with the weather we are experiencing.

1) To school administrators: Do not close the schools when you think there might be snow. How is it that Shawnee Mission cancelled school today? As my friend and former Michigan resident Pastor Andy pointed out on his Facebook status: “I can't believe I live in a place that cancels school because a threat of a few inches of snow--- really Kansas? If that was the case in Michigan I'd still be in the 9th grade from snow days.” Preach it, Andy, my brother!

2) To politicians and city planners: You might want to put in the budget enough money to cover more than one snow fall. I know times are tight, but seriously if your snow removal budget is blown before Elvis Pressley’s Birthday (January 8th, of course) then don’t be surprised if your constituents are “All shook up!”

3) To drivers: When there is a dusting of snow on the road, of course, I want you to be careful. But driving 22 miles an hour on a mostly clear highway with only a few snowflakes on it makes you more of a hazard than the two little snowflakes!

4) To drivers (part 2): When coming in the church’s west entrance, it is advisable to go a little slow if the ramp is snow covered. That is neither the time nor the place to think you are James Bond on the streets of Monte Carlo trying to elude the KGB. You will go over the embankment and down the retaining wall and into the frozen pit below. And that is not a good place for a pretend spy in His Royal Majesty’s Service to be.

5) To homeowners: Snowy walks and driveways are meant to be shoveled. That’s why Wal-Mart sells snow shovels and that’s why I have teenage sons. If you do not have the benefit of teenage sons I suggest you rent one for an hour. In renting a teenager, you get all the benefits and none of the hassles, grocery bills or requests for the car keys.

6) To children: Yellow snow is not lemon flavored.

7) To weather forecasters: Two inches of snow is not a blizzard. It is not one of the signs of the apocalypse. It is not necessary to have round the clock emergency coverage. Please, I beg you… end the drama!

8) To everyone crabby about the fluffy white stuff: Take a good look outside and remember the words from Isaiah 1: "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Thanks be to God who has taken our messy, dirty, dingy and drab hearts and can make them pure and white as snow! Why not let the snow be a source of inspiration as to what God has done in your life!

Monday, January 04, 2010

My favorite verse in Genesis

Yesterday in my sermon I mentioned that I had underlined my favorite verse from each of the 66 books in Ben’s new Bible. So each week, I will give you my favorite verse from a Book.

Genesis’ favorite is Genesis 1:27-28: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

The notion that we were created in God’s image blows me away. The power of this verse came to me in a sermon I once heard, when the grammatically challenged preacher said in reference to this verse: “And God don’t make no junk!” That guy might not have passed an English test—but his theology was right on! We are created by God. As such, we are special. We are precious. We have tons of potential because we were made in the image of God!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

One of my 2010 Resolutions is to Blog More

One of my Twenty-Ten (or is it Two Thousand and Ten?) resolutions is to use this blog a bit more than I did in Twenty –OH Nine (now that sounds dumb—I’ve never asked a kid his age and have him reply “I’m oh seven.” But I digress…) My hope is to usually include the e-mail I send out on Thursdays and the devotional thought from the Monday Morning Quarterback that I send to Central’s church board on Mondays (duh), and any other timely, helpful, not so helpful, funny, not so funny things of interest.

So keep checking for the ramblings of Rob…