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!