Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday's Thoughts ...

I love to read. My parents inspired me and I was fortunate to have some early elementary teachers who encouraged this love. My mom and dad always had 2 or 3 books going and laying around the house. They would often sit together in the evening and read, each in their own book and then talk about what they were reading. They often gave me books for my birthday or christmas as I grew up. They were smart enough not to just give me books, but there was usually a book that I was interested in among the gifts. They didn't criticize me when in upper elementary and junior high school I read almost nothing but stories about sports. Instead they gave me books about sports. At one time I think I had the whole "Chip Hilton" series of books. Chip was a good athlete who grew up in a single parent home, had to work part-time all through school and was a star athlete. He and his friends also helped solve a few crimes along the way as well. I loved those books. Sometime after I left for college, or when I got married, my mom gave the whole set to one of my nephews. Boy do I wish I had those books now. One they might be worth some money, but more importantly maybe my grandkids would enjoy them.

I still read today, it was a great habit for life and especially for ministry. Early in my time as a pastor I got criticized by some pastor friends who said I was spending too much time reading. They didn't understand how I could read so many books and still get all my other stuff done. I remember calling my dad and asking him about this, and his answer has stuck with me. He said, "I imagine that those guys rarely use a quote or thought from anyone else in their sermons. Keep reading for your sake and the sake of your congregation." So I have kept reading.

Currently I have 3 books that I am in the stages of reading. One of them is "3 Seconds" by Les Parrot, the subtitle is "The Power of Thinking Twice". This one has really captured my attention and imagination, I am sure it will get finished before the other two. It is based on research that shows how can get programmed in our thinking that we don't give other options a second thought, but if we would pause for 3 seconds and let another idea pop up we often will see a solution and avoid some difficult stuff. 3 seconds is longer than you think, every advertiser knows they have 3 seconds to grab your attention or you will not give their ad, or product, a second thought. Every newspaper editor knows they have 3 seconds to grab your attention or you won't read the rest of the article and on it goes. I am fascinated by this so far.

Another book is "The Deity Formerly Known as God" by Jarrett Stevens. It is about the images we often create of God and how they can distort the truth and cause us to make bad decisions. It is somewhat of a rewrite of a classic by J.B. Phillips entitled "Your God is Too Small". I am furtherest along in this one compared to the other two. It is very good and each chapter sort of stands alone so it is a great book to read and put down for a while because when you come back you don't have to try and remember all the stuff you have already read.

The third book is "The Three Hardest Words" by Leonard Sweet. (I didn't think about it until now that 2 of the books have the number 3 in the title. Wonder what that says about me? Maybe there is a book that will tell me...) Leonard Sweet is one of my favorite authors. He always challenged me, prompts me to really think and examine some part of my life. He really breaks down the phrase "I love you" and ties it to many areas of your life. The "I" he writes is "receiving a new identity". The "Love" is "receiving a new integrity". The "You" is "receiving a new intimacy". I got this one initially to do some research for a future sermon series, but has become much more than research.

I also some of a newspaper nearly every day, as well as some online news stuff and some sports magazines every week. Did I mention that I love to read?

Here's hoping you find something that captures your attention and imagination and read it this week. Here's hoping I have inspired some others to read a little more. Here's hoping I can keep reading for however long I am around. Here's hoping that your most precious book is God's Word, the Bible.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monday's Musings...

Holiday weekend Sundays are often difficult. Usually attendance is down, often the feeling is kind of flat and people are often interested in getting out of there quickly to get to their holiday plans. I must admit that yesterday had very little of those things. The spirit was not flat at all even though we a major technical glitch. Attendance was much better than expected. There was a little of the "let's get out of here" sense when the service was done, but it was not bad. Overall, it was a very good holiday Sunday. The series on relationships is being very well received.

On the personal side, the wife and I enjoyed having our Son-in-law, youngest daughter and newest grandchild with us for the weekend. It had been a month, or a more, sense I had last seen my grandson. He is now over 11 weeks old. He has changed a lot in the last month. He has grown and is now over 13 pounds. He is much more alert and aware, he smiles, coos and does his own version of talking at times. He has a healthy set of lungs as evidenced when he was real happy. It was so much fun to see him, hold him, watch him and have him sleep on my shoulder.

We played games, ate too much and enjoyed the weekend.

Here's hoping you had some enjoyable and relaxing time this weekend. Here's to getting back at it tomorrow.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

He is Growing ...

Our youngest grandchild is here for a weekend visit, his parents came along as well. It has been a month since I have seen him and he has really grown during that time. Given that he is less than 3 months old it is expected that I would see noticeable growth in a month. Not just in his size, but he is so much more aware of his surroundings and responding to what he sees and hears. He is now really smiling and talking, albeit in his own language but he is intense when he is communicating with you. It is so much fun to see the changes and enjoy the growth.

That got me to thinking about growth in general. We expect nothing less than growth from a child and would be concerned if he was not growing. We would probably insist on taking him to a doctor and have him tested to see why he is not growing. So why do we accept it when we are no longer growing as christians, or in our relationships, or when a church is stagnant? I hear your reactions, "it is just not the same", "you can't compare a child to an adult, or to a church" or "you can't measure these other things". I respectfully and vehemently disagree with those reactions. I believe there are ways to tell if you are growing spiritually, there are tangible ways to measure if a church is growing numerically and spiritually and you know if your relationships are growing, stagnant or declining.

It is not for lack of ability to measure, I believe it is because we do not like the results of the measurements. But I am very bothered by the lack of concern about growing period. I am troubled by the fact that we can just shrug our collective shoulders and say it is no big deal. I am fearful that I may be doing the same thing personally.

I believe that I should be continually growing in own spiritual life, in my relationships and that the church I pastor should be growing. So what should I do?

Evaluate - do some inventory and comparison of myself and my church.
Be honest - don't just puff up your evaluation, but look at it honestly and openly.
Ask God to show you how you are doing - trust me, He will show you if ask.
Change areas that God shows you - don't ask and then sit still
Look beyond yourself - we generally staganate when we become only concerned with ourselves, we grow when we look to help and reach others.
Speak up - don't just sit there and mutter about the need for growth, speak up. There are probably others who just waiting for someone to show that they care.
Seek help - if you can't make the necessary changes yourself, or if you cannot honestly evaluate these areas ask someone else to do it for you. There are a lot of resources available for growth in any of the areas I have mentioned
Celebrate growth - be a cheerleader for growth. When you see someone growing, let them know that you have noticed and encourage them to keep growing.
Have fun - one of the best ways to grow is to enjoy life, enjoy your relationships, enjoy your church and growth will be so much easier.

Here's hoping if you see me in a month you will be able to tell that I am growing (not physically, I have enjoyed that one a little too much recently). Here's hoping that you will be growing as well. Here's hoping that our churches will be growing. Here's hoping that you will be growing in your relationships. Here's hoping that we will desire to grow and do what it takes to grow.

P.S. - My grandson is so much fun. I smile whenever I think of any of my grandchildren, so I am smiling a lot this weekend. Happy growing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How much?

Have you purchased any gas lately? (In case you are confused I am speaking of the kind that you put in the fuel tank of your vehicle.) I am in awe of the price. Maybe being Amish has it's benefits. I had to come to a larger town today and planned on buying fuel there given how high it was in my little town. The price is generally higher in our town than some of the larger towns around us. When I got here (I am in a coffee shop typing this at the moment.) the price was higher here than at home and in the past couple of hours while in town the price went up again. I drive a large older car, no car payments and loads of room, which means a bigger gas tank. So to fill it up is now like laying out grocery money for the week.

I am going to drive back home and hope our that one station hasn't jumped their prices yet. At this point what do I have to lose? I am already going to spend a fortune, so why not take the chance. I think it is time to buy a bicycle and use it around our town. I could get in better shape and maybe save some money. At the current gas prices I figure the price a very good bike would be about a tank and a half of gas.

Now I know it is not the gas stations fault, and I don't desire to get into a discussion about whose fault it is, but these prices are going to have an impact on all of us and our churches. Planned trips for the church are now going to cost more and some people are going to think twice about driving to church if they live very far from the church they attend. Pastors are going to be hit with this cost, and I am sure our parishioners (did I spell that correctly?) will not accept us not coming to the hospital for example because gas is too high. If the church pays a pastor's mileage their budget is going up a lot, or the pastor will blow through his allotment well before the end of the year.

Okay, enough venting, I don't like to whine, at least I don't like to whine often, okay I try not to whine every single day.

Here's hoping you are still able to what you need to do and that you are able to find some positive ways to save some miles this summer. Here's hoping that we can all help those who will really be pinched by gas increases. Here's hoping my next blog is more positive.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday Morning Musings ...

As I was typing the headline for this post I thought maybe I should change my monday posts to "Monday's Hangover". But then I realized some of you might get the wrong idea, so I guess we will stick with "Monday Morning Musings" for now. The reason I thought of the phrase Monday's Hangover is that for many pastors Monday morning is a tough time. You are often physically tired from Sunday's events and always emotionally tired. I learned several years ago to not attempt too much that requires complex thinking on Monday mornings. (Not quite sure what that says about writing in a blog.) For me it is a good time to go through attendance stuff, work on some of the upcoming week's schedule, etc... It is not a good time to study or have important meetings. (Of course anyone who has had a Monday morning meeting with me is now trying to figure out what that means for them.)

As for yesterday, it was a very good day. We honored our High School graduates, we had 11 this year. There was a very meaningful time of prayer with the graduates at the altar surrounded by their families. The Spirit was so real during our time of singing and prayer. We had two outstanding special musical numbers, one with choreography (that set off a few pacemakers). There were some who came to the altar following the message. We are in a sermon series on Relationships and Family, I usually do this from Mother's Day to Father's Day each year. Our attendance was good, thanks to a good number of visitors for the graduates.

Then I attended our local High School graduation, the gym was warm so thankfully this was a small graduating class for the school. Then the wife and I went to 2 of our graduates open houses, we had gone to one on Saturday as well. Graduations are always a fun, exciting and encouraging time, at least that is how I view them. The graduate has just finished a long term goal, they are looking forward to the next phase of their life and are excited to be done with high school. Many parents on the other hand seem to view it with great sadness. Frankly I don't understand that view. As parents we are raising our children from birth to be able to make it on their own. So why be sad when they accomplish such a big step in that direction? Oh well, I guess I need to make that the subject of entire post at some point.

Here's hoping you are looking forward to something special this week. If not, then plan something.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Random Thoughts ...

Maybe this is not true for you, but for me the lighter the color of pants or shirt I am wearing the more likely I am to spill on that article of clothing. Today I am wearing a tan pair of pants and the shirt is dark, I have spilled mustard and coffee on my pants with nary a drop on my shirt. (No the coffee and mustard were not together. The mustard was on a sandwich and the coffee was later in the afternoon.)

Crisis, or is it crises, or maybe crisises,(don't write and tell me I really don't care) never seem to come at a convenient time. Yesterday morning I received a call from our local school telling me of an emergency at the school and that they would be bringing all their students to the church within minutes. Don't panic, we are there emergency location so have arrangements for this sort of thing. It is just that it was a Wednesday, a lot goes on around here on Wednesdays and I had an out of town appointment for the church in the morning and a noon meeting. But I guess if it weren't inconvenient we wouldn't call it a crisis.

Whenever I am at the church alone and need to go to the restroom someone always or the phone always rings. Well, maybe not always, but I am the one whining here so I declare that it is always. (On your blog you can say the way you want to, but on my blog I will exaggerate if I want.)

I imagine that many of you have increased your prayers for my wife after reading my blog, haven't you? I am not offended by that, as a friend recently reminded me I definitely married up. Or I got much better than I deserved. Or I am very fortunate. Or I am a heck of a salesman to convince her to spend her life with me. Personally I like the last statement the best.

I don't think God intended people to eat liver or coconut. (Hey, I told you these are random thoughts, what did you expect?)

I am always amazed at how many excuses we can make for why churches don't grow.

I love my wife!

I am very proud of my kids.

I have awesome grandkids!

I am way to young to have 5 grandkids. Of course I was just a teenager when I got married...

I am a terrible golfer. But I am a generous person and a good steward when I golf. I always leave extra golf balls on the course for other golfers to have when I leave. Of course these are usually out of bounds, in trees or under water. I am a good steward because I swing more often than the good golfers and see more of the course therefore getting more for my money than those who don't swing as often and hit in the fairways.

You shouldn't try to eat cheese after it has an added smell. (Trust me, the salad I made last night just didn't taste right. Maybe that is why I was in the restroom. I should investigate that connection further.)

This post is proof that I should never just get and preach "off the cuff". And all my readers said AMEN!

Here's hoping your random thoughts are not quite as random as mine.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a fair day. We seemed to be just a half-step off at times. With our timing, with our sound and certainly with our attendance. We had several visitors, most were there to be in church with Mom. We had many of our own people missing. Some went to be with their Mom, some had illness or injury and other known reasons. I began a new sermon series on relationships. This is something I have done nearly every year of my ministry, done a series on relationships from Mother's Day to Father's Day. I wasn't satisfied with the message, I felt like I wasn't completely on top of the presentation. Maybe it was missing my wife, whatever it was, I don't like when I come away feeling that way.

My wife got home last night from her excursion (see earlier post about this). I am thrilled that she was able to make this trip, but I am even more thrilled that she is back home. She really likes her Mother's Day gift!

The wedding I did on Saturday went very well. It was an outdoor wedding and the weather was nearly perfect, no one fainted (that is a big deal with me), the father of the bride got his line out, the families like each other and get along well. Those are fun to do. This one had another unusual fun part, the bride had her brother and 3 cousins stand up with her. So inessence these 4 guys were her bridesmaids. They called themselves "the bride's men". At rehearsal they played it up very well, they came dressed in skirts, girl's tops, dangly (how do spell that one?) earrings and necklaces. They made the bride take pictures with her "bride's maids". It was hilarious.

My nephew's wedding went well also. My wife and oldest daughter traveled to Georgia to attend. It was outdoors, but had some less than perfect weather. A neat aspect of the wedding was that another of my nephew's was the minister for the wedding. That just reminds me again of my legacy (see much earlier post on legacy).

Here's hoping you had a great Mother's Day. Here's hoping you were able to express to your Mom, mother of your children or mother-in-law your appreciation for their role in your life. I only have one in that category that I can still contact, both my mom and mother-in-law died some years ago. Here's hoping you have something to look forward to this week.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sometimes it's worth it...

The "it" in the title is pastoral ministry. Today I was reminded again that sometimes it is worth. Actually I have been reminded of this several times recently. I know that some of you are upset with the thought that it is worth it only sometimes. But I am just being honest about this pastor's feelings. I know that ideologically, and theologically it is always worth it, but from the human feelings side of ministry it is a different story. But the great news is that I often, not always, get reminders that it is worth it.

It is worth it when you see and hear people giving their life to Christ. It is worth it when you see people growing in their relationship with Christ and hungry for more. It is worth it when you see people truly burdened for the lost. It is worth it when you see people step up and serve the Lord in some ministry area. It is worth it when you sense excitement in your church over changed lives and the opportunities to servce. It is worth it when you see people sacrifice for others. It is worth it when you hear the sound a herd of children or youth make when they are doing their things at church. It is worth it when you are a part of time of real prayer with others. It is worth it when you get to baptize believers. It is worth it when the people of the church are inviting their neighbors, classmates, co-workers, relatives and whoever to join them in worship. It is worth it when you hear of people you ministered with years ago are still being faithful and making an impact in their church and community. It is worth it when someone you ministered to answers the call to full-time ministry. It is worth it when people are surprised by who is attending your church. It is worth it when you see a marriage come back to life. It is worth it when you have those special times of worship where the Spirit is so evident you can feel His presence. It is worth it when God reminds you of your call. It is worth it when you get to preach the Word of God. It is worth it.

It doesn't seem to be worth when ... maybe I shouldn't go there, at least not today.

Let's just leave it today with the fact that I realize it is worth it, sometimes, and today is one of those times.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

She's Gone...Again

No, not my mind, my wife. She was home for 24 hours after our vacation before taking off again. This time she and our oldest daughter are working their way to Georgia to attend the wedding of one of my nephews. I am not going because I am officiating at a wedding myself this weekend. (Why do we use the term "officiating" for the pastor who leads a wedding ceremony? Isn't that projecting some negative image on the new marriage by using a term normally used for those who try to control athletic contests? Just me thinking again, sorry.) She left on Tuesday so they could go spend some time with all the grandchildren, and their parents and they will be stopping to spend a night with my wife's sister as well.

I can only assume that my wife, just spent 7 uninterrupted days alone with me on vacation, needed a break already. Or maybe she knew that with a full schedule of services this week, a church board meeting tonight, a wedding this weekend and the normal stuff I would be less than bubbly this week so she decided to get away.

Whatever the real reason, she is gone again. So I have no one to complain to, not that I do that very often, and a house to myself, boy this house is big.

They took our car so I am driving my daughter's car. There is a big difference, ours is much big outside and especially inside, I keep banging my knee on the steering column. For now the cell phone will have to be my source of communication and my lifeline with my traveling wife.

If you see my wife, tell her I miss her and make sure she doesn't go any further south than the north part of Georgia.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Vacation How I Loved Thee ...

The wife and I got back from a week of vacation yesterday. We actually arrived home a little after noon, but I was not due back in the office until today so as soon as we unpacked we took off to a bigger town about 20 minutes away. Just to be gone, relax a little longer and catch up on emails. I actually stopped and visited someone in a nursing home while I was there, so I guess my vacation ended there, but the rest of the afternoon was just for us.

My Associate Pastor, my secretary and other leaders must have done a wonderful job while I was gone because I did not return to a pile of work or messages "that only I could answer". That was almost as refreshing as the vacation. Maybe I will use all of my vacation time this year, that is something I haven't done in ... well I don't remember when I have used all of my vacation time. I know that my family is smiling at this one and thinking they will believe it when they see it.

We rented a cottage (more like a house) on a small lake about 2 hours from home. We could see the lake from the house and deck, but had to walk down a small hill and then down 40 steps to get to the dock. Going down was not so bad but coming back up hauling fishing gear and the trolling motor battery was a different story. Exercise is not all it is cracked up to be, at least not on vacation. We fished most mornings and then late afternoons, but there were a couple of days we couldn't due to weather.

We both enjoy fishing, but I believe my wife enjoys it more than I do. That might be because I generally tie all the lures on and take off all the fish no matter who catches them. My wife tells me it is a "boys job". We just have an aluminum row boat and it is interesting to step into and out of the boat. Thankfully there were no video cameras around as entered and exited. We laughed a lot, slept more than normal, ate well (come to think of it I did most of the cooking because it was nearly all on the grill) and enjoyed being away from stuff. We had dinner with some friends in the area one night (which I also grilled) and enjoyed catching up with them. This was our first time to use our boat, a friend gave it to us a big thank you to him, so it was my first time lauching a boat and backing up with a boat and trailer. Again no video cameras, thankfully. I will just let your imagination go with that one (just make sure it includes me grabbing the trailer and moving it by hand often).

We got the opportunity to attend another church on Sunday, that was fun. To be able to soak in and observe with no responsibilities. Attending somewhere else nearly always makes me miss my own church and congregation, this was no exception to this pattern.

It is good to be back. I will write again soon.