Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday Morning Musings ...

The last Monday of the year. Which amazingly made yesterday the last Sunday of the year. Funny how that works. Yesterday felt somewhat disjointed. I think some of it had to do with having all of the Christmas decorations down in our worship center. That just made things feel rather stark and bare. We were missing some musicians which impacted our singing during worship. Our attendance was down from the previous Sundays, but it was 18-20 above the last Sunday of last year, so that is not bad. Even with all of that it was still a good day. The Spirit was good during the entire worship service, we had a good time of prayer, I didn't blow the message (hey, it has happened before) and people really hung around to talk with each other after the service. That is a great sign of good atmosphere in a church.

Last evening a young adult lady from our church shared about her mission experience. She is 3 months into a 10-12 month missions trip in Germany. She is part of a team that is helping to launch a new church in Germany. I love that we are beginning to become a sending church. We have helped send off 4 people in past 18 months on missions trips ranging from 6 weeks to 11 months in length. They have gone to the Middle East, South Africa and Germany. We are to be about reaching the world, next door and across the waters. I pray that the spirit of missions will continue to grow in our congregation and that we will see increasing numbers of people going on short and long term trips.

Friday evening I had the priviledge of baptizing an older man who, because of physical reasons, cannot participate in our regular times of baptism at outdoor ponds. He is older and recently has acknowledged his faith in Christ and began to ask questions about baptism. He had his kids and grandkids there to be his witnesses and it was a special time. My favorite part was seeing the look on his wife's face after the event.

Don't give up on people you are praying for, you never know when they may make their decision. Baptisms and baby dedications are a couple of my favorite things in ministry.

Here's hoping that you have a great New Year's Eve and can enjoy the memories of the evening tomorrow. Here's hoping that you will sense God's presence in a fresh way this year. Here's hoping that more people will come to faith in Christ this year as a result of my life, witness and ministry.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Now What?

That is a common question that comes to mind even if it is not voiced just after Christmas. This is fairly common after events that had a lot of build up, and Christmas certainly has a lot of build up. From exchanging Christmas lists, decorating, shopping, making travel plans, cleaning the house if you are hosting the celebration and the anticipation of the event itself. So asking the question, “Now what?”, seems appropriate.

There are many parts to the “now what?”. There is what to do with all the decorations and when to do it. (In my wife’s case the answer is as long as possible after Christmas because she loves Christmas decorations.) There is what to do with all the cards and letters you received, to save or not to save, and if saving for how long? (What is the proper etiquette regarding Christmas card saving length?) There is what to do with the tree when you take it down, and out in the case of a real one. There is what to do with all the clog of needles that comes next. (This year we may have an alltime record of needle piles and therefore clogs.) There is what to do now that life is back to just your family and everyone else has gone back to their respective dwellings. There is what to do with the remainder of kids Christmas vacation. (Is it just me, or is it really only the adults who worry about this one?)

These are all legitimate concerns. There is another one that I want to address, that is the “what now?” of the Christmas story itself. What will you do with the Christmas story now that the 25th has passed? What will you do with the “Christmas spirit” now that it is no longer Christmas?

I believe that we should never “put away” the Christmas story or spirit. These are not to be packed in the basement with the other decorations. These are to be shared all year long. So what will you do with them as you put away the other symbols of Christmas this year? (By the way are we supposed to be recycling Christmas tree needles?)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Musings ...

This Monday is a very special Monday. Not only is it Christmas Eve, all of my kids and grandkids are here with us. They all arrived on Friday and Saturday, 9 of the 10 were in church with us yesterday. For some reason my son thought he needed to go home to his church for worship, since he is an Associate Pastor there, I guess I understand.

Yesterday was a very special day. The fact that nearly all of my family was in attendance was just part of the reason it was special It was special because it was the "Christmas Sunday", it was special because there was a good spirit in the service, it was special because we had a good attendance, it was special because we a brand new family in attendance and the greatest reason it was special was because we had people who accepted Christ as their Savior at the end of the service! It just doesn't get any better than that.

Our Christmas Musical that had to be rescheduled because of last Sunday's storm went very well on Friday evening. The choir and drama group did very well. The message was strong and really came through clearly. The place looked great and the desserts (it was a dessert buffet with the musical) were wonderful and we had an abundance of them. Our attendance was 220, that was below the 300+ we were hoping for on our original night, but was outstanding considering having to move it and with all of the other options we were up against. More than half of those attending were not from our church and many, if not most, were unchurched!

Here's hoping you have a great Christmas. I have already had a great Christmas and it is going to keep getting better. Merry Christmas and remember, there is "good news of great joy", a Savior has been born to you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas 1975 ...

The place was Kankakee (actually Bourbonnais) Illinois. It was our first Christmas as a married couple, we had one Christmas as a dating couple (we got engaged about a month later), but this was our first as Mr. & Mrs. I was still a full-time student at Olivet Nazarene and I was still playing Basketball. Jody was working either at a nursing home or at Olivet, I can't remember exactly when she switched from the Nursing home to the college. We were living in what was affectionately, sometimes not so affectionately, known as "Trailerville". It was a small area of 3 short streets that had nothing but mobile homes and nothing but Olivet married students occupying said trailers. We had been married just a little over 4 months as we celebrated Christmas. Jody had done a fine job of decorating our trailer, which was no easy task with the awful aqua colors of the countertops, oven, fridge and kitchen sink. I was working part-time as a shoe salesman while a student and basketball player. Our monthly trailer payment was $85 and $15 for lot rent which included trash pick up.

It was a magical time. I remember our celebration at the trailer with just the 2 of us, we went to my parents and Jody's parents as well. To be honest I don't remember much of the Christmas at the parents other than it was great to be with family. But I can still picture the time we sat on the floor in front of our little tree and exchanged a couple of presents. It was a magical time.

This year we will share our 33rd Christmas together. There will be 12 of us this time, and the home is much nicer and much bigger. The tree is bigger and better decorated, but it is still crooked and already all dried out, but I am still celebrating with the love of my life. The bonus is that I get to share it with 10 other people whom I love more than I can express. We will not be with any of our parents. This will be the 28th Christmas without Jody's Dad and the 8th without her Mom, and it will be the 21st one without my Mom. My Dad and stepmom will be in Kansas City, but all of them will be in our thoughts and prayers.

Many things have changed since 1975, a lot less hair and some more of me to love (hey it is touching moment don't ruin it with a snicker). We have been in several places and a few different states through the years, but we are still celebrating the awesome truth of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ above all eles. We are still together and loving each other. There many loved who are not with us and whom we miss greatly. There are many new ones in our family and I cannot imagine life without any one of them.

I am blessed and am looking forward to a very Merry Christmas. Here's hoping you will have contact with ones you love and will remember the real reason for the season. Have a Blessed Christmas and be sure to share it with someone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anticipating ...

Anticipation is a powerful thing and there are few times in a year when anticipation is higher than now. We are just a handful of days away from Christmas and anticipation is growing with each passing day. It used to be that the anticipation was for the presents Iwas going to receive. As I got a little bit older the presents I would receive were still a source of great anticipation, but so were the presents that I had chosen for others. I began to appreciate the joy of giving and seeing the look of surprise, happiness or on occasion confusion. The anticipation continues to this day on the presents I have chosen, okay the presents my wife and I have chosen, to give to others. I look forward to seeing joy on the faces of those who will open the presents. Having grandchildren has greatly increased the anticipation of watching my family as the presents are opened. To be honest I don't think much about what I might receive, although as my grandchildren get older and begin to have more of a hand in personally choosing presents for me that is fun. But again it is watching their faces as I open the present and then listen to the rationale as to why they chose that particular present for me.

But the greatest antcipation these days is the time that I will be able to spend with my children (that includes those who married my kids) and grandchildren. We will have another first Christmas this year. It will be our 9 month old grandson's first Christmas. It will also be my oldest grandson's first Christmas as a double digit (he recently turned 10).

With all of the anticipation that have as we celebrate Christmas, I was trying to imagine the heightened anticipation that Joseph and Mary must have had that first Christmas. Knowing that the Messiah was to be born any day, knowing that they were out of town and had no real place to stay and knowing that there was so much they didn't know about this child they were about to receive. How high must their anticipation have been?

My anticipation needs to include the realization of sheer joy of the Christmas message. That "a Savior has been born" to me and you. That this is "good news of great joy". That I need to continue to react as the shepherds did on that first Christmas. I need to hurry to learn more about him and to spontaneously tell others about what I have seen and heard about this Savior.

So what are you anticipating this Christmas?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Best & Worst Christmas Songs...

My buddy Rob had a recent post where he listed his favorite and least favorite Christmas songs. He challenged others to post theirs as well. So here goes...

Little Drummer Boy (I wore out the record when I was a kid. A record was kind of like a really big CD for all you young bucks.)

Mary Did You Know?

Bethlehem Morning

(honorable mention: Jingle Bell Rock)

Least Favorites:
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Up on the Housetop

So what is your list? Let me know.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Morning Musings ...

This monday morning it is difficult to give much a review of Sunday's services, because we didn't have any. A storm came through Saturday evening and Sunday morning and shut most everything down. So for only the 3rd time in my over 24 years of pastoral ministry I cancelled a Sunday morning service. It is only fair to say that the first time I did it was illegal for anyone to be on the road unless you were a law enforcement or emergency vehicle. This one wasn't that bad, but it was bad enough. The worst part was calling off our evening service, because it was to have been our Adult Christmas Musical. We had nearly 300 tickets taken for the event. We have rescheduled it for this Friday night, but the chances of the the big crowd is unlikely now. The crowd part is important because of who our people were inviting. Many of those tickets were the hands of people who don't know Jesus as their Savior.

So we are praying for many of them to still be able to make it this Friday and for those who couldn't have come last night to now come, we have already had a call for a couple of tickets now that it is this Friday.

I was literally in tears and sick to my stomach when I made the call to cancel the services. I hate to cancel, and usually operate that if I can get to the church we will have church for whoever else can get here safely. But even people who plow out our parking lot said that it was really bad all around us.

Someone was kind enough to snow blow out about 2/3 of my driveway. That was much appreciated. I shoveled the other third. It was good exercise and helped me to work off some energy, remember I didn't get to preach yesterday. There was about 10 inches of snow in my driveway and it didn't finish coming down until sometime after noon. I got to take a nap yesterday and because I wasn't all keyed up at the end of the day I was asleep a couple of hours earlier than normal.

So did you have any stories from the snow in your area? Here's hoping that you have a great week.

P.S. In answer to the question of did I learn anything from yesterday's experience? Yes, I need a new snow shovel with a longer handle and I love whoever it was that cleared most of my driveway.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Wonder of it All ...

How much do you enjoy seeing the look of wonder or awe on a young child's face as encounter the sights and sounds of Christmas? The sheer joy of a very young child, who just at the sight of a brightly wrapped box being handed to them, is a moment of irresistable smiling by all. This picture of wonder, awe and joy is part of the whole Christmas experience. But why does it seem to be mainly the children who have this wonder?

I am blessed because my wife has always maintained her wonder and awe of Christmas. She absolutely loves decorating for Christmas. If it were just up to her she would begin decorating around the beginning of October. She has been known to keep some of the Christmas decor up until around Easter. But I am talking about more than the trees, lights, garland and all the other stuff that we use at Christmas. I am referring to the the wonder and awe of Christmas. Of the Christmas story, of the birth of a Savior, of the "good news" being revealed to stinky shepherds in a field, of laying the baby in an animal feeding trough, of the star, of the Wise men and of the realization that this true and is for eveyone. That is the wonder and awe I am talking about.

How much wonder or awe are having this Christmas season? Here's hoping that you will have some great moments of true wonder and some awe inspiring moments this Christmas season. I have had a couple and am actively looking for more. If nothing else I know that when all of my kids and grandkids gather at our home there will some great moments of wonder as I watch them all and thank God for all blessings he has given.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What are you tied, or bound, to?

So what are you bound, or tied, to? I am not talking about obligations in the tradition sense of the word, but rather what have you chosen to be bound, or tied, to? Let me just get right to the point, in Matthew 9:37-38 it says, "Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'" Jesus makes this statement after being out among a large number of peoples in a variety of settings. In a preceding verse he notes that the people were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd". Jesus saw the needs of the people all around him and he urged his followers to ask/pray that more people would become workers among these people. The needs are just as plentiful and people just as "harassed and helpless" as they were when Jesus spoke these words. But what does it mean to ask/pray for these needs?

As I have studied I have come to understand that the word we translate "ask" or "pray" in Matthew 9:38 carries the meaning of "to beg as binding oneself". That gives me a much stronger picture than just ask or pray. Therefore when Jesus says "Ask (or pray) the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." he is urging us to make sure we are bound, or tied, to the request. Also, to add the image of begging for this need adds greater urgency and passion to the request.

So, are you binding yourself to your prayers? Especially your prayers for the lost and for workers among the lost? It would seem to me that to be bound to this request implies that I am involved in meeting this need. Not just in asking and hoping that someone meet the need, but asking that someone join me in meeting this need. How different would you pray if you thought of yourself as "bound" to your prayers?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Slippery Monday Morning Musings ...

Everyone is slipping and sliding along this morning. Schools are closed because of the ice on the roads. It began early Sunday morning and then got worse late in the morning. With the prediction of bad weather,especially ice, I expectated a low attendance. We had our children's Christmas program as a part of our morning worship. The kids were very cute and did a nice job. The storyline of the program was clever. It had some secret agents from different countries who heard about the baby king being born and were sent to make sure that their country claimed him. Then they all discovered that this king came for everyone. It was very well received. I did a wrap up of the story and invited people to make their own decision to accept Christ for themselves. We had several children involved in the program which was really encouraging to see. There was a great spirit of expectation and excitement in the air. That seems to always happen at a children's program. Then there was the attendance. Not low at all, in fact it was the highest we have had all year. It was even larger than we had on Easter.

We have been seeing our attendance gradually growing during this church year, but yesterday was a big surprise to me. A pleasant surprise, but still a surprise.

In the evening we were supposed to have an open house at our place and my Associate Pastor's home. It was our way of saying "Thank you" to the congregation for their support, prayers and encouragement throughout the year. My wife and my associate's wife had been planning for a while, and I know we (mainly my wife) had done a lot of work at our house to get ready. We had purchased Christmas plates, cups and stuff and food for people to enjoy. We went with it anyway, despite the weather and had a decent turnout. It was a good time of fellowship.

So this week is full, with getting ready for our adult musical, that is also a dessert buffet. We are using tickets this year, they are free, to give us a prediction of numbers to make sure we have enough seating and desserts. The number of tickets that have been taken would make our attendance about 100 more than last year. We are scrambling to figure out how to seat everyone at tables and make sure they can see the performance. It is exciting and nerve racking at the same time. But what a great opportunity to reach a large number of people with the message of the gospel.

Here goes, hope your week is full of joy and that you share that joy with others.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What Makes You Smile?

I am smiling as I type this post, but posting on my blog doesn't generally cause me to smile. The smile is the result of reading the comments that family members made to my post about Christmas Trees earlier this week. But I wouldn't say that reading comments on blog always make me smile either. So what does make me smile?

... seeing my wife
... thinking of my family
... my grandkids, seeing them, hearing them, thinking of them, reading things about them or from them...
... hearing my grown kids talk about simple things they are facing and remembering when they didn't want to listen while I tried to explain it to them when they were younger.
... hearing kids laugh
... listening to the testimonies of people just before they are baptized
... dedicating babies in church
... seeing people come to a saving knowlege of Christ as their personal savior
... watching young kids play almost any sport
... seeing the sheer joy on the face of a parent when their child has just been born (and realizing the sheer terror that is somewhere behind that smile)
... Christmas carols
... hearing the words "Cubs Win!"
... my fantasy baseball draft (only 3 and a half months away)
... hearing my wife's voice
... seeing people in my church have those "Aha!" spiritual moments
... the sight of a large Turtle Sundae
... anytime I grill a meal
... seeing good friends
... thinking of my wife
... knowing that all of my kids, and kids by marriage, love the Lord
... remembering family gatherings at my grandparent's house
... the realization that Jesus Christ came so that I can have life, abundant, triumphant and eternal life

So what makes you smile?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Christmas Tree ...

I love Christmas trees, they are one of my favorite parts of Christmas decorations. The whole story is that I much prefer a real Christmas tree. I like the smell, the less than perfect shape and especially the hunt to find the one you really want. As soon as our kids were old enough to have an opinion about it, they helped me pick out the tree. It was our tradition that the kids and I would go out to find the right tree, my wife would stay home and make sure all of the decorations were ready and then we came home with the "perfect" tree and would decorate it together. The kids all had a pile of their own decorations they would put on the tree, we had some other family ornaments and I was responsible for the lights. We always had Christmas carols playing while we decorated the tree, there was always some arguing about the ownership of certain ornaments and after the kids went to bed my wife would even out the decorations on the tree. After we finished decorating the tree, we would all go outside and look at the tree through the front window, then we eat hot dogs and marshmallows. The food part always worked better when we had a fireplace, we would roast the hot dogs and the marshmallows.

The stories that came from those special nights nearly always revolve around the fate of the tree. We seemed to have a wonderful ability to find a tree that was perfectly straight, well rounded and full without holes. Then during the transport of the tree home something magical happened. When I would put it in the tree stand it was no longer straight, not so round and there were often some huge holes. I would have to weigh the tree stand to keep the tree upright, we would have to mover the tree around to hide the holes and more than once I had to tie the tree to something else to keep it from falling over. In fact one year our tree fell over 3 times, the last one after it was completely decorated.

Those were great memories. My kids are all out of the house and have their own places, they get their own trees and are building their own traditions. Now the wife and I go pick out the tree together, there is little arguing and it goes a lot faster. I loved those tree picking and decorating nights, but I still have the memories and now I listen as my kids and grandkids begin telling their own stories.

By the way our tree looks really good this year. But I don't know if it will make it through the whole season, needles are already falling. Some traditions live on.

Monday, December 03, 2007

What Makes You Cry?

I am somewhat of a crier, as a kid I would fight back tears at emotional shows or movies and as an adult I have been known to tear up at moving testimonies or while preaching. I had a great example growing up that it was okay for a man to cry, but not to be a crybaby. The example was my Dad, he would sometimes preach with tears streaming down his face, but he didn't seem to cry from pain, with the possible exception of when he had kidney stones. But I was thinking today of makes people cry.

Okay, I admit that I started thinking about it because I had tears in my eyes several times the few days. To put it in perspective I am not likely to cry at pain(which isn't always smart), but I do cry when someone I love is hurting. The tears came as I have thought about people in my area who don't know Christ as their personal Savior. Tears have flowed as I have watched some people around hurting, as I have watched some who are settling for shallow spiritual lives and as I have been reading about how much the church seems to get all worked up about superficial things but viritually ignore the lost around them.

William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury said, "The church is the only organization organized primarily for the benefit of its non-members." But it seems that we often forget our purpose and get caught up in what those who already know Christ want for themselves, instead of what sacrifices are needed to reach the lost around us.

Which is more likely to bring tears to your eyes? A dent on your car, or the marriage of a friend breaking up? A change in the style of worship at your church, or seeing that your neighbor has no use for God or the church? Having your church's holiday dinner postponed, or hearing of a neighbor who lost their job? Not getting elected to a leadership position at your church, or seeing a youth making wrong choices in their life?

The Lord has really been working on my heart and mind about all of this stuff. As a pastor I get caught up in the "workings" of church and sometimes forget to be the church. I am beginning to see that may bring a tear to the Lord's eye. I want to be more like Christ, who cried at the death of loved one and the pain he saw it caused in others and he cried as he saw the lost and confused of Jerusalem.

P.S. I was just interrupted in typing this blog by 2 families that need food from our Food Pantry. Their needs all around us. Lord keep me sensitive to the real needs of those around me.

(Frosty) Monday Morning Musings ...

Winter has decided that now is the time to make an entrance. On Saturday evening we had an interesting mix of rain/snow/sleet that made for a slick drive to church on Sunday morning. Gave new meaning to "sliding into church", or maybe that phrase never had any meaning. Then it warmed up and rained a lot on Sunday taking all of the aforementioned stuff away. This morning it was a very chilly walk to church and it has snowed a little since then. But it is December and it is Michigan.

Yesterday was another good day. Our worship service was good. Time of singing was good with a very good spirit. The message went much better this week and I love preaching at Christmas. Our attendance was down from the big number of last Sunday but was still reasonable, especially given the first taste of winter weather and we had a lot of illness in our families. We had some first time visitors and others appear to be becoming regular attenders.Their was good fellowship and lingering after the worship service, which is a very good sign. In the evening my wife and I participated in the community Hospice service of "Lights of Love". It is an annual event of lighting a christmas tree in remembrance of loved ones who have died. My wife sang, she did very well by the way, and I shared a couple of thoughts and prayed. It is a very meaningful gathering. Then I hustled back and finished up our regular evening service.

On Saturday our men's and women's ministries had separate hunting expeditions. A few ladies headed out to a larger nearby town to go shopping. 17 men gathered in a nearby field to go pheasant hunting. The ladies claim they had a good time and they purchased a few items. The men had a great time and claimed a lot more pheasants than the presents the ladies were after. All in all, both groups had a great time and want to do it again. For the record, I got a couple of pheasants myself. Yes that means I shot them, I am really starting to get into this hunting thing.

Here's hoping you have a great week and that you get what you are after this week. Mainly, I pray that you get a renewed sense of the hope that is in Christmas. That hope is in the person of Jesus Christ. Have you accepted Him as your personal savior?