Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year and Some Specific Challenges

We are less than 11 hours from ringing in a new year as I write this post. In many ways it seems that this year flew by and in some other ways it seemed like this year would never finish. Now I have to try and adjust to write 2009, or 09, and that seems to take longer with each passing year. Some of that is due to the fact that I write fewer and fewer checks each year, and think about it when else do you write out the year?

There were some highlights such as baptism service, baby dedication, seeing new people begin attending, seeing people come to faith in Christ, making a difference in the community and having the community recognize that we are reaching out. There were low moments such begging and begging people to serve and having them just sit there, having to combine some classes because of lack of willing people, losing a very good associate, not having the numerical growth that I thought we should have, seeing so many people hurt by the economic downturn in our area and seeing so much spiritual apathy.

Some things I hope to accomplish this coming year. Read clear through the Bible 2 times in 09. Pray at least 5 hours a week. Read at least 25 books this year. Find a pastoral accountability partner. Win my fantasy baseball league. (Not all my goals are spiritual.) Lose 25-30 pounds by the first volleyball practice in August. (The goal is to get below 200 and I am not sure if that means 25 or 30 pounds as of today.) Preach with greater passion and better preparation. (Don't worry I know how to measure this one.)

I am sure I will add to the list in the coming days. What challenges are you going to embrace this year?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is your theme?

Nearly every year of my 26 years of ministry I have prayed and asked God to direct me to a verse that would be my verse for that year and therefore a theme for that year. Many of those years I shared that verse and theme with the church I was pastoring and it became the church's theme for that year. I generally challenege my congregation to find a verse for the year. Let God direct you to a verse. Sometimes the reason for that verse is obvious at the moment I am directed to it and other years the real meaning shows up later in the year.

I am in the process of wrestling through the verse/theme for this coming year. Something really hit me a week ago, that was a whole different direction than I had been sensing up until that moment. As I have been studying, praying and thinking the past 2 to 3 weeks I believe the verses and theme are going to be different that I thought 3 weeks ago.

One of my favorites was a few years ago with the theme "What's It To Ya?" The premise was considering the things that are important to Christ, "What's it to ya?" Does it really matter to you? We had a lot of fun using that theme in messages and worship. We had pens made up with the saying, we mugs with the saying and my worship pastor wrote a theme song for it. Using the mugs and pens prompted a lot of people to ask questions and opened doors for some great conversations.

A few other themes from past years that come to mind are "Yes We Can, Because He Will", "See a New Thing", "Remember the Lord" and "Live It". Each one has had some unique qualities and fun moments. Also some of them resonated with a congregation and sometimes there was resistance to the theme.

I will lay out the theme on the blog soon.

Here's hoping that you sense God's direction for you for this coming year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Morning Musings ...

The Sunday between Christmas and New Year's is generally a difficult Sunday. Many people are traveling, there is the natural let down of just after Christmas and some people look at it as a "throw away" Sunday. We had a surprisingly good Sunday. The spirit in worship was good, and that was with key members of our band missing and many who were supposed to be singing on the worship team absent. We had a baby dedication, which is one of the favorite things that I do in my pastoral role. To see young parents coming forward to commit themselves to raising their child according to God's word and God's will for their child's life is a real blessing. To see the fear, nervousness and excitement in their eyes is cool. This dedication was especially fun because this is a couple for whom I did their wedding and pre-marital counseling. They had several extras who came to be a part of the event.

We recognized the community leader of our Christmas project that gave food baskets and gifts to over 100 families in our community. She came to tell our people thank you for their help but we took advantage of her presence to thank her for the countless hours she puts in leading that great event.

The message went well, but it took a different twist than I had orginally intended when I laid out this series. This was the last part of the "Gifts of Christmas" series. The subtitle of this one was "The Return Policy". We examined the Wise Men, King Herod and the Shepherds and how they responded to the Christmas gift of a Savior and how they returned to others what they had received. I kept asking the congregation what their personal return policy was? How were they returning the gift to others?

We had a good attendance in morning worship, especially for that inbetween Sunday and many regular attenders gone. Sunday evening was a great time of discussion looking at the Lost (Prodigal) Son and the picture of grace that is shown in the story. Attendance was pitiful, but the discussion was meaningful.

This cold, or whatever it is, just won't go away. I am at two weeks and counting. My wife has joined in the fun now, although she doesn't seem to pleased with what I passed on to her. I am ready for this to done.

Here's hoping you have a great week and wonderful beginning to a new calendar year. Is it really going to be 2009?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Great Day ...

Today was a fun day. I made pancakes and sausage for breakfast for the grandkids and a couple of adults who were awake. My wife and I took our oldest grandchild to replace a gift that had not worked. The trip to the mall was a bit slow with the ice on the roads on the way there, but regular speek coming home. We were able to replace the non-working gift with one that appears to be working and have more features than the first one, so he is very pleased. We had a lazy afternoon, of games (including video where my grandsons destroyed me) and even a brief nap. We had a nice dinner and played an all family game of Guesstures.

In the late afternoon my daughters and daughter-in-law decided to recreate the "Electric Slide". Unbeknownst to them I set up a video camera that a couple from church gave us for Christmas. It is very small and was not noticed until they were finishing the slide. I now have ample leverage with which to threaten these ladies. Because it wouldn't be that difficult to set it up as video for my blog readers to watch.

We played a couple of games after the grandkids went to bed and they are playing a game of 6 handed Rook as I type this post. What a great day. With family, all safe, good food, much laughter, lots of fun and some incriminating video to top it all off.

So how was your day? Here's hoping you find the time to share some good times with people you are about.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I am sitting here at the computer listening to my wife and kids (that includes my kids-in-law) playing a game called "Like Minds". (they need an even number for the game so I voluteered to sit this one out) My grandkids have all laid down for the night, but according to the noises I hear they are not all asleep. The noises are a great reminder of a great day. We were all able to be together to celebrate Christmas. That is a true blessing.

We had a late leisurely breakfast this morning with my wife, my oldest daughter, my youngest daughter, son-in-law and youngest grandson. We then exchanged presents and enjoyed the reactions. My 21 month old grandson stole the show.

A little before 1pm my son, daughter-in-law and 4 other grandkids arrived. The energy in the house certainly picked up. We played some games, and then just before we enjoyed a great Christmas dinner we exchanged presents. I got everything I hoped for and much more, my family all together, a new coffee mug with family pictures on it, pictures of the family, some reading material, a new sweater and I will be getting a video of my 3 oldest grandkids playing Upwards basketball with interviews after their games. How cool was my haul?

This Christmas season has been very busy, I visited 3 people in the hospital for some serious stuff just this week. I have been reminded often of how important it is to remember the real reason for the season. This year I had the opportunity to be involved in many people's lives who were in real need.

This has been a very challenging Christmas personally, but a very rewarding Christmas both personally and in my role as pastor.

Here's hoping you got something you needed and wanted. Here's hoping you have someone

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday Musings ...

Yesterday was a good long day. I was still not feeling very well which made the day seem super long. But I made it through the day which is part of the good. It was extremely cold. I don't believe the temperature ever escaped single digits (or is it digit?) and with the strong wind it felt like it was several degrees below zero. Even with all that cold we had good attendance in the morning and a surpringly good turnout for our open house in the evening. There was a good spirit during the service and people were very engaged during the sermon. I wasn't sure I would make it through but I got some help that wasn't me, thanks for your prayers and to the Lord, I was completely wiped out when it was done.

People were really talking with each other and hung around for a long time after the service which is always a good thing to see. I was especially encouraged to see some of our regular men talking with some of the new guys.

We opened our home for a drop in Christmas Open House as a thank you to the congregation. With the weather getting worse as the day went on we didn't know if anyone would venture out but we had a good number come by and there were great conversations taking place all around. My wife did a great job of having good snacks and the house looks great. My daughter helped a lot as well. I love those kind of relaxed times with people where there is no agenda.

After people left out place we went to another family's home for a Christmas party for there Sunday School class. It was a good time, but we left early, got home and crashed.

I am feeling somewhat better, not normal (although normal is a relative term for me) but better. We had to go out of town to visit a couple of people in the hospital today.

Here's hoping you are staying warm and seeing Jesus in Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ouch ...

This week has not gone as planned. First there were a lot of interruptions early in the week. That really shouldn't shake me up as that happens enough that I should just plan for the interruptions, but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun to complain about if I planned for them. Second, I got sick. In fact I am still not feeling well, however I am feeling so much better than I did that I am fooling myself into thinking that I am well. (did you get that?) I started feeling lousy Tuesday night and by Wednesday night was feeling downright awful. However, was hosting a meeting of pastors from a large area on Thursday morning, so I came in and did my thing. About 1pm on Thursday I went home to lay down for an hour or so, I finally got up this morning. Mainly because I was helping deliver food boxes and presents to several families who need some help this Christmas. I am still upright and attempting to wrap up my sermon for tomorrow.

The ouch in the title of this blog comes for a few sources. First I took a tumble that included a complete tuck and roll on Monday morning. This took place while collecting the gifts that were delivered this morning. My fall was a thing of beauty. I tripped and before doing the complete tuck and roll I laid the presents I was carrying on ground so as not to harm either of them before crashing to the frozen sod. Later that day I was tracing the problem with some Christmas lights at church and while I bent to inspect a plug my forehead crashed into a 2x4 that was a part of a large manger scene. Upon finding the light problem and after fixing said problem I then stood up to once again crash into the aforementioned 2x4, only this time the edge of it crashed into the folically challenged top of my head. This created a bleeding gash where my lack of hair could not hide it from people's view. Then there was the sickness in which my throat hurt with each swallow and my body ached just lying in bed.

All in all the week was not what I had in mind.

Here's hoping your week has gone better, or that at least my week has made you feel as in a "at least that didn't happen to me" kind of way.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a very positive day in many areas. We had our worship center all set up for our Christmas Musical Dessert Theatre that would take place in the evening. So we worshipped around tables, which changes the dynamics, but it went very well. the spirit seemed good people participated in the time of singing in worship. We had some technical glitches, but that is nothing new. The message went much better in the service than it did when I tried it by myself. Thanks to those who were praying.

We had good attendance, and I wasn't expecting that given who I knew would be gone. We have had some really good contacts that have attended recently and have returned a few times. That is really encouraging.

The burdens that I posted about Saturday night lifted some on Sunday. Part of the lifting came in a very unexpected way. I will post about that separately later.

In the evening we had our Christmas Musical and Dessert Theatre. People really came through in decorating, the place looked great. We had an abundance of great desserts, many people were very generous in this area. The dramas and music were very good. The message was clear. The attendance was not what I was hoping for, but it was still good and we had some great contacts once again. There was a good crew of people who stayed and helped clean the place up. That was encouraging.

Yesterday was a very long day, but very encouraging as well. I am tired today, and it is a very full day. Such is the Christmas season.

Here's hoping you will enjoy the greatest gift in Jesus Christ. Here's hoping you will pass the gift along to others. Here's hoping that will bless someone in need this week.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Burdens ...

As a pastor I feel a sense of burden over a lot of things on a daily basis. One of the biggest arrives every Sunday morning with the sermon. I have been in ministry for over 25 years and I still get worked up and nervous before each and every sermon. If I ever lose that feeling of nerves, getting worked up and burden before a message then I'll figure it is definitely time to do something else. Because when I consider the importance of what I do each and every Sunday morning I feel overwhelmed. The importance of opening God's Word to challenge people and reveal it's truth and application for people's lives is really big stuff.

The burden is heavier sometimes than others. Sometimes the burden is extra for obvious reasons such as a funeral, or addressing a difficult issue in the congregation. Other times the extra burden is in the difficulty of the week that people may know nothing about. Other times the extra burden is of a purely personal nature. Then there are those times when the extra burden is less obvious but still obvious to me in preparation and thoughts. This is one of those weeks where the burden is almost overwhelming for less than obvious reasons. I am incredibly burdened for my church and for tomorrow.

At times like this I go through a checklist. Am I okay spiritually? Is there something I am missing in the congregation or community for which God is trying to get my attention? Do I need to change the message that I have already prepared? That is just a part of the checklist. Sometimes there is an answer that pops out as I go through my checklist, then I know how to attack, or approach, the burden. Sometimes I still feel no specific answer but the burden is still heavy. At those times I keep checking, keep praying, keep preparing and trust God.

If you are so inclined this is one of those times when I especially covet the prayers of family, friends or whoever is willing to pray. Here's hoping your burdens will lighten as you share in mine.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just Because ...

Do you remember hearing that as answer to a "why" question? Did it ever satisfy your need to ask the why question? Me neither. I also came to understand that as a parent there were times, very rare, when that really was the best answer because the child could not understand the full explanation.

I confess that I still ask a lot of why questions and that "just because" is still not satifying to me. I have been asking the why question a lot lately. The questions have had to do with church, such as it's programs, schedules, locations and times.

I believe that we need to be continually evaluating things. Evaluating our life, our goals, our relationships, and many other things. The church is immune to this questioning. My questions are often misunderstood as criticisms, when all I am doing is trying to understand and evaluate.

I realize that I cannot understand everything, in truth on some days I feel like I can't understand anything. But I don't want to use my limitations as an excuse to not ask the questions and keep learning. I believe the church is vital in making a difference in our communities and the world. But not if we don't ask why often. We need to be really cautious about giving the "just because" answer too often. I would much rather hear "I don't know why" than to be left "just because".

Here's hoping you are asking questions, searching for answers and learning each day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No real surprise ...

blog readability test

Do I know my readers or what?

I guess it is difficult to raise the level considering the author.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Birds, Birds and Birds ...

Saturday some men from my church had a pheasant hunt. We actually had 3 different kinds of birds that we hunted. We got 22 of them. It was very cold, windy and snowing, so I think we did pretty well. Then we came back to my house. Some of the guys cleaned the birds and a couple of others cooked them. They tasted wonderful. We watched some football while we ate, but mostly we had a great time talking while we stuffed ourselves.

I had the opportunity to have some good conversations especially while we were out in the field. All in all it was a very good day. I will confess that the kitchen did smell like pheasant for a few hours. Also, my wife insists that we need a new cutting board. So I guess I have a cutting board that is now dedicated to wild game.

One of the things we are trying to do is get people to connect to each other. Whether it is through hunting, playing games, shopping, cooking, playing basketball, or whatever other interests it might be we want people to get connected. We want people to develop friendships. We want people to have safe places. We are not perfect and we need to make sure we admit that and let others know it and that it is okay for them to admit it as well. Then we are in a position to help each other.

Friendships don't happen by having service, after service, after service. But rather by spending time doing together where we can interact and share our fears, doubts, joys and strengths. We need to have times of corporate worship, or services though likely not as many as we currently do, but we have to go beyond putting on services and actually serving each other. We need to get to know each other so we can serve each other where people have real needs.

Sometimes that is

Monday, December 08, 2008

Just For Fun ...

I ran my blog through a website that looks at the content on your blog and makes a guess on whether the blog is written by a man or a woman. I got the idea from a buddy, his analysis guessed it was written by a woman 62%. My result says they guessed this blog was written by a man 77%. Not sure what that means, but it makes for some fun.

Here's hoping you have some fun today.

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a fun day. It is always fun when the children do their thing. As a part of our morning worship the children did their Christmas program. There were babies who were carried up to be shown off. There were toddlers with bells on their wrists singing and shaking their way across the platform. There was a Christmas story told, acted and sung by the elementary aged children. There were a few normal kid moments. Frozen brains and forgotten lines. There was the obligatory grabbing of the microphones by little ones. There were the kids who moved everywhere. Those who did nothing but smile, wave and say hi to mom and dad. There were the ones who just stood still and stared with that what am I doing up here and why are all of you looking at me expression. But as usual the kids stole the show and our hearts. I have always told the leaders of children's programs not to worry about how the kids do up front. That everyone will enjoy it just because they are up front and that the occasional dress over the head or moon shot just adds to the cuteness factor, until they get around 5th or 6th grades.

We had a lot of unchurched parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who came to see their kid up front. That makes all the effort and time worth every ounce of energy. My prayer is that we really welcomed them, made them feel like they could come back for a "regular" service and that some seeds were planted about Jesus becoming Lord and Savior in their lives.

We had the largest group of kids involved of the 4 Christmases that I have been here. We had a great attendance. There were some glitches, a mike cutting out, some kids not coming up for their song, our worship registers not getting put out and my program closing illustration fizzling. But it was a good morning.

In the evening I has someone else teach for me because my wife and I shared in a service for Hospice. Every year on the first Sunday night of December Hospice has a tree lighting service. This is honor hospice and it's workers and to remember those loved ones we have lost. It is always a special night. I prayed and shared a few remarks and my wife sang one of the special songs on the evening. To hear people share who they are remembering is always a touching moment. It is humbling, inspiring and encouraging.

All in all a good day.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Christmas questions ...

Last night I gave our youth a little Christmas quiz. I am still doing the youth since I have not secured an Associate Pastor yet, but I believe we are making progress in that area. The quiz was not one of those that is designed to mess with everyone's view of Christmas. This purely as a teaching tool. To tell a lot of the Christmas story through the quiz. (The old teacher in me just won't die.)

One reason I wanted to do this was because of how many of the teens who attend our youth meetings are not churched, other than this one time a week. That means that many of them have no foundation to tap into when it comes to teaching God's Word. I like that challenge but it means you must approach things differently. It means I have to be careful about assuming that they have even the most basic of Christian facts.

I really enjoyed the interaction as many of them learned a lot of new things. I enjoyed seeing some of the "churched" youth be surprised with a few facts as well.

My bottom line question was "What difference does Christmas make?"

How would you answer that question?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Worship Thought ...

I came across this thought on worship recently, "Where there is no wonder there is no worship".

That is a great statement about worship. It has really sparked a lot of thought and some questions in my thinking about worship.

How much wonder has been in your attempts at worship recently?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a good day. It was not because of the weather, that was actually a bit nasty for Nov. 30. It was because of some great discussions and seeing some relatively new people becoming a regular part of the family. Our musical part of worship went well and that was without a key band member and missing a key voice on the worship team. The message went fairly well, nothing great, but the new Christmas series on "The Gifts of Christmas" was at least introduced. Yesterday's focus was on the search for the gift. Using Matthew 2:1-12, we looked at the commitment of the Wise Men, at the fact that they were paying attention as they searched, that they planned to give and that finding Jesus ignited their worship. What are you committed to finding? What are you searching for? What ignites your worship?

My Sunday School class continued to examine how we should respond to sin. How we should respond to sin in other people's lives and in our life. What can we do differently to make a difference in this area? We often don't do well at helping restore people who have sinned, nor at helping to keep each other from sinning. There has been a lot of personal reflection as we have examined this vital area.

Sunday night we had a great meaningful time of examination and discussion on fairness and grace. Looking at Matthew 20:1-16 we looked at how God is not fair, He is gracious instead. Then examined how we do in this area. This is a tough one. When things don't go according to our "fairness meter" we often throw out grace and get upset. Ignoring how God has been so gracious to us, we demand that God treat others as they deserve and call it fairness. Forgetting the heart of God. That He is neither fair nor unfair, He is gracious. That doesn't mean there is no justice, but that is up to Him and not us. How gracious are you in response to others? Especially when they don't match up to your "fairness meter"?

We also had a second visit from a prospective Associate Pastor candidate. That added some unique flavor to the day.

Here's hoping you are searching for Jesus and committed to the search and the giving. Here's hoping that you recognize God's grace in your life and look to live that grace in other's lives.