Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a very good day. Weather was bright and sunny but we still had winter temperatures, I declared yesterday to be the last Sunday we have to wear winter coats. Hey, somebody had to do it. We had to do a fair amount of scrambling early to fill in for people who couldn't be there, or some areas where no one knew who was supposed to do something and several people stepped up to fill in. We had reasonable attendance and had a lot of teens in worship which really encouraged me. Our small group last night was really good, even though we were missing some people. The sharing and fellowship that is taking place is tremendous.

The message yesterday was "Grace or Goodness?" from Ephesians 2:1-10. I had a tough week last week. I was hurting, I realized that I really had some brokenness and some nasty junk in my life that shouldn't be there. Finally the pain was enough that I surrendered and went to the dentist. Turns out I had a broken and abscessed tooth. What did you think I was talking about? Actually my tooth gave a pretty good picture of grace. You see the abscess and pain was my own fault. When I went to the dentist he didn't give me what I deserved, instead he removed the problem. In a way he showed me grace, albeit it came with a bill which is where the illustration breaks down, but you get the picture. (BTW, abscessed teeth and subsequent removals, I am not a fan of them.) God doesn't treat us as we deserve he exercises grace with us.

The message could be stated in 11 letters, 3 spaces and 4 words "It is by grace". Since I am a pastor I used a lot more letters, spaces and words to deliver the message. However, the message really is summed up with "It is by grace". That is a pretty motto to live by. It is by grace that you are saved. Not by anything else! Not by anything else!! Not by anything else!!! You can't earn it and you aren't good enough for it. It is by grace that you are to live. Showing grace to others and realizing that we are here by grace. This realization produces true thankfulness. We are to be alive in this grace, not just existing but alive. We are to be alive as Christ is alive. The life of a follower of Christ is to be an exciting experience. The last thing we should be is boring. Is Christ boring? Was Jesus boring when he walked this earth? It is by grace that we are to serve. We were created and designed to serve others. it is literally contrary to God's design for us not to be serving others.

11 letters, 3 spaces, 4 words ... It is by grace.

Is grace obvious in your life? Are you alive and serving in this grace?

11 letters, 3 spaces, 4 words to live by ... It is by grace.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Love Story continued ...

The next morning dawned and I realized that I was now a father. What?! Now what? That was a brand new feeling to awaken as a father. It was a good feeling but it was not complete until Jody and our son came home. It took a lot longer than planned due to the emergency C-section. They were in the hospital for a week. Then life changed, forever and it changed in such an awesome way that I could never adequately describe but it has been a tremendous ride.

I remember holding my son in those first few days after he was home and just being in awe. In fact I said to Jody several times “this is a little person”. In the past any baby I had held was just a baby. But this was our baby and we were responsible for him and he wasn’t just a baby he was a person. A person I was responsible for and a person who had already captured heart and mind. I had a lot to learn about babies, about being a father and about being the husband of a mother. Until that point I was the husband of my wife, now I was the husband of the mother of my child.

Days at work couldn’t go fast enough now, I wanted to get home and be with my family. I wanted to see how much he had grown that day. It seemed that some days he grew a bunch while I was at work. I wanted to get home and hear about all that he had done that day. One of the things I learned about being the husband of the mother of my child was that she might not always want to replay the entire day for me as soon as I walked in the door. We were learning this parenting thing and this being a family thing one experience at a time. When you take your child and home from the hospital they send a lot of things home with you. There are some care items, some things that you used while you were there, any plants or balloons that were in the room and a bill. However, they do send an instructional manual on raising your child home with you.

Instead of a parenting manual you are left to trial and error, to the latest book you buy, to the advice from many observers and to the example you had from your own parents. The trial and error continues to this day, the latest book’s pages have yellowed, the observers will always have advice, but for me the most valuable was the example of my own parents. I was fortunate in the parents I was blessed with and there was much to be learned from their examples. Something worked in the last nearly 34 years, we have 3 great children, 2 terrific kids in law (who we just consider as our kids) and 6 terrific grandchildren. All of this started from a date one spring night in college.

A baby means change, but there was even more change about to come …

The Joy of Cheering ...

The past few weeks have been very busy and a lot of fun. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love sports and that basketball was my love growing up and I still love to watch it. So it is no surprise that I am a big fan of the month of March. With the NCAA tournament known as March Madness, filling out brackets, watching game, after game, after game and talking about all the games I watched with other hoop heads. But there is more to March, especially this March.

High School basketball has their end of season tournament in March. This year our local High School's girls team went on a great run to the final four teams in the state. Another school near us had their boys team win the regional championship and one of our youth is on that team. Then there is the fact that 3 of my grandkids played basketball in the UpWards league where they live. They were each playing at a different age level so that was 3 different teams.

So this year March Madness has added significance for me. I watch and cheer the NCAA games for the thrill of watching high level basketball. I enjoy basketball and I enjoy trying to predict who will win. But the joy of cheering the NCAA games is not really personal, at least not for me. Cheering the high school games and my grandkids is very personal. You see 8 of the 10 girls on our high school team played volleyball for me, that made it very personal. I really know those girls and I care about them beyond wins and losses. I was invested in them as I cheered, it was very personal. The boys team in the area that had one of our youth on the team was personal because I know him at a different level than just sports. My grandkids are always personal for me. I love cheering them on in anything.

I guess what I am attempting to say in this post is that this March I have had a great reminder of the true joy of cheering on others. I took great joy in watching our girls team make their great run in the tournament this year. They gave me great joy, but part of that joy was the fact that I was cheering. There is greater joy when you are invested. Why do I always have joy seeing my grandkids do anything? Because I am invested in them. If you just watch something, there is little joy. The real joy is in the cheering, it is in the participation and the personal investment.

How about your church? Any joy for you there? If so, I will guess that you are participating, that you are cheering and personally invested. If not, then I feel sure that you are not cheering, you are not participating and you probably are not personally invested. Give it a try, cheer for someone and see what happens.

As for this March, I say thank you to my grandkids for putting up with my cheering. For the local teams thanks for the joy you provided me as I cheered for you. It was fun to see you win, but it has more rewarding to invested in your lives. Be assured that I will continue to cheer for you, even though the season may be over.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Morning Musings ...

Yesterday was a good day. There was a very good spirit in worship from the beginning. People were very late arriving and many missed the beginning of the service and still the spirit was strong. My wife filled in and led worship. That in itself was an answer to prayer given how she was feeling on Saturday night. We had good attendance again this Sunday, March looks like it may be a good month for our attendance. Our Sunday night small groups are doing very well in the connections taking place and the attendance as well.

Yesterday's message was from Isaiah 40:27-31. Verse 27 asks why we complain, and it is true that most of us seem to complain often. We so often think that God is not paying attention to us and our problems. We all need to look at our complaints. We also need to listen to what God is really saying. Verse 28 confronts this need, "Do you not know? Have you not heard?" Who are you listening to? There is a lot of competing noise and many voices for us to listen to in our world. Tuning into to the wrong source can seriously derail our life. God always speaks clearly, through his Word and his Spirit. He doesn't stutter and he doesn't try to confuse us. He desires for us to hear and follow his Word.

We need to learn that God does not tire out or wear out. We do, he doesn't. So don't live as if you have to reserve God's power and resources. We need to learn that he understands better than we can imagine. We get confused, he does not. We need to learn that God loves to give strength. Who needs the strength? Those who are weary. Do you qualify? God provides power. Who needs the power? Those who are weak. Do you qualify?

Then we need to live it. We need to get unstuck from our spot in the middle. Mark Hall and Casting Crowns has a great song titled "Somewhere in the Middle". Too many of us are living in this middle ground instead on the front edge of God's plan for us. We need to live in hope, and that hope needs to be in the Lord. The Lord is the only true source of hope. Hope does not come from our plans, or our power. We need to live renewed, not just refreshed but really renewed. Complete renewal is possible in Christ. We need to soar as we live. God's design and desire is for you to soar. We are to soar without the worry of conserving our strength. He will provide the strength for us and his strength does not run out. Keep walking in the footsteps of Jesus. You don't need to become faint no matter what you face.

Do you know? You have heard, after all you just read it on this blog. Which of these truths do you need to learn and apply? Are you listening? How then will you live?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Love Story continued ...

A funny moment was when Jody asked the doctor … if she was going to get any pain drugs if they went ahead with the C-section. When the doctor told her yes, she quickly answered do it. After 15 hours of labor her feelings were understandable. After signing the consent for surgery I kissed Jody and left for the waiting room. I called my parents to let them know what was happening and sat down to pray and wait. I had been very concerned about the health of our baby during the last couple months of the pregnancy. One of the places I regularly visited in my job was a facility for severely injured children. Many who were born with the problems with which they now lived. As a result of seeing the impact of birth defects up close and personal, I was concerned. This emergency in the delivery only heightened my concerns.

My mom showed up soon after I called and waited with me. My dad was a pastor and I called right as a service was beginning so he was not able to be at the hospital, but I knew he and the church were praying. My mom didn’t say much, but her presence and touch meant so much to me. My eyes are tearing up as I remember those moments.

After what seemed like a couple of hours, but was less than one hour, the doctor arrived to tell me we had a baby boy. My reaction was to search the doctor’s face for any sign of trouble, knowing my concerns he quickly added, “10 fingers, 10 toes, and everything is in the right place and working”. Then I smiled and heaved a huge sigh of relief, I turned and gave my mom a huge hug. A few minutes later I met my son for the first time and double checked to make sure the doctor counted correctly. I then went to a pay phone (that’s right a pay phone, can you even find one of those today?) and began making the calls to family. After several more minutes I was allowed back to see Jody. We enjoyed a few moments of joy over the healthy gift we had just been introduced to and we didn’t say a lot. Some of that was because she was exhausted and under the influence of drugs and some of it was the relief that both she and the baby were okay.

By the time I finally got back to our place that night it was 21 hours after Jody woke up with her water breaking. We had thrown the bedding in the washer before we left for the hospital. I looked at the bed with no sheets or blankets on it and just plopped down on it. I believe it took me about a nanosecond to fall asleep. But I went to sleep with a smile on my face. I knew I was blessed. I had a wife I loved and adored. I had a healthy son. I had loving and supportive family around me. I knew the forgiveness of my Savior. I slept well that night.

The next morning dawned and I realized that I was now a father. What?! Now what?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Morning Musings ...

The Sunday when we move the clocks ahead one hour is traditionally a low attendance day. We were not terrible but we were 20% below the previous Sunday. I am aware of some who missed because they forgot to change their clocks and I suspect that there are others. People did seem a bit sluggish as we began worship and that seemed to carry over as we sang. There was good fellowship when the service was finished.

The messaged continued the series "Breaking Bondages" but it was not the message I had worked on all week. I was continually checked in my spirit as prepared the message. That continued Saturday evening, so I put it away, prayed and went to bed. Sunday morning that check was still there so I began to look another direction and everything opened up. So I followed that leading and trusted that it was the Lord.

The focus of the message was on our tendency to pretend. I compared it to fantasy sports. I love playing fantasy sports, especially baseball. I have been in the same fantasy league for something like 12 years. Four of those years I traveled 11 hours one way to get to the draft, so you could say I am committed. Maybe you believe I should be committed. The point is that I enjoy it, but I know it is only fantasy. I never confuse running my fantasy team with real major league baseball. However, I see many people who seem to be playing fantasy Christianity. They pretend to have it together when the truth is their life is not following Christ's Word or will.

We must recognize things that we are pretending to control, but that are actually controlling us. Why do we pretend? We do it to look good. I Samuel 16:7 "...Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Too often we are more concerned about our spiritual appearance than the true condition of our heart. We pretend to fool ourselves. We also do it to fool God. Would you really want to give your life to any god that you could really fool? The old Grocho Marks line comes to mind, "I refuse to be a member of any group who would have me as a member." We must also recognize that pretending doesn't change the truth. Even if we convince someone else, or ourselves, the truth is still the truth. Fantasy is fun, but it is not real. Fantasy is fun in many areas, but fantasy faith is devastating.

Fortunately healing is possible. Ask Jesus to examine you and your motives. Confess, an unburdening of your heart and mind. Jesus is listening, he already knows any area in which you are pretending but is waiting to hear from you. Believe in Christ's forgiveness. Don't fall for the lie that says what you are covering with your pretending is bigger than Christ can, or will, forgive. Then walk like Jesus walks. I John 1:9-2:6 speaks to these points. We must follow his walk and his way. If not then we are just pretending. The consequences of me not winning in my fantasy league is the ridicule of the others in the league. The consequences of continuing to pretend spiritually are eternal.

What are you pretending is okay? Will you walk the way Jesus walks?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Love Story continued ...

After several months we began to reevaluate our decision about sitting out of school. So we … began to realize that our plan to receive state benefits for me to finish college was not all that we had been led to believe. We started exploring other options which led us to move to community in which my Dad and Mom were pastoring. This was not where I had grown up as they moved to this state and city shortly after I started college. I had lived there the summer after my freshman year.
Another issue at this point was that Jody was expecting our first child. So we loaded up a small trailer and headed east. Some friends from the new area came and helped us load things and he towed the trailer. Jody was about 7 months pregnant by this time. The plan was to enroll in a state school for a lot less money and finish my degree.

I got a job with a Lutheran organization that did a lot of social work in the city. My role was to recruit, train, and organize people to visit the many nursing homes and similar facilities in the county. I was also to visit with people in the homes as much as possible. I really enjoyed the job and the people I worked with in this organization. I learned a lot in my visiting of some very special people. I am smiling as I remember some of those people.

Our son was born less than 3 months after we made the move. It was exciting and scary. We did not have health insurance so we tried to save a little and even arranged a personal loan to cover the costs ahead of time. Then the unexpected happened. Jody’s 15 hour labor turned into an emergency c-section. He had the umbilical cord wrapped around his shoulder and kept clamping down on it with his arm. That messed with his heart rate and some other stuff. After several of these incidents the doctor said they needed to get the baby out quick before something bad happened.

I was scared as this was being described to me. I remember the pressure I felt as we had to make a decision. I remember signing the permission for surgery literally over Jody, as the doctor was on one side of the bed and I was on the other. 15 hours earlier Jody woke me up yelling “I think my water broke!” (Sometime I will describe that scene and the next few minutes. Good thing there was no video of us.) Now I am being told that my wife and baby are in trouble and I am signing permission for a surgery while being told all of the possible complications.

A funny moment was when Jody asked the doctor …

Monday, March 07, 2011

Monday Morning Musings ...

Here's hoping that the snow we received Saturday night is the last we have to deal with and that we can get on with Spring. The slick conditions Sunday morning did not hamper attendance in worship. In fact it was the best attendance this calendar year and only 2 other Sundays were higher in the past 12 months.

We seemed to engage better well in the singing right from the start of worship. There was an encouraging time of testimonies during one of the songs. People also hung around for quite a while after the service talking with each other, that is a good sign.

I continued the series "Breaking Bondages", this time the focus was on what it takes to be free no matter what the bondage. I Corinthians 6:12-20 is our foundational passage of scripture and we examined Romans 6:1-14. We must recognize the price has already been paid for our freedom through Jesus Christ. Andrew Murray said, "God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him." We must recognize when anything other than Christ becomes our master. All the sin nature can do is take, it cannot give and if it appears to give it to manipulate in order to take something else. Recognize what is available in the Holy Spirit. The cleansing and power available through the Holy Spirit.

Healing is possible, we need to count/reckon ourselves dead to sin according to Romans 6:11. Quit messing around in areas you know you should avoid. Quit making excuses. Quit believing the lies that say you cannot be free. Let grace be grace in your life. How different would you live if you really lived with the knowledge of grace in all of your life? How different would your church be if you extended God's grace to everyone for whom Jesus died? You, and your body, are a member with Christ, how then should you live? Should you be controlled by pornography, bitterness, drugs, food, alcohol, money or fear knowing that you are members with Christ? It takes surrender of yourself to God, to his will and to the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. True surrender means an emptying of myself so that I can be filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit. D.L. Moody said, "I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God's law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled."

What, or who, is your master? If is anyone, or anything, other than Christ and his Holy Spirit then something needs to change. What will you do? When?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Love Story continued ...

A memorable Christmas to be sure, there have been others that stand out, but this will one will always be near the top of my Christmas memories, because it was the beginning of a fantastic ride. A big change was coming soon … we were rolling through our first year of marriage. I was a full-time student, part-time shoe salesman, basketball player and we were actively involved in our church. Another thing we faced was a growing college bill. So we made the big decision that I would sit out a year of school while we tried to see if there was anything we could do to either increase our income, get more help with college funds such as grants or lower the college costs.

If I did not return to school in the fall then we would have to sell our trailer and move, because “Trailerville” was for students only. Since neither of us would be taking classes we could not stay, but we had until the next semester. It began to look like we would stay in the area, establish our residency in the state and then be eligible for some state grants that would help ease the financial burden of the college costs.

We found an apartment and sold our trailer. Since we sold our trailer as furnished we had no furniture as we moved into our apartment. It was a brand new apartment community and we were the first to live in this apartment. We purchased a kitchen table and chairs at a garage sale. We got a used mattress from some friends and we bought a beanbag chair from my brother and sister-in-law. We took our television with us and that was how we furnished our 2 bedroom apartment. We slowly added a couple more pieces of furniture but our bed was a mattress on the floor and our dresser was boxes in the closet. We were young and thought it was great. We celebrated our first anniversary in our new, nearly empty apartment.

Jody was working at the college in the business offices and I was selling shoes and furniture at Montgomery Ward’s department store. We were definitely living the high life, or at least we thought it was special. We were involved in youth and children’s ministry at our church and enjoying both of those areas of service.

Our apartment was across the street from a Little League baseball park. So on many summer nights we walked across the street and watched kids we didn’t know play baseball. It was cheap entertainment and was good preparation for later in life sitting on bleachers watching our own children play soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, football, wrestle, run track and cross country. All we knew at that time was that we didn’t want to be like many of the parents we observed in the stands. They were constantly yelling at their children, or other people’s children and occasionally yelling at the other parents not to mention the words directed toward the umpires. I can proudly say we did not become those parents. We did a lot of cheering at our children’s events but we refused to be one of “those parent(s)” where their own kids wished would not attend their games.

After several months we began to reevaluate our decision about sitting out of school. So we …