Saturday, July 30, 2011

Just an assortment of humor starting with Why Go To Church?

Just a little humor for the weekend … Enjoy, Pastor Jim

Why Go To Church?
One Sunday morning, a mother went in to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, "I'm not going."
"Why not?" she asked.
I'll give you two good reasons," he said. "(1), they don't like me, and (2), I don't like them."
His mother replied, "I'll give you two good reasons why you SHOULD go to church:
(1) You're 59 years old, and (2) you're the pastor!"

The Picnic
A Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest met at the town's annual 4th of July picnic. Old friends, they began their usual banter.
"This baked ham is really delicious," the priest teased the rabbi. "You really ought to try it. I know it's against your religion, but I can't understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden! You don't know what you're missing. You just haven't lived until you've tried Mrs. Hall's prized Virginia-Baked Ham. Tell me, Rabbi, when are you going to break down and try it?"
The rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin, and said, "At your wedding."

The Usher
An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. "Where would you like to sit?" he asked politely.
"The front row, please," she answered.
"You really don't want to do that," the usher said. "The pastor is really boring."
"Do you happen to know who I am?" the woman inquired.
"No," he said.
"I'm the pastor's mother," she replied indignantly.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked.
"No," she said.
"Good," he answered.

Show And Tell
A kindergarten teacher gave her class a "show and tell" assignment. Each student was instructed to bring in an object that represented their religion to share with the class.
The first student got up in front of the class and said, "My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish and this is a Star of David."
The second student got up in front of the class and said, "My name is Mary. I'm a Catholic and this is a Rosary."
The third student got in up front of the class and said, "My name is Tommy.. I am Methodist, and this is a casserole."

The Best Way To Pray
A priest, a minister and a guru sat discussing the best positions for prayer, while a telephone repairman worked nearby
"Kneeling is definitely the best way to pray," the priest said.
"No," said the minister. "I get the best results standing with my hands outstretched to Heaven."
"You're both wrong," the guru said. "The most effective prayer position is lying down on the floor."
The repairman could contain himself no longer. "Hey, fellas," he interrupted.. "The best prayin' I ever did was when I was hangin' upside down from a telephone pole."

The Twenty And The One
A well-worn one-dollar bill and a similarly distressed twenty-dollar bill arrived at a Federal Reserve Bank to be retired..
As they moved along the conveyor belt to be burned, they struck up a conversation.
The twenty-dollar bill reminisced about its travels all over the country.
"I've had a pretty good life," the twenty proclaimed. "Why I've been to Las Vegas and Atlantic City , the finest restaurants in New York , performances on Broadway, and even a cruise to the Caribbean ."
"Wow!" said the one-dollar bill. "You've really had an exciting life!"
"So, tell me," says the twenty, "where have you been throughout your lifetime?"
The one dollar bill replies, "Oh, I've been to the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Lutheran Church .."
The twenty-dollar bill interrupts, "What's a church?"

Goat For Dinner
The young couple invited their elderly pastor for Sunday dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their son what they were having.
"Goat," the little boy replied.
"Goat?" replied the startled man of the cloth, "Are you sure about that?"
"Yep," said the youngster. "I heard Dad say to Mom, 'Today is just as good as any to have the old goat for dinner.'"

And one last story for all those who have or are teaching school:
According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips on the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them, and the next day the girls would put them back. Finally the principal decided that something had to be done.

She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every
night (you can just imagine all the yawns from the little princesses).

To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it.

Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

There are teachers.... and then there are educators.

Lord, keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth.

Friday, July 29, 2011

When did liberal and compromise become vulgar words?

Watching the political disfunctioning of our elected leaders presently taking place in Washington, D.C. I thought back to a blog that I wrote on May 1, 2010 and have been prompted to re-post it today. There are a lot of words and accusations being leveled at the various members of congress with little effect other than to turn our government into somewhat of the laughing stock of the world. Our elected political leaders do not understand that they were elected to lead … not to work for the next election, not to “protect” their political territory, not to advance their cause, not to do the Democratic or Republican thing, but to do the right thing, and definitely not to shut-down our government with their refusal to compromise … which has become the next bad, vulgar word along with liberal.

And now for my May 1, 2010 blog …

Listening to the present political discussion airing itself in the mass media I only have one question. When did the term “liberal” become a bad, vulgar word?

I can remember when someone called you a liberal they meant that you spoke up for decency, equality, human rights, fairness, high ethics or morals in the market place, liberty, justice and the pursuit of all that is right and correct in a democratic society. For me it meant everything that was found in the Good News of Jesus Christ. It meant that you worked for those who were disenfranchised by society. As you have done it unto the least of these …

As a liberal one would take up the cause of the homeless, the sick, the widowed and orphaned, the hungry, those in prison, the shut-in, the lame, injured, hurting, the refugees, the immigrants and equal pay for equal work … As you have done it unto the least of these …

As a liberal you sought to follow the teachings, instructions and example of Jesus Christ … which meant willing to go to your personal cross in order to make a lasting change in society for those who didn’t have the power to do it for themselves. As you have done it unto the least of these …

But now it a vulgar, dirty slur that is usually pulled out when someone needs to win a political argument by stating, with anger, “Oh, you are just a liberal!” It has become the standard 2010 political putdown … as if we should only look after our needs, our future, our desires, ourselves … as you have done it unto the least of these?

In a recent small group share group a gentleman, who I have come to highly respect for his out spoken faith declarations and commitment, upon hearing that someone was leaving the United Methodist Church because it was just filled with liberals, declared, “What is wrong with being a liberal? I’m a liberal and proud of it.” And I would strongly agree!!!

I am of the belief that we need to take back the term and take it off the table as the present day “four-letter” word - even if it has 6-letters it is used as someone had said the F, S, H or D word. Next time someone points their finger at me and state that I am a liberal I am simply going to say, “Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate that you seem to understand that I love my Savior and seek to follow him by looking after the least of these!” I’m not really sure what their reaction will be, but I have decided to take back a good and great political word that has a long, distinguished history in our society.

Did God call America into existence so that we could only become richer, bigger, or more powerful? Or, did God bless us so that we could become a blessing to others? Failure to understand what God had intended in our formation is a failure to comprehend what it means to be Kingdom People – servant people … as you have done it unto the least of these …

I will grant you this is a dangerous position to take after all it did take the revolutionist Jesus to a hill called Calvary and a cross of pain and death. The conservative religious leaders of his day couldn’t allow his message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and … doing it unto the least of these … to continue. So they sought to eliminate that message, but God had the last word with the resurrection. Now, again, that message is under attack and those, in the name of the Gospel, are trying to silent those who are seeking to favorably respond to God by doing it unto the least of these …

Liberal? You betcha’ because there isn’t anything wrong with being a liberal! Right? Right!

Quote for today: “No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude. There is no such thing as an entirely free man conceivable.” Phillips Brooks

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grandma's hands - a different look at being a servant

After writing yesterday's blog I received the following via the e-mail. It gives a slightly different slant on being a servant.


Grandma, some ninety plus years, sat feebly on the patio bench. She didn't move, just sat with her head down staring at her hands.

When I sat down beside her she didn't acknowledge my presence and the longer I sat I wondered if she was OK

Finally, not really wanting to disturb her but wanting to check on her at the same time, I asked her if she was OK. She raised her head and looked at me and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine, thank you for asking," she said in a clear voice strong.

"I didn't mean to disturb you, grandma, but you were just sitting here staring at your hands and I wanted to make sure you were OK," I explained to her.

"Have you ever looked at your hands," she asked.. "I mean really looked at your hands?"

I slowly opened my hands and stared down at them. I turned them over, palms up and then palms down. No, I guess I had never really looked at my hands as I tried to figure out the point she was making.

Grandma smiled and related this story:

"Stop and think for a moment about the hands you have, how they have served you well throughout your years. These hands, though wrinkled shriveled and weak have been the tools I have used all my life to reach out and grab and embrace life.

"They braced and caught my fall when as a toddler I crashed upon the floor.

They put food in my mouth and clothes on my back. As a child, my mother taught me to fold them in prayer. They tied my shoes and pulled on my boots. They held my husband and wiped my tears when he went off to war.

"They have been dirty, scraped and raw , swollen and bent. They were uneasy and clumsy when I tried to hold my newborn son. Decorated with my wedding band they showed the world that I was married and loved someone special.

They wrote my letters to him and trembled and shook when I buried my parents and spouse.

"They have held my children and grandchildren, consoled neighbors, and shook in fists of anger when I didn't understand.

They have covered my face, combed my hair, and washed and cleansed the rest of my body. They have been sticky and wet, bent and broken, dried and raw. And to this day when not much of anything else of me works real well these hands hold me up, lay me down, and again continue to fold in prayer.

"These hands are the mark of where I've been and the ruggedness of life.

But more importantly it will be these hands that God will reach out and take when he leads me home. And with my hands He will lift me to His side and there I will use these hands to touch the face of Christ."

I will never look at my hands the same again. But I remember God reached out and took my grandma's hands and led her home.

When my hands are hurt or sore or when I stroke the face of my children and husband I think of grandma. I know she has been stroked and caressed and held by the hands of God.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Strength is for service, not status - Romans 15:1

“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status.” Romans 15:1 (The Message)

Service is an interesting concept, especially in this day and time. Even volunteers are requesting a job description before getting involved and giving of their time.

I remember a time when an individual could go to a department store and there were individuals behind the counters ready and eager to meet your needs. When you pulled into a gas station at least one or more individuals would come to your car to service its needs – check the tire pressure, check the oil, wash your windows, pump your gas. If you got into an elevator a real live individual would take you to the floor of your choice, as well as announce what you would find on each floor. Possibly you can remember other places where service was important, but the times have changed.

But not today … oh, no … it is all about self-service, automated answering machines with their “punch 1 for this service” or “punch 2 for that kind of service.” It can take as much as 5 minutes or more before you get to speak with a real live individual and then, they probably do not have enough knowledge to give you the assistance that you really need. Or, their English is so messed up that you simply hang-up in total frustration. The times have changed and service isn’t important any longer.

Life has simply gotten too impersonal. Nobody really cares anymore … or at least it would seem that way.

This mentality is spilling over into the church. We have no problem getting individuals to write a check for this ministry or that outreach program, but getting them to actually give of their time and energy is totally another matter.

E. Stanley Jones was traveling by train in Europe. He always had to be doing something so he was reading his Bible. A Russian actress asked, “What are you doing?” “I am a Christian and I am reading the Bible,” was his response. She asked, “Why?” His response was, “You tell me.” She said, “You are a coward. You need God to hold your hand.” Dr. Jones shared, “Yes, you are probably right when I first became a Christian. But now I only ask him to strengthen my arms so that I can serve.”

We are made for service. We are designed to give ourselves away. We are shaped by the Holy Spirit to be a channel of love and mercy for the sake of others. We are designed to give ourselves away. If we seek to preserve and hold on to what we think is ours we will find in the end that there is nothing left to hold on to. While, if we give ourselves away, unselfishly and extravagantly, we will discover the secret of the Kingdom of God – a storehouse of energy and love that can never be emptied … because he strengthens our arms for service and our spirit with compassion for others.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Changing the color of the ocean one drop at a time!

Ever feel like you would just like to change the whole world … quickly … over night … in a twinkling of an eye? Just transform everyone and everything into the image of Christ?

Actually that is what we are called to do or at least allow God to work through us to bring it about.

I remember standing at 5-points in Atlanta and just being overwhelmed by the mass of humanity that intersected at that massive intersection in an extremely busy major city. I had just entered seminary. Hadn’t had my first class yet. I was leaving Cokesbury Bookstore with a bag of books for the classes I had signed up to take that first semester.

I was on fire for the Lord. I was ready to take on the world. I was eager to make it happen. And then, I was simply overwhelmed by the mess of folk being encountered.

It dawned on me that for me to transform the world would be like trying to change the color of the ocean with a small bottle of food dye and one of those little eyedroppers. All I could do is add just a few drops of color over the full span of my life. What difference would it really make? There were just too many people and too few hours, opportunities, chances …

As clear as a sounding bell it came to me – “Good, now I can do something through you!” Was it God? Was it simply my spirit trying to bring peace to a troubled soul? The sensation of God’s presences didn’t leave me, but I was at peace with the task ahead. All I had to be was available. I wasn’t the change agent – God was. I wasn’t the one who was to transform the world – God was. All I had to be was available to add my few drops of food coloring in the great ocean of life.

And if I would change a few and you would change a few and each of our neighbors changed a few before too long we could change the color of the ocean! Like the old theme song of the Methodist Student Movement said: “You bring the one next to you and I will bring the next to me and before too long we will have them all …” And the ocean will be a different color! The participants in the student movement went out believing that they really could win the world for Christ in their lifetime. Oh, to be captured by that sense of excitement and commitment … oh, to be captured by that enthusiasm … oh, to be captured by that idea … oh, to be captured by God for the sake of the Kingdom!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Running the race to win

“Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” 1 Corinthians 9:24 (NLV)

The Tour de France is now history. The Yellow, Green, White and Polka Dotted jerseys have all been awarded … or should I say earned … well earned. The winners paid dearly with their effort. The pain was evident in their faces as they rode through burning legs to achieve what few in their sport ever achieve.

Three weeks of unbelievable mountain climbing, sprints to the finish and strategy. Three weeks of working together as a team. Three weeks of extremely hard work so that one member of their team could win a stage or a sprint or be the first over the top of the mountain. Three weeks of long hours on a very small seat. Three weeks of many miles. Three weeks that was a culmination of a lifetime to a sport that is deeply imbedded in their spirit. They are to be admired.

Each year I begin to think that maybe this year I will go out and purchase a bicycle (although not their version - $1,800-plus dollars is a bit much). They inspire me, but a day goes by and then a week and then a month … and at long last the “urge” has passed and I am onto other things like watching college football … yeah, team!

The thought does cross my mind – am I running the race to win? Am I honoring God with how I am running the race of life? Am I putting myself through the tiresome training in order to be fit enough for the ultimate race? Am I prepared to actually get into the race? And, is anyone watching me run the race? Do I inspire them to follow my lead?

Difficult questions for a Monday morning. Difficult questions for which I do not have a ready answer. Difficult questions that I probably will spend the days ahead giving some serious thought to. Difficult questions for a challenging time.

I do think of John Wesley’s observation that God had sent him on fire and people came from all over England to watch him burn! Am I on fire for the Lord? Is anyone watching me burn?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Have mercy on me, O God ... the state of our inner-self

Psalm 51:1 – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.”

To this day I can still hear my mother saying to me … “You’re not going to wear that are you?” It is still reinforced today by my two daughters and my spouse. But, it has gotten me to reflect on a few things …

Grammatically it is a question, but in reality it is not a question at all.

As a teenager my (your?) mother could ask in “that” tone of voice that made me understand that it was really a declarative statement precipitation a change! Even if I didn’t want to.

We’ve been through this conversation on other occasions. I knew what’s coming next. “Suppose you had a wreck or something and were carried to the doctor’s office or the hospital. That undershirt is worn out you know. Take it off and get another one!” Or, as I have heard in later years, “Why don’t you just throw those underwear away?” Again, not really a question, but a declarative statement.

I do remember a comic routine by Bill Cosby concerning clean underwear. He wondered by mother’s were always concerned about the state of your underwear. He went on to shared that after all if you are in an automobile accident, and I quote, “First you say it and then you do it … and it isn’t clean any longer.”

My mother would have been surprised to learn what I discovered some years later. In a conversation with a registered nurse who worked in the ER at the local hospital, the personnel in the emergency rooms never check the patient for worn out or dirty underwear or holes in their socks. In fact, most of the time those items are cut off our bodies before any work can begin on mending our bodies.

However … and this is the point of Psalm 51 I do believe … the old question about underwear may raise a more pertinent thought about our “inner-wear?” What is the condition of our psyche or soul? What is the state of our emotional self?

John Wesley was fond of asking a penetrating question to his class meetings – “How is it with your soul?” What is the state of your inner-self? Yes, Lord, blot out my transgressions so that I will not be embarrassed if others could see my inner-self.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Modern Day Parable - The Obstacle in our Path

Jesus told stories. Stories help us learn. Stories help us remember a basic truth. Here is one of my favorites.

The Obstacle in our Path

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blanche Culpepper - a servant with a heart for the disenfranchised

“Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me - you did it to me.'” Matthew 25:40 (The Message)

There are servants and then there are servants. Some servants make a more lasting impression, especially on a young associate pastor. Such was the impact that Blanche Culpepper made upon my life.

She was “only” a part-time employee at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, St. Petersburg when I as assigned to the church as their associate. I discovered in her an instant friend and encourager … as well as a guide to providing support to those disenfranchised by society. There was a big difference in providing support verses enabling destructive behavior. It was our desire to support, to assist, to meet the immediate needs of individuals and families, but not to the point of making them dependent on our assistance.

Blanche’s responsibility was to be the advocate for Social Concerns within the church and within the larger community. A unique position for a unique church.

St. Luke’s had always been on the cutting edge when it came to social advocacy. This was the church which was on the cutting edge in racial reconciliation – holding interracial meetings long before the rest of the Judeo/Christian community understood that was role that they should be fulfilling. Further, Cesar Chevaz was invited to stand in their pulpit and share his work with farm workers much to the protest of the citizens of the city.

St. Luke’s UMC was on the cutting edge with all social issues. Mrs. Culpepper’s position was a logical step in a long proud history. She served on a wide range and varied boards for social action in the St. Pete community. She advocated for the homeless, the hungry, the needy … the disenfranchised of society.

May you rest in peace dear friend. Your example will be long remembered, but your heart will not be matched by those who follow.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday rituals - preparation time because Sabbath is coming!

“That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.” ~Luke 23:54 (NKJ)

Saturday rituals – some old, some new, some continue, some do not

Quiet time

Morning Newspaper

Chocolate-chip pancakes

Cartoons on the TV

Water the plants

A little reading

Family time around a board game

Or, maybe we take in a movie

A little sports – yeah, college football

Maybe some grilled hamburgers and hotdogs

Quiet time

Practice the sermon 1, 2, 3 times

A leisure walk in the community – prayer time

Quiet time

Some last minute mindless coach-time

Early to bed

Saturday rituals – some old, some new, some continue, some do not

All focused on family, sermon, God and energy

Day of preparation because Sabbath is coming!

Saturday rituals … how do you prepare for Sunday?

Friday, July 15, 2011

For those overwhelmed by life

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.” Matthew 11:28 (The Message)

For those who are feeling overwhelmed by life circumstances I offer this poem by Sufjan Simone.


Far easier to cover your ears
in a forest brimming with voices
of birds than to seek the one song
that will bring you calm.

Lose your way, be drowned
by sound. Randomness
becomes a pattern all its own.
Know there are paths

Waiting to be found.
Close your eyes. Breathe in
that thick air and learn
to release.

Your foot is not bound by roots.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Joy comes in the morning.

“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 (NKJ)

A job is lost … but joy comes in the morning.

A marriage ends … but joy comes in the morning.

Feelings are hurt … but joy comes in the morning.

A diagnosis is cancer … but joy comes in the morning.

Relationships are strained … but joy comes in the morning.

Rebellion is experienced … but joy comes in the morning.

Addictive behavior is witnessed … but joy comes in the morning.

Health fails … but joy comes in the morning.

Eyesight dims … but joy comes in the morning.

A spouse dies … but joy comes in the morning.

Finances become tight … but joy comes in the morning.

And so the list goes on and on and on and on … but joy comes in the morning.

No matter what we face during the night it will pass, dawn will come and joy will be experienced.

Nothing lasts forever. Regardless how dark the midnight hour might be … joy always comes in the morning.

A promise is a promise … and God keeps his promises!

This is dedicated to all those facing difficult and challenging times. Rest assured that joy will come, the dawning of a new day will take place and life continues. Joy DOES come in the morning.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting excited!

When Simon saw that the apostles by merely laying on hands conferred the Spirit, he pulled out his money, excited, and said, "Sell me your secret! Show me how you did that! How much do you want? Name your price!" Acts 8:18-19 (The Message)

Simon got excited that he might have discovered some new kind of magic trick. He was willing to pay money to learn how to do what the apostles were doing … and it got me thinking … What gets us excited?

Can we make a list of those things in this life that gets us excited?

Sporting event?

A good meal?

Being together with our special someone?

Visiting with our grandchildren?

Is it something that we are willing to pay money to get? … regardless of the cost?

I mean … real excited … racing heart, quick pulse, cannot sleep, jump up and down excited?

Bill Gaither wrote a gospel song about getting excited:
Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King, I said get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King, Get all excited go tell everybody that Jesus Christ is King, Jesus Christ is still the King of king's

You talk about people you talk about thing's that really aren't important at all ... you talk about weather you talk about problems we have here at home and abroad

Oh, we speak about getting excited about this or about that … but words are cheap and not often backed up by our actions.

If we were visited by “Mr- Hunk-Movie-Star” or “Miss-Knock-Your-Socks-Off-Of-World-Beauty-Queen-Winner” we would be so excited that everyone, including the strangers at our door, would hear about. We would be so excited that it would last for at least a week, if not longer.

So why don’t we feel the same way about Jesus?

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Modern Day Parable - The Parable of the Train

Modern day parables, like parables of old, tell a simple story with one clear point. Stories are the way we think and remember. Jesus knew this and thus he used a lot of them to help his listeners and us to understand the deeper truth of God’s love and grace.

The Parable of the Train

A man is in charge of the junction switch at an important location of the train tracks. Normally, he controls the movement of the tracks from his control booth, but one day he discovers the junction control is broken and the track in its current position would send any approaching train off the rails into oblivion. The man hears a passenger train full of people approaching and knows that he will have to hold the manual lever in place personally in order for the train to make it safely across. He strains and holds the lever in the correct position as the train nears the junction. Suddenly, the man's two year old son wanders into view searching for his dad. Finding him on the other side of the tracks, the young boy runs across to him putting himself directly in the path of the oncoming train. The man's first instinct is to grab his son, but he knows if he lets go of the lever, the train and all its passengers will perish. The man decides in an instant that the only choice is to save the train and the people inside and allow his son to be sacrificed. The man collapses in tears afterwards, as the train passes on, with the people inside never realizing what had happened a few feet back...

In life sometimes we might have to sacrifice something that is huge to us in order to save something bigger in the world. Sacrifices are never easy. It isn’t for us nor was it for Jesus.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Some random thoughts

Over the last several weeks there have been some random thoughts bouncing around in my gray matter. Some of them began to touch my spirit and affect my spiritual journey helping to shape it as I move into some new areas of ministry. Non e of these random ideas actually moved beyond just a thought or idea, but I have decided that I will put them into some form and share them with you. Some of these concepts might develop further, but only time will tell on that one. Therefore, today is just a potpourri of fragrances that have filled my spirit.

· CONTEMPORARY WORSHIP – Recently I had a conversation with a dear older friend who has never enjoyed or appreciated contemporary music – too loud, too much of the same words being sung over and over, etc. I’ve heard it all before, nothing new here. It did remind me of something that I read in a worship resource a year ago. It went something like this – if what you are singing this Sunday is the same stuff you were singing 3 to 6 months ago it isn’t contemporary. Contemporary worship should be cutting edge, fresh, exciting and experimental. Interesting idea.

· RECYCLING – As I pulled out of my driveway I noticed that one of my neighbors had two long fluorescent light tubes in their trash can. I wondered if he knew that those tubes should not go to a landfill because they are considered hazardous waste. Then I remembered that my present county makes it rather difficult to drop off hazardous waste material. They have about 2 Saturdays each year for such activities and the hours of operation are very narrow. Doesn’t real encourage one to be more active in recycling hazardous materials. My last county was open every week Monday through Saturday except for holidays.

· PART-TIME PASTORING – Yesterday, I returned home after nearly 7 hours of hospital/home pastoral care – one visit because of a medical procedure, one visit at the VA hospital in St. Pete and one home visit … a part-time schedule? Pastoral Care, as well as sermon preparation cannot be relegated to a part-time calendar. Finding the rhythm has always been difficult. While working as a full-time pastor there were many weeks that a 75-hour week was not unusual so a 40-hour week does seem like a part-time schedule. If it is worth doing it is worth doing well – an old tape that continues to play continuously in my mind.

· TOUR DE FRANCE – Discipline of unbelievable physical demands; teamwork all focused on making it possible for a single rider to win; the planning of each stage rides; the equipment lightweight, strong and durable; support cars with replacement equipment and the ability to do simple maintenance while the car and the cyclist continues to move forward; coordination of rider and those standing at the feeding stations; and the large crowds that line the roads to cheer on the riders. If only the church could learn the lessons of the Tour de France!

· MARK CAVENDISH – When people start talking of their heritage I always like to throw mine out and watch people turn with big question marks on their faces. I’m a Manx and proud of it! My maternal grandmother came to the United States from the Isle of Man, a little known island off the coast of England. I would challenge anyone to see if they can discover someone from the Isle of Man (a Manx). It could be very hard because very few leave the Isle. Mr. Cavendish, a participant in the Tour de France, is from the Isle of Man and will probably go down as one of the best sprinters ever. Yeah, Mark! A visit to this beautiful Isle is on my bucket list.

· E-MAIL FORWARDS – Confession, I was among the guilty parties who did this, but I have changed my ways. I don’t know why people feel that everything that comes into their In-Box should be forwarded on. Oh, there are a couple of real funny, informational and/or inspirational ones that should be passed on, but those are usually in the 5% of all that are forwarded. Beyond those are the ones that should be checked out via or some other internet investigative sites to discover if the information in the e-mail is correct or not. Still further, I have let all of my e-mail friends that I neither read nor forward political type of e-mails … something about bearing false witness … at least that is my read on the situation.

· GUILT - Oh, there is one other that just causes me to laugh more than anything else. It is those messages that state that only 1% will forward on a message or “I know that 97% of my Facebook friends won’t repost this message” or “Only my true friends…” or “Only those who really believe will…” and this list goes on. Guilt is an interesting ploy to “make” others to complete your wishes.

Thanks for reading my random thoughts. I’m not sure how they will develop further, but at least now they are out of my mind and down on “paper”.

P.S. One last thought. Mentors of some distinction mentioned to me repeatedly that I needed to focus on my primary responsibility in worship - preaching the Word of God. "Leave the rest of the service to others and allow yourself to recoup your energy so you will be able to give it your best." I use to actively participate in worship, but it would often take its toll on my energy. The older I get the wiser their suggestions. So, the past Sunday I decided to stay seated during the singing of the Praise songs. Someone wrote me a note, "Why didn't our new pastor stand during the singing of 'My Country 'Tis of Thee'. Well, it looks like I need to educate the congregation of my primary priority come Sunday. I pray that they will understand.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

From mountains to youth camp to discovering where my strength comes from

“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?” Psalm 121:1 (The Message)

Well, it wasn’t the strength of my youth, but it sure was an opportunity to escape … at least for a week. It wasn’t up in the mountains, but at place that I considered paradise. My ideal assignment as pastor would have been the director, but alas that wasn’t in the “cards” so to speak.

I’m speaking of the Youth Camp in Leesburg, Fl.

Each summer I would be one of thousands of campers who would load up on buses or pile into cars and head to central Florida. The land of heat and mosquitoes. The cabins were not air conditioned and the bathrooms and showers were in a central location down a dirt path. But was my kind of paradise. Something that I looked forward to each summer.

To this day I can close my eyes and remember … the early morning devotions on the silver benches down by the lake, the dinning hall and KP duty, the craft huts, small discussion groups, the games, folk dancing, the closing chapel services and the Lord’s Prayer being played over the speakers as the sounds of the night came flooding in through the open windows.

I looked forward to this experience every chance I could get. I would be the first one to sign up for the experience. The first one to send off my reservation slip. I was ready … just tell me when.

It was the place that I looked to as the place to have my faith strengthened. It was the mountain top experience. It was the Path of Silence and quiet nights on the docks looking at the blue outlined cross floating on the lake. It was my solitude. It was an escape. Like church, it was a place of freedom, love and an instrument of grace. It was the place that I found God more real than a thousand worship services, ten thousand MYF meetings and never ending Sunday school programs.

Every summer I become a little nostalgic for those summer days. Life seemed more simple then. Everything had its place and everything fit into place. It all made logical sense. It was predictable. I knew what was expected of me and I knew what was around the next corner. It was a special time … the lost days of my youth.

But we all grow up and move on to more adult experiences and heavier responsibilities. The matters which confront us now are weightier with far reaching implications for everyone we touch. There are little opportunities to escape, except with a vacation week here or there.

Yet within it all there is a longing … a hoping … a wishing … that just maybe this summer the recapturing of those summer camp days might become reality. And yet, through it all we are reminded our help doesn’t come via a summer camp or memories or recaptured youth experiences … our help comes only from God, regardless of our age, needs or desires.

And so, we can look to the mountains and wish, long, hope, dream, but help is found only in God. But, wouldn’t be nice … at least just once … to be able to return to those lost days of a youthful summer and live through some of those rich experiences once again?

Oh, if it was only possible … and so I close my eyes allowing my spirit to be transported back and savor the sweet memory of a time lost in the turning of the calendar pages.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A journey has begun.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~Confucius

And so a journey began on Sunday. It began with a single step. Where this journey will take us is anyone’s guess. Like Abraham of old who packed up his entire household and headed off across the Fertile Crescent not knowing where he would end up, only that God had told him to go. So, now a small membership church and I are heading off on a journey … a journey ordained by God for it was God who brought us together.

The largest part of any such journey is trust. The membership has to trust me and I have to trust them … and both of us have to trust God. Along the way we will experience some challenges, which will require each of us to make some changes. Change is good as long as it isn’t just change for change sake.

Along this journey we will discover that we are carrying some things that simply needs to be discarded. Oh, they were important at one point in our history, but are simply weighing us down now. Making the difficult decision to let them go will be hard and often emotional, but the real question is, Are they important to God? Holding on to traditions has meaning at times, but letting them go is freeing. Again, the challenge here is trust.

Along this journey we will discover that we need to add to our load some new ideas and new concepts. This often challenges our comfort zones, makes us stretch where we might not particularly like to be stretched and confronted where we least like to be confronted. Growth is difficult and sometimes is painful, but growth is always better then the alternative.

Along this journey we will make some interesting discovers. There will be many surprises and we will exclaim, “Wow, we didn’t know we could do that!” We will discover a spiritual depth that we didn’t know we were capable of reaching, as well as view the vistas of the grand landscape of the spiritual world that we only dreamed of.

Spiritual journeys are dynamic and fantastic, but we have to leave the comfort zone of the familiar, the traditional, the predictable and venture forth into the unknown trusting God to lead us.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Modern Day Parable - A Blue Rose who goes by the name, Denny

When I read the following story I thought of Bill. I called him Sweet William. He would just grin and give me a hug. It didn’t take long before he started to call me Sweet Jim … and he started to beat me to the punch. He was the unofficial greeter at First, Gainesville. He also collected all of the Sunday School offerings and got them to the counters. Bill is now in heaven with his mama, but oh the lives he touched with his smile, warm handshake and hugs, and his greeting of “Hi, I’m glad to see you!”

And now for a modern day parable …

Having four visiting family members, my wife was very busy, so I offered to go to the store for her to get some needed items, which included light bulbs, paper towels, trash bags, detergent and Clorox. So off I went.

I scurried around the store, gathered up my goodies and headed for the checkout counter, only to be blocked in the narrow aisle by a young man who appeared to be about sixteen-years-old. I wasn't in a hurry, so I patiently waited for the boy to realize that I was there. This was when he waved his hands excitedly in the air and declared in a loud voice, "Mommy, I'm over here."

It was obvious now, he was mentally challenged and also startled as he turned and saw me standing so close to him, waiting to squeeze by. His eyes widened and surprise exploded on his face as I said, "Hey Buddy, what's your name?"

"My name is Denny and I'm shopping with my mother," he responded proudly.

"Wow," I said, "that's a cool name. I wish my name was Denny, but my name is Steve."

"Steve, like Stevarino?" he asked. "Yes," I answered. "How old are you Denny?"

"How old am I now, Mommy?" he asked his mother as she slowly came over from the next aisle.

"You're fifteen-years-old Denny. Now be a good boy and let the man pass by."

I acknowledged her and continued to talk to Denny for several more minutes about summer, bicycles and school. I watched his brown eyes dance with excitement, because he was the center of someone's attention. He then abruptly turned and headed toward the toy section.

Denny's mom had a puzzled look on her face and thanked me for taking the time to talk with her son. She told me that most people wouldn't even look at him, much less talk to him.

I told her that it was my pleasure and then I said something I have no idea where it came from, other than by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I told her that there are plenty of red, yellow, and pink roses in God's Garden; however, "Blue Roses" are very rare and should be appreciated for their beauty and distinctiveness. You see, Denny is a Blue Rose and if someone doesn't stop and smell that rose with their heart and touch that rose with their kindness, then they've missed a blessing from God.

She was silent for a second, then with a tear in her eye she asked, "Who are you?"

Without thinking I said, "Oh, I'm probably just a dandelion, but I sure love living in God's garden."

She reached out, squeezed my hand and said, "God bless you!" and then I had tears in my eyes.

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel!" ~Anonymous

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reflections on my new personal purpose statement

“(God) who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” 2 Timothy 1:9 (NIV)

Why it never dawned on me before is anyone’s guess. Maybe I was just too busy trying to fulfill the role and expectations of pastoring a church, as well as meeting the expectations and demands as a husband and father.

Oh, I had worked to discover a purpose statement for the body of fellowships that I was serving – a purpose statement that was short and easy to remember … a statement that spoke volumes in as few words as possible … but for me personally … not until now.

There it was ablaze on a T-shirt of someone on the television … Onward, Upward, Outward. I had never connected those words before in a single phrase, but had preached a series of sermons (many, many years ago on the concepts of Inward, Upward, Onward and Outward). The more I mulled them over I kind of liked it as a personal purpose statement.

Just to be safe I thought that it might be good to do a double checking on the phrase to make sure that I wasn’t connecting myself, unintentionally, to some radical group. A quick internet search proved that I had nothing to fear. So there you go …

My new personal purpose statement: Inward, Upward, Onward, Outward

Inward – looking at my spiritual condition, taking the pulse of my spiritual walk, keeping the cobwebs from gathering in the corners of my heart, sorting out those areas in which I have become lazy, and keeping my faith fresh. Hint: that is why I like Rachel Evans Hold’s blog. I don’t have to agree with what she shares, but they do make me think and evaluate.

Upward – always looking to God for guidance and strength following the example of Jesus who was constantly taking time to stay connected with his heavenly father – even as the crowds pressed upon him, he withdrew for hours and days of prayer and meditation. Can any of us do less?

Onward – keeping my mind on “heading north” as an associate of mine is fond of saying. It is too easy to take up “housekeeping” in our comfort zones. There was some reason that God had the Israelites living in tents – tents are easy to pull up, fold up and pack up for moving to the next location in our journey. Spiritual journeys should be the same. Some favorite words from one of my spiritual mentors was the question: Is what you believe today the same as you believed last year, last month, yesterday? If so then your faith is stagnating!

Outward – the purpose of our relationship with God through Christ is not so we can go to heaven or feel good about ourselves or gain a political/social advantage in the community or to have our lives blessed. The purpose is to serve the needs of others, as in “As you have done it unto the least of these …” (Matthew 25) Or, as it states in Jeremiah (29), “Seek the welfare of the city …” Or, as John Wesley believed that our place in this world should make an impact on those who surround us – in a meaningful and lasting way. That is why John Wesley and the Wesleyan movement is accredited for saving England from a French-style revolution.

And so, there you have it – Inward, Upward, Onward, Upward – my new purpose statement. What do you think?