Friday, April 28, 2006

Flip-Flop Luck

Around the corner from where we live is a rather headstrong five-year-old-girl. She constantly is asking challenging questions and is rarely willingly to do what her parents or any other authority figures asks.

Yesterday, I found her a considerable distance away from home--and barefoot. I asked her, "What are you doing?"

She said, "I'm looking for my flip-flops. My Daddy bought me some flip flops and I don't know where they are."

"Where did you last see them?" I inquired.

"They were somewhere..." her voice trailed off.

"Well, good luck finding them," I told her.

She said, "I've been looking for a while. I'm all out of good luck. Now, I only have bad luck."

If she never finds her flip-flops, at least she lucked into a little adventure.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Deuteronomy 29:29

We had a capacity crowd for Betty's funeral this past Saturday. The service went about as well as one could hope. We celebrated a life well lived and God's promised hope of eternal life and resurrection.

But after a funeral, the grieving doesn't stop, it begins. Personally, I'm pretty tired. I took two days off after working 14 days in a row.

A lady who lives in the nursing home made an interesting comment to me. We were talking about losing Betty and the questions of why. In the course of the conversation, I shared Deuteronomy 29:29--a verse that has helped me tremendously in coming to terms with that "why God" question. It says:

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this Law."

When I said God chooses not to reveal some things, the lady replied, "Following what God has revealed is a big enough job."

That and our grief will be enough.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Loss Upon Loss

This past Wednesday was a day of loss that got progressively harder.

In the morning, my wife, mother-in-law, and kids went off to Colorado for a week.

At midday, some good friends told me they were changing jobs and moving this summer.

Then late in the afternoon, I received word that a member of our church died in a farm accident. Betty Carlton was our church treasurer and a very good friend to me. Her husband died in March after a long battle with cancer. Our entire small town is in shock and grief.

After being with the grieving family, and driving home at night, I saw a very bright and moving image in the sky. It lasted for several seconds. At first, I thought it was a shooting star. But then, before it disappeared, the light broke off into different pieces. Most likely, it was space junk that was burning up in the earth's atmosphere.

After a day like Wednesday, I'm looking for a ray of hope.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Guitar Hack Inspiration

Tonight, me and a buddy are going to Wichita to see a phenomenal acoustic guitar player, Richard Gilewitz.

I've seen him twice before. He's a goofy guy, but what a guitarist. To that last sentence, Gilewitz would probably say, "Yep, it's a trade-off."

What he does on a 12-string guitar I've never seen duplicated. If you're into acoustic guitar, he definitely worth checking out if he ever comes to your neighborhood.

I have great respect (and a large dose of envy!) for people like Richard who are masters at their craft. After you spend time with such people, you return home with a little more inspiration to keep hacking away at what you're doing.

Hack, hack, hack.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Eyes (and a camera) to See

We recently purchased a digital camera, a Fuji FinePix E-900. It's an excellent camera with nice features. It's by no means a professional camera, but it's very good for everyday family shots. This morning, I've been busy ordering family pictures of the Easter weekend and also my son's 3rd birthday party.

After playing with the camera for a couple of weeks, I've gained an immense admiration for the work of many good and creative photographers on sites such as Flickr. It takes a good eye to see and imagine colors, light, and framing. You can see my novice attempt with my midnight picture of the moon through my front yard tree.

God certainly appreciates art and beauty. The call in Exodus 26-35 for "skilled craftsmen" to construct the Tabernacle is ample proof.

It's interesting, when Satan tempts Adam and Eve in the garden, the lure is their "eyes will be opened." Sure enough, their eyes are opened when they bite the fruit.

However, this opening of eyes actually makes them blind!

Ever since, the world has desperately needed the redemptive ministry of Jesus to open our eyes. When Jesus opens your eyes, you see beauty and see with clarity.

Enjoy the view.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Burning It Off

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it." --1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

With the end of Lent, Christians have formally concluded a season of introspection, self-examination, and repentance--tools that God uses to "sanctify" or purify our hearts into the character of Jesus.

One annual spring activity around Kansas is the burning of CRP fields. The fire burns off unwanted weeds and trees, and helps new grass grow more efficiently. The above picture was taken on the outskirts of Little River.

In many ways, this activity is a visible picture of the invisible Lenten work God does in the heart that is aligned toward Him.

Lent is over. The grass is burned. Let the new growth of life sprout up in you.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter 2006

He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again!

Believers around the world universally declare these two statements on this wonderful day.

A choral cantata was the highlight of our church's worship service today. We sounded pretty good, if I say so myself.

Our service traditionally ends with a song that has the chorus, "The tomb is empty, praise be to God." This year I told myself that I wouldn't start choking up during the song. But it didn't matter. I did it anyway.

At 7:00am, I went to a community sunrise service at a neighboring church. Afterwards, we continued our fellowship with an Easter breakfast.

One man said something funny to his wife: "Honey, since it was women who first discovered the empty tomb, I think that only women should be allowed to attend sunrises services. Us men, we'll just show up later for breakfast."

Have a blessed resurrection Sunday.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

In-between Good Friday and Easter

Today--Holy Saturday--our church hosted a funeral service for Howard Hodgson, a faithful and long time member.

While some church traditions strictly forbid weddings and funerals on Holy Saturday--the day that we remember Jesus laying in the tomb--I personally believe Holy Saturday is the best day of the year to have a funeral.

For this reason--we live in an age that is in-between Good Friday and Easter.

Our loved ones who have died are in the grave--Good Friday.

We are eagerly anticipating their bodily resurrection--Easter.

Meanwhile, we wait.

It's Saturday. But Sunday is coming!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Holy Week-Holy Habits 5

On Good Friday, Jesus lives out before us the most difficult spiritual discipline--submission.

"Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.'

"Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'" (Matthew 26: 38-39).

"He went away a second time and prayed, 'My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done'" (Matthew 26:42)

Doing what God asks, especially when it isn't necessarily what you want, feels like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. You're certain that awaiting you at the bottom is death--and it very well may. However, what we can't see is that in some mysterious way, this leap of faith will bring us even more life.

When God called me to attend seminary back in 1988, it felt like death. I liked my place in life at that time. I worked around music all day, every day; lived in a college town; had lots of good friends. Crawling into some ivory tower called seminary wasn't my idea of serving God. But as someone has said, "It's far better to be in the midst of danger and in the middle of God's will, than to be comfortable with all the world's delights and out of God's will." I eventually went to seminary, but it took me several years before I could honestly say to God, "You knew what you were doing."

Warren Wiersbe writes, "Submission is not subjugation. Subjugation turns a person into a thing, destroys individuality, and removes all liberty. Submission makes a person become more of what God wants him to be; it brings out individuality; it gives him the freedom to accomplish all that God has for his life and ministry. Subjugation is weakness; it is the refuge of those who are afraid of maturity. Submission is strength; it is the first step toward true maturity and ministry."

Submission then is not an optional discipline to the Christian life. C. S. Lewis sums up the bottom line: "There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'"

—On this Good Friday, I'm glad Jesus said, "Thy will be done."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Holy Week--Holy Habits 4

This week we're considering the spiritual practices of Jesus and their relevance to our own lives. On Maundy Thursday, it's appropriate to consider this story from John 13:2-5:

"The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him."

Here, through the washing of the disciple's feet, Jesus shows us the discipline of service. Jesus serves even though John tells us that the Father had put all things under Jesus' power. Jesus did not have to serve. If anything, he was the one to be served. And yet, as Paul says in Philippians 2, Jesus willingly gave up his rights in order to serve humanity with his very life. Service gives glory to God when it's done on behalf of our fellow human being, with a view of thanksgiving toward God--remembering how He serves us and gives us life.

Recently, I've seen some inspiring acts of service. My church's junior high confirmation class, on their own initiative, organized a pancake for a person with cancer in our area. A wife faithfully stood by her husband near the end of his life. My 2-year-old son got off his tricycle in order to give a helpful starter push to his sister on her bicycle.

George Eliot writes, "What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy Week-Holy Habits 3

"At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place" (Luke 4:42).

One of Jesus' regular spiritual habits is foreign to us--solitude and silence.

When was the last time you actually got away from it all, when you deliberately went to a quiet place in order to be in God's presence?

I admit, it's pretty hard to do in our age. If you have young kids at home, as I do, they constantly make noise and demand your attention. Then at work, with cell phones, pagers, faxes, instant messaging, etc., there are no far off places; we are constantly connected. Rev. David Renwick observes, "We live in an age in which the boundaries of time have been simply cut away from us." Rarely is there time to mull over something. Immediate answers and instant analysis are now the norm.

And yet, all of us need time and space to get away and be refreshed in the Lord. Luke 5:16 tells us, "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Notice the frequency that Jesus got away; he did it often.

Why did Jesus do this? Why should we?

Getting away allows you to monitor what's going on in your soul. The late Henri Nouwen observes, "As soon as we are alone--without people to talk with, books to read, TV to watch, or phone calls to make--an inner chaos opens up in us. The chaos can be so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again." When you get alone in the quiet, you find some ugly things ruminating in your soul.

Getting away allows you to encounter God in a unique way. When Elijah experienced the presence of God, it wasn't through a tornado wind, or rumbling earthquake, or blazing fire, but a gentle whisper. Thomas Merton says, "As soon as you are really alone, you are with God."

Getting away also allows you to receive God's wisdom. Soon after Paul was converted, he spent significant time alone with God--receiving 's apostolic wisdom on the significance of Christ's death and resurrection. "Silence is a fence around wisdom," says a Hebrew proverb.

Back in 2001, while attending the United Church of Christ's General Synod in Kansas City, I was asked to serve as the chaplain in the prayer room. With over 6,000 people at Synod, I thought the room would be pretty busy, but instead, it was dead silent. In 4 1/2 hours, maybe a half dozen people came into the room. None of them needed a chaplain.

At first, the silence was horrifying. Lots of ugly, fearful thoughts passed through my mind. That went on for about two hours. But then, the silence and solitude turned into a blessing. For the last 2 1/2 hours, my heart worshipped the Lord. I relished the silence because it was a gateway to communion. The experience was like bicycling up a mountain. Hard uphill, but easy downhill.

I can't say I've had a 4 1/2 hour block of silence since then (except while sleeping!). But it's been helpful carving out small blocks of time for solitude and silence--before everyone gets up, or after everyone has gone to sleep. Or even going to a special place. I like our church's sanctuary.

Silence and solitude. It has deafening benefits.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Holy Week--Holy Habits 2

During this Holy Week, I'm observing the spiritual disciplines practiced by Jesus and considering their relevance to our life. In Luke 4:16-21, we read:

"Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written:

God's Spirit is on me; he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."

One regular spiritual habit of Jesus was gathering with others for worship--"As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place." The Christian life is not a "lone ranger" experience; growth and maturity comes through the help of others as we abide in close community. For this reason, Hebrews 10:25 tells us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

As a pastor, whenever I talk to people about church, I sometimes wonder if I'm encouraging them to attend because it legitimizes my job. If people are in the pews, then I have someone to preach to. But in reality, my vocation isn't about me--it's about ushering people into the presence of God, so they may hear and respond to the Good News.

Other times, I don't have to say anything about coming to church. People just volunteer their reasons why they haven't been coming or don't come. One common saying is, "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian." That's true. No good work makes anyone a Christian. What makes you a Christian is faith in Jesus to forgive your sins. And yet, the Christian who is not a member of a church is like the football player who isn't on a football team.

Hey, I admit, there have been plenty of times in my life that I've wanted to not bother with church. So I'm sympathetic, and sometimes a tad envious, of those who don't attend church.

But here's the bottom line: Jesus, the perfect Son of God, saw the importance of gathering with others once a week to worship. For this reason, he made it his custom.

If even Jesus saw the need for "church" in his own life, maybe I have that same need too.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Holy Week--Holy Habits 1

A couple of years ago, influenced by books I read by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, I did a Lenten sermon series on the spiritual disciplines practiced by Jesus. It was interesting to discover the spiritual habits Jesus cultivated with his heavenly Father as he conducted his three years of public ministry. As we begin Holy Week, I want to share with you those disciplines of Jesus and consider their application for our life.

Right after Jesus begins his public ministry, we see his first spiritual habit--fasting and prayer: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished" (Matthew 4:1-2).

Through fasting, Jesus put himself in a posture of spiritual dependence on his Father. That dependence would characterize his entire earthly ministry--and it saw him through his time of testing by the devil.

Have you ever fasted? Gone without food for a period of time for the express purpose of seeking God's face? It's a tangible way to show the Lord that you mean business with Him. It puts you in a spiritual state of mind to receive wisdom from God.

Fasting is like cupping your hands together under a running faucet in order to get cool refreshment from the Lord.

If you'll go without, you'll gain so much.

It's funny, the day I preached this sermon--about how Jesus went without food in the wildnerness--was the same day that our Women's Fellowship had scheduled a potluck dinner after the worship service! Later, as we were eating, one of our church members came up to me and said, "Pastor, I've been thinking about your sermon this morning, and I've decided what I'm going to give up for Lent. I'm going to fast from eating seconds!"

Friday, April 07, 2006

Comedian Bob Nelson in Little River, Kansas

Memories from April Fools Day! (Special thanks to the Little River Monitor Journal for show pictures.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Afterglow Memories

After two years of planning the Bob Nelson comedy show, the moment has come and gone, and now even the afterglow is starting to fade. That's the nature of any stage work. See a show and then relish the memories.

What children remember and why they remember it has always been a mystery to me. Personally, my earliest memory is standing outside with my coat on at 3 years old. The next vivid memory was riding a tricycle as a teddy bear in my kindergarten circus.

My 8 year old is having fun reciting a few lines from the comedy show--Bob's character, Jiffy Jeff. Here's what she says around the house:

"In the ring, in the ring, in the ring. Answer the phone!"

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, stop the fight, stop the fight. He bit his ear off!"

Praise God for the happy memories we have.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Double Whammy Weekend

This past weekend was a "double-whammy" emotionally. Comedian Bob Nelson entertained in Little River on Saturday and former hostage and Philippine missionary Gracia Burnham spoke in Lyons on Sunday.

So we laughed on Saturday and cried on Sunday. The extremes of emotions were well covered.

When Gracia Burnham closed out her talk to 450 people at the Lyons Celebration Centre, she told a story about sitting in the living room of a Mississippi pastor, whose church had supported the Burnham family for years. The pastor asked Gracia what she dream about--what she hoped to do now that she was living in Kansas.

The question stumped Gracia. A little over a year had passed since the 376 day hostage ordeal in the Philippines--which ended with her husband Martin killed, but Gracia rescued. Her and her husband had spent 17 years as aviation missionaries in the Philippines. They had anticipated many more years there. But all those dreams had been shattered.

Gracia timidly replied, "I guess just raise my kids..."

The pastor asked again, "But what does the doctrine of grace suggest for your future?" And he quoted from 1 Corinthians 2:8-9--"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

Certainly, Gracia experienced horrible things as a hostage in the Philippine jungle. But in that conversation, she realized that despite her tragic past, she still had a future. Granted, it wasn't the future she envisioned, but it still was a future full of grace--full of God created open doors. Would she seize them? Or, would she let past sorrows define her future?

Gracia left Mississippi a changed person. So much so, she called her publisher and said she had to add one last chapter to the manuscript she just turned in--what became her book, To Fly Again.

Gracia's story reminded me of something Bob Nelson said me when I started an interview with him (When I get the energy, I'll transcribe it and post it here. We talked about a lot of interesting stuff--why a city boy was interested in forestry when first going to college, personal highlights from his Tonight Show appearances, the spiritual life of Red Skelton and Rodney Dangerfield, how his family helped lead him to Christ, what makes Bob laugh, how he met and worked with Michael W. Smith and Max Lucado's "Come Thirsty" tour, and what his future holds. So if you're a Bob Nelson fan, check back here).

I began the interview saying, "I'm here with the legendary comedian, Bob Nelson." To which Bob replied, "Yes, legendary means you're either past your prime, never existed!"

One other meaning of legendary is that you had a noteworthy past. How many of us don't have something in our past--be it good or bad--that has dramatically shaped who we are today?

But despite the past, grace declares there's still a future--still something good for you to experience from God.

As Timbuck 3 sings, "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Definition of Comedy

During Bob Nelson's April 1st comedy show at the Little River High School gym, Bob said, "Comedy = tragedy + distance."

Tragedy because something bad happened. Distance because it didn't happen to you.

"So if you tell a Polish joke," Nelson said, "You're laughing, but the Polish guy is upset--because you're talking about him--and because he doesn't understand the joke."

The day after the show, Sunday afternoon, was clean up. We put the chairs and stage away, cleaned up trash, and swept the gym floor.

My job was gathering up all the programs, chicken buckets, comment cards, pencils, and ticket stubs. I put it all on a four-wheel dolly and wheeled it outside.

When I got out the door, I could tell it was locked. "Darn, don't want to lock myself out and have to walk all the way around the building to get back in," I said to myself. So I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet to jam the door.

But in reaching for my wallet, I let go of the dolly. It was slowly moving toward the parking lot curb.

Ever have one of those moments where you have to decide, "Which tragedy will you choose?" In a few seconds, I had to decide: Do I lock myself out and rescue the run away dolly, or do I rescue the dolly and lock myself out?"

I decided, "That dolly will run off the curb and just stop. No harm." So I turned my back to the dolly and jammed the door.

Meanwhile, the dolly did fall over the curb--and then fell over. All the pencils, ticket stubs, programs, and comment cards fell out. An unwelcomed occurence, but still no harm.

Then, a 40 mph wind gust blew and blew again--and all the above mentioned material went blowing in the wind--down the parking lot and into the street.

While running and picking up stuff, I thought of what Bob said, "Comedy = tragedy + distance." OK, I confess, that wasn't my very first thought.

The wind kept blowing and for the next 40 minutes I frantically ran and tried to pick up everything. Put I didn't get it all. (The next day, I found one comment card a 1/2 mile away from where I first lost it).

As I was picking up stuff, my friend Milt came out of the school gym and said, "What are you doing?" And I told him, "Do you remember Bob's definition of comedy?"

As we finished cleaning up, I said to Milt, "You know, we lost a lot of ticket stubs to the wind. We'll never really know how many people came to the show." We eye-balled the crowd to be 700-750.

Milt said, "Yeah, but God knows. And He's really the only one who needs to."

That's a good definition of entrusting to God everything you do.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Lots of Laughs--Nelson Style

We had a fun time on April Fools Night as comedian Bob Nelson came to rural Kansas and Little River to entertain about 750 folks. Thank you so much Bob for your willingness to come and be with us. The town really appreciated it.

We enjoyed several of Bob's classic stunts--The Farmer & Duck "verbamime," meeting the football all-stars, and four tips to becoming a professional fighter from Jiffy Jeff.

During one routine, Bob talked about the time he took his wife to a french restaurant they often frequent: "The waiter greets us and say, 'Ah, Mrs. Nelson, you look lovely tonight.' And I go, 'Dang, he stole my line!'"

The day after the comedy show happened to be my wife's birthday. As we were driving to Lyons, the town west of Little River, for a dinner date out, I handed Melissa the birthday cards that came in the mail. One of the cards came from Raymond Harris, Melissa's boss in Dallas and a good friend to both of us. In the card, Raymond wrote, "I really appreciate you." And deja vu, I go, "Dang, he stole my line."

Later at the restaurant, we ran into some old friends. After chattting, they picked up our bill and paid for our meal. So I told Melissa, "Looks like I still owe you a birthday dinner."