Saturday, March 29, 2008

Flimflam


I love how this word feels when it flows out of my mouth....flimflam.


I wish I would have discovered this word, but I didn't. I love saying it even though I don't use it very often. You can only use this word every so often. Overuse it and people begin to think that something is wrong with you.


The origin of this word is very interesting. It was the second half of the 16th century that saw its birth as a noun. The verb form appeared in the next century. Scandinavia was probably its country of origin and is taken from the Old Norse word flim meaning "deception" or "mockery."


There are several synonyms for "deception." Here are a couple of my favorites..."hornswoggle" and "bamboozle." I haven't used either of these recently, but the first chance I get, I will.


In a "flimflam age" truth often seems obscured by the wiles of culture.


We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don't maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don't twist God's Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God. II Corinthians 4:2 (The Message)


No '"flimflam" here....just transparency.


I am always a little suspicious when someone says, "let me be honest with you."


Flimflam.


What do you think? Be honest...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Enough

That is a strange word.

I have heard it used many different ways. "Enough already!" "I have had enough of that!" "Do you have enough?"

And then, "Enough is enough." What does that mean?
Just looking at that word on the page seems strange to me.

Here are some things that I have had "enough" of. I have had enough...

Speculation about who is going to get the nomination for the Democratic party.
What did Jeremiah Wright say and mean?
Who will "conservatives" support in the presidential election?
What other text messages did Kwame Kilpatrick send?
Emphases on "global warming" when I am standing in a driving snow storm on March 27
Who will win "American Idol?"
What "Book of the Month" will Oprah endorse?
How high gas prices will go?
When will the troops come home?
Why is there such a thing as a "sub-prime" crisis?
When will the potholes go away on the main road in my community?

I am concerned in a "sorta-kinda" way about all of these, but if I allow them they consume my time and my thoughts.

"I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it's your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory." I Peter 1:6-7 (The Message)
I love it. "...every kind of aggravation..." I don't love the aggravation, I love the fact that the scripture says, "when Jesus wraps this all up." Sounds like one day He will say, "Enough."
Until that day He is Enough!

What do you think?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Signs

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign
blocking out the scenery
breaking my mind.
Don't do this, don't do that...
Can't you read the sign?
5 Man Electric Band - 1970

This sign hangs in the local Border's bookstore.

I am not sure why it intrigues me, but there is something about this sign that hangs from the ceiling that grabs my attention. It may be because I am easily impressed and distracted by signs.

"All things local..."

John Wesley said, "the whole world is my parish."

There is a sign at the end of the parking lot at church that says, "the mission field begins here."

"All things local..."

Another sign I saw recently said, "think globally, act locally."

All of these signs have caused me to stop and think. Yes, I can be concerned about needs half way around the world, yes, I can think of pandemics that are raging in 3rd world countries, and yes, I can ponder the plight of millions of people in other places. But what about the people that I meet every day?

I am not suggesting that we ignore global needs. I am suggesting that our influence and ministry begins locally.

Do you have any friends outside of the church you attend? Do you have relationships with people who are not in some way associated with the church that you attend? Are you sharing your story of the difference that His Story has made in your life with someone?

Are you living in a world where, "all things" are "local?"

"May God, who puts all things together, makes all things whole..." Hebrews 13:18 (The Message)

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Letitgo


Everyone has experienced a hurt or a disappointment during their life.

I am not talking about minor things along the way. I am not talking about moments of disappointment that come in the course of everyday living.

I am talking about those “life changing” moments when our expectations were dashed, moments when our hopes were unfulfilled. Those moments which hang in the air like smoke from a smoldering fire.

Talking with people, I have heard stories that trapped the storyteller in a quagmire of bitterness and anger. The toxicity of those moments made it seem like the events and disappointments were yesterday when they actually occurred years ago.
Yesterday I talked with a person who was trapped and angry. They were carrying the "weight of the world" on their shoulders. The glass was "half empty" and the "pity party" was in full swing.

I said it. I used a “made up” word.

Letitgo.

Let…it…go. Easier said than done, and I realize that.

But I also realize that past experiences, disappointments and hurts can hang like a “two ton boulder” around our neck.

I have had huge rocks sitting on my shoulders from time to time, who hasn't? When those moments come, we are faced with a choice.

My hurt? or His hand?
I choose His hand.

Letitgo….His hand? No! My disappointments, hurts and unfulfilled expectations? Yes.

'Because I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I'm not letting go. I'm telling you, 'Don't panic. I'm right here to help you.' Isaiah 41:13

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lists


My daughter bought an Easter gift for each member of our family.


Now before you get all excited, these are the kind of gifts that makes you smile. When I opened mine, I laughed.


It was an Office note pad. The popular television show starring Steve Carrel tells the story of Dunder-Mifflin, a firm in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. It is an inside view of what goes on in an office among a menagerie of co-workers.


Back to the gift.


It is a note pad. What makes it interesting is that it contains four categories with room for additional notes under each category.


Tasks...I know what that means.


Time Wasters...I am trying to avoid those.


Excuses...it is easy to spend more time developing these than it is actually working.


Complaints...this speaks for itself.


That they would develop a list like this and make it available for sale, speaks volumes about the work ethic in our culture. Well, you say, "hey it's a joke...don't take it so serious."


"Don't kid yourself." Today's work ethic seems to be suffering.


Something needs to be done. Then it hit me...a verse that I read a long time ago.


"Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way." Colossians 3:17 (The Message)


I am going to put that verse on the list that my daughter gave me on Easter.


I gotta get to work...and I am looking forward to it.


What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Costanza


Every opportunity I get, I watch one of my favorite television shows…Seinfeld. It is a show about “nothing.”

Yet, everything you can imagine happens in twenty two minutes of comedy.

One of the primary characters is George Costanza. He is the lifelong friend of Jerry Seinfeld and the show’s resident philosopher.

Elaine, his friend, describes George as a
“short, stocky, slow witted bald man.”

His escapades and lying are legendary.

Jerry seems to admire George's ability to lie. Jerry says that George is duplicitous, deceitful and a pathological liar, yet he is quick to get his advice. In the episode entitled, “The Beard,” George seems enamored with his own ability to bend the truth.

He says,
“Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Our culture seems to buy this “lie.”

Recently, I was watching and George was caught in a precarious spot. He was trying to come up with a solution to the problem he was facing. When he could not come up with a lie he blurted out,
“I’ve got nothing, Jerry, I’ve got nothing…”

Our culture is not quick to make this admission.

Recently I was thinking…”I’ve got nothing…” That may seem like an admission of weakness, but I am beginning to think that it is an admission of strength.

Once upon a time I read a statement that has changed the direction of my life. It sounds something like this,
“apart from me you can do nothing.”

“I’ve got nothing…”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter


Obama’s passport file.

He is Risen!

NCAA “bracketology”

He is Risen!

New Easter clothes.

He is Risen!

Easter baskets...


He is Risen...In a world of distractions, that is The Message. People came today to hear that message in song and from the Word.


There were all kinds of people in church this morning...


There were people without jobs...people who are in the process of losing their jobs...people with physical needs...people who just lost loved ones....people who need to be loved... people who are in the middle of marital problems...people with financial needs....people who are searching....people who have spiritual needs...


There were people with addictions and habits....people who were coerced or forced to be there...people who were looking for a word of hope and encouragement...


There were people wrestling with feelings of overwhelming guilt...people who are dealing with shame...lonely people...tired and weary people....


And there were people who were geeked, jazzed and excited about being there.


It was great to see all of the people....needs and all.


I stood in front of them and talked about "crossroads" from the book of Jeremiah.


This is what the Lord says, stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16


Then it hit me..."crossroads." Today I talked about "cross" roads, and the presence of the Risen Lord was among us....and it was good!


I am finding "rest for my soul" this afternoon...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saturday


Holy Week is nearing its end.

Today is a day of waiting. It is a day to ponder the events of this past week and to consider the coming of His Day….Resurrection Day.

In the silence of the moments of this day, I begin to realize that shadows seem larger than light. It seems like death has won. It feels like there is an abysmal chasm which cannot be bridged.

Resonant baritone voices will sing…“Low in the grave he lay…”

Death. Grave. Darkness. Uncertainty.

Pilgrims during that first Holy Week watched as their hopes, dreams and thoughts were dashed against the reality of Friday moments.

Jesus, the “miracle worker” was dead. No more excitement.
Jesus, the “healer” was dead. No more cases to baffle the doctors.
Jesus, the “life giver” was dead. No more transformation.
Jesus, the “Story-Teller” was dead. No more parables.

In the tradition that I grew up in we didn’t dwell much on Saturday. We rather looked to Easter because we would be able to rambunctiously sing….”up from the grave He arose” and everything would be rosy again.

I don’t want to walk to quickly through this day. The emotions that rampantly ran through the corridors of the disciples minds must have mystified them.

What next?

That’s the question that haunts me in the early hours of this Saturday.

What’s next?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday



I love words.

Words provide a framework for understanding concepts. Images work as well, but today is a day of words.

Good Friday.

It is a day of words....words uttered by Jesus on the cross. They are powerful reminders of the drama which unfolded on a hill overlooking the city.

Jesus said...

Father, forgive them . . .
This day you will be with me in paradise...
Woman, behold your son . . .
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me . . .
I thirst…
It is finished!
Father into your hands . . .

Later this morning I head downtown on a personal pilgrimage through the Stations of the Cross. At noon today the church I attend will be open for pilgrims to celebrate the Stations of the Cross.

History is rich with worshipping communities who have considered the scenes from Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial and death. Prayers have been prayed, memories have been refreshed, hymns have been sung and pilgrims have again been reminded that He went to the Cross.

One author put it this way, "once your life is in sync with the story of God, you become out of sync with any story that attempts to ignore or eliminate God."

I wait for Him today...I look at the cross...I think of His forgiveness extended to me, and I am grateful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thursday


Maundy Thursday.


Today is an essential part of Holy Week. It is the holy day which falls on Thursday before Easter. It is the day that the church remembers the Last Supper with Jesus disciples.


The church historically has called to memory several other important events that brought meaning to this day.


Jesus as a suffering servant washed the disciples feet in an act of humility. Jesus celebrates the Eucharist with his followers. He experiences agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and experiences the ultimate betrayal by Judas Iscariot.


Nothing comforting about these experiences. Deep calling to deep...All pointing to the Cross.


Tomorrow I will go downtown to a large church and bask in the mystery of the Stations of the Cross. Posted on the walls of the cathedral are images that remind me of the events of Holy Week. Prompted by reading Tony Jones book, The Sacred Way, I have been on a path to re-visit the roots of our faith.


It came together when I read these words...


"Somehow Christianity has become a non-mystical religion. Its about a reasonable faith. If we believe the right things, then we are orthodox. Frankly whether we ever actually connect to God or experience His undeniable presence has become incidental, if not irrelevant. We have become believers rather than experiencers. To know God in the Scriptures always went beyond information to intimacy. We may find ourselves uncomfortable with this reality, but the faith of the Scriptures is a mystical faith. It leads us beyond the material world into an invisible reality." Erwin Raphael McManus-Barbarian Way


Maundy Thursday. I know the details. I know the facts. I want to experience the events. I want to feel the texture of the moment. I want to be "fully present in the moment."


I take the next step on my pilgrimage through Lent. Today they are lonely steps...


I celebrate the mystery...


Where are your steps taking you today?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday

I am tired of shallow plots illuminated on the glowing box in the corner of my living room.

I am tired of shallow talk shows tracing the woes of some starlet heading into rehab.

I am tired of shallow reality shows which prey on people’s miseries.

I am tired of shallow.

Holy Week takes me deep into the plot which changed the course of the world. Holy Wednesday is a day which the Church invites her people to consider two fascinating stories.

Matthew 26 records the story of the sinful woman who extravagantly anointed Jesus shortly before His passion.

There is also the story of Judas, Jesus’ disciple, who betrayed the Lord.

Both stories have deep plots. The sinful woman in an act of grace acknowledged Jesus as Lord and was set free, while the disciple who betrayed Jesus experienced loss and separation.

Holy Wednesday is celebrated in a variety of ways. Holy Wednesday known also as “Spy Wednesday” denotes the day Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin, the ruling body, to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

In parts of Europe, children build an effigy of Judas and climb to the top of church steeples to throw it to the ground. People on the ground then drag it through the village where people strike it with sticks and stones. Finally, whatever is left is thrown into the river.

We are moving through the plot and narrative of Holy Week. We are moving toward the final act of Lent. Maundy Thursday…Good Friday…and the Cross are before us.

Nothing shallow here. Deep plots, deep love, deep change…

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stretching


Last night I had dinner at Fuddruckers. The sign outside of the restaurant says, "the world's best" hamburgers. It made me wonder. The "world's best?"


It is amazing to me that you can get the "world's best" hamburgers right here in my hometown. All other burger joints come in second. Anyway, they may be right, my meal was superb.


Fuddrucker's was also the restaurant of choice for the meeting that I attended. The purpose of our meeting was to discuss ways to continue to experience God's presence in the church that I attend. The conversation was even better than the meal.


In the middle of our meal the word "stretching " came up. We were discussing our emphasis on "rest" and "sabbath" and what it means for us. Someone posed the question what happens after we complete periods of rest.


There was that word.


"Stretching."


This morning I woke up after a great night of rest. I "stretched" in preparation for a busy day of activities. Rest is important. Stretching is essential. It prepares us activity.


The rhythms of life are interesting. There are periods of busy-ness...times of rest...times of stretching. All are necessary if we are to fulfill our callings. The conversation last evening at Fuddruckers was enlightening and challenging. It was "stretching."


Maybe Fuddrucker's sign should say "the world's best" conversation.


I hope that today is a "stretching" day for you.


What do you think?


Monday, March 17, 2008

Forgiveness


Emo Phillips, a comedian said, "When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."


Forgivenesss.


Back in 1935, Fiorello La Guardia, Mayor of New York, visited a night court in the poorest ward of the city. He relieved the judge for the evening and took the bench himself. A case came up where a grandmother had been arrested for stealing bread to feed her grandchildren. La Guardia said, "You are guilty, and I have got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail."


And then LaGuardia himself pulled out a 10 dollar bill out of his pocket and threw it in his hat. And then he fined everybody in the courtroom for living in a city where grandmothers have to steal bread to feed their grandchildren. They passed the hat and that woman left the courthouse that evening.


She left not only with her fine totally paid, but with 47 dollars and 50 cents in her pocket.


Forgiveness.


Lewis B. Smedes, an author whose writings speak to me says, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."


During this Holy Week we are reminded of His forgiveness.


Forgiveness.


It will set you free, if you let it. Are you free or enslaved?


Just a thought.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Distractions


Tornadoes in Atlanta.


NCAA Brackets.


Vitriolic words from a pulpit in Chicago.


Super Delegates.


A falling crane in NYC.


It would be easy to be distracted during these days. Today is Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of Holy Week.


Distractions are all around us. They keep us occupied with the mundane when we are called to celebrate the holy.


Here are some great words from the writer of Proverbs.


Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that's where life starts. Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust. 4:23 The Message


I am going to let these words guide my Holy Week journey.


What's guiding your journey these days? Are you distracted?


Just a thought....

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Questions


Here are some questions that I have been asking the Leadership Team that I have the privilege of serving with in our local church. They usually arise in the late moments of our monthly meeting and have been fodder for great conversation.


* When was the last time that you invited someone to attend worship with you?
* When was the last time that you invited someone to join you in Sunday School or to accompany you to your Life Group?
* How are you doing on getting acquainted with those sitting next to you who you do not yet know?
* When was the last time your shared the story of what God has done in your life with someone?
* When was the last time that you helped a person find a place of ministry in the life of the church?


We have been wrestling to answer these personally and corporately.


Discovery Channel had a special on Air Traffic Controllers on the other night. I watched with interest when the camera panned over and stopped on the illuminated "radar screen." Airplanes are indicated by a pale green "blip" on the radar screen.


Then it hit me.


Who is on my "radar screen?" I mean who am I aware of that needs to hear His Story?


Is your "radar screen" on and are there people on it?


Just a thought.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Paths


One author recently said, “the road to the future runs through the past.” Reading those words startled me and caused me to stop and think about what that means for me as a pastor and for the church that I serve.

One of my favorite theologians Karl Barth, often said to his classes,
“no one dare do contemporary theology until they have mastered classical Christian thought.”

In an age when everything seems to “up for grabs,” there are some anchors that will keep the church steady. Youth For Christ’s slogan seems to capture the spirit well,
“Anchored to the Rock, Geared to the Times.”

Today’s church seems to stand in an “in-between” time, a time between what “was” and what “will be.” These are challenging times in which we are called to minister. There are forces that want to take the church back to the “good-ole days,” and there are forces that suggest that our recent heritage should be jettisoned away.

There is an increasing sense that another way needs to be examined. It is the way of exploring the “Ancient-Future” dimensions of the faith.

By way of definition, “Ancient-Future” is an orientation that seeks to allow the rich history of Christian tradition to inform the future shape and character of the church. It asks questions of the “faith of the fathers” and seeks to build a credible faith expression in a world that is largely devoid of absolutes and anchors.

Here is a “crash course” in church history that will help explain the “Ancient-Future” concept.

The 1st century church celebrated Mystery, Community and the Power of Symbol. During the Medieval period the church became institutionalized and structured. At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther attempted to re-assert the authority of the Word God in a time when the culture slept. Recent history in the Modern period highlighted the importance of Reason, Organizational Structures, and Individualism. We have moved into the Post-Modern Period in which Mystery, Community and the Power of Symbol has resurfaced.

Researchers tell us that the day in which we live is “more like the 1st century than any other period in our culture’s history.” They further suggest that if the church is to make a lasting and favorable impact upon the culture, we must possess an “Ancient-Future” orientation.


I wonder if we are "heading back to the future?"


What do you think?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Signs


There it was...the sign was in a prominent place so that all of the patrons could see.


"No outside beverages allowed."


Borders is a friendly place, but they have rules. They are simple...."if you are going to read here, you have to buy our beverages." Seems simple to me.


Panera Bread doesn't have any signs like that, but they do have free wi-fi.


Their free wi-fi signal makes it possible for me to post today.


Here's the story.


I am sitting in one of my favorite writing spots and I saw it. I couldn't believe my eyes.


She walked into Panera Bread carrying a Starbucks coffee cup. She tried to defend herself to her colleague by saying, "I thought we were meeting at Starbucks this morning."


Think of it...a Starbucks coffee cup in a Panera Bread world.


Then it hit me. Hey, its coffee. Why do we get so worked up about the cup that it is in. It does seem strange to me that Borders has a sign that says, "no outside beverages allowed" and Panera doesn't.


I wonder if Borders has an "outside beverages" police? I wonder if Panera Bread cares?


It made me stop and think. Now I am not comparing Borders and Panera Bread. Don't get me wrong. If they were to shut down I would be lost. Well....not really, but I would experience an existential "lostness" without books and coffee.


Here's the thought.


I was thinking about the church I attend. Are we more concerned about "coffee" or "cups?" Do we have signs that say, "no outside (fill in the blank) allowed?"


Or do we just make people feel a sense of belonging.


There are times when I have felt like a "Starbucks Cup" in a "Panera Bread World." And there have been occasions when I have experienced the type of community that I experience when I walk into Panera Bread or Borders.


Here's one last sign that hangs behind the counter at Panera Bread. "Free wi-fi....and a comfortable, welcoming place to take advantage of it."


I want to hang a sign in the church that I attend that says, "free grace....and a comfortable, welcoming place to take advantage of it."


Pass the coffee...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Submit


Submit.


It is an interesting word.


I see it often when I am working on line. When I pay my car insurance on-line, there is a screen that says "submit" payment. Yesterday I completed my annual reports and was finalizing all of the details, and there was that button, "submit."


I will complete my taxes shortly. There's that word, "submit." I don't mind pushing the button to send the forms, but I don't like the idea of "submit" and the IRS in the same sentence.


What if there was a button that we pushed that indicated our willingness to "submit?"


Here's how it would work.


You are living life and a situation confronts you that makes you have to choose your way or His way. All of a sudden the button pops up. "Submit." Stymied by the option, your mind races. "Should I submit, or is this something that I can handle on my own?"


To often I am willing to try it "my way" and see how far I can get. If I get in over my head, then I am more inclined to push the button and submit.


What would happen if I took off the filter that says, "let me do it my way first," and just decided to "do it His way first."


Matter of fact, that's my new definition of "submit."


I am going to "do it His way first."


Eugene Peterson translates James 4:10 in words that I understand, "Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet."


Submit....how are you doing in this area?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Status


The place where you worship is in “Incline…Decline…Recline.”

The conference presenter moved on quickly. But I was mesmerized by that thought. I couldn’t believe that he said it. But I think he is right.

What about your church? What about the place where you worship? Where is your church along the continuum?

“Well,” you say,
“if this or that were different, then our church would be (fill in the blank)”

Here’s the question. It’s an age old question.
“Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?”

Do healthy people make healthy churches? Or, do healthy churches create healthy people?

Studies tell us that North American churches are experiencing unprecedented decline. Oh, sure there are some striking exceptions to this, but if you look around it seems that churches are experiencing what some observers identify as “flat-line” growth. An oxymoron.

There are a lot of churches that are in “recline.” The reasons are legion.

Then there are churches that are on the “incline.”

At the risk of being over-simplistic, could it be that our churches reflect us, they mirror our spiritual condition?

Just a thought…

Monday, March 10, 2008

Truth




I love this story...


It was a smoke filled room and six guys were sitting around the poker table swapping lies and playing cards.


Everything was fine until the old man McKinley lost $1200 in a single hand. The sheer panic of the loss caused him to clutch his chest and drop dead at the table.


His "card playin'" buddies stood up in a momentary show of respect for their fallen friend.


"Now, who is going to tell his wife?"They draw straws.


Finch who is always a loser, picks the short one.


They tell him to be discreet, be gentle, don't make a bad situation any worse than it is.


Offended he said,"Gentlemen! Discreet? I'm the most discreet man you will ever meet. Discretion is my middle name, leave it to me."


Finch leaves the poker game, walks over to the McKinley's house, knocks on the door, the wife answers, asks what he wants.


Finch says, "Your husband just lost $1200 playing cards."


She screams through the open door, "TELL HIM TO DROP DEAD!"


Finch replies, "I'll tell him."


What a fun story to start the week. Here's a thought.

You can tell the truth and then you can "tell" the truth. Both are important.


Be a "truth-teller" in a world that "trades in lies."


....and that's the truth!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nails


James Michener is an insightful writer who has mastered the fine art of writing over a long career. He is the author of many extraordinary books including, The World Is My Home. In that book he reveals the secret to what has kept him writing decade after decade.


He tells the story of growing up as a small child. He talks about an encounter with a farmer who lived near the Michener's family.


The old farmer hammered eight nails into the trunk of an old, unproductive apple tree.


In the autumn of the year the aged tree yielded an enormous crop of succulent apples.

Michener, as a small boy, asked how this miracle happened.


The old farmer's statement stuck with Michener.


"Hammering the rusty nails gave it a shock to remind it that its job is to produce apples."


Michener relates that in the 1980's, when he was nearly 80, he had some "nails" hammered into his "trunk"—heart surgery, vertigo, a new hip.


Like the apple tree, Michener made the decision that these adversities would not hold him back, but would be the catalyst to producing healthy fruit through the written word.


Have you had any "nails" pounded into your life? I mean, have you had any circumstances that have caused you to wonder where God is?


No one is exempt from "life."


Nails changed the course of history when they were placed in hands of the Story Teller. And nails can change the course of your life...


What do you think?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Trade


Heard at lunch tables in elementary schools everywhere are these familiar words..."hey wanna trade."


To the horror of a mom who lovingly packed the lunch, her son "trades" a red apple for a cellophane wrapped chocolate cupcake.


We make a lot of "trades" in our life. We "trade" work hours for a pay check at the end of the week.


We "trade" long hours of study for a degree.


We "trade" time over coffee for the opportunity to influence someone to think about the Kingdom.


I have been thinking about that word, I have been reflecting on other words with similar meanings, words like "swap" and "exchange."


I have also been thinking about a new definition for the word "salvation."


It's pretty simple...almost ashamedly so.


Salvation arrives when I "trade" my story for His Story. There it is. Pretty simple.


What do you think?


"Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? Mark 8:34 (The Message)


"Wanna trade?" I am not qualified to put words in God's mouth, but I wonder how often He says to us, "wanna trade" the life you are living for the life I can give?


What do you think?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Paralytic



Thinking about Sunday, my mind has been taken Mark’s Gospel chapter 2.

It is the story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof so that Jesus could heal him and announce,
“your sins are forgiven.”

Reading that story over the years has led me to the conclusion that this is a “salvation story.” It is the account of a paralyzed man and his faithful friends who knew where he could find help.

It is the narrative of four friends, “grabbing a corner of the mat” and taking their friend to Jesus.

It is the record of Jesus, the paralytic, the friends and the observers. I have always read it that way. I have always looked at the story through one lens.

Yesterday I was absorbing the intensity of the narrative when it hit me.

Maybe this story is about something else.

What if the story is metaphorical? What if this story points to a larger truth than what I have observed in my studies?

Here’s my thought…

I think that maybe the "church" is the paralytic being dropped down through the roof of culture and community. Jesus is Jesus. And his words to the church are the same as those to the paralytic.
He tells the church, "your sins are forgiven." He tells the church, "get up, take your mat and walk."

In this day, I am beginning to think that we are lowered through the roof of a busy culture. We are lowered into rooms filled with busy people. We are dropped into settings that require us to act like we are forgiven.

I really need to hear the words of Jesus which remind me, “I am forgiven.” I need to be reminded to
“get up, take your mat and walk.”

The church I attend needs to hear these words. We are a forgiven people, yet we are susceptible to paralyzing forces that cause us to be held down on the mat of our existence and experience.

Here’s what I know….when a church realizes God’s forgiveness, paralysis is broken. When people experience God’s forgiveness, paralysis is replaced by life.

What would happen if we realize what the paralytic experienced could happen to us. The mat that held him down, Jesus gave him the authority to pick up.

Jesus “saw their faith” and responded.

I love those words…”your sins are forgiven” and “get up, take your mat and walk.”

They are life changing….for individuals and for churches.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ruse


Hans Christian Andersen wrote a clever story that ends with a little boy saying,

“But the emperor has nothing at all on!” It is a ruse.


There are two uses of the word ruse. The first is to identify a city in northern Bulgaria and the second is to illustrate a "fraud" or "deception."


You know the story, it is the story of the emperor parading in front of his subjects in his "birthday suit." The emperor lived under such deception from those around him that he was convinced that the clothing that he could not see was the finest in the land. At the insistence of royal seamstreses, he was urged to parade the newest fashion in front of his loyal subjects..


The parade is on...the emperor's couture is on display.


A little boy standing along the parade route does not "get it." He strains to look and sees nothing but the emperors bare skin. Then he blurts it out, "but the emperor has nothing at all on!"


The cat is out of the bag...the deception is exposed.


The father of the child says, “Listen to the voice of the innocence!”


That was not enough to quell the murmuring. People began to whisper among themselves, “But he has nothing on!” The whispers spread like wildfire. A ruse.


I love the next part of the story. Hans Christian Andersen says, "The Emperor was vexed, for the knew that the people were right, but he thought, “The procession must go on now!” Vexed...think of it.


But what happens next is even more bizarre. The story tells us that even though everybody knew that the emperor was standing there in the nude, the "lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.”


A lot of times I feel like the little boy standing on the parade route watching the church and her doctrine unfold. I feel like the little boy standing on the parade route watching people's lives unfold. I feel like the little boy standing on the parade route when I see people who are deceiving themselves on a daily basis. I have felt like saying, "the emperor has nothing on at all."


Sometimes I feel like the emperor. I have been convinced that the way I see things is the right way, only to discover that there are those around me who see through the ruse.


Sometimes I feel like a lord of the bedchamber who is called upon to carry out the deception of an emperor.


Ruse.


It is difficult to be authentic in a world that prizes ruses. In a culture of facades, someone has to look carefully and announce gracefully, "the emperor has no clothes on at all."


This is a message that our culture needs to hear...it is a message that the church needs to explore...it is a thought that we need to entertain as individuals.


Are you real? No I mean, really real?


Just a thought....

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Simple


"It's so simple that even a caveman can do it."

"It's a piece of cake..."

"How hard can it (fill in the blank) be?"

"What's so hard about that?"


Have you ever said any of those things. I am guilty.


There have been times that things have broken in my home or on my car and I stand there and say, "how hard can it be to fix that?"


Several hours later I am standing at the kitchen counter calling someone who knows what to do to fix the problem. Smart? Yes. Humbling? You betcha!


I love this story...


Chrsyler under the stalwart leadership of Lee Iacocca made a decision to reintroduce the convertible to the market.


The story unfolds with Iacocca driving around suburban Detroit. He passed someone in an old Mustang convertible. Startling his driver he shouted over the front seat, "That's what Chrysler needs...we need a convertible"

Getting back to his office he summoned the head of Engineering to his office. Worrying that he might lose his job the engineer hurried upstairs where he heard Iacocca's proposal.


"Well" he said "usually the production cycle is about five years. I guess if we lit a fire underneath the engineering department we could have a convertible come off the line in about three years."


“You don’t understand,” Iacocca said. “I want one today! Have someone take one of our cars to a body shop, have them cut off the roof, and put on a convertible top.”

In Paul Harvey fashion..."and now you know the rest of the story...Iacocca had the modified car by the end of the day. He spent the rest of the week driving his “convertible” and found that everyone who saw it loved it. A Chrysler convertible was on the drawing board the following week.


Do we make simple things difficult. I really wonder if we take things that are incredibly simple and make them complex.


Our culture tells us that if we are to be really effective, we need to plan, organize, budget,and then....


What if it is really simple?


You say, "I don't know enough Bible....I have never been trained to tell others about God...I am not a pastor...yada...yada...yada."


What if it is as simple as "telling the story of what He has done in our life? No gimmicks, no steps, no formula....Just a simple story that points to His Story.


Go ahead...tell someone The Story


Enjoy the ride....




Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Library


My love affair with libraries started when I was around six years old. It was nurtured by parents that valued reading and wanted me to become an avid reader.


I can still remember the times when I walked by myself from my home at 1239 Elliott to the library at the community center on Bolton Avenue. With each step I grew more excited about all of the books in that little library.


In my bedroom there was a wall bookshelf that contained all of the books that my brother and I shared. I can remember writing the call letters on the spine of the books and ordering them in the same way that the community library did.


I have always loved books.


Today I am sitting in my office with some of my best friends...books. They have introduced me to people that I would never have the privilege of meeting in person, they have taken me to places that I cannot afford financially to go to, and they have allowed me to think about things that would never have crossed my mind.


Books.


Most of my books are in my office, but there are still a lot at home. It is always frustrating to have some "here" and some "there" when I am working on a project.


Recently I decided to catalog all of my books. I found a great web site that allows you to organize your library and make it available for others to see.


If you want to meet some of my old friends, I would invite you to http://www.librarything.com/. My Username is: dwbowser and my Password is: 1genx1. Feel free to look around and explore.


When I think about books, I think about a couple of my favorite quotes...


"A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked, and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, 'How to Build a Boat!'" Stephen Wright-American actor and writer.


"From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it." Groucho Marx.


Finally...


"You know you have read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." Paul Sweeney


Read any good books lately? Met any new friends? Visited any new places?


I love books...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Original


An Original Idea...


When was the last time that you had one? I mean an idea that wholly belonged to you.


Last night I began to think about this and it occured to me that most of what I think about involves interacting with something that someone has already written or said.


Now this is not all bad, but I wonder how much space I give to creative thinking. I wonder how much effort I expend in exploring unmapped terrain.


The reality is that it is often easier to allow others to think for us, to write for us, and to shape our view of life.


At my "age and stage" I am looking for every opportunity to think and create in new ways.


The sage who penned his thoughts in the book of Ecclesiastes said, "there is nothing new under the sun..." I believe that. Yet, it makes me wonder if "every" thought has already been thought. I ponder the idea whether "every" idea has already been discovered.


Here's the bottom line for me. It seems that our culture, our church, and many of our friends value safeguarding what we already know. The person who ventures outside the "tent of conformity" often has the tent flap zipped up leaving that person out in the world of their creative ideas.


I think I am OK with that.


Someone has to be willing to "think, ponder and pray" their way to new ways of seeing and building the Kingdom.


Here are some closing thoughts...


God often gives us hunches that need to be nurtured...."make space for these hunches"


Creativity is not something that belongs to a select few..."make time to allow creativity."


Turn off all forms of media...."the noise of these anesthetize us from our own creativity."


There are stories waiting to be written, thoughts waiting to be considered, ideas awaiting exploration....


Gotta run....creativity is calling!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Open




What would you think if this happened to you?


Here's the story...


There was only one door opened on the double doors leading into the chapel. The two greeters were inside the door greeting people as people entered. I was standing in line waiting to get into the chapel.


I reached out and opened the second door so that people could freely enter.


One of the greeters harshly said, "No! Shut that door"


"What?"


"Shut that door!"


Her comment took my breathe away. Firmly she repeated her order..."shut that door."


I caught my breath just in time to here her rationale. "If we have both doors open we will miss saying hello to everyone."


"It'll be OK, people will find their way in" I said.


What she said next floored me.


"Do you want us to do the job (greeting)?" harshly fell from her lips.


"Yes, but let's open the doors."


It was obvious that if the greeters were to continue to greet, it was going to be on their terms. I entered and found my seat in the chapel.


Then it hit me...since when do we fail to open all of the doors so that people can freely enter?


Wafting across decades came the little jingle that I sang in Sunday School.


"here is the church
here is the steeple
open the doors
and see all the people."



The church where I attend is growing to the point where we need all of our doors open to let people in.


My hope is that the "welcome" people feel is greater inside the community of faith than the one they experience at the door.


What do you think?


This is a true story that happened to me today. I wonder how other people were treated today as they entered the chapel?


Just a thought...