Friday, February 16, 2007

Beware of Pink Hockey Pucks

<----This is a real hockey puck. It is black. It has "NHL" written on it. Make a note of it.

Remember Judy? Sure you do. I wrote about her a couple of blogs back letting the world know that she is the best volunteer youth staff member ever to grace planet earth. She blushed but got over it. It's still true. Nothing has changed.

Well ... something has. But it has nothing to do with youth ministry. It has to do with janitorial services. Cleaning. In particular, cleaning the mens room.

It seems that many people volunteer at First Baptist these days. The church is ministering with a reduced staff for a lot of reasons. They have nothing to do with the story. What is important is that volunteers are cool people. They give expecting nothing in return.

Well, I happen to have a Judy update for you. I think you will be interested in this. You might want to sit down before you continue reading. Do not be drinking anything that you don't want to blow out your nose. Trust me on this.

It seems that Judy was doing her weekly volunteer cleaning one day recently. She usually cleans what is fondly referred to as the "Fireside Building." They call it that because it has a fireplace in it. You can sit beside it and have a nice cozy meeting. Or it has been known to add flame to an already heated discussion. Tough to tell ahead of time. But on this particular day Judy was not cleaning in the Fireside. She was in the main building. She was cleaning ... the mens room.

By her own admission Judy had never been inside a mens room before. When she arrived she rolled up her sleeves and fearlessly got to work. You have to admire her spunk. She cleaned the sink. That was probably a yucky experience. Men are pigs. I know. I am one. She emptied the trash cans. I can't imagine the odor eminating from the tissues used for blowing noses and drying hands. She mopped the floor. She scrubbed the toilet. I am sure there was a brush for that. Toilets are not fun to clean but they don't have to be that bad. Just use the correct tools and cleaners. Oh, and wear gloves.

Judy ... did not wear gloves.

She said they make her hands sweat. There are worse things than sweaty hands. Much worse things.

There was only one place left to clean in the mens room. All men know what it is for. It is politely and correctly called a "urinal." Judy approached the urinal. She looked inside of it. It must be a strange looking object to a woman. That is when she noticed something in the bottom of the urinal. It was just sitting there. It was pink. It looked like a hockey puck. A pink hockey puck. Everybody knows that hockey pucks do not belong in urinals. So Judy picked it up. She looked it over. She felt its texture. She brought it to her nose and smelled it. I believe that was the moment that Judy realized that this pink hockey puck belonged in the urinal. So she put it back.

<---This is NOT a hockey puck.

Playing with the faux pink hockey puck was just the first mistake that Judy made. The second one took place at Walmart. That is where Scott and I saw her shopping. We were so happy to see her! We hugged! We almost danced. Customers stared. Fortunately we did not shake hands. We talked about the events that are current in our lives. She told us her pink hockey puck urinal story. Scott looked at me. I looked at Scott. At that point things become blurry. I couldn't see through the tears. Scott was gasping for breath. Judy looked sheepishly shocked. She asked us to promise not to tell anybody.

Riiiiiight. I love me some Judy. I encourage everybody to love on Judy. She deserves it. She is one of the best people I know. But whatever you do ... remember ... friendship with Judy is to be a hands-free experience.


A few days ago I ran into an old friend while shopping for groceries. I was walking behind a woman when she turned around and we suddenly were face to face ... and we both lit up at the same time. Denise has always been a remarkable young woman. She was in my church youth group a loooooong time ago. Long enough that her age now puts her in the final decade that begins with a "T." That's the only clue you get. We were both very surprised to have stumbled over each other and we talked for about 15 minutes. By then my wife had found us and joined in the catch-up conversation. Eventually we had to pay for our food items and leave. But it was so, so good to see Denise again. It has been a couple of years since we talked.

And then she sent me an email. It was an update on the life of another young woman from my youth group in the same era Denise was in. Sheri. I had lost track of Sheri in the late 90's. I knew she had married and moved to Florida but that was about it. She seemed to have fallen off the planet. It happens.

This is where God's Hand begins to show up. Denise had called Sheri after we met in the grocery store. They talked and at some point she mentioned that she had seen me. Let Denise tell you in her own e-mailed words what happened next...

"I tell you this because she wanted you to know that God had been placing you on her heart for about six months, but her health was so poor, and her energy was so low that she never picked up the phone to call you, but she has been lifting you up in prayer. As soon as I told her that I had seen you she said, "How IS he doing??" before I even had a chance to tell her you weren't at 1st Baptist Bethalto anymore. She said to tell you that she's sorry she didn't call, but that she has been praying for God to strengthen you and restore you for about 6 months now. That's the message!"

That is the way my God works. It was about 6 months ago that I began my second experience with adrenaline exhaustion. It was about 6 months ago that I began to realize that God was in the process of releasing me from my 23-year ministry at my church. It was about 6 months ago that life began to really hurt. And it was about 6 months ago that God told an old friend now living one thousand miles away to start praying for my strength and health.

To quote the old hymn, "I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean."

This is not the first email or phone call I have received like that in the last 3 months. It has happened multiple times and EVERY SINGLE TIME has been from a person who had allowed me the honor of being their youth pastor years ago and had now grown into adulthood. EVERY SINGLE ONE has come at the perfect moment when I needed to be reminded that all of those years count to God and to people. All of those youth trips, JPL nights, True Love Waits retreats and everything else we did together as a small part of the family of God COUNTS.

And I am so humbled. So honored. So broken. To be used by the Hand of God. Thank you, Denise. Thank you, Sheri. Thank you, Melanie. Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Ed. Thank you, Shannon. Time prevents me from listing you all by name. But to each of you ... thanks. You have been here ... Jesus with skin on ... when I have needed you so much.

I am blessed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Emmanuel … "God with us" ... God with ME

God. I wonder what He thinks about when He thinks about me. The bible says He is thinking about me all of the time. Before you begin to wonder if I am in trouble or something rest assured that He thinks about you all of the time too. He has a brain big enough to do that. So don't go getting cocky on me. We are in the same boat. God's watching.

Maybe that's the first thing I know about God. He is watching. If I hide under my bed He sees me anyway. If I close my mouth He still knows what I am thinking. In other words ... I can't get away with squat.

The second thing I know about God is that He loves me. You too. So relax a little bit. He's not looking for reasons to squash us like a bug under His size gazillion shoe. He's looking for reasons not to. That is where the love thing comes in. This God paid for my sin. It was a gift which I have accepted. So my screw-ups are paid for. Forever. Yours are too if you have asked Him to forgive you and have intentionally accepted His offer of free grace (forgiveness.) That's a pretty good second thing to know about God. If there is a God ... and there is ... then I want Him to go by the nickname of "Love."

The third thing I think I know about God is that He has a plan. I know so many people that have trouble with that. It's like we all want to do things our own way and live out our own plans. But you know what? At the ripe age of fifty-one I now realize that I really do not want my own way. I've screwed up enough, thank you very much. It has finally occured to me that every time I listen to Him and do what He tells me to do ... I come out just fine. Sure, I might go through some deep waters. Things might get hairy for a while. But so far I've always come out on top. I believe that someday I am going to die. I've been watching and the birth to death ratio seems to be 1/1. For every birth there is a death. And everybody who is born eventually dies. I've never met an exception. That would seem to indicate that I too am going to get boxed up and sunk in the ground someday. But here's the thing. God's not screwed up one thing in my life yet. Even when He does something or allows something that hurts it has always turned out for my good. So why should I believe that He will break His pattern just because my body wears out or a truck runs me down? If He's really God He should be able to overcome a little thing like death. Right?

In case you are wondering, these ideas are not original with me. I first read them in the bible. But life seems to prove each of them to be true. And God said that if we trust Him we'll even conquer death because He conquered death and so we can too. It's another part of that gift I was telling you about.

The fourth thing I now about God is that He is very big, very intentional and very in charge. I know He is big because I have seen what He has made. Well, I've seen part of it anyway. There are places like the other side of the moon that I've not caught a glimpse of yet. But from what I have seen He has done a very good job. I've often stated that I'm a "lower 48 kind of guy." In other words I have no desire to leave my homeland. I love me some America! I've seen both oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. I've skied the Rocky Mountains and I've done some minor hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I've fallen from the top of a ladder only to land in a fluffy snow drift and laugh about it. I've walked in snow deep enough to make you trip over the top of street signs. I've watched hundreds of times as the mighty muddy Mississippi River floats barges and boats around about 7 miles from my home. I've caught glimpses of thousands of square miles of corn, wheat, bean, cotton and tons of other types of vegetable fields. I've driven across Texas and that will make you certainly HOPE there is a God! I've seen and survived more than one tornado. (FYI, I will be perfectly happy not to see another though I'm holding on to the surviving part.) I've seen the northern lights. I've eaten freshly picked oranges and stood 3 feet from a Florida alligator. I nearly collided with a VERY LARGE wild boar while driving across the wild life refuge adjoining the Kennedy Space Center. And come to think of it I have watched in person as God's creation was harnassed by man as the space shuttle roared off into the utter void of space. I have stood atop the continental divide more than 12,000 feet up and looked both ways. Both were down. I think you get my point. This wonderful stuff did not just happen. Somebody did it. Somebody made it. When I eat a yummy piece of chocolate it never enters my mind that things like cocoa, sugar, etc. just went "BOOM!" one day and the net result was a bag full of M&M's. How dumb. But not as dumb as thinking that all of those things I just mentioned happened by another even more unlikely "BOOM!" No way. I don't buy it.

I think that I know more about God. But I am guessing that you get my point. He's got me hook, line and sinker. I'm totally sold on the whole God concept. I would .... and have .... staked my life on it more than once. I've gone places and done things that I should never have survived just because I deeply felt He was directing me to. And again, I've always turned out on top.

How very cool is that?

Still I wonder what God is thinking as He looks at me tonight. It's nearly midnight and I'm propped up in bed typing on "Tess." I should be sleeping. But no, I am thinking about God. And He is thinking about me. He knows me inside and out. I know only what He has revealed about Himself to me. But that is enough. It is enough to make me trust Him. I've been doing a lot of nothing for 11 weeks now. I am beginning to feel health returning. I'm not dizzy anymore. My body feels rested. (I don't believe I ever thought I would feel that way again. But I do.) I still have some issues like a blurry eye that is driving me crazy. I still have a muscular tension that has not totally subsided. My wife says I still do strange things in my sleep. Jerking. Twitching. Crazy stuff. But the fog of the last 3 years is lifting. Slowly but surely it is lifting. And I just do not know how to say "thank you" to God. Words are just words. I want to say it with my heart. I'll find a way. It won't be enough either but it will be a start.

Someday I am going to sit down with Jesus and He will show me His scars. I fully expect that will make me forget my own.