Monday, December 27, 2004

First Baptist Church is a place that prays. It has been that for the nearly 23 years that they have allowed me to be called “Pastor Ron.” But we need to pray more. We need to target our prayers. If they have not noticed, the door on the prayer room (from the inside hallway) is now unlocked during church services and office hours. That’s a very good thing. Because this would be a very good time to pray.

Untold thousands of people were killed yesterday as we were eating our Christmas turkeys and enjoying the company of friends and family. It all happened on the other side of the world when some rocks on the bottom of the ocean shifted against each other and caused an almost unheard of 9.0 earthquake. As if that were not bad enough the quake caused a tsunami. This massive wall of water moved at roughly 300 miles per hour. Vacationers on the beaches were enjoying a sunny day with no idea of the devastation that was about to strike. The pictures on television are reminiscent of the falling of the twin towers after the terrorist attack in 2001. But this time the cause was “natural” instead of “man inflicted.” And many, many more human beings died. They say that the entire planet vibrated. Even the rotation of the earth was affected. I don't really know what that means but it is scary.

God indicates in His Word that earthquakes will increase in the last days of our planets history. Matthew 24: 7 is just one place that you can read about it. I am not a prophet of doom. I know that the good guys win. The book of Revelation makes that fact abundantly clear. God will wrap this world up His way … and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Still, it has been a sobering day. Reggie White, a former NFL superstar died at the age of 43. He helped Green Bay go to the Super Bowl two times and win one of them. He was a key reason “The Pack Is Back.” They called him “The Minister of Defense” because he was a world-class defensive end and a world class ordained minister. And now Reggie is absent from the body but at home with the Lord.

As if that was not enough, pain has struck in our own hometown. The senior pastor of the Bethalto Church of God, Jessie Wiggins, passed away this morning shortly before their scheduled worship service. Pastor Wiggins had just put the finishing touches on his morning sermon. He reached for his coat to walk from his office in his home over to the main church building. He never made it to the door. The coroner said he never knew what hit him. Jessie blinked … and saw Jesus. His wife found him minutes later. Tonight the Church of God is dealing with their devastating loss. We have much in common with this church. They are a part of the Body of Christ in Bethalto. We are a part of the Body of Christ in Bethalto. The scripture clearly teaches that when one part of the body hurts, ALL parts of the body hurt. We need to feel their pain tonight. If the Church of God is crying the First Baptist Church needs to taste salt. Jessie Wiggins was my friend. He emailed me a sermon recently by mistake. I thought it odd when I received it but I emailed him back a “thank you.” He responded within minutes with another email. The subject line said “URGENT!” I read the email and he warned me that he had accidentally placed my name on a mailing list that was meant for Church of God pastors. He said, “Ron, that is a Pentecostal sermon! Be careful with that!” I mailed him back and laughingly told him that it was ok. First Baptist might need a good Pentecostal shock every now and then. Jessie knew I was kidding. I remained on his sermon email list until the day he died. I never used one. But I might. This evening I embraced one of their staff pastor's and felt his body wracked with sobs as he mourned the loss of his mentor. I felt ... I FEEL his pain. I need to feel his pain. I need to share it. There is nothing worse than hurting alone. It is the loneliest feeling in the world. We cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen. No way. When a Godly man in a pulpit one mile from our pulpit falls we must help pick-up their flag. It is the way First Baptist Church worked. It is the way First Baptist Church must work again.

Thousands of people died within the last day that I do not know. One died that I do know. And this mighty God of ours loves them all equally. Pastor’s and pagan’s alike. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still SINNERS, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5: 8) I am totally convinced that Reggie and Jessie are with Jesus tonight. I am also convinced that the vast majority of the thousands who died are not. How sad.

We need to pray. We need to pray that God would anoint our missionaries that are in far off lands telling the good news where it is seldom heard. We need to pray for our sister churches in our community. They aid us in our mission of reaching our local villages for Christ. And we need to pray for ourselves. We need to ask God to empower us with His vast, unlimited love. We need “Jesus glasses” on. By that I mean that we need to look at our world the way Jesus looks at our world. We need to recognize that they are desperately needy … just like we were when we were rescued by the love of God. There is no room for politics or piety. There is plenty of room for prayer.

If we don't spend much of this week on our knees … God forgive us.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

What a great time of year it is! The malls are crowded with shoppers. Restaurants are full of party-goers in a celebratory mood. The grocery stores offer huge turkey's and a wide variety of cookies, candies, and assorted yummy treats for your holiday pleasures. Huge inflatable Santa's, snowmen, and even "Grinches" line my street. They glow for blocks after sunset! (If there really are aliens watching us from outer space I suspect they would be terrified to invade us after they see our illuminated population!) My Christmas tree is too tall to allow our traditional angel to grace it's highest peak. I even caught "Bailey the Killer Beagle" sitting still in the middle of the living room yesterday just staring at the 7 1/2 foot tall tree. It's plastic. (Our most recent concession to Debbie's asthma.)

I want to tell you a little secret. Please promise me that you will try to understand and not get mad at me. I'm not a scrooge. Really I'm not. It's just that ... well ... I don't care. I think I have already managed to gain about 5 pounds since Thanksgiving. My belt says so. I haven't made it to the gym for a work-out since mid-November. Too busy. I am avoiding the malls like they were ... well ... malls. I'm not a shop-a-holic. I have not mailed one single Christmas card. (I guess I am probably on Hallmarks "Ten Most Wanted" list.) It is just that to me the traditional Christmas celebration has become more like "ChristMESS." I feel so un-American just writing that. I am sorry. There is really nothing wrong with the shopping and the lawn ornaments and the trees. I'm a capitalist with the best of them. But it's all out of hand. Do you see the craziness too? Please say yes. I don't want to see it all by myself.

I want Christmas to be Christmas again. That is one reason why I love going to church this time of year. Nobody tries to sell me anything. (Well, I did get a telemarketer call in the office today. She wanted to sell me an "improved church web site." I told her that I was going to give our own web master her phone number and he would be calling her soon. She hung up. I think I might have made her cry.) But when I go to our church during the Christmas season I feel differently than I do anywhere else. You know what I feel at our church this time of the year? I feel Him. Yes, HIM. I feel Jesus there. Sometimes I feel Him the best when we are singing to Him on Sunday morning. You know what I mean, don't you? Sometimes we just sing a song. No big deal. But every now and then ... we REALLY sing a song. The choir totally nails it and the orchestra just flat out smokes! Even Pastor Larry smiles! The praise team gets lost in praise. And the congregation ... us guys that don't really know how to sing but we do it anyway because it is to Jesus ... even we sound great! Yes, every now and then. We've been doing it more and more over the last month. And you know what really turns my crank? Standing in our pulpit and looking out at their faces absolutely sends shivers up my spine. No, it is not that they are that good looking. Sorry. It's just that ... well ... they are His. They are the church. They are the Bride of Christ. Now let me remind you that they (we) are also flawed and sometimes flat-out WRONG in some of the things we do. We have not gotten our act all together yet. But it is ok. We are His. HIS. And He loves us. And He promised us from a manger a couple of thousand years ago that it was all going to be ok.

So if you are hurting ... I can tell you with confidence that it is ultimately going to be alright. If you are angry I can promise you that there will eventually be justice. (That could be good news or bad news, depending ....) If you are lonely I can tell you with authority that you are not alone. He is with you. And if you feel unlovely I can assure you that you are deeply and intimately loved. Best of all if you are lost I can tell you that you can be found. Just look to the manger. Gaze into the eyes of the Christ child. Ask Him to redeem you and He will. He promises that He will.

So cheer up. It's CHRISTmas. Whatever is scaring you or bothering you or ticking you off is going to be ok. "For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9: 6) Don't forget that when you are at the mall.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Texas. What a state. Not a place to be "messed with" or so the bumper stickers tell me. Debbie and I took a trip there to visit friends last week. Interesting things abound. I saw a huge set of steer “hook ‘em horns” hanging in a barbeque restaurant. That is not so unusual. But they were covered with silver glitter. This seemed a bit strange to me. The next day I was driving down a suburban Dallas interstate with a friend. A brown car was keeping pace with us on the frontage road. I was looking at it when it suddenly flipped over. He landed right on his roof and skidded about an eighth of a mile. There were no cars around him. There was nothing for him to hit. He just … flipped over. And then on the way back home the next day I was driving in the left lane of the expressway when I noticed what appeared to be a black garbage bag blowing across the wide, grassy median strip about a quarter mile down the road. As it got to our lane it turned toward us and proceeded in our direction … quickly. That’s when I noticed that it was not a garbage bag at all. It was a tire. Complete with a rim in it. And it was rolling at about 40 mph. It went right by us about eight feet to my left. Debbie saw it too so you have to believe me because she is incapable of being anything but totally honest. Oddly, there were no cars in the other lanes that were stopping, slowing down, skidding off of the road, or in any other way exhibiting the behavior of a car that has just lost an entire wheel. Like I said, interesting state, Texas.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Love does it. It has to be love. Nothing else carries as much energy. I have never found anything else that is as motivating as love. Yes, it is love.

As you may have read my mom died. It has been nearly two months now. I suppose that is why these blog pages have been left idle. I have not had much to say. I have had a lot to think about. But those thoughts do not want to allow themselves to be turned into words. But for the sake of remembering I am going to say some of them anyway.

I am not sorry that she died. Life was going to get worse for her. Wellness was not on her menu. But I keep reaching for the phone. I keep having to stop myself from walking to the car to go and see her. I suppose that whoever lives in her apartment now would not appreciate it very much if I should stroll through their door. On the other hand I would be carrying a cup of hot chocolate and so maybe I would be welcome after all. It is best that I do not find out. Today has been tougher than most. It has been the toughest of all of the days so far. There does not seem to be any reason why. Usually I have one of those urges once or twice per day. Today I have had them once or twice per hour. It has made me sad.

But back to that love thing I was talking about. In the midst of mourning I was ambushed by love. A love so amazing, so over whelming, that it took me by storm. It should not have. I have been experiencing this love for many years now. Thirty one years to be exact. It would seem that my wife ... my incredible wife ... took my nightmares upon herself. The thought of cleaning out mom's home again was really messing me up. I knew that I had to do it but it was just really doing a number on me.

And then she stepped in. My wife. And she just ... did it. She took over. She gathered a few friends and cleaned the place out. Yes, I moved a few pieces of furniture. But really not much. And after I moved those ... I never had to go back into the apartment. Oh, I went back one time. But it was by choice. I wanted something special to place in my office that would remind me of my mother. And I found it. That is the last time I went into that place. Unlike the horrendous event 4 years ago when I single handedly cleaned out my parents retirement home and moved my mom here, this time I had very little to do with it. Instead I watched my wife come home night after night, exhausted by pouring herself out for me. For me. She cleaned. She repaired. She threw out. She gave away. And I felt loved. Very, very, loved. I do not know how to thank her. There seems to be only one adequate response to this kind of love. One must respond to love ... with love. Fierce love. Unquenchable love. Love that is divine.

May I be able to pour that kind of love out on this woman who is God's gift to me. And should she read this little note I want to say with all of my heart ... thank you.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

One week ago at this moment I was at the hospital waiting for my mom to be air-lifted to a bigger and better hospital in St. Louis. I knew that she was having a heart attack. I did not know that she was dying. It took her 2.5 days to accomplish that feat. Chances are strong that she never really understood the gravity of her own situation. The last time we talked it was to share a bit of humor. Then she went to sleep. Ten hours later she was no more. Well, that isn't exactly true. She was available to me no more. To say that she was "dead" is not completely accurate. She was dead as far as this world is concerned. The part of her that I was accustomed to seeing had transformed itself into a piece of room tempreture clay. The heart that had been attacked would never beat again. Her lungs would never again hold oxygen. She immediately began the process of decay.

Still, I know that my mom lives. My faith in Jesus Christ is such that I really do not question Him. Nor do I question her trust in Him. And I believe that she is now, as I type, securely in His presence.

So why do I feel so sad? Why is there an empty place in my heart that I cannot seem to fill? For better than four years I was her care taker. I provided for her. I did not seek out her advice or her help. I am a grown, independent adult male. And yet ... I miss my mom. Is that silly? No, I mean really, is that silly? Why do I feel as though she was suppose to leave me directions on how to get through this? Wasn't she suppose to do that? If I had some sort of written directions, signed by her, about how to "get over it" maybe I could.

Instead I have to go and clean out her home one more time. I did it four years ago when my dad died. I thought that was enough. Nope. I have to sort through her belongings yet one more time. I have to decide what to keep and what to throw. And I really don't want to do that. If she is gone then why can't she just be GONE? Why do I have to keep picking up pieces of her? I do not mean to sound as though I am mad. I am just weary. It has been a terribly long year and she just put the icing on my cake.

And worst of all, it seems like everytime I pick up her stuff some of my own stuff breaks loose and falls apart. Ok, she squeezed me form her loins. She put me through diapers and listened to me scream while I was teething. Then there was school and dating and all of that adolescent stuff. I owe her. And, yes, I love her. Very much. That is exactly why it is so hard. And I just do not want it to be hard anymore.

I know that God called her home. I finished preplanning and prepaying her funeral the day before she had her heart attack. Her apartment lease is up two weeks from the date of her death. Two days after she died I decided to take her bedroom set as my own. I felt like that was maybe a wrong thing to do. That night my water bed sprung a leak. I drove my family 290 miles from our home to her grave site. We got stuck in morning rush hour traffic. Relatives delayed us when we stopped to let them follow us. We made two stops, one for gas and one for ... you know. We did not stop when we arrived in the town where she was being buried. We drove straight to the cemetary. I parked my van directly in front of her grave at 1:29PM. It was a one minute walk to her casket. The scheduled time for the mini-service was 1:30PM. What are the odds of that? It would seem that God has controlled this entire event. So it should not hurt. Right?

I guess my heart did not get the memo.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

It is not just a slogan. It is a truth. God IS good. ALL of the time.

This morning at about 10:30 my mother departed planet earth and stepped into the presence of God. She and I had talked many times over the past year and she made a point of telling me that she was so ready to go Home. Those were words I needed to hear but didn't really want to hear. You know what I mean? Parents are suppose to be supermen and superwomen. It turns out that at 49 years of age I finally discovered that they are not.

Mom had a heart attack on Saturday night. It was touch and go throughout the night but by yesterday afternoon it really looked like she would "rock on" to fight another day. A phone call from an ICU doctor dashed those thoughts and we stayed at her bedside until around 1 this morning. My last words to her was to promise to vote democratic if she would just go to sleep! She smiled, closed her eyes, and was snoring minutes later. (Mom told me a couple of years ago to just get over the fact that she was a "flaming liberal" and that I would never change her. She was right! But she still knew Jesus very, very well.)

I confess that my heart is a little tender right now. My emotions a little bruised. Pastor's, it seems, are not supermen either. But I know who is. Jesus is my superman. He is my hero. He answered my prayers and took my mom from decent health, through the valley of the shadow of death, and into His presence in a very brief amount of time. We were spared the agony of long illnesses and nursing homes. What a gift! It is because of my mom that I know Jesus. When I was just a kid she became a youth worker at our church just to make sure that we had a youth ministry for her kids to be in. And so, in a sense, she taught me how to be a youth pastor as well. Dont' get me wrong. She was far from perfect. We knew all about each others warts. But we loved each other anyway.

Jesus died specifically so that today would not hurt too much. And it is only because of Him that it doesn't. It isn't my faith. It isn't my church. It isn't my family. It isn't my brilliance. It is Jesus. Life is all about Him. Today is a perspective check for me. I have looked at life and death from this side of the curtain and I have found Him worthy. If you look hard enough you will too.

My mom wanted me to tell you.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Water. Can’t live without it … can’t live with it. I’m typing this blog from my living room as I glance over the laptop screen at the weather channel. The awesome force of the wind-blown ocean as hurricane Charlie beat against the Florida coast today is scary! I called a friend of mine this afternoon. She lives in Bradenton, just up the shore from where the monster made landfall. Shannon was in my youth group in Chicago and now is a 37 year old with a masters degree and a family. She laughed as I asked if they had a basement. I guess they don’t dig basements in Florida. Shannon left Chicago and went to college in Tulsa and she settled down there with her husband some years later. They are use to tornados by the dozens. But this is something different all together! She was not too worried. After all, they had a pantry to hide in if they needed to.

Now, maybe I’m odd but I thought a pantry was for storing food. I don’t remember reading about them being hurricane proof. But if Shannon was happy, I was happy.

I received an email from her just a few minutes ago. (By the way, that is a very good sign.) They got to see the eye of the hurricane but she said it never felt like the wind blew over 40 mph. Those Okie’s are tough. All is well for Shannon and her husband. I’m grateful for that. She’s too nice to get blown all the way to Alabama.

Two weeks ago I sat on the end of a pier jutting out into Lake Superior from Madeline Island, Wisconsin. It was 11 at night and the water was calmer than calm. You had to listen closely to hear its mini-waves lap against the wooden pilings holding the pier in place. I watched some ducks swim by and then I look to the north. The sky was aglow. Hmmm. The nearest city was Duluth, Minnesota, about 60 miles to the west. What could possibly be glowing in the north? And then the glow moved. It was nearly imperceptible at first. The movement accelerated and began to change from a ghostly white to fingers of bluish gray. The “northern lights.” They reached from the northern most part of the horizon too directly overhead. I lay on the pier for half an hour, amazed at the wondrous glory of God as his sky danced brilliantly above me.

Sometimes water is calm. Sometimes water is turbulent. Just like life. Seldom do you get to determine which one it will be. Circumstance seems to interrupt our plans and knock us silly. Sickness strikes. The bills cannot be paid. The car breaks down. Without any warning your quiet seas are turned into raging storms. What to do, what to do?

After 49 years of life I only have one answer to that question that works for me. I can give it to you in two words. “Trust God.” You cannot understand life and you cannot understand Him. You cannot predict life and you cannot predict Him. But you can trust Him. He’s been around for a very long time and He has yet to drop one of His kids.

Are you facing a storm tonight? I truly hope not. But if you are, please consider turning to Him and asking Him to guide you through your seas. He’s just waiting. He might not tell the wind to stop blowing but He will certainly keep your personal “boat” afloat. Have you got a better plan? No, I didn't think so...

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Who would have known? I mean, how COULD anyone have known? As we gathered our church family together on Sunday morning for worship God had made His message clear to me. It was one of those days when there was really no doubt about what He wanted me to say. The scripture we studied was Mark 5: 21 - 43. It is the story of Jairus and his very little, very sick daughter and it burned in my heart.

As the story goes, Jairus goes to Jesus and tells him that his twelve year old daughter is sick and asks if He would please come. Jairus is afraid that she is going to die and he recognizes that Jesus is the only chance she has for survival. Jesus begins to follow our friend. He is interrupted by a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. She touches his garments and is healed. A brief conversation ensues and then they continue on to the home of Jairus ... where his daughter has already died. When Jesus arrives He goes to the little girls room, commands her to get up, and she returns to life. Everybody is astonished. Now THAT is the understatement of the year.

How good is God anyway? Is He good enough to show up when we hurt? Is He good enough to follow us home? Is He good enough to raise our children from the dead?

Very. Yes. Yes. Yes.

This morning, very early, death visited the home of another precious young girl. Many of us knew her. Jennifer Smith was 18 years old. Her father is Mike Smith. She lived with her mother and step father in Rosewood Heights and just finished her freshman year at SIUE. She attended the First Assembly of God in Wood River on a regular basis. She also attended our church many times. She frequented Centrifuge with our youth group. Jennifer Smith was my friend. Her smile made me smile. Her laughter made me laugh. I cannot ever remember being sad when Jennifer was in the room. Sometime during the night Jennifer stopped breathing. They believe it was a result of her diabetes. At least that was the physical cause. The real truth is something that only God's children can understand.

Jesus came to Jennifer's house last night. He went into her room. He told her to get up. And she returned to life ... but this time the life He restored was the same life that Jesus Himself enjoys. Real life. Eternal life. A life of perfection in a body of perfection. Jennifer left her father's house and went to live in her Father's house. Today was a day when heaven won one of its greatest victories.

Jennifer Smith was all set to go on a mission trip to an Indian reservation in South Dakota next week. Yesterday her dad prayed over her and anointed her with oil for her journey. He thought he was anointing her for her journey to another state. Only God knew that he was anointing his daughter for the journey to Heaven. When Jesus called the daughter of Jairus back from the dead ... back into her bedroom ... that was a miracle. But that little girl faced death again sometime later. Hopefully years later. When Jesus called Jennifer back from the dead it was a permanent calling. There is no greater miracle. There is no greater reason to worship Him.

Peace to your heart...

Saturday, May 08, 2004

I remember Kevin when he was about 14 years old. He had been rushed to the hospital with his appendix in trouble. As they did surgery to remove this little organ ... it burst. This, as you know, is not good. He was a very sick young man for a long time. He scared us. You can die from a burst appendix.

Well, Kevin did not die. He got well and went on to resume his junior high and then high school career. He married a lovely young woman named Jenny. Together they have produced two great kids. Life was good.

And then the government called. He got the message 15 months ago. He did what all good soldiers do. He responded by packing up his stuff and hitting the road. Kevin is a good looking, strong young man. He is the quiet type. But that trait belies what resides deep within him. Because deep inside my friend Kevin ... he is a hero.

He is at home tonight. He is safe and sound. His children are down the hall. His wife is in his arms. And Kevin ... Kevin is not in Iraq. For the first time in a long time he is home. It was good to see him this afternoon. Good to stand in his front yard waving an American flag as he pulled into the driveway. Good to hug him and tell him that I love him and am glad he is safe. Good to put my hands on his hard shoulders and pray a prayer of thanksgiving for his safety. It was just all good.

Welcome back, Kevin. Thank you for doing the job. Thank you for laying it on the line to protect my family and I. Glad to have you home, my friend.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Justice comes in the most unexpected ways. At the most unexpected times. But it does come.

Several years have passed since that Wednesday night. I walked from the Fireside Building, across the parking lot and into the courtyard of the church. As I approached the main entrance he stopped me. A middle-aged man like me. He was drinking from a can of Sprite. I don't remember what he asked me but a question was posed. I told him that I did not know the answer but that I would try to remember to research the issue when I got home. That's when he did it. Without even pausing he took the semi-filled can of Sprite and poured it down my shirt. "There. Now when you get home that will remind you so that you don't forget." He looked at me. I can clearly remember the thoughts that flashed through my head. I am not ashamed of them. I was thinking what any sane man would think. I will not tell you. Simply use your imagination. You will most certainly be correct. On the other hand, no thoughts were going through his head. He didn't have a brain. You cannot think without a brain. He was living proof. I did not say a word. I glared. I stepped to the side and walked around him. We never spoke of the incident again. We seldom spoke again at all. I was pleased with that arrangement.

I saw him again yesterday. It has been well over a year since we had crossed paths. He has left our church. But I came across him in a combination gas statiion/convenience store. I was entering and he was exiting. We caught each others eye. He spoke first. It was a tame and suitable greeting. I returned it. He was drinking from a plastic cup from the fountain soda area. As I asked how he was doing, he turned the bottom of the cup upward to take a drink. He missed his mouth. It was only a slight miscalculation on his part. But it was enough. The soda leaked out from around his lips and ran down his shirt. He looked down with disdain.

I looked up. Beyond the ceiling. Beyond the sky. Beyond the stars. And i winked. I stepped around him and walked on.

Justice comes in the most unexpected ways. At the most unexpected times. But it does come.

Friday, March 05, 2004

I think I've said this before. It's time that I said it again. I do not vacation well. I appreciate the time off. And I know that I need it. I just ... don't know what to do with it.

Take today for instance. I got up. It was 8:15. That's not overtly late for a guy on vacation. I'll try to do better tomorrow. I showered. I fought the dog. The dog lost. I got a scratch and she got put in her cage. Score one for humans. I went and indulged in an early vanilla coke. When I arrived back home it was raining. Actually, it was RAINING. (There is a difference.) I sat in my favorite chair and had some quiet time alone with God. Best part of the day. Then I went with Scott to Missouri Baptist University and attended a class with him. This was my first college class since December of 1982. Long time coming. I enjoyed it but I also remembered why I was glad to graduate. I had supper with Scott, Kelli, and Joe. Nothing fancy. Just Jimmy Johns. I came home. I sat. I went to work out. I went to my moms and delivered hot chocolate and her meds for tomorrow. I came back home. And here I am.

That isn't a bad day. It's just ... a day. Nothing special or out of the ordinary. I guess that is what I think is wrong. There was no REASON. I've always felt like days are suppose to have a reason for existing. Somewhere I learned that. On closer examination I suppose it's stupid to feel that way. But I do.

I'll work on that and get back to you. Ok, so this was a waste of a blog. Sorry. I'm in a funk. Not sure why. I'll work on that too.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Ok, now I think I get it. Finally, I get it. The difference between being a "Youth Pastor" and a "Real Pastor." I've been wondering for years. Now I know.

A youth pastor can have weird things in his office and people love it.

A real pastor has to have an office that convinces people that he knows what he's talking about.

A youth pastor gets to eat pizza after school everyday with teenagers and people think he's doing his job.

A real pastor has to take people someplace where you don't get your own napkins out of a dispenser or order your meal at the counter.

A youth pastor enters late for worship and everybody thinks you were ministering to a kid.

A real pastor enters late for worship and everybody thinks you didn't have your sermon done yet.

A youth pastor says "I don't know" and everybody thinks he'll figure it out and then get "his own church."

A real pastor says "I don't know" and everybody wonders how he got "his own church."

A youth pastor has to care how much money is left in the years youth budget.

A real pastor has to care how much money was in the offering today.


A youth pastor has to act his age and understand theirs.

A real pastor has to act his age and let other people understand theirs.

A youth pastor has to show up with plans for 50 or 5 because you don't know how many will be there.

A real pastor teaches the same thing to 500 or 5 because you are speaking to individuals instead of having to win the attention of a crowd.

A youth pastor takes kids to summer camp and people assume it is your vacation.

A real pastor shows up for 3 days at summer camp and people think it's great that he cared enough to go all the way down there to support the youth ministry

A youth pastor has to know when a cool word ceases to be cool and what word replaced it.

A real pastor has to know what "propitiation" means.

A youth pastor has to play games with kids.

A real pastor gets to play games with a youth pastors head.

And so, after careful consideration, I figure it's a wash. Neither is better. It's all about hearing God and doing what He says. I like it.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

It is all about blood. Blood. How many slasher movies have been made since the birth of the film industry? I do not know. I do not care. They are mindless and dangerous. But this movie ... this blood ... it is different. Very different.

I watched "The Passion of the Christ" in a special preview at Willowcreek Community Church on Tuesday. It's a little project paid for, produced, and directed by Mel Gibson. Mel was actually in the house. He got interviewed by Pastor Bill Hybles. But he got shown up by Jesus.

Bloody Jesus. Beaten Jesus. Broken Jesus. It has been two days since I watched this film and I am still processing it mentally. I did not like it. I could not take my eyes off of it. I hated every minute of it. It held me spellbound. I knew how it ended before it started. I was breathless, waiting to see what would happen next. Jesus did not just die on a cross for me. He was murdered. Brutally. Laughing, gloating, bullying centurians beat him to an unrecognizable pulp. And then they didn't even have the courtesy to carry him to his death. They made him carry himself ... and his cross. He couldn't do it alone. He had to have help. God needed help. Some guy was chose, seemingly at random, and it changed his life forever. He didn't want to go near Jesus and then he fell in love with Him.

And then there was evil. It was named Satan. He is a snake. He is a person. He is hatred incarnate. I hate him more now than I did before I saw "The Passion." "Hate" really is not an adequate word. I detest him. Even that word does not do it. There is no word. He plays a minor role in the movie. Because, you see, as Jesus pointed out, no man takes His life from Him. He lays it down willingly. Satan was the pawn of Jesus. He was just too stupid to know it.

I will go to see this movie again. And probably again. And maybe one more time. I cannot get it out of my mind. It was too vivid. Too real. I needed to see this movie because I had forgotten the truth. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. It was only a movie. The real thing had to be far worse than even this. I cannot imagine. I do not want to.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

I had an appointment with "my psychiatrist" this week. Yes, friends, I go to a psychiatrist. I've been doing so for neigh onto three years now, since my little 'bout with adrenaline exhaustion. He likes to keep track of me. He has to because he addicted me to medications. Oh, he denies it but it's true. He says you don't get "addicted" to this stuff. You become "dependent" on it. Oh. Thanks for clearing that up. All I know is that when I don't pop the pill the room spins and my equalibrium is ... less than equal. He says I don't really "need" it anymore. The under lying sickness is long gone. So why do I keep taking it? Good question. I keep taking it because everytime I try to STOP taking it somebody in my life (usually me) does something stupid and launches stress grenades in my direction. And when those things go off you don't want to be dizzy and disoriented, my friend. Trust me.

Anyway, about this psychiatrist. What a trip. You think I'm crazy? You should meet this guy. He's about 55 years old. He has a wall full of diploma's. He has an office full of receptionists and assistants. He has an address in a very nice neighborhood. He also has a pony-tail. And a Harley. And well over 200 frogs. In his office. Stuffed frogs, crystal frogs, plaster frogs, embroidered frogs, painted frogs. You name the frog and chances are very good that he has it.

But the frogs don't really bother me. I guess a psychiatrist can be obsessive/compulsive too, can't he? I mean, I'm a pastor and I preach against sin ... but I'm still a sinner. So why can't a psychiatrist be a little nuts? Frogs are relatively harmless in the over all scheme of things.

It's the pony tail. And the Harley. And the hint of leather in his clothing. That bothers me. He showed me his picture this week. He was in the middle between two guys who are most definately either Hells Angels or he just chipped them out of arctic ice as relics from the last onrushing glacier. They all wore funny helmets. I recognized them from my father's old WWII pictures. They are just like nazi helmets.

My psychiatrist wears a nazi helmet. His pony tail sticks out the back. He prescribes my medication. And then I go to church and hundreds of people look to me for spiritual guidance. They get out of bed way too early on Sunday morning just to hear me speak about God. Think about that for a minute. Or maybe ... don't.

I had a Christian counselor a few years ago too. He's out of the business now. These days he drives a route delivering cookies to little quick-mart type gas stations. He doesn't have a pony tail. He has a buzz cut and his eyes are crossed. Really. I saw him this week. I bought him lunch. That's when I noticed it. He has these piercing blue eyes and their gaze intersects about 8 inches out in front of his head. I do not remember them doing that when he was my counselor. I suppose it could be my fault. I am pretty hard on doctors and counselors.

My dentist does not like me. He did a root canal on me about 18 months ago. He didn't use any pain killer. Oh, he gave me a shot. But it did not work. I kept raising my hand like he told me to do if it hurt. I assumed that meant he would give me another shot. I have come to realize that it only increased his sadistic pleasures. He lives to see grown men raise their hand. He would pat me on the leg and tell me to hang on because he was almost done. Then I tried raising my head up really, really, quickly everytime he would hit a nerve ... which was constantly. Because it was, after all, root canal. Finally, I tried lifting my entire body off of the chair at once. I didn't do it on purpose. It was totally involuntary. He drilled and I flew. When he finished he told me that I was proof that he could do root canal without any pain killers. I tried to snarl but I could only manage to drool.

I am not sure what the point of any of this is. I am not stretching the truth on any of it. My regular MD is a great guy. He's about 72 years old and should have retired long ago. He could own his own beach home in Maui. He likes to help people though so he keeps working. I suppose that somehow he balances the others out. I like going to my MD. No pony tail. No nazi helmet. His eyes are straight. He doesn't hurt me. He alone gives me faith in the medical community.

Well, I just thought I needed to put those things into print. If I come up dead after a psychiatrist appointment or a dentist appointement ... call somebody. Like the International Enquirer.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

I had forgotten just how cold "negative 9" is. It's pretty chilly. I had also forgotten what 7 inches of snow feels like under the tires of a rear wheel drive car. It feels pretty chilling. This is typically called, "Winter in Chicago." It has been 20 years since I lived there and you know what? I realized this year that I still miss it. There is something oddly invigorating about walking outside in the morning and hearing crusted-over snow crunch under your boots. There is an amazing feel to the unusual whine your car engine makes when it starts and it is that cold outside. Well ... IF it starts when it is that cold outside. Mine did. But I also saw a late model sedan being towed from the hotel parking lot. It was a foriegn job. I smiled in the direction of Detroit.

Chicago in the winter. I enjoyed my forays into the outside world. But I admit that I enjoyed it best as I viewed it from the glass enclosed hot-tub-by-the-pool in the rear of the hotel. Outside and across the street was a huge office building. The sign glowing from the top said, "Zurich." I don't think they were referring to the city. I believe there must be a company by that name. I'll bet they make something really neat. Something really Scandinavian. I wonder what it is. I invaded the hot tub 3 times in 4 days.

Nobody entered the hot tub/pool room any of the times I was there. I owned the place. That was good because I invited Jesus to come and sit with me in the tub. I went to Chicago simply to get away from life for a few days. Reality sometimes really does bite. Lately it has bitten more than usual. So I ran away. I used my trusty "AAA" card to get a killer rate. I made an appointment to talk to a man that is suppose to be much wiser than I am. Just to get his view of things. But mainly I spent hours upon hours in my room alone. The TV was a big "no-no." I turned it on 3 times in my days there. Never for more than 15 minutes in any one stretch. TV tends to distract one from reality. I didn't need distractions.

So it was me, my bible, my headphones with praise music attached, and ... when it pleased Him to come ... Jesus. Actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say "The Holy Spirit." But I'm claiming the "I and my Father are One" rule and I'm calling this wonderful presence "Jesus." He was kind enough to sit with me until nearly 2AM my first night there. We hashed out some really hard things. It got loud once or twice. Ok, I got loud once or twice. He listened and then responded in that still, small voice that so characterizes Him. I have learned that in our conversations, if there is a scream it is probably me. If it is a whisper it is probably Him. If there is silence it is probably for a reason. Silence is good when you are sitting with Jesus. Most people do not know that. It took me 40-something years to learn it. Silence means that He is just present and is enjoying being with you. It is good when God enjoys being with you.

On my last night in the big city I attended the mid-week worship service at Willowcreek. I have officially declared Willow my "church away from church." Every pastor needs one of those. It's a place where you can go and worship and not be expected to lead or talk or be wise. You can just sit, sing if you want, listen, pray if you want, and leave quietly without anybody caring or waiting at your office door. At Willow you can get lost among about 4,000 people and they will just assume that you belong there. You can wear jeans at any time. They don't care if you want to sit alone but they will make room for you if you want to sit with them.

That is where it got interesting for me this time around. I sat alone. I arrived about 20 minutes before the service and found a seat to the far right and about 8 rows up from the stage. I was the first person in the row so I sat on the inside aisle. After a few minutes a 30-something woman asked if the seats next to me were saved. I said, "nope." She went around, entered the row, and sat one seat removed from me. The remain seats filled quickly except for the one between us.

The praise and worship singing began. It was AWESOME. You can't beat singing along with 4,000 people. About 10 minutes into this time a man tapped my shoulder and motioned toward the empty seat. I stepped back to show that it was available and allow him access. The woman to my right slid over into that seat and he slipped past both of us and sat in the seat she had been in.

Hmmmm. I made notice of that but really didn't think anything of it. I figured the guy on the other side of her must have really smelled bad. The singing finally ended, Pastor Hybles spoke, he finished speaking, and we all stood to leave. One of us started a conversation. I don't remember who or what it was about. But we stood and talked for a few minutes. It seems that she and her husband had moved to the area over a year ago. They had lived in the Memphis area. Since coming to Barrington, (the suburb,) they had failed to find a church that was "a fit" for the two of them and their children. She mentioned that her Memphis church had been a big Baptist one. I simply said, "Bellvue?" She said yes. They had gone to the mega-Southern Baptist Church pastored by Adrian Rodgers. Cool. We talked about that for a minute then she said that her husband had come to Willow the week before and stayed home with the kids on this night so that she could try it. She said she liked it but was concerned that it might be overly charasmatic. She asked me what "we" believed.

That's when it happened. I told her that I didn't belong to Willowcreek. I told her that I was a Southern Baptist Pastor from St. Louis and I just attend Willow when I'm in town. That is when the floodgates broke. She poured out her desperation to find a church for her children to grow up in. She wanted them to learn the truth of scripture in a place that was vital, dynamic, and Christ centered. She was afraid such a place might not exist there.

I became a pastor. I explained how Willowcreek works. I told her about their smallgroups and how you become a member by attending them and eventually getting sponsored for membership by them. I told them that Baptist churches and Willowcreek agree on most everything. I said that if I lived there and was not a pastor myself it is exactly where I would join. She seemd relieved. She WAS relieved. What this dear lady needed was to have someone who shared her "SBC roots" tell her that it was ok ... even right ... to join this church. It was not too good to be true at all. I then walked her to the information booth where I introduced her to someone I did not know myself. She was a woman volunteer. She immediately took my new friend under her wing and began answering her questions. I tapped the visitor on the shoulder, extended my hand, and found it full of hers. As I shook it I told her that I was glad to have helped and that I would be praying that she and her family would settle where God wanted them. With tears still in her eyes she thanked me.

As I walked off into the night I thought I heard her ask the volunteer, "Who was that masked man?" The volunteer replied, "I don't know ... but he left this silver bullet." Ok, you have to be relatively old to get that joke. Nevermind.

I left feeling good. I felt like I had done something just because it was the right thing to do. Our own attendance and offering would not be affected one bit by my actions. I had nothing to gain. It was just ... right. It was still cold outside and the snow still crunched. But I didn't need the hot tub when I got back to the hotel. I was alread warm inside.