Idillic.

Its Friday morning and its my day off. Before my wife went off to work this morning I asked her, “Is there anything you’d like me to do today?” Her response:

“Oh, I could give you a huge list of things that need to be done. But its your day off.”
(Is it any wonder I’m so crazy about this woman?)

So, here I am sitting on our front porch, sipping coffee, lounging in our Adirondack chair, watching an insanely beautiful butterfly gently open and close its wings, seemingly for the sheer joy of showing them off. The grass is cut, the breeze is cool, and the perfection of the morning has just been interrupted by an electric hedge clipper down the street.

My blog well has been dry for the past several days, so its good to get back and try and eek out another post. Hopefully it’ll include some worthwhile things. I honestly don’t post when I don’t feel like anything is worth sharing. Some people can post everyday and always seem to have something interesting to say. Maybe I’m just too busy living to be able to pull that off.

So, let’s see. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that said, “Jesus Loves You…..but I’m His favorite.” Maybe you’ve heard that Jesus loves you so much that if you were the only person on earth, He still would have come and died just for you. Well, I don’t know how that stands up to theological/doctrinal scrutiny, but I DO know that such a thing was never His plan or desire. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus came for ALL people, everywhere, for all time. Sadly though, not all will embrace Him as Savior and Lord during their lifetime. But all people WILL call Him King of Kings, for that is what He is.

Years ago I was a youth pastor in Nyack, New York. I served at Simpson Memorial Church (which has since been renamed, thank the Lord) for 7+ years. I joined a multi-staff ministry team and LOVED every one of them. But as time went on, one by one they felt called to other places and ministry roles. Until I finally found myself as the only pastor on staff. Can you imagine the youth pastor running the church? Even with a couple Godly and committed confidants to lean on, there were times when I simply felt…well….lonely. For some reason, I found encouragement in Kirk Franklin’s song “Hold Me Now”. There were times when I would literally be on the floor of my office, praying for wisdom, and listening to that song. Sounds silly, I know.

Somewhere in those 14 months of being the solo pastor at Simpson Church, I went to our denomination’s annual assembly called “Council”. It was held that year in Nashville, TN. I stayed at the beautiful Opryland Hotel. There was literally a canal boat ride that went through the palatial atrium/lobby of this huge facility. During that week, I bought a worship music cd because I had forgotten to bring any music with me (uncommon for me). On that compilation cd, I listened for the first time to a song called “Here I Am To Worship”. Today, that song is well known by so many. But that was the first time I had ever heard it before. And not to exaggerate, but the words to that song both met the need of my heart at the time as well as taught me what it truly means to worship.

[A side note: During an adult small group Bible study years later, I heard the best definition of worship I had ever encountered: “singlemindedness.”]

So, in that hotel room at Opryland hotel, I listened to that song repeatedly. It wasn’t but a few minutes later it seemed that I could sing every word as an expression of my heart to God…
“Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re all together lovely,
All together worthy,
All together wonderful to me.”
To this day, I consider this song one of my favorite songs to sing to the Lord.

And in those days as a young pastor, my perception of being in ministry began to change. Truth be told, it changes every day as I experience more and learn more; I hope that it will never stop changing. When it does, that means I’ve stopped learning and growing. I couldn’t stomach that.

That might be why I seem to thrive in an ever-changing environment. The sense of sameness that many churchgoers seem to find comforting, I find unnerving. Doing things the same way, even if its “working” isn’t something that appeals to me. I’d rather change the way things are done, even if that way works just fine. Some say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’d say, “If ain’t broke, break it.” To me, the risk of going after a new thought, a new paradigm, a new path is completely worth the chance of falling flat on my face. I should also mention that I truly believe failure is more valuable than success…much more, in fact.

Whereas I would had previously thought (years ago) that being in ministry was summed up by “Keep people happy”, I would now contend that being a leader in ministry is better summed up by “Love Jesus and don’t fear it when people aren’t comfortable with all He expects us to do.”

Well, when you’re not sure how to end a blog post, its never a bad idea to ask, “What do you think?”

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Seeing has nothing to do with believing.

There’s a show on television that I find intriguing. It’s called “Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.” Basically its a guy who pretty much explains how every “magic trick” or illusion is done. How you make an elephant disappear? How do you walk through a steel wall? How do you levitate? How do you impale the pretty assistant on an iron spike and have her end up being just fine? This guy shows it all. And I eat it up with a spoon. I’ve never been a real fan of magic tricks or illusionists. I’m embarassed for guys who take being so silly so seriously. So, needless to say that when someone comes up to me and says, “Pick a card.” I say, “No.” Because we all know that look. The look they give after they’re done doing that trick. The look that says, “I know how to do a card trick and you don’t.” To me, it’s very similar to the look that says, “Punch me.”

So, this TV show is kind of like showing behind the scenes at Disney World. The result is that the sense of magic and wonder is gone, but its still kind of fun.
I’m guessing all other illusionists hate him. That’s probably why he wears a mask.

Jesus had a lot of followers who were only there to “see the show.” We’re not sure how many came for that reason, but we do know that many were changed once they realized that this was no magic, no slight of hand, no illusion at all. Jesus’ power wasn’t dependent on a stage hand just out of camera shot who pulled the cable on cue. Jesus’ power was and is from His identity as God.

And so as crowds came, crowds believed. Word spread. More came. More believed. But in John 20 Jesus says something interesting and it actually has something to do directly with you and me.

These words were spoken by Jesus to Thomas (called Didymus), after Thomas saw Jesus with his physical sight and only after did he believe that Jesus had risen from the dead:

John 20:29: Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

I remember laying in bed one night and talking to God about how I really wanted to see Him. Not someday, but right then, in my room. I know it sounds really ridiculous, but that’s okay. I’m kind of ridiculous with God sometimes. I remember being there in my bed and trying to explain to God that if I could just see some kind of physical something-or-other, then I would REALLY be able to believe Him hardcore. It was essentially a “show up in this room and I’ll be even more convinced” kind of thing. It was essentially (in hindsight) the words of Thomas. The one we affectionately still know as “Doubting Thomas”.

But when I read John 20:29, Jesus called me “blessed”. The Greek word is “makarioi”, and its an adjective. The “blessed” is a descriptor for anyone today who has not seen Jesus with their physical eyes, but yet know who He is and call Him Lord because of their spiritual eyes. The word blessed means “supremely blest, fortunate, well off.”

So, as it turns out the prayer I prayed in my bed that night so long ago was a naive request at the time, but God answering “no” actually kept me in the camp of those who are “supremely blest, fortunate, and well off.”

Taco Sauce

This morning on my way to work, I stopped at the $3 car wash. It’s worth about $3, maybe less.

Well, when you pay your $3 and go through the car wash, you are entitled to use the vacuums in the parking lot for free. So, I slid my Crown Vic into a spot and grabbed the business end of an industrial strength vacuum hose. As soon as I started vacuuming, I noticed that this huge steel tank vacuum was industrial strength wimpy. It barely picked up sand, let alone the other more substantial stuff on the floors of my car. I put my hand against the nozzle and felt almost no suction at all. Like an optimistic dunce, I kept vacuuming and hoping things would improve. They didn’t.

Then, I decided that what this vacuum hose needed was minor surgery. After looking around to make sure no employees were over my shoulder, I disassembled the hose and found the source of the wimpy suction. It was a Taco Bell taco sauce packet. Taco sauce was killing my suction.

After extracting said taco sauce, I put the hose back together and I’m not kidding, I could have picked my car up with the suction I was getting now. No doubt about it: This vacuum sucked.

What’s the taco sauce packet that’s keeping God’s power and potential from being fully engaged in my life? What’s just below the surface in me that is way too much about me that is keeping God from leading me forward into more fruitfulness?

Never thought I could learn so much from a taco sauce packet.

Craving to create

I’m a creator. I don’t generally gravitate to things that are already created. I like to write, I like to make, I like to do things that aren’t done; or at least aren’t done the way I would do them.

Silly, I know.

Especially when it comes to ministry (which is where I live), why not just use things that are already made? Why not use the curriculum that so-and-so wrote? Why not use the pre-fab stuff in ministry? My answer: I don’t know except to say that God made me to create things, enjoy creating, and offer them to others who don’t create.
But that creative impulse sometimes drives me crazy. I’ll very often get an idea in my head and think “That’s something worth doing.” But after several minutes of thinking about it, I usually decide that no, it’s not worth doing at all. If I did do it, nobody would get it…I mean, understand it. Not because it’s smart or so progressive, but because it comes from me, and very often I feel like I don’t think the way most people think. Again…silly, I know. And I’m sure it sounds a bit arrogant. I don’t mean it to. Trust me.
Here’s an example.
Earlier today, I was thinking about how the sound of a banjo always sticks out. No matter what the musical context, there’s just something about a banjo that is so distinct, and so recognizable. You just can’t miss it.
And at least in my mind, that reality can directly connect to my life as a follower of Jesus. In my mind, there’s a whole world of truth to unwrap, there’s a slew of Scripture to expose, there’s a myriad of relatable points that come from that simple thought. Not only that, but its humorous, its peculiar, and its catchy.
But I think that’s just me.
So my book/article/sermon series/website/clothing line called “There’s Something About a Banjo” ends up on the cutting room floor. At least for now.
The catch for being creative is to be discriminating, too. Not every thought warrants development. Not every idea is a good idea. Some (perhaps even most) end up being for my amusement, or for my private thoughts, or for my ________________. I don’t even know what else to put in the blank.

Well, I’ve got to run and get some lunch. Sorry for the abrupt ending, but the content of this ridiculous post might be directly associated with a failure to properly nourish my brain.

Irregardless [isn’t a word]

I keep a small notebook on my nightstand for writing things down that cross my mind when I’m either in bed, getting ready for bed, or when I awake in the middle of the night with some prophetic dream for the nations. While that last one doesn’t really happen too often, the first 2 do–and I want to be ready. I enjoy blogging, and I must confess that I don’t want even one would-be blog to slip through the teeth of my steel trap memory…which rusted open long ago.

Last night as I was pacing back and forth across my room (while my wife asked why I was pacing), I decided to write something down in that little notebook. This morning I was trying to remember what it was. I just walked upstairs to my nightstand and read these words: “Irregardless is not a word.”

Wow, isn’t that revolutionary? Isn’t your day complete? Can’t we all hold hands and sing Amy Grant classics? Let’s close in prayer.

Just kidding. Why would I write that, and moreover, what would have been going through my head that would make me think that such a statement is memorable, or even substantial enough to build anything on? I’m going to retrace my cerebral steps and see if I can piece together just how I got to “Irregardless is not a word.”

We just got back yesterday from a 10-day vacation. We spent a week at a rented beach house on Anna Maria Island in the Gulf of Mexico. It was amazingly wonderful. We essentially did nothing for 7 days straight. Our biggest decision at any moment was “pool or beach?”

And of course, we snapped lots of pictures. Unfortunately I ended up in several of them. So what? Well, you must understand that when I see a picture of myself, I get vantage points that the mirror over the bathroom sink doesn’t offer me. And to put it succintly, I’m going bald. When I look straight on in the mirror, all is well (well, comparatively speaking). But when I get that rare shot from the back, or top, it becomes quite obvious that all is indeed not well. Additionally, I’m out of shape. If my bathroom scale is right, and the scale at the doctor’s office I stepped on last night is right, I put on about 10 pounds in those 10 days.

And you can call it vanity. Go right ahead. You’re entitled. But to me, the primary issue isn’t the hair. I’ve always had as my plan to shave my head bald when I reached the tipping point. And when I say bald, I mean Mr. Clean bald. I mean shiny head bald. I mean not a speck of hair bald. The problem? Well, I’m not in great shape. At least, not in my opinion. And in order to really pull off a good bald head look, it really helps to be in good shape.

And did I mention that one of my many nicknames in high school was “Lumpy”? Its because my head has hills and valleys and lumps in it that my thinning hair hides. Feel the right side of my head and no joke you’ll swear there’s a volcano on my head.

And to me, I’d like for “bald” and “out of shape” to stay away from each other. For me, they don’t go together, like “ir” and “less” as in “irregardless”. It’s what smart people call a “nonstandard” word. It’s a word that is formed when people mistakenly combine “irrespective” with “regardless”. You see, some things just don’t go together.

The next (more spiritual) step I’ll take in retracing my steps is one that I’ll save for next time. I’ve really got to get better at writing shorter blogs. For the one of you that is still reading this one, I’d like to say thanks and I’ll continue the thought in my next post.

Never Runs Out

We’ve been going to the beach for the last two days; for hours at a time. Everybody kind of does their own thing–Crews loves going out farther, Madison enjoys the shallow water, and Macy would much rather spend her time looking at, looking for, and picking up seashells.

And as I was fascinated by her fascination of these little treasures, I was reminded of a treasured truth of my own. It’s a pretty crazy thought, but I actually found myself at one point yesterday thinking, “Boy, she’s going to pick up so many shells there won’t be any good ones left for tomorrow.” I know it’s a ridiculous thought, but I thought it anyway.

And when we returned to the beach today, sure enough Macy went right back to hunting and collecting her favorite shells, and sure enough, the supply she had depleted yesterday seemed to be more than replenished today. It seemed that somehow during the overnight hours, the waves delivered a whole new batch for her to be captivated by.

There are certain stories in the Bible that I would certainly guess I’ve wrung all there is to wring out of. But sure enough, each time I return to any story in the Bible, there seems to be a replenished supply of truth and practicality; so that what it spoke to me last time isn’t what it speaks to be today. It’s not that the words on the page have changed, its that I have, and my circumstance has, and my understanding has. But far beyond that is the fact that God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”

And so just like my daughter who will return tomorrow to the shore and find a brand new, endless supply of beautiful shells to put in her bucket, so I can return to God’s Word and find it brimming with transformational truth for me to find, embrace, and live out.