The Calm After the Storm

snow_2The storm ended hours ago. The sun has actually come out the past two days and melted some snow (not much, however, since the temperatures have remained relatively low).

I still make treks out to the driveway to do my due diligence. Three feet of snow does not disappear easily. My next-door neighbor figured out that each of us had over 2000 cubic feet of snow on our drives. I reminded him that those figures do not include any drifting. If I were a mathematician, I would calculate the remainder. Alas, I have neither the skill nor the energy to do so.

“I shoveled for a couple more hours this morning.”

Suffice it to say, we’ve moved a lot of snow around here the past few days (and I’m not finished yet). On top of all that, the snowplows have not made a foray into our neighborhood since the storm subsided. At last report, everyone had run out of gasoline. As soon as they roll by, I’ll have a lot of heavy lifting to do at the end of my driveway. You know the drill.

I shoveled for a couple more hours this morning. I continued to do so until my body cried out against any more manual labor. I was literally getting sick.

I came into the house and drew a hot bath (haven’t taken one of those in years). I poured in some Epsom salts, turned on the jets, and soaked for a long time. Much Snow-Shovelto my surprise, I actually felt better when I was done. Still, it was a major project trying to crawl out of that tub.

Because of the pain, soreness, hard work, and weariness, I’ve felt sorry for myself a lot the past few days. But as I laid in that spa, I began to think about people who have it a lot worse than me—people who don’t get the relief I felt in the tub today.

For some reason, I thought of the people Saddam Hussein tortured and killed. I remembered the ones he had fed into a plastic chipper—feet first. What an awful way to die. Then I realized how good I have it…snowy driveway and all.

Sometimes it’s hard to count our blessings.

When things are tough, it can become hard to count our blessings. We can’t get past our immediate circumstances far enough to see our good fortune.

Once, the apostle Paul listed a whole slew of things he had to face. He mentioned being flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hungry and thirsty, as well as various other dangers. At the end of the long list, he gave thanks for his weaknesses and trials because they made him strong in the Lord.

I have to admit, I never thought about becoming strong in the Lord while I was out shoveling all that snow. Having gotten away from it for a few hours, though, I have to agree with Paul. Somehow, the Lord is going to strengthen me in my difficulties and weaknesses. At least, that’s what I’m counting on.snowangel

Snowpocalypse Now!

snowpocalypeThe Good Lord just dumped three feet of snow in my driveway (give or take a few inches—mostly give). This blog is late because I couldn’t move from the couch long enough to type. Even now, my arthritic fingers are screaming in pain with every keystroke. Oh, the humanity!

I don’t remember how many times I went out during (and after) the two-day storm to shovel. I DO remember that each time I prepared to go out, my old body kept shouting in agony for me to stay in by the fire.

In between two of our shoveling sessions, my darling wife and I indulged in a hot meal. As we bowed to ask for God’s blessing, a strange thing came out of my mouth.

“Get behind me, Satan!”

During the grace, I thanked God for the snow. As soon as that phrase came out of my mouth, I was asking myself where that came from. Immediately after saying, “Amen,” I almost quoted the Scripture in which Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Before I could get that out, Denise asked, “Thanks for the snow?” She obviously knew the pain I was in and the mixed emotions I was struggling to hide.

FrozenBeardThat’s when the “pastor” in me arose. I promptly replied, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” And there it was—all out on the table (or the kitchen island, as it were). I was giving thanks for something I hate.

It’s not that I hate the gift of snow. It’s quite beautiful and fascinating. I do, however, hate the shoveling, the pain, and the feeling of immobility that follows. Yet, I give thanks—not sure why, but I do.

Church services were cancelled yesterday. Getting to the site of our corporate worship would not have been worth the struggle or the danger of traveling under such conditions. In the midst of one of my digging expeditions, I joked with my neighbor that, “Preaching is much more fun.” I laughed, but I meant every word of it.

“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”

I worked hard on Sunday. Excavated in my driveway twice more. The sun had come out by this time, and the snow was getting ever heavier. It was so bright, I had to wear sun glasses. My body, wracked with pain, was giving thanks (thanks that the snowfall had ceased, and thanks that the quarry was beginning to slowly disappear). There was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

As I conclude, I’m trying to think of a reason for this whole thing. What’s the moral of the story? There are things I’d like to say that my body still won’t allow. What’s the silver lining in all of this?

Meanwhile-In-NorwayI’ve seen times in the news where people have hurricane parties. Yesterday evening, some of us in the hood had a chili party. From that perspective, I could truly give thanks—even for snow.

I’m thankful that, “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” And I’m praying that he taketh away all this snow…ASAP.

Chapel Declares State of Emergency

DaveShovelingSmith Chapel UMC of Northern Virginia has declared a state of emergency today. We’re not sure if the National Guard will come, but we won’t be there anyway.

Due to the ever accumulating snow, worship for Sunday, January 24, is hereby cancelled. If you want corporate worship tomorrow, you’re on your own (we know, that’s somewhat of an oxymoron).

JeepReadyPastor thinks he can still get there in his Jeep, but also realizes he may be on his own. Everyone else will probably be out shoveling snow.

This brings up a great idea, however. Instead of watching a Law & Order marathon (or some such thing), go to Pulpit Man.com and listen to one of the dozens of Pastor Dave’s sermons to be found there. In fact, you could download several of them to your iPod and listen while you’re shoveling. A sermon marathon is almost as good as being there!

JFrozenBeardust a thought…not a sermon (sorry Lon Solomon).

Sure! Just Jump Right In There!

Yesterday, I was at one of the big box stores. Always a treat… There is a whopper OrganicBeefof a snowstorm predicted for this weekend, so I thought I’d beat the rush and pick up my milk and toilet paper a few days early. Silly me.

The place was packed. As always, people were lost in their own little worlds, blocking aisles, and just generally getting in each other’s way.

To add to the pandemonium, the store had various tasting tables set up here and there. I was avoiding these stations like the plague until this wonderful aroma hit my olfactory nerves. I looked ahead and saw a sign that said, “100% Organic, Grass-fed Beef.” Well… I couldn’t pass that up.

It was beginning to smell like Heaven.

As you might guess, people were jamming around this particular tasting station like an oasis in the desert. I kept telling myself to be patient. Act like the humble Christian you’re supposed to be. Everyone else has just as much a right to these freebies as you.

So I waited in line…patiently. I waited while the people in front of me not only got a sample, but also stayed and grazed for a while. It definitely started getting to me, and I grew a tad irritated. But I kept telling myself to be patient. After all, it’s only 100% organic, grass-fed beef (that was beginning to smell like Heaven itself).grass-fed-beef-eating

Then the gentleman directly in front of me decided he had sated himself and wanted to pull out of the line (thank goodness). But he didn’t merely pull out. He asked me to back my cart up so he could assume the position behind his cart and push it out. He wouldn’t just pull it out from the side. Despite being overly annoyed by his request, I did so at the peril of losing my place in line.

As soon as he vacated his spot, I deftly rushed my cart into his formerly occupied space and grabbed a piece of beef like it was a gold ingot. They were offering five different varieties of sausage, but I didn’t want to follow suit of the people preceding me. So I decided to continue on my way (but not before grabbing the one on the very end which looked particularly delish).

Sure! Just jump right in there!

As I was making my way to said sample (and mind you, this only took a few seconds), a guy appeared out of nowhere, pushed in front of me, and grabbed a piece of beef. By this time I could take no more. I developed a deep need to say something (so I did). “Sure! Just jump right in there!” (One of my best playground taunts…) GrassFed

He immediately retorted, “Sure, just clog up the aisle!” Incensed, I replied, “I’ve been waiting in line for five minutes, man!” I have to say, it felt good.

I immediately thought of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7:24. “What a wretched man I am!” Still in need of a Savior after all these years.

Thirty-Eight Year Locusts

 

I recently heard a statistic that blew me away. It concerned the Christian locustsdenomination of which I’ve been a member for the past thirty-six years. I’m changing the name to protect the guilty.

The average attendee of The Church of Our-Lady-Down-by-the-Gas-Station invites someone to worship once every thirty-eight years. Just allow that to sink in for a moment or two. Every thirty-eight years… I guess that means I’ll need to invite someone within the next two years to keep up with the Jones’s. (Just kidding. I think I’ve surpassed my thirty-eight year requirement.)

“Why do you keep going yourself?”

The whole thing is quite amazing to me (regardless of how accurate or inaccurate that statistic may be). It means that church folks aren’t excited enough about their own expression of faith to share it with others. My question to them is, “Why do you keep going yourself?”

Their answers are many and varied. Their excuses are lame (when they even have excuses). People show their true colors when they rationalize their lack of enthusiasm.

“Do you realize what you’ve just said?”

I’ll give you a perfect example. I’ve had many people tell me over the years they wouldn’t invite their adult children to their worship services. Why? Usually they say something like, “They wouldn’t fit in,” or “Our services aren’t what would attract them.” Really…

ChocCoveredLocustDo you realize what you’ve just said? You’ve just admitted that your worship is basically unimaginative, uninspiring, and/or uninviting. If that’s the case, I’ll ask again. Why do you keep going yourself? Worship styles (as well as congregational cultures) can be changed. Does your congregation have to get old and die in order for it to grow?

Furthermore, if your worship is so drab, boring, and irrelevant, whose fault is it? I know the immediate answer for most is either, “The Pastor’s,” or “The leadership.” If that’s your answer, then I will quickly tell you this. You’ve abdicated your responsibilities. Your pastor and leadership can only do so much. You’re wearing them out with your unreasonable expectations.

“I wouldn’t invite my next door neighbor.”

Here’s another example. “I wouldn’t invite my next door neighbor.” Why? The answers to this one are myriad. “I don’t want him to see me like that,” or “I don’t like him,” or “He’s a nice guy, but he’s not our type.” There are many more, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone.

There’s an old saying. If you find the perfect congregation, don’t join—you’ll ruin it. The church is a very imperfect, human institution. We should be constantly changing, growing, and evolving to fit the times, the culture around us, and the needs of our neighbors (anyone remember the Good Samaritan?). We i_love_locustsdon’t need to jettison our principles and ethics to do so. Some of our stale traditions might suffer, but those can be “small taters” compared to the souls that could be won to the Kingdom of God.

If you aren’t interested enough to invite others, maybe some change is in order. That change may have to begin in your own heart.

Rahab & the Bible’s Red Light District

RahabHow many of you remember the Old Testament character named Rahab? She was an early professional (in what is known as the worlds’ oldest profession). As the story goes, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to case the Jericho. They ended up staying at the home of Rahab.

The Bible doesn’t say whether Rahab’s home was a cathouse (or as it is also known, a house of ill repute). Chances are, however, it was. It just stands to reason.

The Bible doesn’t mention if the two spies engaged in any seemly activities while they were there, either. I won’t speculate, but I have my suspicions.

The thrust of the story is that Rahab hid the Israelite spies and covered for them. In return, when the Hebrew army took Jericho, she and her household were spared. Her home was marked with a red cord to alert the soldiers which home was hers.

My ancestry is not in question.

When Jericho fell (literally), Rahab and her family were taken in to live with the Israelites. In a New Testament genealogy, she is listed in the family tree of Jesus. I’d say that was quite an honor for a woman of the night.

When God appeared in the flesh, he could have come through any line of people he chose. For some reason, he did it through a prostitute. This gives me great hope.

I’m not sure if there are any such women in my family tree, but if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.rahab1

But it’s not my ancestry that’s in question. It’s me. I’m no better than Rahab. If she could end up in a position of Biblical distinction, I should have a shot at holding down a spot in God’s Kingdom as well.

The point is the Lord doesn’t seem to be picky. He chose a lot of losers to be a part of his family, his circle of friends, and his followers. In fact, compared to him, we’re all losers (with a capital “L”).

A lot of folks don’t think they’re good enough to be included in God’s Kingdom. They believe they have sinned too much, strayed too far, and fallen off the deep end too often. From what I see in Scripture, that’s just not true.

An inspiration of the other kind.

On the other end of that, there are a lot of folks in the church that seem to agree with them. They consider these “evil doers” to be forever lost. What a crock! How can someone who has been touched by an angel (so to speak) withhold that experience from anyone else? They should be out helping people discover that experience.

Rahab is an inspiration. She was obviously nobody special. Just the opposite is true, in fact. Yet she is now known for her bravery, her discernment, and her willingness to be obedient to the will of the one, true God.

I think I’m going to tie a red cord around the banister on my front porch.  rahab2

You Are Not Alone: Random Thoughts from an Introverted Preacher

Loner

I tend to be a loner—a very private person.  I grew up hearing from my parents, “That’s nobody’s business but ours.”  In other words, no one else needs to know our concerns.  What we do is confidential. It’s not for public consumption.  I took that concept and ran with it…probably to an extreme.

Introvert

Part of my problem (if you can call it that) is that I’m an introvert. One of the cruel jokes of ministry is that 85% of all pastors are introverts. (I’m convinced that is part of the curse dropped on us in IntrovertsUnitethe Garden of Eden. Just a wild guess, of course.)

I’ve worked hard (and continue to do so) at overcoming my introversion. Since it’s built into my personality, I will probably never completely overcome it. But I’ve done a relatively decent job of covering it up.

Actually, I really enjoy other people…just not too many and for too long. I’m telling you, it’s part of the curse.

Community

One of the central themes of the Bible is the communal nature of the church…koinonia (Greek for fellowship or community). Loners have a hard time with that. It becomes necessary for us to break out of our mold. We have to work at being more open and accepting. One of the hardest things for me as a Christian has always been the inclusion of the whole church in my life. Even as a pastor I still work on that one.

I Am Second

There is a really good website called I Am Second. My youngest son turned me on to this a few years ago.  I like to go back to it from time to time, because it’s a great site to remind us that we are truly not alone.

People

I sometimes joke that the church would be great if it wasn’t for the people.  Obviously, that’s absurd on its face.  Without people there is no church.

SawYouLastWeedChristianity is a little paradoxical in its ability to tolerate others.  On the one hand, you can’t even be considered a member of the church unless you believe in Jesus.  That sounds a little intolerant.  On the other hand, if you believe in Jesus, we can tolerate almost anything else about you.

Where some people make their mistake is when they confuse tolerance and love.  We are commanded to love everyone, not tolerate them. Loving from a distance is not really an option, though.

Preaching to the Masses

What’s really strange is this. The bigger the crowd, the easier it is for me to preach. Explain that one to me. A crowded party drains the energy right out of me. A crowded worship service gets me juiced up (spiritually speaking). Could it be because I don’t have to look at one person too long? Inquiring minds want to know.

Down Time

This was easy to write because I’m alone right now.

Nine Seconds to Splash Down

I recently heard of a study that showed the attention span of human beings has now dropped below that of a gold fish. That really doesn’t tell us anything until we know the attention span of a gold fish. Apparently it’s nine seconds.

GoldfishNINE SECONDS! That means most of you are ready to stop reading this and go on to something else. It doesn’t bode well for people who write (like me). I already have a problem attracting readers. Losing them after eight seconds is a killer.

If our attention span keeps getting shorter, what does that say for our future? How can we survive with the attention span of a guppy?

They say that the media has done this to us. Ten second sound bites… Thirty second hamburgers… Instant-on TV… The list goes on forever. Yet I have to say I like all this quickness. Waiting for stuff can be a real drag.

“You shouldn’t pray for patience…”

I’ve even noticed in my own life that I’m beginning to grow a little impatient with anything that takes longer than a millisecond. If it can affect an old geezer like me, it can undoubtedly affect anyone.

It’s been said many times over the years that you shouldn’t pray for patience. The reason given is that the Lord will introduce situations into your life to help you build a patient spirit. I suspect the process can be less than hilarious. I’ve heeded that little warning and have never prayed that prayer. I’ve done so because of another old saying. “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” Don’t even ask me what that means.

Trending Downward

I’m not sure where all this impatience will lead. I’m definitely not a futurist. I can tell you, however, it doesn’t bode well for the practice of reading the Bible. That’s an endeavor that can take awhile.

It’s a trend I find to be a bit more than sad. I’ve always found Scripture to be fascinating. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, The Last Wedding (please pardon the shameless plug). It’s also one of the reasons I’m in the midst of writing a second book. I write because I want to do what I can to point people to a knowledge and love of the Bible. It’s a fantastic piece of literature that can change anyone’s life.gone_fishin_trucker_hat-r651b2949c560451bae86943336382d62_v9wfy_8byvr_324

The good news in all of this is you don’t have to read the Bible in one sitting. In fact, you don’t even have to read it in one year. A little bit of Scripture can go a long way—particularly if you slow down long enough to meditate on it.

In fact, I’m of the opinion that the Bible is at it’s best when you stop and ask questions of it. You know—the old what, when, why, where, and how. Too many of us read a verse and say, “I don’t get it.” Then we give up. What are we—trout?

Religion is Dead

It seems like many (if not most) of us, like to take refuge in religious activities. SpellPeaceWe feel like we’re better people if we’re doing something pious.  If we can just follow the right rules, pray the right formula, or chant the right words, we’ll be okay with God.

Unfortunately, as I understand Scripture, it seems the Lord is not very interested in religion.  In fact, it seems as though the more religious people get, the less He likes it.

All the man-made rules may make us feel better about ourselves, but it’s the heart of the matter that makes the difference.  Yet even after all these years, I continually catch myself setting up new rules to follow (at least I hope I catch myself).  You’d think I’d learn to follow Jesus instead of a bunch of rules.

Rules are a little easier, though.  They don’t move around like Jesus does. But then, why follow things that aren’t moving.  They can’t take you anywhere.

Long ago, people approached the prophet Zechariah with a question for the Lord. They wanted to know if they should “mourn and fast in the fifth month” as they had for many years. The Lord answered with a couple questions of his own:

“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”

The implication was that the people were basically doing these things merely to make themselves feel better. We somehow think we’ll be better off if we “pay our dues.” Follow the rules, give a nice offering, and go about business as usual.

The Lord then told Zechariah to pass on these words to the good folks:

“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

Someone could say, “Well, those are just more rules!” Maybe. But there is a stark difference between going down a checklist of dos and don’ts as opposed to being a merciful, compassionate, and just person. In fact, one might sum it up as “doing versus being.”

It Becomes Personal

When we follow Christ, it becomes a very personal thing. We are transformed into what the apostle Paul calls “living sacrifices.” That, my friends, is a far cry from enumerating a heavenly spreadsheet of religious activities.

JESUS OF NAZARETH -- Pictured: Robert Powell as Jesus -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

If we grow to become compassionate, we don’t have to be told what to do. Life will happen, and we will find ourselves doing benevolent activities. We will do them because they have become part of our nature.

An agenda of rules quickly becomes a dead religion. It’s very impersonal. Your relationship is with a worksheet rather than with people. I know from personal experience.

Having done both, I highly recommend Jesus. He’s a lot more fun than a spreadsheet.

Nose Rings: An Old Testament Hangover

bull-with-nose-ringWhen I was young, all the nose rings I saw were attached to bulls.  Heavy rings were inserted into their noses for obvious reasons.  A chain or rope was hooked to them in order to lead them around. If you think about how tender your nose can be, you can imagine how it would feel. Try going in a different direction from the one in which you’re being pulled.

I always felt badly for bulls because of this. At least I did until I stood next to one. Those babies are huge! I wouldn’t want to try riding one for sure. Leading one around wouldn’t be a picnic either.

In the Old Testament, we read how victors led losing kings around by nose rings. It was a definite sign of forced submission. It also had to be more than a little painful. The piercing alone must have been brutal (I doubt they took them to a tattoo parlor to get it done).

Today we see lots of people with nose rings. I guess they think it’s cool or distinctive.  Regardless of how fashionable it is, it definitely sets them apart. Every time I see someone with a nose ring, I think of those Old Testament kings being led away by their enemies. I’ll never get one. (Why make it any easier on my enemies than they already have it.)

THERMAL, CA - APRIL 13:  Kendall Jenner attends Day 2 of the LACOSTE Beautiful Desert Pool Party on April 13, 2014 in Thermal, California.  (Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images for LACOSTE)
Kendall Jenner (Photo by Chris Weeks)

Today, we get them of our own volition. No one forces us. Being stylish can cause us to do unusual things. We all know plenty of women who wear shoes that kill their feet. As long as they look good, that’s all that matters. I suppose a few guys do that as well.

I have to hand it to them. Comfort is usually paramount. But if you’re willing to bear the pain to look different, that’s commitment.

I think the church could take a lesson from these hardy folks. If there’s one drawback to the American church today, it’s our insistence on being permanently comfortable. We don’t much care how it looks. We don’t even care much how little ministry is done. As long as we are comfortable, that’s what matters.

I’m certainly no exception to the comfort seekers, and I’m a pastor. I want the place of worship to be heated in winter and air conditioned in summer. I even want any actual ministry we do to be under good conditions. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in a very comfortable study in extremely comfortable surroundings.

Jesus told the early church to be his witness Body-Piercing“to the ends of the earth.” Then they promptly hunkered down in Jerusalem for the next few years. It wasn’t until the church fell under heavy persecution that they began taking the Gospel elsewhere.

I don’t want to put any ideas in God’s head, but maybe we could use a few nose rings (figuratively speaking, of course). Or maybe we could actually go to the ends of the earth of our own volition.