Spoiler Alert!

WarningI have a friend who always seems to know who the killer is about ten seconds into the movie. Man, do I hate that! I hate that on several levels.

I hate it because I’m jealous–jealous that I don’t have anywhere near the level of analysis or insight he does. I hate it because he’s so aware and I’m so naïve. I hate it because he always spoiled the ending for me. No matter how obvious it is to everyone else, I’m always surprised (unless he’s around).

Christians seem to be like that. Our attention seems to be drawn to the back of the book—the end of the movie—the sum total of all things. I get that, but there’s something to be said for the journey.

Is it good to know the end of the story?

One of the things that originally drew me to Christ was my newfound knowledge that he was returning. I was twenty, in college, and rebellious. Hearing that Jesus was coming back was a startling revelation for me. I couldn’t remember ever hearing that before.

So it was good for me to know the end of the story. Unfortunately, our tendency seems to major in the last chapter. We should know about end times, but dwelling on them gets in the way of everything else.

Because I was drawn in by eschatology (the study of end times), I spent my first year as a committed Christian looking to the skies (not literally, but I think you know what I mean). That was a year I could have been getting immersed in the rest of Scripture. As it was, I could list all the signs of the times. I didn’t do much for the Kingdom of God, however.

That was forty-six years ago. Fortunately, at some point I realized I had to be about my Father’s business. Time was a-wasting! I turned it around pretty quickly, but some people never do.

“We’re on a pilgrimage.”

I do believe we are in the end times. However, we have been in the end times for two thousand years. Since it’s not given to us to know these things, maybe we should be about the things we DO know.

We’re on a pilgrimage. We might know the ending and the outcome of our travels. But the journey is important. What we do between the beginning and the end has consequences. It’s reassuring to know who wins, but that doesn’t negate our responsibilities. While the ends are important, the means are important as well. Let’s not be so “heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.” I don’t know who said that, but it comes in handy from time to time.

As I write this, I’m preparing to head out to the cinema on a date with my wife. I end_is_nearknow she won’t spoil the ending for me (at least she hasn’t over the past twenty years). But even if she does take a guess, she won’t hound me with her theory of who-dunnit and how. Thanks be to God.

The Day the Manna Stopped

Years ago when I was a rookie pastor, I preached a sermon entitled, “The Day the Manna Stopped.” It was based upon a passage of Scripture in Joshua.  The passage mentioned a day in the history of the Children of Israel when the manna was no longer supplied.

Remember the story? To keep them from starving in the wilderness, God supplied manna—a sort of heavenly bread. When they woke up each morning, they found it on the ground along with the dew. It was their daily sustenance.

mannaI’ll never forget the first time I preached on that passage. One of my parishioners came to me after the sermon and said, “That was exceptional.”  I don’t think I had ever heard someone say that about any of my sermons (before or since).  I wish I had a recording of that message so I could figure out what I did right.

After I preached a similar sermon more recently, one of my parishioners noted that it really spoke to him about his relationship with his children.  During the sermon, I had suggested that the manna stopped because it was time for the Children of Israel to start providing for themselves.  This particular parishioner decided that his adult children needed to provide for themselves from that point on instead of relying on him so much.

The Children of Israel had no choice…”

Sometimes the line between being served and earning our own way is a tough one to cross. When does the time arrive for us to do it on our own? How do we discern when that time arrives?

In the wilderness, the Children of Israel had no choice. The line of demarcation was clear. One day, there was no more manna. They had to fend for themselves.

That doesn’t mean God had abandoned them. On the contrary, God was leading them into a more mature way of living. Sometimes the baby birds need to be pushed out of the nest.

On the other hand, there are times when that line is blurry. The birds have to begin flapping their wings and sense for themselves when it’s time to take off. That’s when it can get a little scary.


We face these sorts of challenges often in life. We are being led by the hand (so to speak). Then one day, the hand lets go. Occasionally, it’s us who do the letting go. We decide it’s time, and we strike out on our own.

You may be facing one of those situations right now. You think it might be time to fend for yourself. Or maybe you have no choice. It’s scary, and you don’t want to even try.

“Do what I do.”

You can either a) step out in faith and give it a shot, or b) you can shut down and do nothing. Letter “b” is usually a lousy option.

My best advice is to do what I do. Pray for wisdom, protection, and grace. Then spread your wings. The Wind of God will be there to lift you up.

Postpartum: Scrooge Returns to Work

By the time you read this, much of your Christmas celebration will probably be over. The presents are stacked under the tree, awaiting storage in their newfound niche. Christmas dinner has been eaten and the leftovers are cramming the refrigerator.

You may have just returned from the theater where you got your Star Wars fix. Others of you have just awoken from a food-induced nap.

It’s all over…merry christmas banner

In short, it’s over. Christmas is over. It’s over and some of you have this empty, disappointed feeling in the pit of your stomach.

It’s not that it wasn’t a good holiday. For most of you, it was quite possibly a Christmas to remember. Yet it was so fleeting. It left you wanting more.

If you didn’t take vacation days, you’ll be headed back to work after the weekend. That thought alone will put a damper on your celebratory mood. Oh, the humanity!

There are no more presents to open. The decorations have to come down all too soon. The kids and grandchildren will be off doing their own thing, and you’ll be left to your own devices (if you have any). TV just isn’t a good substitute.

You even miss the hubbub—the hustle-and-bustle of your holiday preparations. Buying groceries, wrapping gifts, and mailing cards didn’t seem all that joyful at the time. Now you even miss the stress of losing your gift list. How can it be?

XmasCandlelightIt can be because we usually forget what Christmas is about. The reminders used to be everywhere, but they’ve been pushed to the side and marginalized.

Our society and culture have all but forgotten why we celebrate this day. In case you too have forgotten, please allow me to remind you. As some like to blithely say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” (Christ-Mass…get it?)

“You just missed Christmas”

We used to celebrate the birth of the Savior on December 25 (as arbitrary as that date might be). Now we celebrate crass commercialism. We used to celebrate the incarnation of God Almighty—a baby born in a lonely place within a desolate region of the world. Now we glorify Santa. We used to celebrate the change, hope and promise the Christ-child brought into the world with his arrival. Now we celebrate “good tidings to all” for no particular reason (other than it seems like a good thing to do at least once a year).

If we are feeling that emptiness in the pit of our stomachs, it may well be we’ve left out the very reason all this began. Presents are important because they remind us of the gifts of the magi. Dinners are important because they remind us that Jesus ate with (and accepted) sinners. Family gatherings are important because they remind us of the covenant relationships we have through (and because of) the Messiah.Scrooge

If you’ve forgotten all that, you just missed Christmas Mr. Scrooge. Before you go back to work, you might want to kneel and give thanks to the one who has given you everything.

Christmas in the Trenches

Christmas Truce 1914, as seen by the Illustrated London News.I’ve never served in the armed forces. I can only read and imagine what it’s like.

I was always struck by WWI stories of soldiers (German and British) ceasing their firing during Christmas. In the cold and snow, wafting on the smoke of their campfires arose the united singing of Silent Night and Stille Nachte. The stories are numerous and varied and happened in many places and with lots different troops. In the cessation of hostilities, one truth transcended belligerent human desires.

“I don’t like being cold.”

I don’t like being cold. Nor do it like fighting. Having to wage war in freezing weather for one’s life and country seems to be the worst of all worlds. Yet I’m sure the horrors of war are far greater than my worst dislikes or imaginings.

Being in the trenches on Christmas must be hell. Fellow Christians shooting at one another in the name of freedom and country must seem surreal. It’s almost unimaginable that two warring factions would stop, greet each other, share songs, and even exchange pleasantries. Yet we’re told that’s exactly what happened.

As I understand it, soldiers in 1914 began to sense the spirit of Christmas early—just like you and I do here. Commercials, shopping, visits, and planning for the holidays often cause ours. In the case of the troops, it probably grew out of loneliness and being home sick.

In the days leading up to Christmas, soldiersChristmas-1914-truce began to emerge from their trenches. They bravely began conversations and exchanged season’s greetings with the enemy. In some places along the front, opposing soldiers would give each other presents—valuables like food and what would amount to souvenirs from another culture.

Amazing acts of humanity occurred. I use the word amazing because these things just didn’t happen in war. Outside of the battlefield, these would be normal, everyday occurrences. But there in “no man’s land,” they were extraordinary incidences.

Mortal enemies joined together for such things as prisoner swaps and burial ceremonies. They played friendly games and sang carols.

It was a long way from home for both camps. But in those moments of cease-fire and camaraderie, home was ensconced in a belief. The belief was not in their duty to serve their country, as important as that was. The belief was in one who transcended the cold and the bullets. The belief was in one whom would one day unite them forever—far away from the battlefield, and far away from all the lesser struggles of life.

CrossOrnamentDuring this holy season, many of us will sing the carols we’ve learned. We will exchange presents with ones we love. Hopefully we will also give to others that we might never know. We will enjoy a day or two of peace, and we will pray for a peace that will last forever.As it was in the trenches of WWI, that peace will ultimately be found in Jesus. Merry Christmas.

That’s Why They Pay Me the Big Bucks

I was recently introduced to an article about the salaries of various mega-church pastors. There was really nothing surprising. Big name preachers make big bucks. There were some startling revelations as well.DollarSign

The article didn’t take sides or even editorialize. It simply presented some facts (and I’m assuming for the sake of this blog, the facts were correct). The name of the article was Mega-Church Mega-Business. It listed some interesting statistics and a few quotes. Check it out. It’s even easier reading than this blog.

One of the sections that really jumped out at me concerned Rick Warren (pastor at Saddleback Church in California). According to the article, “He made millions off his books, but in 2005, he returned 25 years worth of salary and stopped accepting new paychecks. He gives 91% of his royalties to charity, drives a 12-year-old Ford and lives in the same house he did 22 years ago.”

There was one other line included in the Warren section of the article. He is quoted as saying, “The opulent lifestyles of televangelists make me sick.” A lot of people would agree with him on that one. I have to say, however, that really fits into the category of “low hanging fruit.”

I don’t care how much money they make.

Frankly, I don’t really care how much money any of these guys (they’re all men as far as I can tell) takes in. I’ll leave that up to the IRS (although I’m not real enamored with that outfit either).

The article defines a mega-church as one which averages at least 2000 people in attendance each week (our congregation only has 1985 to go, but we’re working on it). The top ten MC’s (mega-churches) in the US average 27,250 people per week per church. Their average annual budget is $41.1 million. Not too shabby. Maybe these guys actually earn their dough.

Money aside, however, there are a few related statistics that are far more important to me than the salaries of these all-star pastors. Check these out:

  • There are currently 807 MC’s in the US.
  • They account for 10.7% of all Protestant weekly attendance.
  • The number of MC’s is growing at a rate of 8% per year.
  • Other churches are shutting down at a rate of 1% per year.
  • Six percent of all MC congregants had never attended anywhere before.

A high percentage of MC attendees merely move their loyalties from a small church to an MC (which would help to account for the 1% of others that are closing down). That is tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs.

But the fact that six percent of all MC Preacherattendees had never gone anywhere else before is pretty impressive. Most of us would love to have an increase like that every year. We don’t, however. We’re heading the other direction.

One final note… The average MC senior pastor makes $147,000. The average protestant pastor makes $40,000. I guess I’ve spent the past 35 years driving down the numbers. Who knew?

Ezra and the Big Soapbox

When I retired from my full-time day job, I assumed I would have more time on my soapboxhands. I could spend my days woodworking, learning a language, and visiting grandchildren.

That was not to be, however. Just before my so-called retirement, I began writing a book. I found that to be quite an enjoyable challenge—almost surprisingly so.

Before I was finished, another book began floating around in my head. It seemed like a no-brainer to move on and write it as well. I’m an old man with something to say. Why not say it.

So now I’m an author. It seems weird to say that after all these years of calling myself an accountant. Now when folks ask me what I do, the answer has changed. I say, “I’m an author and preacher.” It took awhile for the author thing to begin rolling off my tongue. Yet, writing is what I do every day.

I thought writing my first book would be the biggest challenge I would face. As it turned out, that came rather easily compared to what came next. I realized the book didn’t do much good sitting on my computer. So I went about the task of publishing. That was much more challenging (and a whole lot less fun) than writing. But even that wasn’t so bad compared to what was going to happen next.BookMouse

I wrote the book because I had something important to say. However, it would only reach its fulfillment if someone read it. It had to be promoted. No one prepared me for this little challenge. I’m an author and now a publisher. Unfortunately, I have to be a promoter too, or it’s all for naught.

I won’t go into all that’s involved with promoting a book. Volumes have been written on that subject (literally). But I will tell you it’s hard. It’s particularly hard when you’re a Christian.

It’s hard because there is a myriad of things you have to do that are simply mundane. They take time—time I’d rather spend writing. It’s doubly hard because, as a Christian, I feel uneasy about promoting myself.

I’d rather promote Jesus.

It’s tough enough to maintain a humble posture without having to somehow tell people you’ve got this great product they should read. Who am I to say that? But my writings are about the one I really want to promote—Jesus.

Then I was reminded of Ezra. Ezra was helping in the task of rebuilding the Jewish Temple. He was a teacher of the law. As such, his responsibility was to get the word out. So on one important occasion, a large platform was built so he could be seen and heard by all the people. Lives were changed that day.

lecternAs much as I dislike building the platform, I have an even greater desire to get the word out. So, like Ezra, I build the soapbox, stand on it, and proclaim Jesus. I pray someone will hear and lives will be changed. Thanks for listening.

Eleven Intense Excuses to Lie

A few years ago, I was at a daylong event for men. A well-known pastor got up to The-Truth-Has-the-Power-1024x1024say a few words and made a comment that caught most of our ears.

He was speaking about the relationships between husbands and wives. As he spoke, he began talking about his own marital relationship. He said, “My wife and I don’t argue or fight.”

My ears perked up on that one. Then he said, “We just have intense fellowship.” After everyone laughed, he went on to say that, following such times of intense fellowship, he often ended up sleeping on the couch.

So much for intense fellowship…

I think it was Shakespeare who said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” You can rename that rose. You can call it a skunk. It’s still going to smell pretty good.

When the politicians do it, we call it spin. There are people who actually make a living renaming, redirecting and revamping the truth. We call them spin-doctors. We’ve gotten pretty good at evading reality.

My Mother used to have a saying—“That guy could take you out at night and make you think it was daytime.” Some folks can make you think up is down and right is left. I’m not sure how they get away with it, but it happens a lot.handle-truth

“You can’t handle the truth!”

We have a lot of excuses for what we do when we bend the truth.

  1. It was just a little white lie. (Have any of you ever told an orange lie?)
  2. It was only a fib. (Fib is such an odd word—sounds like half a heart attack.)
  3. I was just joking (…and laughing on the inside).
  4. I didn’t mean it that way. (I’ll figure out what I meant in a minute.)
  5. You twisted my words! (Or maybe they just came out crooked.)
  6. You took me out of context. (If I can find a context, we’ll be fine.)
  7. I don’t recall ever saying that (…so I must not have…I hope).
  8. It was just a little exaggeration. (Maybe we can shrink it further.)
  9. I was overstating it for effect (and you’re overstating my effect).
  10. You don’t deserve the truth. (Especially since I didn’t want you to know it.)
  11. You can’t handle the truth! (Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men, 1992)

“That Pinocchio thing isn’t real.”

We have a few other toned down descriptions we like to use—half-truths, inaccuracies, honest lies, minimizations, omissions, polite lies, and pufferies come to mind. All I can say is, “I’m happy that Pinocchio thing isn’t real.”

I know, I know. There are lies, and then there are damned lies. And I suppose there’s a difference. It’s really hard to know where to draw the line, however.

Then there’s the Bible. It continually says stuff like, “A false witness will not go ISawThatunpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.” (Proverbs 19:5)

I wonder why God makes such a big deal out of such little things.

Slap Ya Mama!

Sometimes products sold on the market have really appropriate names. “Slap Ya Mama” comes to mind.

Slap Ya Mama is a Cajun seasoning Slap Ya Mamaproduced in…you guessed it…Louisiana. I’ve never actually tried it, but I have a picture of my youngest granddaughter holding a can of it. I’m guessing my son got a kick out of the name—hence the photo. (Can’t say as I blame him.)

If it’s anything like its name, you probably feel like you got slapped in the face when you eat some of it. I know if I’d ever slapped my Mama, I would have gotten my face smacked pretty hard and quickly thereafter.

Not everything has such a descriptive and appropriate name, however. Take the word “church” for example. That’s a really lousy name for the building you head off to every Sunday. I know I’ve talked about this before, but it definitely bears repeating.

The word we translate from the Greek into the English word “church” is ecclesia. Ecclesia was a general term used for a public gathering or assembly. It literally means the called out ones or called together ones.

“Instead of being the church, we went to church.”

Thus the church, Biblically speaking, was a group of people called together out of the world in the name of Jesus. Every time that word is used in Scripture, it is in reference to a group of people.

Somewhere along the way, we began to build buildings specifically as a place for the church to gather. They were places of sanctuary where the church would pray, worship and study the Bible together. That’s one of the reasons why we use the term, sanctuary, for the room in which we worship. It’s literally a sanctuary from the storms of life.

Eventually, local congregations began to be identified with their places of worship. Instead of the people being called the church, the building got that moniker. So instead of being the church, we went to the church.

Think about it. When you’re speaking to someone about your faith, it’s not uncommon to ask them where they “go to church.” We don’t use the term in an appropriate manner. If we did, we would ask them if they were part of a church. When’s the last time you heard that question posed?12183717_688150604618891_3317637174871909435_o

By this time, you may be rolling your eyes and asking, “so what?” It’s all just semantics, right? My answer to that one is a big, fat “NO!”

There are many reasons for this. One is (because we identify with buildings instead of people) we become spiritual commuters. We drive to the “church,” get spiritual for an hour, and commute back home. In many cases,  we don’t even get to know the actual church (the people). We just go to the building.

Instead of becoming part of the fellowship of believers, we roll in, do our thing, and roll out. I don’t want to get too personal here, but I’m going to say it. You may as well slap ya Mama!

Soldier Girl

My oldest granddaughter just arrived in Korea. She’s in the Army and will be gone about a year. Have you ever experienced this type of thing? I imagine you have to one degree or another.SoldierGirl

It’s a weird feeling knowing she will be so far away and won’t be coming home for so long. Even though we lived quite a distance from each other when she was in the States, at least I knew I could jump in the car and see her after a drive of a few hours.

I was a very proud “Papa” when I found out she was entering the military. I’m just as proud (even more so) now. We haven’t had a military member in our family since my Dad (our Soldier Girl’s great grandfather) was in the Navy shortly after WWII.

“I’m sure a year will fly by rather quickly.”

I’m sure a year will fly by rather quickly (especially for an old guy like me). They tend to do that anyway. Before we know it, she’ll be on our front doorstep again—flashing that big Zuchelli smile (squinty eyes and all).

With the way social media is these days, there will probably be times when it seems like she never left. Still the reality is stark. She’s halfway around the globe.

In the writings of the Old Testament, there was a similar thing going on. The prophets were telling the Jews that Messiah was coming. He was on the way  12348143_10153738142789631_2818443013103882075_nbut never seemed to arrive. He was far off.

They kept plugging away, reminding everyone that God was faithful to his chosen people. Many of them grew weary as they waited.

Then one day, things got quiet. Deathly quiet. The word stopped coming. No one with the stature of a prophet spoke for God. After Malachi, four hundred years of silence ensued.

Did God change his mind? Was Messiah no longer coming? Why had the Lord abandoned them? What kind of cruel trick was this?

Then the guy we like to call “John the Baptist” showed up. He began announcing the coming Messiah once again. Not only that, he said he was near.

“The Messiah turned out to be his cousin Jesus.”

The Messiah turned out to be his cousin Jesus. Imagine that. He lived, taught, discipled, died, and rose again. Then he left this earth announcing he would be back.

And now, once again, we wait. It’s been almost two thousand years since he told us that. Some believe he’s not coming back. Many of us wait in faith.

12115689_10153787864849444_5455378025120161057_nI fully believe our Soldier Girl is coming home. I have no reason to doubt it. When she gets back, she will be more of a woman than ever (and we might have to quit calling her our little Soldier Girl–maybe).

I also believe Jesus is coming back. I believe he is true to his word. I don’t believe he’s forgotten us. In fact, to this day, he’s as close as a brother. It’s a short ride from there to here. He knows the way.

Please God, Send a Professional!

A lady hurried to the pharmacy to get medication, got back to her car and found that she had locked her keys inside.  The woman found an old rusty coat hanger left on the ground.  She looked at it and said, “I don’t know how to use this.”   She bowed her head and asked God to send her some HELP.  Within five minutes, a beat-up old motorcycle pulled up, driven by a bearded man who was wearing an old biker skull rag. He got off of his cycle and asked if he could help.
She said: “Yes, my daughter is sick.  I’ve locked my keys in my car.  I must get home. Please, can you use this hanger to unlock my car?”
He said, “Sure.”  He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute the car was open.  She hugged the man and through tears said, “Thank You God for sending me such a very nice man.”

The man heard her little prayer and replied, “Lady, I am NOT a nice man. I just got out of PRISON yesterday; I was in prison for car theft.”

The woman hugged the man again sobbing, “Oh, thank you, God!   You even sent me a Professional!”

I love that story. A friend of mine sent it to me business womanrecently and I knew I had to recycle it to you.

Imagine being that lady. Imagine being face to face with a rough looking biker and counting on him for help. Lot’s of people would have taken a pass and waited for God to send someone a little safer looking.

The woman in the story, however, wasn’t putting any parameters on what she would accept from the Lord. If he was going to help her through a “professional,” so be it. She was just grateful for the help.

So many times our prayers have parameters. We try to box God in with our requests. “I want this, but only in this way.” “I’ll serve you as long as I don’t have to leave home.” “Please give me someone to pray for, as long as it’s not my mother-in-law.”

Sometimes God will send a professional…

When Jesus said, “Come follow me,” he didn’t give us a multiple choice questionnaire to determine how we wanted to fit into the ministry. The rich, young ruler just walked away because he wasn’t interested in Jesus’ terms (Matthew 19:16-22). Others who wanted to follow were told they couldn’t go home, say goodbye, or bury their dead. Talk about a narrow-minded, my-way-or-the-highway mentality.

We love answers to prayer–as long as they’re comfortable answers. We love to help the poor, the down and out, the destitute–so long as we don’t have to interact with them. We love to say we’re followers of the living Christ–just so we mother-teresa-poor-childdon’t have to go where he leads us.

Sometimes God will send a professional (whether you like it or not). Sometimes YOU will be the professional he sends. Get over it!