Saturday, August 30, 2008

A weekly boost

This morning I walked by our grandfather clock and noticed it had stopped. It does that every once in a while. If I forget to wind it up once a week it will come to a halt when the chains and bars reach the bottom of their run.

This morning I wound it up again and set it back in motion. As I was winding it up the thought hit me that we are a lot like that clock. Once a week we need to be wound up again. We need to be inspired, focused and reminded of our purpose in life. If it has been a difficult week, we need to be loved by friends and reminded that God loves us too. That is why attending worship services is so important.

If you have been feeling discouraged lately, head back to church and get your batteries charged again. You will come away ready to face the world again with a new swing in your step.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Fighting temptation

It looked so good. As I stopped at the convenience store on my way home I noticed a peanut butter cup brownie in the case. I wasn't really hungry but that treat was calling my name and I decided to get it. I paid for it and headed out to my car.

I wasn't even a half mile down the road and I had already inhaled it. I did taste it and it was good. Well, at least the first few bites were very good. The problem with giving in to these temptations is the fact that the treat never quite lives up to the expectation. As a matter of fact, I felt a little sick to my stomach ten minutes later.

That is the way it is with sin. It always seems like a good idea when we are being tempted but within minutes of giving in there is a price to pay. Some things have minor consequences. I may gain a pound or two when I indulge in gluttony. But if I drink too much and cause a fatal accident or I give in to a marital indiscretion and betray my marital vow in a moment of passion, I can never take that back.

So how do we avoid temptation? I have three suggestions. First, find a church family where you can find support and encouragement. We need help to stay faithful and true. Second, call on God when you are tempted. That's what Jesus did in the wilderness and we can learn from that. Finally, stop and think about the consequences. Ask yourself what could happen if you give in. Try to remember past experiences and let that sink in.

My experience with the brownie tonight will help me next time. But I still have to work at it. That is the nature of human life. We will always have temptations and we need to keep on saying "no!"


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The living Word

Choir should be fun. I have always felt that singing in the church choir is not just about sharing your gift. It is a two way street. God blesses you as you sing and relate with other members. You also are involved in worship and in creating a moment where the congregation meets God. Good music will do that as well as any sermon ever preached.

Every once in a while our choir provides dramatic moments in worship as well. I like to get creative because I think it adds some drama to the worship experience. It makes people think.

One of my members sent mew this clip from Youtube of a choral moment that is quite moving. I don't know if we could ever pull it off here in Norwich, but I thought you might enjoy it.


PS FBC choir - Watch out! We are going to have some fun this Fall.

Monday, August 25, 2008

God walking

Have you ever had a day when everything you did just felt right? I had three meetings today and as much as I do not look forward to them, each of these meetings were very productive. I also had a couple of interactions with different people and they went well. I think the holy spirit was walking with me.

I like to call it "God walking." When you open yourself up to God and ask him to direct your steps and then see where he leads you, you will often find that it turns out to be an interesting and productive day. You should try it. Begin by inviting God to be with you all day and then listen to that little voice in your head. If you feel the urge to call someone, then do it. If you feel you should visit a friend, then act on it. Get that sense that you should write a note to someone? Do it and see here it leads.

I am convinced that when we act on these things, God will use us to bless others and make things happen.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A good day to worship

Good morning. It is beautiful outside and I feel like praising God. So here is a music video we can all enjoy as we start the day with worship.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

What are your dreams?

I was the luckiest kid on earth when I started driving. My father helped me secure a 1965 mustang for my very first car. I loved it and I drove it right into the ground in that first year. A couple of years later, he let me have his 1969 Mach One mustang. It was a real muscle car. How many kids that you know have had two pretty cool cars before they turned 18 years old?

That was the end of my extravagance though. Soon poverty and college took over and I had to settle for more modest transportation. I owned an old Toyota Corolla and later an AMC Gremlin (with Denim seats!) After college I got married and we had a Chevy Vega Stationwagon and before finally purchasing our first new car, a Ford Escort.

Today I am far too practical to buy a "hot car". I just dream about owning one now and then. I have a friend who let me drive her Jaguar for a week. That was cool. I have other friends who let me sit on or in their wheels and that is about as close as I am ever going to get to actually having something like that. Bruce let me sit in his hummer and that was cool. My youngest brother made me sit on his Harley Davidson. When we were in San Diego I snuggled up to a Corvette and made believe that was going to be my ride to the mission field. Meanwhile in real life I drive around in my Toyota Corolla or the family minivan.

It is fun to dream and pretend and I am like a big kid in that regard. Yet, dreaming dreams and having visions is not just for kids. God calls all of us to look beyond our present circumstances and to look for the possibilities.

I like the quote from George Bernard Shaw, which was later used by Robert Kennedy, which says, "Some see things the way they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things that never were, and ask "Why not?" I believe God puts big dreams in our hearts. Our job is to live them and reach out and build a better world around us.

That is the charge to the church. We are to be people of vision. In the book of Proverbs we read,
"Where there is no vision the people perish." We can never be content to simply exist. We must be reaching out with the transforming power of God to the world around us. To get back to the analogies of my cars, we cannot be content to drive around in a Ford Focus when God has a Mercedes Benz for us.

So go ahead and dream and then give God the glory.


Who do people say I am - Not

I am going to get myself into trouble and mention politics. I know I shouldn't get involved in the debate, but I have to laugh when I hear Senator Obama's comments about John McCain. He uses several quotes from the last few days and points out that John said, "rich is having $5 million dollars or more" and that he "didn't know how many houses he owned." Then he says, "I own one" and "John McCain isn't one of us."

Funny but when I looked to see how much money Barak Obama makes I can tell you that he isn't one of us either. Now I don't mean to pick on one candidate. The truth is that Senator McCain has done the same thing to Barak. He has taken a quote about inflating the tires to conserve energy and made him sound like a buffoon when all Senator Obama did was give the same kind of advice my dad gave me years ago. Then Barak went on to share his larger policy but John never mentioned that.

Politics seems to be all about sharing partial truths and trying to deceive people into believing someone is not who they say they are. It is hard to know what you can believe and what you can't anymore.

Well that is not the case with God. God revealed himself in his son, Jesus. All we need to know about him is written in the Book. Now I know a lot of people have tried to usurp the Word and describe Jesus differently, but when you read the Bible, and especially the Gospels, you get a clear picture of a man who had compassion on other's lived without judgment and inspired those whom he met to turn over a new leaf and come to God with a repentant heart. Jesus was real. People fell in love with him and he has changed the world.

I wish politics was as simple. I don't think any of us know who John McCain and Barak Obama are but we are going to have to vote for one of them. I am going to pray on it and rad all I can. I suggest you do the same. Then we have to simply trust God to work with whoever wins.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The precious gift of life

I didn't want to do it. Whenever I visit a mom and her newborn baby in the hospital, I usually refrain from the temptation to hold the baby. I get a little nervous. It has been so long since I had my own. But the other day the proud mom insisted and I gave in.

I felt my breath slipping away as I looked down into his eyes and looked at his cute button nose. I stood in awe of the wonderful creative power of God. I was holding a miracle in my hands. The tiny fingers reach out as if to touch my face and my heart melted in that moment. Little Nathanial was not even one day old and he was already engaging the world around him.

I could not help but think back to the days when I watched each of my girls being delivered. From day one they each had their own personality. God had breathed life into each of them and from the moment they were conceived they became a gift from God.

I don't know what life will hold for the little guy, but I do know this: God loved him while he was still within his mother's womb. He has a plan for his life and one day Nathaniel will be living and reflecting God's glory. Yesterday I caught a glimpse of that and I was blessed.

Thank God for little babies. They remind us of God's love and give us a picture of his creativity at its very best. No wonder he chose to enter this world as a tiny child. In doing so he reminded us of his greatest ability. He can do anything using even the least of all things.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Weighing in on God

I got on the scale and it read one pound heavier than it did the day before. I couldn't understand it. I had been to the gym the night before and worked out for a solid hour. I was dripping in sweat when I came home. It didn't make sense. How could I be exercising more and still gaining weight?

As I looked at my wife she simply said, "Maybe its because you have been eating more." I didn't want to hear that. Of course I rewarded myself with an extra helping of mashed potatoes, but that shouldn't matter. The Cheeze-its shouldn't count either. I did run up and down the stairs at home at least four extra times.

All joking aside, I know why my weight is up. I have been eating more. I haven't been making good choices. I have been snacking. The truth is that I have been so busy concentrating on other things that I have let my attention on what I eat drift away. Although I do a pretty good job of multi taking most of the time, there is a limit to what any one person can do. I've reached my limit.

It made me think about the number of people I know who let their spiritual life drift away as well. In the heat of a busy summer they skip church on Sunday. They don't tend to their daily devotionals and rarely stop to spend a few minutes in prayer. Then they wonder why life is getting a bit out of control. I love the book by Bill Hybils entitled, "Too Busy Not To Pray." He says that when we don't make time for God, when we can't fit in time to pray, we will never be able to accomplish everything we want to do.

Hybils is right. Prayer and worship center us and helps us slow down the clock. Time with God helps us reset our priorities and put everything in proper order. It allows us to do the most important things first and that allows us to be most productive.

The same is true with my weight. If I eat right, I will feel stronger and more rested. I will then be able to tackle the more pressing issues of the day. It is all about putting first things first. It begins with God. Then it moves to taking care of myself. From there we look at blessing my neighbors.

So today is a brand new day. Why wait until New Year's to start over. You can begin today. I am going to and you can too.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Serving God through song

The Whiffenpoofs of Yale are coming to Norwich tomorrow night. They will be performing at Central Baptist Church at 7:00 p.m. I know it is a Wednesday night, but it will be well worth your effort to come and hear them sing. This all male choir just returned from a European tour and you won't find talent, great music and old fashioned fun combined in a group like this every day.

I remember my college days and I have to confess that I had a wee bit too much fun and didn't always spend my time in productive ways. I always thought about me. Somewhere along the way I turned it around. As I see guys like these perform, and they perform not only for the fun of it but also to raise money for a cause, I know they have their heads on the right way.

The truth is that when you do something for someone else, like these boys are, the blessings come back to you. I am sure if you asked any of them if they thought the time they spent rehearsing, traveling and performing was worth it, they would say "yes" to a man. It shows and you will be just as blessed if you drop in.

This isn't a "Christian concert" but you will feel God's presence when you hear them sing. Who knows, you may just leave feeling called to use your gift to do something for God too.


Invite your friends and let God do the orchestrating

Last winter I received a CD of the Dick Campo Band from one of its former members. They play Big Band music from the 40's and 50's. There is something very exhilarating about the music. I especially enjoyed his trumpet solos. I enjoyed the CD and thought that was the end of it.

Of course our lives really are like a tapestry where different colors and themes weave their way in and out of our experience. Last week a different friend of mine mentioned she was singing with the Dick Campo Band on Saturday night at Ocean Beach. My ears perked up. Did you say Dick Campo band? The truth is that I wanted to support her and her music and the fact that I already knew a little bit about the band didn't hurt. So I traveled down to the beach and took a step back in time.

I met a few friends there and had a wonderful time under the bright moonlit skies on the boardwalk. The tunes wafted through the air and I couldn't help think of the young men and women who danced to the big band sounds in my grandparents days. If I could have captured the evening in a photograph, it would be one that would hang on my office wall.

As I was driving home it struck me that we miss out on a lot of opportunities in life because we let them pass us by. Unsure of what to expect, not willing to step out of our comfort zones, we go right on doing the things we always do. It is certainly true for those who don't regularly attend worship. They might say, "Why bother? It is just one more option to choose from in the menu of life." I can understand that. If Joanne hadn't invited me to come and see her band, I would have passed on a wonderful evening without even knowing what I was missing.

I think the same is true when it comes to inviting our friends to worship with us. We think they won't come. Yet, when you invite them, your friendship becomes one of the major variables in whether or not they will come. If they like you and see the blessings you get out of attending worship services, there is a good chance they will say yes and you will get to expose them to one of the joys of your life. If you don't ever invite them, then they will miss an opportunity to be blessed.

Now as the preacher, I am hesitant to write things like this. It puts the pressure on me and thwe whole worship team. I know if you invite your friend to church and I have an off week or if the choir is a little flat or the Praise team is not quite right, or one of the ushers had a fight with his or her spouse on the way in and is a little grumpy, or the kids are rambunctious and loud during the service... it could have a negative effect on your friends.

Well here is the truth. None of that matters. Sunday morning belongs to God and he even uses our imperfections to speak to people's hearts. My advice is to invite your friends and then trust God to speak to their hearts.

When I went to see the Band the other night I was blessed. I don't know if anyone missed a note or not, but the experience touched my soul. If a big band can do that on a Saturday night, then I am sure God can make something happen on a Sunday morning. So stop making excuses. Bless your friends. Invite them to worship with you. They will thank you afterwards.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

You never know where you will meet God

I love the internet. You can find almost anything if you try. I was watching Gene Kelly on the classic movie channel and was looking up information on him and his movie. As I was surfing I stopped by a couple of blogs and found this wonderful clip from You tube.

It has nothing to do with Kelly but like with life, you start down one trail and you meet God down another. Enjoy this musical selection and let it touch your heart like it did mine.


Go team

I tuned into to check on the score of my Detroit Tiger game only to see that they were being soundly defeated by the Orioles. I thought God was a Tiger fan! Not this year anyway. The truth is that many of us say prayers for our favorite sports teams. Whether you like the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Patriots or Giants or some other team, we think nothing of calling on God to help us turn the tide and run up the score against our opponents.

We know that God isn't directly interested in the outcome of these games, but we pray none the less. The truth is that God does care about what we care about. He wants to bless us and he does it indirectly. He doesn't affect the outcome of a game but he allows us to take small pleasure in little things.

I love the story Tony Campolo tells about his trip to Disneyland with his son. When the family was getting ready to leave after a long day, his son piped up and said he wanted to ride on Space Mountain one more time. Tony was adamant about the fact that they were not going to do that. Just then his son piped up, But Jesus wants me to ride on Space Mountain one more time.

His son went on to explain the logic that his father had often espoused from the pulpit. Jesus wants to be part of our everyday life. He experiences what we experience. He enjoys what we enjoy. Since I enjoyed Space Mountain, so did Jesus. I am sure he wants me and you and him to go on it one more time.

Campolo said how could he refuse with logic like that. So in that same way God roots for my Tigers, your Yankees and her Red Sox. I don't think God cares who wins but he does enjoy being with us in our enthusiasm.

So go team! Thank you God.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

God bless Rick Warren for trying

The headline read, " Skepticism mounts over tonight's Rick Warren presidential forum" and I wanted to be sick. How many times do we Christians have to look foolish in front of the world before we wake up?

My first thought when I heard about Rick Warren's plan to get the candidates together was "Wow! Look at what we can do if we come together. We can get the politicians to talk to us an one another." I applauded Rick Warren for the gumption to even try this. He rose above the fray and put aside his own priorities for the good of all us.

I guess that putting Christianity in a positive light isn't enough for some people. We sound more like spoiled brats if we can't have our cake and eat it too. I didn't vote for John Kerry because I didn't agree with his politics or faith stances, but he did have one thing right. When you are in the public realm, you have to take in consideration the rights, feelings and sensitivities of all the citizens.

The truth is that there is no perfect candidate that will please everyone in America today. When you are more conservative, it is even harder to find someone who you can get behind 100%. But someone is going to be elected. It is our job to choose the best person. So when someone like rick Warren, who has built credibility in the general populace, steps forward and gets both candidates to agree to talk to him before the American public we ought to stand up and applaud it. We know he is not going to embarrass them. But he will raise some of our concerns and we may just learn something.

The sad state of our national religious life is that no matter what anyone does, a whole crowd will raise up and try to discredit them. I guess it is the Baptist in me, but I say any time we get someone of faith to do something positive, we all should stand up and applaud. Instead we try to pull them down and find fault. It reminds me a lot of what happened when a guy from Nazareth started talking about god in Galilee and the surrounding towns. The religious conservatives rose up and denounced him and eventually oversaw his crucifixion.

To paraphrase an old saying, "Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." If we don't embrace each other when one of our own steps up, then no one is ever going to take us seriously. So I say "go Rick Warren. May God bless what you are trying to do."


Friday, August 15, 2008

Searching for God

I heard this song and watched this video and was amazed how a popular song could speak to the heart of our search for God. We look for love and acceptance in so many people and places. That's because our hearts are restless for God.

Enjoy the music of Rascall Flats and their song, God Bless the Broken Road.


His love cleans us up

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." I'm preaching on this text from Romans 12 this week and I was thinking about it this morning as I was cleaning up some dog doo. I hate to clean up after animals. At home our cat is having issues with the litter box. What are you going to do? My friend's dog is crippled up and he can't help himself. I volunteered to take care of him this week.

As I was scooping and plucking a thought hit me. God looks down on us and sees the mess we make with our lives. Yet he lovingly comes down and cleans it up. His love is so precious. He looks past our failure and understands that we can't help ourselves sometimes. He hates that which soils us and makes us unclean. Yet his love is so genuine and true, that it allows him to go to extreme measures to clean us up.

That was a good thought for me to hold onto this morning. In the midst of doing the dirty work for my friend's dog, I received a call from someone who had made a mess out of his own situation and wanted me to clean it up. We all do that don't we? When our life falls apart, we go to God and ask for his help.

The good news is that God loves us and willingly steps up to the task. He saves us from ourselves and puts us back on track. Praise God for his love that covers all our sin.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Together on the journey

I went to Temple Beth -el in New London today because my daughter was dancing in their Annual Luncheon for Senior Citizens in the region. I believe this is the eighth year the girls have been part of this wonderful day. It includes a chicken dinner cooked up by Jerry Fisher and the men of the congregation and some entertainment.

As I drove up to drop off my youngest daughter, memories of the very first time I visited the synagogue came back to me. Rachel's older sister, Sarah, was in her first year as a member of Style Extraordinaire. This was our first official event. I remember being just as nervous as Sarah was as we drove up. She saw one of her friends and suddenly everything was alright.

Sarah danced with Luis Pabon and the troupe for over six years and it was one of the best things in her life. The dancing was great but I think the friendships and experiences were what really made it special.

I think the same can be said of our life in the church as well. Sunday to Sunday may be very good at the church we attend but it really is the friendships that we forge, the relationships we establish that provide the real joy for the journey. Just as Sarah felt welcome in a strange new place when she saw her friends, our friends help us deepen and grow in our faith.

So don't just go to church. Be the church. Welcome those who sit next to you each week. Get to know the other members of the congregation. Take advantage of social gatherings and Bible and book studies that are offered. Help out on a clean up day or work on a fund raiser or outreach project. If you do, I can assure you that this will be the time of your life.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Angels watching over us

I've been a volunteer chaplain with Hospice for twenty years. Part of the reason I stick with it is because I have been impressed with the caring that the nurses, volunteers, and staff display in regards to the patients and their families. This morning we had our interdisciplinary team meeting. As each patient was discussed, team members chirped in with suggestions on how to help the person and their family as they faced new challenges this week.

The team consists of a physician, the nurses, a social worker, the bereavement co-ordinator, a pharmacist, a chaplain and various others who drop in from time to time. Every person brings some expertise from their discipline to the table. The idea is that all of the family's needs can be met by bringing this team together on their behalf.

As I sat back and watched the interaction this morning, an image of God in heaven came to mind. I chuckled to myself as I wondered if God had such a team working on our behalf every day. Maybe God gathers around a table with his host of angels and discusses what is happening in our lives each day. Sometimes it certainly seems like I have an angel on my shoulder watching out for me.

The other day I heard a great testimony from one of our parishioners. He told me he was being wheeled down to the surgical suite from his room. He was nervous and a bit frightened. He looked down and in the pocket of the lady wheeling him down the corridor, he saw what he knew was a Bible. He asked her about it and she confirmed that it was a Bible. Then he asked her if she would say a little prayer with him. She did and immediately he felt the peace of god come over him.

I believe God knew exactly what he needed that day and put it in place. Why that lady was there instead of another one we will never know for sure. But I like to think it was discussed and worked out at God's team meeting that morning.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Did you tell him?

I love it when someone can take a contemporary song and match it up to a faith statement. This artist does it so nicely here. When was the last time you told Jesus you loved him?


Bringing your worlds together

I discovered the world of Facebook yesterday. It is a social networking site that college kids have known about for a while. It's pretty cool actually. They set you up with a home page and give you some areas to write about yourself, to share pictures and to start networking with high school, college and professional friends.

So last night I began sending out "friend invites" to those who were already on the network. I then set up my page and included a few family photos and then added a photo album of pictures from our mission trip.

I really am interested in setting up three different networks. I began by looking for my high school classmates and friends. That is where it all started. Facebook was set up for this to begin with. At the "all class reunion" I was looking for addresses and emails of lost classmates and someone suggested joining Facebook. It's free so I did. Then I began seeing the wider application for ministry.

Next I started looking for folks from church. This seemed like one more neat way to connect with church members. I found several that are scattered across the country. Guess what? Most are under forty. Maybe there is something we need to think about in the church if we want to connect to the younger generation.

Finally, since two of my kids are scattered around the world, I decided it would be cool to have a network to reach out to family and family friends.

Now I know I made it sound like it is three distinct places. It is not. It is like the nexus of my worlds. Everything comes together right at my Facebook page. I have already have forged links to my blog and the church web page. I will do even more in the coming days.

As I was putting this together it made me think about the many worlds that all of us live in. In the olden days we used to talk about wearing many hats. Today it has expanded to worlds. The truth is that we try to separate them so we can manage them. We put up imaginary partitions so one world doesn't interfere with the next. In each world we might even be known a little differently. That is not a problem unless our worlds begin to collide.

I think that is why so many people experience a disconnect between their faith and the rest of their life. They try to keep that part of who they are separate from work, friendships and sometimes even family. As a result they are not quite sure who they are in any of their worlds.

The solution is to bring all the worlds together and let your faith be front and center. That doesn't mean pushing your religion on others. It simply means letting God shine through you. It means letting people know that attending worship is something you do. It means that when you make a choice, you allow your faith to influence you. It means sharing your story with your friends when it is appropriate.

There is a risk to living like this. Some people may deny allowing you to be part of their network. The truth is that it may not be as big of a loss as you fear. You may find that you have better, more loving and faithful friends as a result. That will brighten anybody's world.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Who controls your calendar?

For the next ten days my calendar is pretty light. I was supposed to be in Australia. Earlier this year I blocked out ten days in August for my trip and until mid-July, I was gearing up for the trip down under this week. Then I changed my plans and moved the trip into September. It meant squeezing a few meetings and appointments but it made more sense in terms of my objectives.

Well now I am entering that strange place where my calendar is not running my life for the first time since my sabbatical in 2005. I can choose to do what I want. There are no meetings. No appointments. No visits scheduled.

I got to thinking about this and made me realize that I am in charge of my calendar all the time. I think we often believe that we have no choice in what we do and where we go. It is a fatalistic attitude. We give in and just go with the flow and keep scheduling ourselves into oblivion. The truth is that we do have control over our time.

Now I know that some of us work 9 - 5 and that is a given. But it is our free time I am really thinking about. We say we don't have time for our kids or our spouse. We say we don't have time to do the yard work. We say we don't to worship or give back to the community in some way. It's not really true. We make the decisions about what we do. We control the calendar.

God is amazing. He calls us to be partners with him in bringing grace and compassion to the world. He sends us out to share his love. We can accept that call and make time get involved with our families, friends and our community or we can whittle away the hours in front of a computer or television. We can work 80 hours a week trying to amass a fortune or we can spend that time with the ones we love.

I'll never forget the sad story of one young couple I knew. He wanted to own his own business. He kept saying that he was going to work hard and retire early so he could be with his family. While his daughter was growing up he spent every waking hour at work. One day he came home to find his wife and daughter gone. He complained years later that there was nothing he could do. He had to work.

It may have been true but as I get older, I tend to think that a lot of the things we have to do are simply choices we make. We need to learn the difference and schedule in the important things as well as the rest.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Friends in God's house

My good friends Mike and Kim came to church this morning. I not only grew up with Mike, but I married him and Kim back in 1985 shortly after I came to Norwich. It was so nice to have them with us in worship.

We spent the last few days catching up. They were here for the Bacon Academy Anniversary Reunion. We met at Harry's Place in Colchester on Saturday afternoon and then spent the night at the Uncas Ballroom at the reunion. Today in worship marked the end of a great weekend together. They left church and headed north for a visit with their son in Boston.

Many of us separate our every day lives from worship. We have our friends. We have our work. We have our family and our fun. Then we have church. I'll never forget a story I heard many years ago about one of the saints of our church. Louise Strouse had three boys at home and she was what we would call a professional homemaker long before it became politically correct to do so. She cooked, cleaned and was the perfect hostess.

Louise also was devoted worker at church. She spent countless hours serving in various capacities. She taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, was the Chairman of the Executive Council, the secretary of the Diaconate and President of the Women's Guild. She probably logged in more hours than most of the ministers did when she was in her prime. The story goes that one night she was here with her youngest son working in the kitchen. At the end of the night she told the six year old that he had to get his things because they were going home. He looked at her with a puzzled look on her face and said, "Home? What do you mean? This is our home."

I'm not advocating any of us spend our lives at the church but I do believe that when we integrate our home and our faith we will be blessed. It is like adding frosting to the cake. The church has been compared to a family. In good churches many of us do invite our friends and family to participate. We let it be known that this is important to us. They may not come to everything, bu in order to be with us they will com to some things.

I think that is what made today so special with having Mike and Kim join us. I love Mike like a brother and we have shared so many good times together. Having him in church allowed us to add one more special moment to the many memories we share. I'll never forget their wedding. Our worlds came together. Today it happened again.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Summer Dreams

You are going to think I'm nuts but I have had some pretty crazy dreams lately. Two nights ago I dreamed that Stephen King was sitting in my congregation. I have this "hero worship" thing so I made a fool out of myself recognizing him while trying not to embarrass him.

Last night I had that reoccurring nightmare that goes back to my college days. I was in school again and started missing classes and going in late. I kept getting lost on the way and getting into a panic.

Earlier this week I had a dream that I was in the middle of a war and I had to get the people with me to safety.

Each time I woke up I wondered what I had been thinking or what these dreams meant, if anything. They were so vivid and real and they stuck in my mind throughout the day.

It's funny but in Biblical times dreams were supposed to mean something. Do you remember Joseph? He had some pretty crazy dreams and when he told his brothers about them it got him into a lot of trouble. Yet those dreams came true. The symbols pointed to a future reality.

I will never fully understand the nature of the dreams we have at night, but I do know something about the dreams and visions we have during our waking hours. God has put a dream in each of our hearts. He has given us gifts and he has a plan for our lives. We need to let those dreams rise to the surface and follow them. If you love children then you need to find a place where you can be that allows you to encourage and teach. If you have a heart for finance then you need to find that place where you can work to glorify God by working the numbers and creating the wealth need to fund his ministry. If you have a heart for singing then you need to get in the choir or do something that promotes music in our ministries. If you have a heart of compassion then you need to find a ministry where you can love people to a better life.

Don't let anyone squash your dreams. They are a gift from God. Embrace them and offer them up to Him.


Friday, August 8, 2008

It is a gift. Accept it and enjoy it.

I discovered the gift of grace last night. I signed up for Skype. This interesting service allows you to connect via the Internet with folks around the world for free! The best part is that you get to talk to them and if you have video capability, see them as well. With my daughter spending the next few months in Australia we decided to investigate. Everything seems set up and ready to go. Tonight we will have our first opportunity to try it.

I called it grace because it is a free gift. I don't know how they manage it and how it makes sense for someone to do this, but I am not going to question it. I am going to gratefully accept it.

As I was thinking about this it reminded me of what God has done with the gift of his beloved son. In Jesus death we have truly received the gift of his grace. A lot of people want to figure out how it works and are skeptical. As a result they don't embrace it and often reject it. Meanwhile they could be enjoying a joy filled life walking with the Lord.

So don't ask me how Skype works. I can't tell you and I don't care. I'm just going to accept it and enjoy it.


Will you remember?

It is August 8, 2008 and I have two weddings today. Both couples liked the idea of being married on 8-08-08. They said it would be easier to remember their anniversary.

This is not the first time I've heard that excuse for picking a date. I had a wedding earlier this summer on July 5. The couple chose that date because it was her parents anniversary. Easy for her to remember because she grew up with it. Easy for him because somebody in the family is sure to mention mom and dad's upcoming anniversary.

The truth is that too often we forget things, even important things. We need reminders. That is why you see God calling the people to remember so often throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The people are continually setting up memorials to remind themselves of how good God has been to them.

Even God set up reminders. Think about it. We have the rainbow. We have the cross.

So maybe it is a good idea for us to set aside some reminders, some little thing in our office, on the refrigerators, or on our nightstand to remind us to say thank you to God. It is not a sign of weakness. It is simply a good thing to do because we forget.

God once told the Israelites to write down the commandments and place them in a little box and carry it with them all the time. Jesus told us to write his law in our hearts. So what can it hurt? It will only help us to be more thankful people and help us to praise God all day long.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

There really was a reason

The other day I was just pulling out of the gas station when suddenly my driver's side door window shattered and I was covered with glass and I was dumbfounded. I thought I had been shot at first. I pulled over and began to assess the situation. Then it occurred to me that I was rolling up my window at the time of the explosion.

No I hadn't been shot. Somehow the mechanism malfunctioned and the tension on the window must have caused it to explode. I was sure there was a reasonable explanation for what had happened.

It made me think about the number of crazy things that happen in life. So often we want to blame someone or something. In the heat of the moment we think up some pretty wild explanations for what took place (I had been shot!) The truth is that usually we can find a reason for whatever happened.

The man at Payless Glass explained that the bolts on the window just came free, probably over time, and when it slipped into the tension wires it snapped and caused it to shatter. It was nice to know why it happened.

But there are those moments when we cannot explain why something happens. A few weeks ago I had a funeral for a young man who just died one day when an undiagnosed aneurysm let go in his brain. When I went to visit his fiance, all I could say was how sorry I was. Then I reminded her that it was at these moments that God called us to simply put our trust in him.

That is faith. It is believing that God is good and that He is still in charge and His will shall be done, even in those horrible inexplicable events. It was true on a day like September 11, 2001 and it was true for that young fiance.

This made even more sense to me as I stood at the counter of the repair shop. As the technician explained what happened, he helped make sense out of my mishap. I think the same thing will happen when we all get to heaven. God will explain what happened and we will suddenly understand in a way we never could before. But for now, he calls us to trust Him.


Thinking about the Pledge

It's election season and I can't help weigh in on a topic or two. A friend of mine sent me this video link to a special moment by Red Skelton. In this clip he talks about the Pledge of Allegiance and what it means to him. The clip reminds us that this great country really does belong to all of us. We are the ones who are responsible for its future.

In the coming weeks we will be able to choose the future leader of this country and the members of congress and local governments. I've heard a lot of people say that it doesn't matter and that they may not even vote. That makes me sad.

The truth is that God has given us great freedom and we live in a country where we can exercise that freedom to try and build a better future for us and our children. We do have a responsibility to listen to those who want to lead and make a choice between them. I don't think we need to discern who is more religious or who is more righteous. Our job is to determine who is most willing to be used and to serve.

You may agree or disagree with me, but I hope you will exercise your right and go out an vote when the time comes. The future of our country is in your hands. Enjoy this clip and think about what the Pledge of Allegiance means to you.


PS I went to see the movie SWing Vote and I have some thoughts on that I'll share a little later.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Forgive those who hurt you

I was humbled and embarrassed tonight. I was also reminded just how great Jesus is.

A few days ago I was advised of a situation where someone I knew took advantage of another person and stole a great deal of money from them. I have to confess that I lost all respect for this person who was undeniably guilty of deeply hurting and breaking the trust of my friend. Unfortunately it is my job to love and care for people and I was trying to find a way in my heart to forgive him. It was hard.

Then tonight I received an email from my friend and she said told me that she wanted me to pray for the person who stole from her. I almost cried. You see that is what Jesus told us to do. He said we were to pray for our enemies. We were to pray for those who persecute us. We were to pray for those who don't know any better. You see we are the ones who have the good news. Our treasure is in heaven and no one can rob us of that and the peace of God which comes with it.

I thank God that he used my friend to remind me of this so that my heart doesn't become cynical and bitter.

I also came across this video tonight which punctuates the object lesson I received tonight and I pass it all on to you.


If you love someone

I love You-tube and God-tube. You can find some really inspirational pieces on them. Here's one with Brian Adams singing with scenes from the movie "Jesus" as the subject.


Our true self shining through

On Saturday night a group of us went to the Thomaston Opera House to see the musical Beauty and the Beast. It was a long drive but it was well worth it. Not only was the show enjoyable, but we got to see two people we know. Dana Daunis, Miss Connecticut 2007 played the lead role of Belle and Marissa Ranalli played one of the silly girls.

The cast was great and the show enjoyable, but I have to confess that I looked for the two ladies I knew and cherished every moment they were on stage. Why? Because I knew them. Through them the show became personal for me. I was also surprised to find out I knew a third person in the cast. I met one member of the ensemble earlier this summer when he served as a Judge for the teen pageant. That was cool.

It got me thinking about how this same concept, "knowing someone in the cast" applies to passing on our faith. When you live out your faith at work, at school or in your community involvements, you help make faith something personal for the people you know. They see you and me and how our faith is a vital part of how we lives our lives and they tuck that away. When crisis comes or when they are tested, they think of us and may very well turn to God.

That is why it is so important to be up front and honest about our faith. It is not a personal thing. It is not to be hidden away. Now I am not talking about pushing it in people's faces. I'm simply talking about being a child of God and letting his light shine through.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

TLC for your feet...

When was the last time you looked at your feet? I have to confess that most days I give them a cursory glance as I'm putting on my socks but that is about the extent of it. Today I happened to notice them.

Let me make a confession. I only looked at them because my left foot was hurting. Somehow I developed a little sore on my toe. It probably happened from wearing my old softball spikes two nights in a row.

It made me think though. Our feet are pretty important. Without them we can't stand up. We can't walk without them, never mind try to run. So why do so many of us take them for granted. We would certainly take care of a problem on our face right away. We'd probably do the same with our hands. So why do we ignore our feet? Maybe because most of us see our feet as unattractive.

There is a passage in the Bible where the Apostle Paul talks about the church and makes reference to parts of the body. He tells us that every part has its place and every part ought to be respected for what it brings to the overall function of the body. Paul must have ha a sore foot or back along the way because her understands physiology pretty well.

We need to be mindful of all the people around us. In the world we need to be thankful for the people who pick up our garbage as well as though who cut our hair. We need to greet those who pump our gas or wait on our table with the same respect we give the doctor or the priest. We can take our example from Jesus who treated people with love and respect no matter where they came from.

Jesus said love your enemies. He said love your neighbors. He said love one another. I think that covers just about everyone. So next time you look at your feet, think of someone you run across who needs a little love and do something about it.


We all need an alarm to warn us

I always get an anxious feeling when the phone rings at an unusual time. This morning it rang a 5:40 a.m. I fell out of bed and ran to get it. The voice on the other end said it was our alarm company and that the police had been dispatched because there was activity in our Fellowship Hall.

Sometimes when I get that call I can figure out what happened. One time the Girl Scout Troop came in and forget to turn off the alarm. I got the call on Monday at 5:00 p.m. and I knew what was up. It turned out it was a new leader who didn't realize she had to disarm the system.

This morning I couldn't think of any reason someone would be in the church at that hour. So I got dressed and made the drive. I arrived to find two cars in the parking lot. One belonged to our organist. The other belonged to the new Pastor of the Korean Church.

When I went in I found him sitting in Fellowship Hall praying. He was totally oblivious to the situation. It all made sense now. The former pastor would often come in early to pray before he headed off to work. so I should have known. This new man was probably unaware of the alarm. When I spoke with our organist, she said the alarm had been tripped when she came in and she shut it off after seeing Pastor Seung downstairs.

The mystery was solved. I couldn't help but think of the number of times I had done things without realizing that I had hurt someone or offended them. Most of us try to be sensitive to others but occasionally we get so wrapped up in what we are doing that we develop tunnel vision. That's when we are likely to do something wrong or hurtful. I wish that we all had a built in alarm.

The good news is that God understands and is wiling to forgive. Like our organist today, God surveys the situation and works to make it right. Thank God for his mercy.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Dont change for change sake

I was surfing through some local blogs when I came across this line in Pamela Suzanne's post from Father's Day.

I still call the Defenders the Navigators. I grew up on Tator the Gator and bright purple uniforms; Cutter just doesn't cut it for me. He's more intimidating, sure, but honestly, what mascot has more personality than a giant reptile named after a potato snack?

Finally I found someone who agrees with me. I have been to very few games since they changed the name of the team from the Navigators to the Defenders. I just can't get into them. I know it is the same team but they lost the pizazz when the mascot became a submarine instead of a lovable gator. I still call them the Navigators too and am always rudely corrected by someone.

As I tried to analyze my feelings it just came back to the truth that I don't like change. I was comfortable with the Navigators. They were my team. I didn't care if the prefix was Norwich or Connecticut, it was the team and their identity that captured my heart.

I think the same thing happens in the church when we change things. Whether it is changing the order of worship, the style of music, or even moving into a new building, it will always upset a good number of us.

In church many have started a second service when they wanted to make stylistic changes. This way they keep the regulars happy while opening the door for newcomers. The truth is that I understand that change is good. It keeps things fresh. It allows us to grow with the times. WE just need to make sure that all the stakeholders buy into the moves we make or else there will be an exodus along the way.

The good thing about the church is that the "owner" does not change. Jesus is the head of the church and as long as we keep the heart of worship the same, we will always be blessed.


PS. Maybe if the Defenders brought Tater back, some of the old times would come back too! What do you think?

He's ready to help those who need it

Imagine getting paid not to go to work. It has been reported that the Green Bay Packers offered Brett Favre 20 million dollars over the next ten years if he will stay retired. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

Last week we had a woman from Little Acres Farm speak to the Rotary Club about farming in Connecticut and someone asked the question about farm subsidies and if we get many in Connecticut. She replied we didn't get many because they were reserved for the big farms in the midwest. That made me mad. Why is it that those who needed it the most, the small farmers, are really losing out? Something is wrong with this scenario.

It reminded me of the scene in the Gospels where the religious leaders complain about Jesus spending too much time and attention on the "sinners and publicans." Jesus told them that "those who are well have no need of a physician." Then he claimed the name of the good physician. He told them he came to save the lost and the sick. In other words, he came to help those who really needed help.

That is good news for us. It means Jesus cares and he will be there when we need him. We can go to him as we are. We don't have to be perfect. He knows we aren't and that's ok. He wants to help us get there and to turn things around so we can live a meaningful and productive life that will glorify God.

That's the kind of subsidy that we all need.


It is the Spirit that animates the body

Those of you who know me already understand that second only to my passion for God, is my love of baseball. I grew up a Detroit Tigers fan. Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, the portly Mickey Lolich, John Hiller, Willie Horton and my favorite manager of all time - Billy Martin.

You can identify exactly when I became a Tiger fan by zeroing in on our manager at the time. I loved Billy even when he was hired-fired, hired-fired, hired-fired, hired-fired, hired-fired by the Yankees. Being a Tiger fan actually meant that I could love my favorite players and managers even when they played for the Pale Hose or the Bronx Bombers. Everyone asks me why I became a Tiger fan while growing up in New England. The answer is two fold but quite simple.

My parents went through a nasty divorce in my formative baseball years so I didn't get to play Little League where everyone else became either a Yankee or Red Sox fan. I did develop a love for baseball cards though. I lived vicariously through those little cardboard rectangles. Of all the teams, I loved the Tiger logo. It was cool and as an eleven year old boy it struck my imagination. I learned all the players names and statistics and that was the end of it.

Over the years I have followed the team and learned all the new players. I've rooted them on in good years and bad. I've read everything there is to read about the players and the team. Ty Cobb was a bad man but when I played softball, I emulated his hustle and will to win and always played hard and a little nasty at times. I'm embarrassed to say this but for eight years I was the only member of the First Baptist team ever to get thrown out of a game. I argued with the umpire on a call and although I didn't swear, I did go over the top a little bit. But what would you expect with Ty Cobb and Billy Martin as two of my heroes?

Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenburg, Rudy York, Hughie Jennings, Sam Crawford, Mickey Cochran, Hal Newhouser, Jim Bunning, George Kell were all names I came to love. The same was true of Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, Dick McAuliffe, Ron LeFlore, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, Cecil Fielder, Travis Fryman, Chet Lemon and the boys of my young adult years. Today I root just as hard for Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson. Nothing has changed in the last forty years when it comes to my Tigers.

And yet everything has changed. Just by looking at the names you can see it is a different team. Hey, the Tigers even play in a different stadium. I went to the Old Tigers Stadium in 1993 for the very first time. I got a letter from the Mayo Smith Society saying they were going to tear down the old place. I knew I had to make the pilgrimage out and I did. It was great and I got to go there a few more times before they moved out in 1999. I've also been to the new stadium three times since it opened in 2000. You can still feel the history because it isn't the stadium, it is the mystique of the team.

They are making a big deal out of the final season being played at Yankee Stadium this year. Big Deal? The Stadium is nothing. Now if the Yankees were going to fold up their tent and close or if they decided to move out of the Bronx, like the Dodgers and Giants did, then it would be a big deal. You see the team transcends both the players and the field they play on.

It is the same way with our faith and our church. I've been thinking about this a lot recently. In October I will make history at First Baptist Church. I will pass John Sterry, (1800-23), our first Pastor, as the longest standing pastor in church history. So what does it mean?

I know that people discount the records because of possible steroid involvement, but when Mark McGuire passed Roger Maris and broke the single season home run mark it was a big deal for the days leading up to the moment but in the end, it didn't take anything away from Maris' great achievement. The same was true when Barry Bonds broke the all time home run mark passing Hank Aaron. Hank's achievement is still remarkable and will always be remembered , even as Babe Ruth's mark was when Hank crushed that ball to pass him in 1974. It is part of the game. Records are set and they are meant to be broken. When Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak it was an emotional moment. Now we say no one will ever do it again. I'm not so sure.

You see baseball is such a great game because of its spirit. It is bigger than any one star. It moves from generation to generation and each time it embraces new stars who still play it for the love of the game. The same is true of the church. Any individual congregation is going to go through up and down periods in its history. The ministers, priests, and leaders will rise and fall but it is the essence of the community which drives it. It is that intangible we call the Holy Spirit which gives the ministry life and direction.

I remember having a conversation with one of our older members an number of years ago. He was not particularly happy with me and some of the ideas I was proposing. But in a thoughtful moment he sat back and wistfully remembered a former pastor he admired when he was in his twenties. He said, "I guess I understand the way old Mrs. Blackledge felt when Percy Kilmister was trying all kinds of new things with us young people. She was always upset and thought he was doing things that were uncalled for. We loved him though and thought he was the best."

I looked at him and said, "You know I love this church because of its spirit. And that spirit that Rev. Kilmister fostered is alive and well today." We never argued again. Every congregation has a spirit, a personality and it is a blessing to the people who are apart of it. Long after I am gone, the people here will probably remember me, but then I hope they will keep on doing what they are doing as they seek to share the love of God.

I started writing this today because I was really sad to see Pudge Rodriguez traded to the Yanks. I loved him because he brought a sense of respectability back to my Tigers after they had become the laughingstock of baseball. I wish him well and I hope he gets his world series ring. But I am going to root for my Tigers. They are my team. The spirit still lives in the players that are left behind.

So enjoy your church family. Get involved. Worship, serve, give your offerings and pray for the minister and your neighbors in the pew beside you. God has given you a special place to belong.