Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I'm not judging here, I'm saying I understand it too well. The heart is there but the will just isn't there. We want to go but the beach, the kids, the spouse, the shopping, the housekeeping, the yard, the family, a friend, the weather all seem to conspire against us.
I've heard so many people say that they come away from worship feeling blessed. We know how powerful it can be and how worship can renew our souls. Yet, we can't always bring ourselves to go. It is the same with me and the gym today. I know I will be blessed. I always am. But I just can't do it.
So here is my solution. Do something that will help you connect with God. Make that your goal today. If you can't make it to worship then spend fifteen minutes reading the psalms or one of the Gospels. Then talk to God in prayer. Don't let the devil rob you of that time with God.
Yes, I said the devil. The truth is that the Bible tells us God has an enemy. That enemy (I don't really think he is dressed in red and has pointy ears and a tail) wants to keep us away from God. He is the one who keeps distracting you and me. But if we make it a point to spend time with God every day, he will eventually give up for a while and you will find it easier to head back to church on Sunday mornings.
The same thing is true for everything else that is good for us in life. It is the enemy of God that discourages me from going to the gym, heading to weight watcher meetings and doing the things I need to do to be in good health and to find blessing in my relationships. That voice that says, "You don't really want to..." sounds eerily similar to the one in the Garden that said, "Did God really say you shouldn't eat or you will die?"
So a word to the wise: Watch out for that voice that tries to dissuade you from doing good or doing what you know you should. At this instant turn to Christ and begin a conversation with him. Then watch what happens.
I think I'm going to stop here. I feel like going out to take a walk. God bless!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The deaths of these two icons hit us and make us take stock of where we've been and what is important in our lives. We are forced to step back in time and remember the influence they had on us.
It makes me think about other people who have been a part of my life who have also moved on. I think of those who have been mentors to me including John Brooks, Dick Bowser and Sheldon Keller. I remember those who nurtured me in my faith including Jan Bartizek, Bev Duntz, Albert Pearce and those who have challenged me to go deeper like Dave Murray, Cliff Vanase, Amy Rezendes and Sandy Callendar.
We meet many people as we journey through life. They all have an effect on us. The truth is that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett are the symbolic reminders of the people and events that shaped us. Their deaths also remind us that life is precious and that we don't have forever. So maybe the best way to celebrate their lives is to reach out and thank the people around us. Send a card to your high school teacher who took and interest in you and encouraged you. Drop a line to that favorite uncle or aunt who made you feel special. Call that neighbor who helped you out when you son or daughter was sick. Give a card to that co-worker who covered for you when you had to take time off in an emergency. Take a friend out to dinner who was there when you needed someone to talk to.
Celebrate life with the living and you will be able to rejoice every day.
We began with some grand ideas and decided nothing was too big. We settled on having the service on the Norwichtown Green where many of the first settlers would have worshiped. Then the invitations went out. We included Dale Plummer in our early meetings to help us get a sense of the history. Each of us was well aware of our own particular stories but we wanted to know about the larger canvas we were working on. That was very helpful as we began to paint the broad strokes of what we were going to do.
Rev. Greg Perry, Rev. John Lancz, Rev. Bill Dunlap, Sister Maryann Guertin, Rabbi Charles Arian and I made up the committee. As we began putting the various pieces in place we wanted to keep the celebration aspect at the forefront of our thinking. We want to remind ourselves of the important contributions that the community of faith has made on the city. As we began thinking about this it became clear that just about every social institution in Norwich had its roots in the religious community. From the Norwich Free Academy, to the W. W. Backus Hospital to United Community and Family Services to St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen we saw this theme of the people of faith reaching out to share God's love with the community in concrete ways.
Once we had the concept we began putting the pieces together. We wanted proclamations. We wanted a litany of the contributions. We wanted to charge to people with continuing the good work in a new century. We wanted an offering (wink,wink). We also wanted lots of music.
The final piece of the puzzle was to encourage participation from as many people and congregations as possible. We made personal contact and sent emails to most of the churches and synagogues in Norwich.
After all was said and done, nearly two hundred people were present from over 17 different faith communities. We raised nearly $650 for the Norwich Area Clergy Association Food Bank and almost everyone walked away with a good feeling. It was truly an event worthy of the 350th Anniversary.
Here are a few photos from the event. Enjoy.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
As his talk continued he knew it was going well. The people were responding with oohs and aahs. They were with him and when he finished there was thunderous applause. As he was leaving the stage people were coming up to him and he was walking on air.
Now McDonald knew that his job was to give the glory to God and he was careful to do that. Yet he took a little bit for himself and enjoyed the moment. When he got back to the hotel room he called his wife to report in. He shared the exhilaration that he felt and the sense that he could do no wrong that evening. She listened politely for a few minutes and then began questioning him about his schedule for the next day when he was to return home. He gave her the times and flight numbers and all the particulars. As the conversation wound down she told him that she was glad he was coming home and that the leaves in the back yard still needed to be raked and picked up and she was expecting him to get to it shortly after he got back.
McDonald said he couldn't believe it. It seemed like she didn't get it. He had just told her what he had experienced and it seemed a little much for her to think he would hurry home to rake some leaves. Then it hit him. She was doing him a favor by keeping him grounded. She reminded him of where his roots were planted.
The truth is that sometimes we get carried away with ourselves. As President of the PTO or coach of the little league team or even as a Preacher who is known in the community, we can easily begin to believe our own press clippings and start to think we are more important than the next person. That's why it is so important to have people around us who love us and are willing to remind us who we are. They celebrate our triumphs. They also help us to remember to humble ourselves before God. After all, didn't Christ have a few words to say about that.
Jesus said that the greatest among us need to be servants to all. He gave us the perfect example to follow. Jesus said that he came to serve and not to be served. Humility is a gift from God. It is our greatest blessing because it ties our hearts to Christ and allows us to do our best work.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I had not picked up a bat all season and had only thrown the ball around a few times. I was perfectly content to coach third base and play team cheerleader. Yet I have to confess that being one hit away from 400 for my FBC career was gnawing at me a little bit. As a result, shortly after the season began I consented to be a back up player in an emergency with the caveat that I might get that one hit sometime during the year.
Last night was my shot and I was a little excited. I tried to calm down when I reached the plate for the first time. A ball was the call on his first pitch. He followed that with a strike. On the third pitch I swung and sent the ball back up the middle. The shortstop fielded it and with a runner going from first to second he picked it up and flipped to second base for the force. Of course I didn't see that.
I hit the ball and took two steps out of the batter's box and then fall flat on my face. Yes, I fell down after taking two steps toward first base. The combination of my slick sneakers and a sandy baseline and "old guy" syndrome allowed me to put together a scene that could surely be in contention for the funniest home video awards if anyone had captured it on their camcorder.
Talk about embarrassment. To add insult to injury the second baseman completed his turn toward fist base and threw me out to complete a double play. Now here is the real wake up call in this situation. I have been playing softball for over thirty years. In that time I have been doubled up less than a half dozen times. I used to be pretty quick down the line. It seems as though someone had put lead in my pants this time around.
As if things couldn't get worse, I got up to bat a second time last night. I envisioned hitting the ball right back up the middle for a clean base hit. I swung at the first pitch and grounded into a second double play. Two times I had killed rallies for the team.
The good news is that Mike got to the game in the fourth inning and I came out of the game. We rallied to win the game 18-15 and my misadventures were just a foot note to a great evening. It got me thinking though. After I got home I wrote down a few lessons I had learned and I want to share them with you now.
1) If you want to play you really should practice before hand. I hadn't evened picked up a bat this year. Now wonder I couldn't perform on the field. The same is true with living the Christian life. It takes practice. You need to live it every day. You can't just turn it on and off.
2) If you want to compete you need to have the right equipment. I was playing in sneakers. If I had put on my cleats I would have had better footing in the soft earth. I hadn't come prepared to play. The same is true with our Christian walk. We need to have the whole armor of Christ if we want to get into the arena so we can be used by God. Regular Bible study, attendance at worship and a healthy prayer life will keep you from falling on your face.
3) Over time your role may change. Embrace the calling God gives you. I have done a good job coaching the third base this year and getting the guys fired up from the bench. I'm the number one cheerleader and I think that has contributed to our success. Years ago I was a spark plug on the field. The same is true in the church. Everything runs in cycles. You may not be called to do what you were doing ten years ago. Your experience and changing skills may open new doors to you. Go for it and embrace the new thing.
4) No one made fun of me when I fell as embarrassing as it might have been. They did exactly what I would have done if they had fallen. They encouraged me on. In the book of Proverbs it says "Cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back to you..." so if you want respect, give respect. If you want to be encouraged, give encouragement. The old adage is true: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you do it, they will do it back to you.
5) There are life lessons in every experience we have. So instead of dwelling on the mistakes, look for the lessons. You may not be able to take the experiences back but you can certainly find ways to pass on what you learn. Then it too, will become a blessing instead of a bad memory.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Every new thing was something to be grasped and enjoyed. I couldn't wait to see what would come next. Even as my children began to grow up I anticipated their next steps and embraced them with glee. Becky's first steps were cause for celebration. Sarah's first words were greeted with rejoicing. Rachel's first day of school was beyond description.
Suddenly everything changed. I don't know exactly when it happened. New stopped being fun. Becky graduated and went off to college. Poppa died. A friend moved away. A restaurant closed. Everything that was familiar and comforting began to change little by little. Change no longer was something to be embraced. It felt more like a threat.
The truth is that life goes on. As we get older the changes remind us that nothing lasts forever. Isaiah said it best when he wrote, "The grass withers, the flower fades..." He pointed out the fleeting nature of life. If we live 100 years we will see everything around us fade away. But Isaiah goes on to remind us that one thing never changes. "The grass withers, the flowers fade but the Word of the Lord stands forever." God is the one constant, the one companion that will be with us from the beginning of our lives all the way up to the day we give it up and go home to be him eternally.
The good news is that we can enjoy the people, the places, the opportunities that come our way in life. They are gifts from God. They make our journey that much more enjoyable. Good friends are a blessing. They remind us that God loves us. And when they are not there anymore, it is God himself who steps in to take their place.
So enjoy today. Don't worry about tomorrow. God will be there to greet you either in person or with another blessing.
Friday, June 12, 2009
This week I received a powerful story from a friend that does just that. It speaks about the power of a daily walk with God. Read and enjoy.
The Wicker Basket The story is told of an old man who lived on a farm in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky with his young grandson. Each morning, Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading from his old worn-out Bible. His Grandson who wanted to be just like him tried to imitate him in any way he could. One day the grandson asked, 'Papa, I try to read the Bible just like you but I don't understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading the Bible do?' The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and said, 'Take this old wicker coal basket down to the river and bring back a basket of water.' The boy did as he was told, even though all the water leaked out be fore he could get back to the house. The grandfather laughed and said, 'You will have to move a little faster next time,' and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again. This time the boy ran faster, but again the old wicker basket was empty before he returned home. out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was 'impossible to carry water in a basket,' and he went to get a bucket instead. The old man said, 'I don't want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water. You can do this. You're just not trying hard enough,' and he went out the door to watch the boy try again. At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got far at all. The boy scooped the water and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty. Out of breath, he said, 'See Papa, it's useless!' 'So you think it is useless?' The old man said, 'Look at the basket.' The boy looked at the basket and for the first time he realized that the basket looked different. Instead of a dirty old wicker coal basket, it was clean. 'Son, that's what happens when you read the Bible. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, it will change you from the inside out.'
Moral of the wicker basket story: Take time to read a portion of God's word each day; it will affect you for good even if you don't retain a word.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Garbage In, Garbage Out
I listen to the lyrics of popular music right now on some of the other radio stations and I have to turn it off because it jars my spirit. It assaults my soul. For the same reason, I can't watch chainsaw thrillers because I don't want those nasty images in my mind.
Why would you want that garbage in you? If you put garbage in, garbage is what will come out in your language, your thoughts, the way you treat people.... Don't put things in your mind that will destroy your humanity and hurt your heart or cause you to think callous thoughts or disrespect others.
Why would you want to let your kids play video games where they can drive cars that run over people or assault people with weapons? Why would you listen to lyrics that are degrading to a certain gender or race?
Don't let those images and those words enter your mind. I know it's hard to avoid because it's everywhere but that doesn't mean you have to partake willingly. Don't take part and don't allow yourself to become callous to human life...and death.
That's good advice and I wish I had said it. Since I didn't, I'm passing it on.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Elizabeth is a professor at Yale University and her book was ten years in the making. "The Day Wall Street Exploded" is a real life mystery about the bombing of Wall Street in 1920, which was the worst terrorist attack in America up until that time. She talked about the book with such excitement that I got caught up in it and decided that I wanted to read the book.
As I was leaving the event, it struck me that when you hear someone who is truly enthusiastic about a subject, someone who really believes in what they have learned, you get excited too. She peaked my interest and I needed to know more. The truth is that you and I can do the same thing when we share our stories with our friends and family.
When people hear how our lives were changed by Christ, and how we have been blessed, they will want to know more. They may not even know they are looking for anything but when they hear you and I tell our stories, they will want to hear more.
So live your faith and tell your story and let Christ shine though you. You will be surprised at the results as people will come up and thank you afterward because you gave them something they didn't even know they were looking for. New life.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
A missionary was sent to Africa to be part of a ministry already in the works. This man had been raised on the Pacific Coast of the United States and loved the ocean. He had hoped that when sent to Africa he would be stationed in an area next to the ocean. His wish was not fulfilled., and when upon his arrival he found his mission station was 85 miles inland from the coast.
He determined to make the best of his assignment. Part of his responsibilities involved teaching a Bible school in the area. It had been set up to provide ministerial training for the natives so that they could be effective evangelists to their own people.
In his teaching, many times this missionary-teacher would draw upon the ocean for his illustrative material. Often he talked of his great love for the ocean which he missed being this far inland. His students made note of his affection for the sea.
In the course of his teaching he began to teach about the fact that much of the Christian life is one of giving. He spoke about Christ being given as a special gift to this earth when He came as a babe in a manger. He shared with the native students about Christmas. He wasn't at all sure that the concept had been picked up, but he did the best he know how. Then there was time for a break in the school year as the students were dismissed for a two week period.
One day during this break there was a knock on his door. The missionary went to the door to see one of his students standing there with a huge smile on his face. Upon taking a closer look he noticed that the young man had scratches on his face, arms and legs. His clothes looked like he had been on a long trek through jungle and formidable terrain. There was a tiredness about the young man. However, in his hands this black man was holding a basketful of sea shells. Obviously they were not to be found locally. Then it dawned on the missionary - this young man had walked to the ocean to bring them back. " Here is a gift from the ocean," the young man beamed.
The missionary was almost overcome with emotion as he replied "But you have walked almost 170 miles to do this!" His black face showed surprise and delight. He pulled himself to his full height and said, "Long walk is part of the gift!"
I wish I could say I saw the punchline coming, but I didn't. The truth is that we often take things like this for granted. When someone sees our need and they go through the trouble to meet it, we appreciate it but we rarely fully understand the cost. That is the reality behind all gifts that are truly personal and heartfelt. When God gave us his only begotten son, he gave up so much that we will never know. Yet in giving up the gift, he opened the door for a whole world of grace and forgiveness and new relationships. We see Jesus but the best part of the gift was the love and sacrifice that brought it about.
So praise God today and give thanks for that part of the gift that made it all possible.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Of course that is part of the reason that they were honored in their respective years. Both of these men have logged in countless hours of community service. They have not only chaired major events and served on numerous committees but they have done the behind the scenes grunt work as well. They have that "Whatever it takes" attitude which is an inspiration to so many others.
It is one thing to lead and be up front. It is another to step onto the field and work side by side with your team. As I watched them chat and make their way through the grounds I thought about Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was the Lord of Lords, the son of God and yet, he never claimed any special privileges.
As a matter of fact Jesus, on the night when he was to be betrayed, got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciple's feet. He then told them that if they wanted to transform the world they needed to do it from the bottom up. He actually said that the greatest among them should be servant to all.
Jesus came and turned the world upside down. People noticed and the crowds followed him. Maybe we need to take him seriously and follow his example.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
We got the copy machine about four or five years ago. It was donated to the church on the condition that we purchase a service contract. At the time, the machine was five to seven years old but it had been refurbished and was like new. It has been a great machine.
The service man told me that it was going to get harder and harder to get parts for it going forward. They just don't make them anymore and the new technology makes the machine obsolete. I have to confess that the copy machine salesman told me that before. I thought he was just trying to sell me a new machine. When I heard it from the guy who actually fixes the machines, it offered me a new perspective. He didn't have a vested interest in me buying or leasing a new machine. He was just telling it like it is.
I think the same thing is true when it comes to God. God doesn't need us but he reaches out to us and invites us to trust him. He calls us to righteous living and invites us to walk with him. He does it only because he loves us and wants what is best for us.
So what are we waiting for? Maybe it is time to start over again and get a new lease on life with God at the center.
The movie was okay. It painted Dick Cheney as the bad guy. It tried to show the tensions between some of the senior staff. It brought out some good points about the circumstances and motivations that may have existed in the White House during George Bush's Presidency. It also lifted up George Bush's deep faith in God and although I get the sense that they tried to ridicule it, it didn't come across that way to me as a believer. I'm sure that the scoffers would have had a field day with it though.
All in all I came away from the movie feeling the way I did about George Bush before I watched it. The movie didn't influence me one way or the other. It only made me appreciate the fact that there was so much more going on than the media reported and that he is a much more complex man than his critics see.
The truth is that life is very complicated. No one can look at another person and truly judge their motives. We do things for many reasons. Some of our decision making is based upon our past. Some decisions are based on our fears. Some decisions are based on our faith. The thing that complicates our ability to judge another person, even more than their mixed motives, is the fact that we project our own thoughts on that person. We ascribe motives to them that fit our assessment of the individual. That happens a lot in politics. It happened to President Bush and it is happening to President Obama.
Well here is the good news: The one who is going to judge you and me will not judge us by what he sees us doing. He knows our hearts. He knows our motivations. He knows what makes us tick because he created us. What's more is the fact that he loves us and he sees the good in us. That means that he is willing to forgive us and give us a fresh start anytime we ask for it. Praise God.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
If Lori found out she would ask, "What are you... ten years old?" So I'm not going to tell her why I bought it. That's our little secret. For all she knows I just fell in love with Corn Flakes again. It's not the first time I switched cereals for no apparent reason. I started buying Fiber One about a year ago. I told her I just thought I needed a little more fiber in my system. The truth is that there wasn't anything free connected to that. I really did think about adding fiber to my diet after a bad case of.... well never mind.
The point I wanted to make was this: Packaging does make a difference to a lot of people. What they see makes an impression that will lead them to buy a product. The same thing is true of the Christian life. When people look at us and see us radiating with the love of Christ, they will see something lacking in their lives. When they see forgiving spirits in us, they will be drawn to us. When they see us acting with grace and dignity, there will be an appeal they can't deny.
We live in a world that is angry and disappointed. No one is happy. Everyone is frustrated. But when they see us walking with the peace of Christ in our hearts, working through the daily grind, they will be drawn to us and want to know the secret.
I know that puts a lot of pressure on us. Life can be very taxing and even the most devout Christians will have occasional melt downs. The fact that we can be honest about our struggles and share that with others is so different from the rest of the world. They hide behind manufactured walls. They pretend to have it all together. They are like the Emperor and everyone sees the charade.
I readily admit that I am learning as I go. I tell people that I am leaning on Jesus and he gives me the strength when I need it. Over the years that has served me well as a Christian and I have many friends who have come to faith, an honest faith because I have tried to be real. You can do the same thing. Let people see your heart for god and let them know you are trying your best to walk with him and you will find that God leads people to you so you can be a blessing.
That's the funny thing about my Corn Flakes. They are just Corn Flakes in a card board box. But the maker put a special stamp on it and it became a collector's item. If a cereal maker can do that for a box of cereal, imagine what God can do with you and me.
The truth is that I didn't realize how much stuff had built up over time. It happened slowly, one thing at a time. The truth is that the same thing happens in life all the times. It's especially true of bad habits. We start doing little things and before we know it we get ourselves in trouble. For example, when I was a teenager I decided it was cool to smoke cigarettes. I started having one once in a while with my girlfriend. Before I knew it I was hooked. By the time I was in college I was smoking two packs a day and hopelessly addicted.
I am very pleased to tell you that I quit twenty years ago this July. It wasn't easy. It took several tries. When I look back on it I can't believe how easy it was to fall into that trap and how hard it was to stop. If I were to give anyone advice today I would simply say... "Don't start."
The truth is that we need to think about our actions and what we are doing every day. We need to make sure that we are being faithful to the Lord and not getting sidetracked. We need to weed out the bad habits and anything that gets in the way of our relationship to God. We can't wait until Easter or Christmas to return our focus to Christ. We need to walk with him daily and worship him weekly.
Take it from me: These are habits that will bless you over and over again.