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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Insanity

One definition of insanity is doing something over and over again expecting a different results. straight_jacket_250x251

I can understand trying something twice or thrice with the hope that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

But there has to come a time when I realize that doing certain things the same way and hoping for a more successful outcome is, at best, a waste of time, and at worse, a tremendous waste of the resources that God has graciously given me.

As a creature of habit, doing something different is hard for me. I’ve been trained to do certain things in a certain way. Many times, this is a good thing. For example, I’ve been celebrating Christmas the same way for the last 15 years. However, I’ve never looked for a different outcome at Christmas.

But leading people, preaching, teaching – these are things that I’ve also been trained to do in a specific way. And I’ve been looking for a different outcome over the years – a more successful outcome.

I want to lead people into a more personal and active relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to preach sermons that engage more people in ways that the Holy Spirit can more readily use to make people disciples of Jesus Christ. I want to teach people about living the full life that Jesus promised.

15 years ago, I graduated from seminary thinking that I had all the answers about how to do all three of these things successfully. Now I’ve reached the point where I can admit “I don’t know nuthin’.”

I tried to do it the way I learned at seminary. I read books, journals, resources. I went to seminars, symposia, and conferences.

In the spirit of 1970’s British comedy troop, my leading, preaching, and teaching is ready “now for something completely different.”

This should be interesting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Love You Can Touch

I’ve been listening to an audio book the last week or so – Susan Isaacs’ Angry Conversations with God. It has been an eye-opening and heart-touching experience.

This blog is not about that, however. Listening to her book led me to her website, which led me to her blog, and her latest blog post is her eulogy / obituary of her cat, Honey.

First, let me say that I’m not a cat person. I used to say that I hated cats, but actually I was just posing for all the dog people in my life and in the world. I don’t hate cats. When I was in high school our family had a cat – a deaf, albino cat named “Snow” who’s meow sounded like a baby wailing (a foreshadowing to the days when my wife and I would wake in the middle of the night to the sound of one of our infant sons wanting to be fed).

That was the only cat I ever had. She was an ok cat. Cats usually don’t come when you call them, but Snow had a perfect excuse – she couldn’t hear! But she did snuggle and she was soft and, really, what more can you ask of a cat?

After my wife and I were married, before we had children, we agreed that we wanted to get a pet and we decided on a dog. Actually, I think I make the whole decision and either conned her into it or persuaded her with my awesome debating skills.

We got a puppy – a black Labrador Retriever we named Seamus. The name came from a golden Lab my best friend in high school had. “Moosie” was a great dog that made our lives full of life and love. He cuddled with us through the night, keeping us warm on long, cold, winter nights in Michigan and Wisconsin. He loved to swim and play in the snow.

When our first son was born, we did the things that the “Book” said to do (What to Expect When You Are Expecting). I took the blanket that EJ was wrapped in at the hospital home so Moosie could sniff it and get used to the addition to our family. When EJ came home, Moosie camped under his crib during the night for the first week or so. He was kind and gentle with EJ and a great companion for him.

When Moosie was 12 years old, his hip dysplasia became so bad he couldn’t walk anymore and we knew that it was time. He was in pain all the time. He would look at me with that sad look that only a dog can pull off well. That was one of the hardest days of my life, saying good bye to him. I think EJ took it the hardest. He had to learn one of those life lessons at age 10.

Moosie epitomized what Susan Isaacs calls in her latest blog post “love you can touch.”

I know that God loves me. I know the Bible verses – John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16.   But let’s face reality – we cannot physically touch God’s love, not in this lifetime. The Bible says we cannot even look upon God and live (Exodus 33:20). And what is love without touch? I don’t know what it is, but I wouldn’t call it love.

Maybe that’s why God gave us people like ourselves (“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”) and animals. We could love and touch them, and thus experience, in some way, the love God has for us.

When Jesus walked this earth, He made a point of touching those who needed it the most. Some people He healed with just a spoken word. But there were those who, I suspect, needed to be touched, longed to be touched, that Jesus deliberately healed with a touch. Just in the Gospel of Matthew alone:

Matthew 8:2-4

Matthew 8:14-16

Matthew 9:28-30

Matthew 17:6-8

Matthew 20:33-34

Being able to touch and be touched is a fundamental human need. Infants do not thrive without being touched. You can tell – from a distance – a couple who are in love because they hold hands or in some other way tenderly touch each other.

God reaches out to us and touches us through His Son Jesus Christ. True, this mostly happens as a spiritual touch. But maybe that’s one of the reasons we have pets – to be able to experience God’s love we can touch.

© 2010 True Men Ministries, Inc.

 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cancer, Change, and Other Things that Scare Me

I don’t think I ever liked to be scared. When I was about eleven or twelve years old I went with my parents to one of their friend’s house for dinner and desert. The adults stayed upstairs playing cards while us kids went downstairs to watch TV. A movie was on – Godzilla I think. Not a particularly scary movie – more fun than scary. But it was on “Creature Feature” on the local TV station. At every commercial break I would hide my eyes as the movie was about to come on because the title screen for “Creature Feature” was Lon Chaney as the original Phantom of the Opera. Godzilla didn’t scare but the Phantom sure did. I hated it. I don’t think I ever liked scary movies.

Now that I’m older, there are other things that scare me more than images from classic horror movies.

Today I spent two hours with a good friend who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. He found out this past week that he has colon cancer. The word - “cancer” – has a very scary ring to it. I’m scared that my friend may die. Of course, I know he’s going to die sometime – we all will. Unless Jesus comes back during our lifetimes, no one gets out of this life alive. But just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean it isn’t scary.

Thankfully, we think that the doctors caught the cancer early enough and it is very treatable. But still…. Scary.

Only thing that scares me is change. The night before I got married I knew life was going to change forever for me. And I was a little scared (but also very much looking forward to it – love will do that to a guy). When I found out I was going to be a father for the first time, I was scared. Having children changes everything. Each time I’ve moved I’ve been scared – a change of scenery scares me a little bit – the unknowns of it.

Change is the only constant, I’ve heard. I don’t “do change” very well. Maybe its because I’m a Lutheran-Christian. Change doesn’t come easy for me in my “tribe” of Christianity (as Len Sweet calls it). Which is kind of silly, really. I’m mean, of all the tribes of Christianity, Lutherans might be the ones who should embrace change best of all. It was Martin Luther that profoundly changed the Western World in the 16th Century AD.

Lon Chaney – the master of change in the early movies; Martin Luther – the great changer of the 16th Century; Cancer; Moving; all of these changes are scary to me.

Why do things have to change? Wasn’t I happy before things changed? Well, sure. But I must admit, I was getting a little bored, too. I was looking for change, even though it was scary.

I must face the truth – change happens. I think it is safe to say that change has to happen. Sometimes I wish it didn’t. Isn’t there anything that doesn’t change? It seems the older I get the more change there is. It seems like the world is changing faster and faster each day.

What doesn’t change? The love of my wife? Ok, yes. She told me she loved me 20 years ago and has told me every day since. But no, that isn’t right either. Her love for me has changed. Because I’m not the man she fell in love with 20 years ago. Her love for me – while still very strong, rock-solid even – has changed through years. The same can be said of my love for her. Today she’s not the woman I married. She’s even more beautiful and lovely today! My sons have changed over the last 14 years. They are growing up. My calling as a pastor has changed through the years – I’m still growing up.

ISN’T THERE ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T CHANGE?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Where there is cancer and the many changes that it brings, Jesus is there changeless – He loves and strengthens and, when it is God’s will, even heals!

There there is a change in location or ministry or career– as scary as that is – Jesus is there changeless – He loves and strengthens and heals the fear and hurt that sometimes come with change

Change is inevitable. Jesus Christ and His love for You is the only thing that will never change.

And the next time I’m scared of change, I’ll remember this. Without change, there would be no butterflies.

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