Thursday, May 31, 2007

Really Neat Places?

The other day I was thinking about writing a Top Ten list of all the places I'd like to see before Heaven. You know - a person has to plan vacations, so why not plan them around places you really want to see? I'd always prefer to see and be with family, but I'm a firm believer in vacations. I've said on many occasions that if I could do the "raising a family" thing all over again, one of the things I'd definitely do different is have more REAL family vacations (i.e. trips to fun and interesting places). That would mean a change in priorities - what we spent money on, but you know what? I cringe to think how much money went through our bank accounts over the years, and I can't even remember where most of it went - including what cars we had! But I do remember every special vacation we went on and those are also the things our family talks about when we reunite and stroll down memory lane. It's money well spent.

So - that all led me to wonder...maybe before I list the places I'd like to see before Heaven...I ought to think about the ones I've already seen. After all, heaven may be the next big trip! What are the places you've seen - just neat places - that you'd love to see again? After minimal thought, here is my Top Ten list - in no particular order.

1. The Flat Top Wilderness in Colorado - picture postcard view in every direction - even elk.

2. Hubbard, Tasmania - loved the town and the countryside - and the long ride into the harbor.

3. Speaking of harbors - Bar Harbour, Maine - just a neat place

4. St. John Island in the Virgin Islands - everything an island should be

5. Dunedin, New Zealand - beautiful Scottish influence and awesome countryside

6. Red River, NM - 9000 feet high, incredible one street town surrounded by the Rockies - great family vacations and memories

7. Alaska - all of it (includes one cruise and one hunting trip)

8. Bavarian Alps - especially area about Ludwig II castle that Disney copied.

9. Talon, Estonia - mostly the old town - real old European flavor - great walking

10. My vocal folds - could have said my colon or heart, but after 3 video trips into my voice - through the nose - and watching it work while I talk is an amazing place - now after the botox, I'm sure it's even prettier w/o wrinkles.

Any really neat places that you'd love to see again?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Lone Rose Bush

"Be still and know that I am God" These words crossed my mind this morning as I noticed our lone little rose bush out back. It blooms in spite of all my efforts to kill it through neglect. There used to be a row of bushes across the back part of the house, but they seemed to die within days of when we signed the mortgage papers on this house. This lone bush, however, blooms every year (we're in our third year here) and amazes me with how beautiful it can be in the midst of neglect and loneliness. It encourages me to see it. God's artistry can't be buried by mulch, mowing, and minimal yard care. It's a shot of color and beauty framed by the ordinary. It's an unselfish giver of happiness asking, not for attention, but only to do the will of it's Creator. I can't point to it and declare, "Look at what I've done," because it's not blooming through my care and cultivation. It's like God is saying, "Hey, Mike! Do you have any idea how much of my creation you don't notice? It's all good! Except for the only part made in My image." We are the only part of all creation that chooses to not function the way He created us to function. I must bloom for Him even when neglected and lonely. He's the Owner - the Great Gardener.

Yes, I got that from a rose bush. It's such a metaphor for so many things in life. We preacher-types tend to see lessons in things like rose bushes. Do you see any? (Forget the blooming idiot jokes!)

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Wrinkle-Free Top Ten

"What kind of people read a blog like this?"

Well, it's been two and a half hours since my first botox injection into my throat. All things considered, it wasn't that bad and I can tell a difference. Doc says it will take seven or more days before it starts to get normal. Hey -I have had years of "not normal" so seven days is a piece of cake. It is comforting knowing all the wrinkles are out of my throat. And since I can't do a lot of talking, I thought "Why not blog something radical!" So - here's this weeks Top Ten. The idea comes from my oldest daughters favorite husband. (See comments on last blog.)

You know you're a liberal if the Holy Spirit...

1. ...doesn't scare you to death!

2. ...opened up a passage of the Bible to you, and you weren't even holding on to one!

3. ...cleaned up a prayer for you that came out of you sounding like a groan.

4. ...helped you accept grace even though you didn't "feel" saved!

5. ...caused you to smile through your pain as you wondered what good things God was going to do through your suffering.

6. ...uses music to open hearts - all else is immaterial.

7. one of your favorite gifts from God.

8. an active, living personality that completes the Trinity, who all dwell in you.

9. ...helps carry out the providential work of God.

10. as real as angels!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Eyes of Grace

I just finished this Sunday's lesson and I can't help but be amazed at how differently I see and understand Romans now. I'm in chapter 8, the great comfort chapter - you know "all things work together for good" - "we are more than conquerors" and "nothing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" - that chapter. How many times have a studied it, preached it, used it at funerals, taught classes, and encouraged others to look at it? It's never looked as good or as exciting as it does right now. Have I been dumb in the past and just missed too many things? Maybe, but the biggest difference is that I see how Paul is trying to help us understand how wonderful our Father is - how He has done so much to bring us back to a relationship with Him, and how absolutely amazing His grace is! I talked a couple of Sunday's ago about looking through "The Eyes of Grace" and I think I'm really doing that. I see his love in ways I've never noticed before. The whole tone of the three chapters leading up to that wonderful question in 8:31 "What then shall we say in response to this?" is jam packed with God's love, God's care, and God's concern for us - His adopted children. When we consider all that He has done - when we really look with the eyes of grace - what can we say? His love overwhelms - it penetrates the heart so deeply that we dare not get distracted by fear, insecurities, and selfish pursuits. I've quoted it, preached it, and cheered with others as we shared it - but here's the deal - we are only really more than conquerors through Him who loved us when we, with the eyes of grace, understand what our Father did to make that possible. If we only see what we have and not what He did, we're looking through the wrong eyes. The more we see His grace, the more we see with grace.

Monday, May 21, 2007

From Backyard to Backwoods

"Denny" came through the back yard yesterday, but he was in a hurry to fish, so it's a real action shot through the back window.

And here is Deborah's favorite critter, Mr. Muskrat, gathering grass while one of our baseball team players jogs past behind him.

And this guy is wondering who the nut is on the patio swing, keeping him from the big worms!

I finally had a chance to travel down to my hunting spot just outside of Sullivan, MO. and retrieve my stands from hunting season - which ended back in mid January. Danny Younger, my new hunting buddy and trainee, and I collected his ladder stand, from which he took his first deer this past year with bow and arrow, and then we hiked over to my stand to pick it up. Boy did things look totally different with all the foliage back. In fact, we came to my tree and my hang-on stand with Rapid Rail ladders was GONE! That's right! Someone took it! From private property no less! Even with a cable and lock on it! After kicking a couple of sticks around and wondering why things looked so different, I finally realized that we were standing at the wrong tree. Fifteen yards away was an identical tree, except it still had my deer stand attached to it. Oh well, so much for impressing my new hunting student with my wilderness skills. There's a lesson there somewhere. Let me think! Got it! You can quote me on this: Some times you just go to the wrong place! Profound aint it? I think it'll preach.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Yes, Another Top Ten!

It's time for another Top Ten list. I don't care at all for Letterman, but I do like Top Ten lists. Since these have no particular value (i.e. 10 to #1) I'm just going to throw them out. If you are new to my blog, please understand that these are tongue-in-cheek, but then, if you don't know me, you probably won't be back anyway. Just for fun - or is it?

You know you're a liberal if...

1. You question the essentiality of a communion presider.

2. You wonder how the Catholics can "be so wrong" yet did a perfect job of picking which books belong in the Bible.

3. Some one yells - in shock - "they're saying Jesus was married" and you answer "So what?"

4. Your heart doesn't condemn you, but the line of those who do is getting longer.

5. You think God's plan is simple but man's is complicated.

6. God talks to you! You believe if Satan can put a thought in your heart, surely God can too.

7. There are times when there are more important things to do than go to church. (NEVER!)

8. You suspect our true beliefs about sin are more influenced by society and tradition than by what the Bible really says about it.

9. You wonder how murder, adultery, homosexuality, etc. can be forgiven, but misunderstanding the doctrine of baptism can't?

10. You believe God rewards those who seek Him even if they haven't found all the parts of the puzzle yet.

Remember, a Liberal is anyone who is less conservative than you are. It's a relative term. All your relatives are liberals!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Ten Percent Solution?

Have I said how much I enjoy being out of the Bible Belt? Sorry family and friends in the Buckle, but it's nice to be in a part of the country where when you say you're the preacher for the Florissant Church of Christ, people say, "Church of Christ? What is that?" Wow - am I glad you asked! And they do, regularly! And not only that (hold on to your hats BB people), but they actually walk into our building to check us out - every Sunday! Real "unchurched" guests, who didn't come from the C of C down the street! Okay, so I have some new Christians who occasionally call me "Pastor Mike" and I hear other you-weren't-raised-in-the-church comments, but I appreciate the respect and the openness I see in so many.

That having been said, I hear folks talk (and I am often asked) about the subject of tithing. Frankly, when I look at our congregational budget and our income - I've wished for tithing, because most Christians have certainly freed themselves from any obligation to it. Which would be wonderful if we were truly "cheerful givers" and truly believed it's "more blessed to give than it is to receive." But make no mistake - to bind tithing is dangerous. How can any of us read Romans and Galatians and continue to live by laws - whether man made or from the abuse of scripture? "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Gal.5:1) Paul was even clearer just three verses later, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace." He summed up our lives, our actions, and our giving patterns in vs.6, "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."

Anything that moves our giving from love to law is ungodly, un-spiritual, and un-Christian. Use tithing as a personal goal, but don't turn your love offering into a law or a burden to place on others. Anything we create for the purpose of feeling good about ourselves or to compare ourselves to others is self-righteousness. It's the pull to self-righteousness that makes us love laws, rules, and regulations. It's why we still define "faithfulness" by attendance, which is why we "freak-out" when someone suggests we change times, styles, or even (forgive me Lord) cancel the assembly! It must all be about our love for God and His family. He adopted us, gave us His Spirit to help us and guide us, and He made us heirs and co-heirs with Jesus! That's some awesome love/grace on His part! Giving must always be about learning to love like He loves. That's why even if I give all I possess to the poor and give my body to burned but don't do it out of love - it's worthless. Becoming a "living sacrifice" took giving right out of the percentage business. Sometimes it's not about tithing but about teething. It's time to move from baby food faith to the real meat of a mature walk with our wonderful-always-giving-Father.

Monday, May 14, 2007

From the Vocally Challenged

I preached my first "full-length" sermon at a little church in Morvan, GA back in the fall of 1968. Wow, that was a few years ago! Of course, I was only two at the time - not! Once I began full time work in '74, I started having all the usual preacher voice problems that come with the job. Sore throats and occasional laryngitis are just part of the job. In the mid '80's I started raising the pitch of my voice and straining the muscles around it as I would preach, and I knew at the time it was un-natural and damaging. But a Dr. at the time said all looked well and it was just a matter of how much pain I could put up with if I decided to continue to talk that way. However, I noticed that talking in crowds, like the foyer or noisy restaurants would just wear out my voice and that meant something wasn't right. Well, for the last year (okay, I won't say it's been coming to a head) it's been rapidly getting worse - to the point I avoid talking any time I can. An ENT Dr. last September suspected it was spasmodic dysphonia, as well as a speech pathologist I went to, but it seemed to improve a little after some practical therapy sessions. Last week, after finding a Dr. who specializes in SD and is one of the top guys in the country on the disorder, it was confirmed. SD "is a voice disorder caused by involuntary movements of one or more muscles of the larynx or voice box." It's believed to be a neurological problem in that signals from the brain cause the vocal folds to shut or open involuntarily and disrupt the speech pattern. The only treatment that seems to be having any success at the time is botox injections directly into the laryngeal muscles. I'm scheduled to have my first one on the 25th. I'm not excited about having a needle stuck into my throat, but I am very excited about getting my voice back. I don't know which is worse, having people flinch when they hear me talk because it sounds like I'm in pain, or people telling me I sound like Bill Clinton. The nice part is that with lots of air and volume, I can preacher relatively okay, but it still sounds to the listeners like it hurts. It doesn't and the Dr. says I'm not causing any permanent damage. It does take a lot more effort and it does really tire my voice a lot more than normal. Right now I'm thankful that God helped me find this specialist, and what's even more amazing, got me in to see him in two days. God gave me the voice, called me to preach, and has guided me every step of the way. If He wants me to keep on keeping on - either the botox will work or He'll do something else. In the mean time, I'm remembering all those times as a kid and early teen when we used to call each other "spastics" all the time. Now I really IS one! Of course, "spasmodic" sounds almost scientific - or like something Bill & Ted might say - "Man, like I'm really feeling kinda spasmodic today dude." And dysphonia sounds like "talking trash" on the telephone.

Friday, May 11, 2007

My brother sent me this picture of the real cause of Global Warming.

Last Sunday I introduced my lesson by asking everyone to write down the five most important words in your life, and I specifically asked them not to focus on religious words just because we were "at church". I mentioned that our five words probably would change with every change of life. When I was a child, my five would have been recess, dessert, passed, Christmas, and P.E. As a teen the five would have been; girls, sports, blonds, basketball, and cheerleaders. (I couldn't multi-task as a teen) My five today are family, friends, love, memories and Jesus (and various forms of each).

So here's my TEN list for this week after that elaborate introduction. What Ten Words will "Make Your Day"? Here are mine - at least for this day and in no particular order.

1. COFFEE - who wants to start a day with anything else?

2. SHOWER - (see above)

3. MORE? - no explanation required

4. FREE!


6. DINNER - still my favorite call of the day - especially with my loved ones at the table.

7. AMEN! - I like the sound of agreement!

8. THANKS - It's nice to be appreciated!

9. HOME - There's still no place like it - Ozly enough!

10. FORGIVEN - Whether received or given it's grace in action and Jesus really living!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

That Peaceful Place

One of the best parts of living in the house we live in is enjoying the peace and serenity of our little pond out back and watching all the critters that reside there. Yesterday, after my morning jog - as I get ready for the Race For the Cure 5K, I sat on our patio swing and absolutely reveled in the beautiful day God had given. The pond was smooth as glass, the sun was bright with that early morning crispness that only happens that time of day, and our circus of critters were in full form. I watched rabbits, robins, and muskrats do their wild-thing, totally unaware that a human was watching them. All I could think of was "Thank you God for letting me live another day and see these wonderful parts of your creation."

And yesterday our sweet sister Patty Mehlberg was taken by angels to be with God for eternity. She was a wonderful, sweet-spirited child of God. She'd been Donna's helper in the Toddlers class for the past year, and even though she was in her late sixties and struggling with poor health, she was diligent about serving others and glorifying God. There was nothing "retired" about Patty. Monday night, in the hospital, we prayed with her and I said, "We'll see you tomorrow," and she shook her head "No". I then told her, "Well, if we don't see you tomorrow, you know where we'll see you next then?" And she nodded her head and whispered "Yes." She was ready. We prayed for God to heal her - and He did. No more pain or struggle to make an ailing body work. We will see you later. That's a promise - from us - but more importantly - from our Father.

And this morning, out back, the sun was shining, the rabbits, robins, and muskrats were doing their wild-thing, because that's the way God's creation works. All the billions of people who've lived throughout time, whether Bible characters or heroes of history, all enjoyed crisp beautiful mornings and they came to an end for them. The beautiful mornings continued. "It's appointed unto man to die once and after that the judgment." No one is exempt. One day you'll hear that Mike Root's morning watching has ending, but the rabbits, the robins, and the muskrats will still be doing their wild-thing. And me, I'll be more alive than ever before, like Patty, finally in that perfect piece of real estate. I wonder if there will be a pond with rabbits, robins...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Is it church growth or faith growth?

I would have to say that "Church Growth" has been the most read about and studied topic in my ministry career, second only to the Word of God. It's still seems to be the number one topic in the religious world - certainly the Protestant/Christian world anyway. The volume of books, magazines, seminars, workshops, degrees, and experts is an industry unto itself. For those of us seeking to "be successful" in what we do, we can't help but feel that Church Growth, as a field of study, holds the secret to leading THE "Great church," a "Mega-church" that God wants us to build. But is that really the goal? Is that really what God wants? Is that what makes a ministry successful? I think not.
What would Paul think about "church growth" - the modern movement to build bigger churches? First, we'd have to explain to him how "church" has gone from being "the called out followers of Jesus" to an address, a building, and an institution. If we didn't, he'd probably just say that church growth was a child of God maturing in Christ. We all say that we aren't interested in numbers, just souls, but when was the last time the leader of a small group of Christians was called a church growth expert? The first century? I think Paul would define growth as every member of our church family becoming "mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of longer infants...builds itself up in love, as each part does it's work." (Eph.4:11-16)
So, why do we seek to be or build large church families? There are advantages and disadvantages to being large, just as there are for being small and intimate. But, the ONLY criterion that should be considered, the only driving force that guides our planning, preparing, and purposing should be "what helps us draw closer to Jesus." The tool, (church/assembly/christian togetherness) needs to be wisely and effectively used, structured, and organized to bring one another into a deeper relationship with Jesus. If "mega" makes it happen, then we better do what works best, but if spiritual relationships happen in smaller settings, who are we kidding (or impressing) by pushing bigger is better? Large and intimate do not have to be mutually exclusive, but the focus has to stay on drawing closer to Jesus and not buying into the world's definition of church growth.

Friday, May 04, 2007

It's Coming Together!

We started our third month of rehearsals this week and in many ways it's the toughest. We started putting together the songs and the script and it makes the cast fell like we are starting all over again. I'm am very proud of the dedication and hard work of all those who are pulling all the elements of this play together. I began seeing it in my head back in October, when I started writing it and it's thrilling to see it start coming together. Of course, as we get into the realities of staging, cast movement, and timing, well - one has to be flexible. So, we change things every day and will right up to the week of the play. It's just a month from this week - June 7, 8, 9, & 10. We've got the T-shirts - so now it's GOT to happen! I really appreciate all my cast and crew members. Super folks who all have a passion for telling God's story. I'm excited about how He is going to use our efforts. To Him be all the glory.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Another Top Ten Stange Things List

Since I pulled no punches in talking about some of my strange experiences as a preacher (see previous article), I thought it only fair to put together a new Top Ten list about elders. So, here is my Top Ten Strange Things I've Heard From Elders.

10. "We are the fathers and the members are the children, and they do what we tell them."

9. "Someone said to me that it looked like Mike was running things around here." To which I did respond, "Well, you straightened them out didn't you?"

8. "Don't dance with the elephants!" Wisdom (?) from a retired Air Force officer about knowing my place in an elders meeting. I missed the dance and still got trampled - ouch.

7. "Members say they can't concentrate on the Lord's Supper without a set of communion trays up front, so let's leave them one set up front on the table." This was after they received flak for serving communion from the back. One tray was placed on the front table. Idolatry?

6. "You shouldn't go jogging (with the Youth Minister) at 3:30 in the afternoon because people think you're not working." And the reason why that was the only available time to run was....?

5. "Nothing personal, it's just business." Odd, coming from a friend and brother.

4. "Pews are more comfortable than chairs." The rationale for not turning our auditorium into a multi-purpose room by using stacking chairs. If the theater people only knew...

3. "I think we need to be seen up front more often." Still a wrong image of shepherding.

2. "We're the shepherd's, trust us." If you have to ask...

1. "What were we supposed to think?" Like Jesus? As I always say, "If you don't communicate you speculate." I must not have said it enough...

Sorry they're not all funny, but some of them weren't funny at the time and they still aren't, but they still make my top ten list of strange things I've heard from elders. And in their defense, I wish I had a nickel for every statement I've made through the years to an elder or elders that I wish I could take back or restate. Mere men - awesome grace! Thank God!