Friday, May 30, 2008

One Week To Go!

One week away from our first official performance of Jonah and the Pirates of the Mediterranean! It's really looking great. We have less a sense of panic this year than ever before and I think it's because of the experience we have now and because it's a little easier play than last years. The songs are some of the best and most fun songs we've ever had too. The above picture is the pirates singing their opening song A Pirates Life from Peter Pan. We were missing a few folks who had to be at a Christian Academy dinner and some to a Harding Night at the Cards game. Still, it was an excellent rehearsal and I'm excited about seeing it presented next week. We even did a full run of the whale last night so it's ready to go.
We've started a partial dress rehearsal because of the need to get use to the short change time between scenes. Thus the above picture shows some of the costumes with a mixture of street clothes and shoes. This doesn't do justice to how neat the court of the King and Queen of Nineveh really looks. The next pictures I show should be of the real performance. Hope you can come and see it!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Almost Finished!

Since I have been sharing the ongoing condition of our basement project, I thought it was a good time to share another picture of where we are in the process. This is actually a nearly finished basement refinishing job. We have ordered carpet and it should be put in this week or early next. I painted the new stairs Monday and the only things left to be done are putting one inch corner molding under the stairs (See the white line of the dry wall? It's to cover that.), put the hand rail on, and we still have a small area in the back part that has to have a drop ceiling put in. Of course, I have to clean up some more before the carpet is put in and we won't put the floor molding in until the carpet is down too. So, we should still be on target to have it all finished within a week or so. Of course, both of the storerooms in the basement have everything in them covered in a white dry wall dust. Who knows how long it will be before we get that all cleaned up. But at least the rec-area will be usable when everyone is here for the play next week, and that's the reason we wanted to have it in the first place. More room for family and friends!

The next pictures should be of the totally finished basement. The carpet is a lighter brown than the stairs. Darker than tan but not like too dark. I think it's call toffee.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Peace, OCD, and Monday

It's Monday morning and I'm still thinking about peace. Yesterday's lesson on The Peace of Jesus seemed to touch a chord in a lot of folks - at least their comments afterwards would indicate that. And I still find myself thinking about how hard it is to truly have peace, primarily because we are so controlled by our fears. Did you realize that nearly all fears are learned? Parents pass on their fears to their children, friends pass on their fears to friends, and the TV News give us several new fears to have every day. I watched part of a recorded Oprah show last week that was about some folks with OCD being forced to confront their fears at an OCD camp. Most of them had a severe and debilitating fear of germs. Germs? Dr. Oz pointed out that we have zillions of bacteria in our stomach all the time. The body needs it, and we ALL are terribly inconsistent in our fight to avoid, kill, and remove any germs in our life. Everything we touch has germs on it! And what about the fact that we've only known about germs for a tiny part of history. It wasn't many decades ago that no one knew what a germ was. I wonder what OCD people did before they were told about germs? The thing that was so obvious - and painful to see - was how their happiness, their chance at peace, was completely robbed by fear.
Here's what I think. Our fears are only the obvious sign of our lack of thankfulness. When we focus on what we have to be thankful about, we haven't got time to be obsessed with what might go wrong. When we are thankful for what we have, we won't be so fearful of what we might lose. Every fear we have deflates the quality of our life. Trust God - He tells us to be thankful in all things. Discover the peace that comes from seeing everything as a gift to enjoy - a gift that can't last forever, and a gift that must be given away.
Donna and I watched Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium Saturday evening. Cute, fun, and a different kind of movie, but worth seeing because of its message about life. I totally loved the comment made by Mr. Magorium, played by Dustin Hoffman, when he said, "Life is an occasion, rise to it." Peace elevates life, while fear lowers it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I've Got Peace Like a River

This Sunday I will be presenting my twentieth lesson on Being Real About Being Like Jesus. They have all been wonderful parts of my own spiritual journey to draw closer to Him and I dearly hope they have helped many others the same way. As challenging as each one has been, some clearly hit the heart with a greater force than others. Humility and compassion are always things that we/I struggle with because it's so hard to step out of yourself and think of others and to remember how powerful and wonderful grace truly is. A lot of things can be said about the strength of Jesus, but one of the most convicting things - especially for those of us who are honest about wanting to really be like Him - is that he seems to be free from ego, that part of self that seeks to be approved, applauded, appreciated, and appealing. What power that would give to a person to be truly free from pleasing anyone except God! To love without payback! To serve because it's natural! To sacrifice because there is no alternative! To be free from all fears!
Ouch! You see I just prepared a lesson for Sunday that asks "Do I Have the Peace of Jesus?" Maybe the tougher way to ask it is "Why don't I have the peace of Jesus?"
There is no peace when there are fears! If love casts out fear, what does that say about our understanding of love? Did you ever stop to consider how much or many of our fears come from our ego? The need to be accepted drives the fear of rejection. The need to succeed drives the fear of failure. The fear of living drives our fear of dying. The need to please others drives our fear of disappointing them. The need to feel superior drives our fear of finding out we're not.
When I can get to the point that my love for God and my desire to please only Him so permeates my heart that nothing else matters - what's left to fear? Others who may not like me or look up to me? Sad, but nothing to worry about. Cancer, heart failure, or bodily harm inflicted on me by others, or some freak accident? I was never meant to live forever. Or what if someone I dearly love is taken away from me? It's not whether, but when and I'll just be that much more anxious to see them in heaven.
I don't want to fear any of those things! I'm almost there - not totally, but almost. They don't keep me up at night, and I don't waste time thinking about them. Maybe that's how we were meant to grow in the peace of Jesus. I think that'll preach.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Good Friends

Anyone who has been around me very much has heard me say on multiply occasions, "Life is all about who you love and who loves you back." When you understand that this must include God, you soon realize that all the rest is "filler" - stuff you do to support, built, and cherish those relationships. We where blessed this past weekend to have some good friends visit with us. Johnnie and Jan Vaught go back to our early days in Fairfax, VA when our kids where little and their kids were some of our baby sitters. We have some wonderful memories of church work, family fellowships, Neil Diamond concerts, political discussions, and some great Thanksgiving holidays spent together. We even chased after them and spent a couple Thanksgivings with them when Johnnie got transferred by the Air Force to Providence, Rhode Island, and then to Loring Air Force Base in Northern Maine. Great family memories. It was great to spent several hours just visiting, getting up dates on family members, and taking that trip down Memory Lane (not to mention enjoying an incredible Chocolate Candy Cake Donna made). We are thankful for their friendship through the years and very thankful to see them enjoying a health and active retirement. We were one of many stops they were making on their way to see family in Texas and I think we got them to add St. Louis attractions to their "Bucket List". Good friends are just another blessing from a good God.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Stream of Thought

I was deep in thought yesterday while mowing the yard. There's something about mowing or taking a shower that causes my creative juices to start flowing like no other place. I wish I had all the great thoughts that have come to me while washing and mowing. I have been known to stop either one and write down an insight that I just couldn't take a chance on forgetting, but the true is, volumes could be written from the ideas that I forgot. But I digress. I was thinking about grace yesterday. I started out thinking about how incredible it is and then I started reflecting on why it took so many years before I "got it"? How could I attend Christian schools for ten years and hardly ever hear it taught? (7th grade - college; '64 - '74) Why did it take so long for me to understand that grace wasn't some grading curve that God uses, but the 4.0 He gives me because He loves me and in spite of the fact that I'm the class clown, class trouble-maker, smart-alack, etc, etc?

I put my anthropology/sociology hat on, and some of it starts to make sense. The '50's and '60's are thought of by many as the "hay day of the church" nearing Pentecost proportions, but mostly revealing delusions of grandeur. It was the period right after WW2 when everyone desired and thought of things as completely right or wrong, black or white, and evil vs. good. A belief system that viewed the Word of God in those terms, driven by looking for God-given patterns in Scripture, and needing to feel "right" and maybe even superior - had great appeal during those decades. When you're right - that is, you've discovered all the patterns/truth, there is no need for grace. Grace is license! Grace is liberty! Grace is scary, because the goal is no longer perfection but staying in the right direction (i.e. light). That was certainly not a new fear. In Romans, some Christians thought that grace meant they could sin even more. It would mean, they thought, the opportunity to get more grace. How could that be bad? Of course Paul pointed out that it's because of grace - it's power, love, and it's cost - that we don't want to sin. Yes it's a gift, but it's also the motivation!

It only took several decades of study, preaching, and asking tough questions of God and His Word before I saw that. I'm sad that it took so long, but I'm so glad that I didn't miss it completely. It's also sad that we (yes me too) so often forget it today. Even many of us "liberated" souls, who think we've finally "got it," forget how amazing grace really is. Did you know it's for ultra-conservatives too - even if they don't "get it"? Did you realize that it covers "BIG SINS" as well as the socially acceptable sins? Did you realize that it's most powerful elements are only truly released in our life when we give it away? Could it be that grace is greater that well meaning "creed books"? Could it be that grace is greater than baptism? Could it be that anything and everything that God commands is "essential" at the same level and all applicable to grace? Do we really know what God did? What He does? We all laugh and wink when we say we'll be surprised about who we will see in heaven. My only question is, what have we missed that will make us be surprised?

I guess I still don't have all the answers, but one thing has become very clear to me over that last six months. The only way anyone can truly begin to understand grace is to seek to know the giver of grace as much as you possibly can. If your theology of grace doesn't match the life and spirit of Jesus then you really don't know grace.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Movie and A Play

This has been a week for entertainment. On Monday, due to my son's high recommendation on his blog, we went to see Iron Man. It's the first time we've been to a movie in a long time and, it was worth seeing. It's a real visual treat with lots of action and lots of explanation as to how he became Iron Man. It definitely keeps your attention. It's not for young ones, of course, too much violence and action, but one that I will be adding to my DVD collection to watch on a slow Friday night when I'm home alone - and wishing I had one of those suits.
Then Tuesday night we went to see Jersey Boys. Wow - what awesome music. It was like going to Mama Mia and hearing the music and saying, "I didn't know they did that song!" Great trip down memory lane and the much older audience reinforced that idea. The language is truly crude - Jersey, I guess, but personally it would have been more enjoyable for me if they had left it out. Still, it's a very entertaining look at the life of the group leader, Frankie Valli (I think that's how it's spelled - there's a line in the play about not having a "Y" at the end of a name if you're Italian). All I could think of all through the show about his life was how sad it is that so many successful celebrities know so little about how to build successful relationships - especially with their own families. I suspect there's an ego problem behind most of the failures. Anyway, it's worth seeing if you can put up with the language that everyone else seems to laugh at. You don't have to be a prude to not enjoy crude. I do love a good musical and this is one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What's On Your Platter?

When the daughter of Herodias danced for the drunken Herod and he was so taken with her performance that he promised "to give her whatever she asked," with one writer adding up to half his kingdom, she ran to her mother for advice. Talk about the potential for a beautiful story? Wow! Just think of what she could have asked for and received! Just think of the riches, the land, the power, the notoriety, or even all the good she could have done. But because of Herodias's hatred for John the Baptist and the bitterness her guilt generated in her heart, she "prompted" her daughter to ask for the head of John on a platter. Because of a serious lack of backbone and an inability to withstand peer pressure, Herod gave her what she asked for.
Yes, this is a terrible story about how ungodly Herod's family was, but it's also a very convicting story about poor choices, misplaced priorities, wasted opportunities, and how Satan gains control of our hearts. I can't help but wonder how many wrong choices I've made through the years and how many opportunities I've blown? I don't think I've cause anyone to lose their head, or even worse, their faith, but I have caused a few to lose their tempers or their high opinion of me - just to name a few. We all make bad choices at times, but hopefully we learn and grow and praise God for His forgiving grace.
I guess I just can't help but think about how often "half a kingdom" has been lost or traded for cheap revenge or immediate satisfaction or instant greed or elevated ego. Some times the dance of anger and bitterness causes people to lose their own head and makes them trade the riches of a loving Father for the one evening of silver platter satisfaction.
Father, give us the strength we need to trust in you and follow your guidance. Thank you for forgiving our sins and giving us a whole kingdom.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's Almost a Show!

We are getting down to the last three weeks of rehearsals for our play. As you can see, the set is under construction - actually it just needs painting and curtains. This is the court of the King and Queen of Nineveh when Jonah returns from being in the belly of the big fish. They are singing "Hello Jonah", which is my version of "Hello Dolly" and is really going to be cute. All the songs are really sounding great. I believe this is the best collection of songs I've ever put together in a musical.
This is a rehearsal after the rehearsal with the ladies who are doing most of the choreography for "Hello Jonah". Donna is the Queen and the others are attendants. The guys can't handle the movements, so I've called on our "real" dancers - I mean choreographers - oops.

This is grandpa and his granddaughter, Mary, fishing on our dock. They are the narrators of the story and allow us to skip things, as they fill in the blanks for the story. Our master builders, Ken Fester and Ron Ebker built the dock and it's really awesome. I'm not sure if the string lights will stay or not. I like the rustic look of the dock w/o it looking like a Vegas show. So, anyway, it's coming along wonderfully. I can't wait to see our audiences enjoy it - and they will. Everyone is doing a beautiful job. The best part is that we are staying true to our purpose: have fun, do our best, and glorify God. That'll preach!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Inclusion Rule

I had occasion to be reminded of one of my favorite Rootisms this week. It involves what I believe to be the most violated principle in church work and group dynamic there is. It has been one of the most frustrating elements of poor leadership that I have seen in my whole career as a preacher. I call it "The Inclusion Rule" and I quote it often in meetings with leaders and workers. It states "Before you do anything, ask yourself who does this involve and how will they feel about it." Seems simple enough, but because it's ignored, it's a source of much hurt and discouragement amount good workers in the church. Unfortunately, I have been guilty of violating it myself. You see, in servant oriented, go-getter, self-starter, "If you want the job done right, do it yourself" dedicated church worker organizations - many of us just want to press on and "git'er done"! And while we have no business being territorial or egotistical about our work of service, we don't like it when someone oversteps their responsibilities and steps into ours. Not long ago I was directing and scheduling a major church function. I purposely planned things for specific reasons and intentionally left something out to make it easier on certain folks. (Is that diplomatic enough?) Anyway, some wonderful folks - hard conscientious workers - decided something needed to be added to the plan so they just did it - without asking me or even sharing their plans with me. I wish I could say it didn't bother me, but it did - for just a short while - until I realized that my ego wasn't as important as God being glorified by their good work. So, while it took a little bit of time for me to come around (hours only), I was able to choose to praise God for good workers doing good work.
Some times it's just poor communication and misunderstandings, but in a few occasions it may truly be thoughtlessness and ego. I've been on both sides and it's something Satan can really use to drive wedges between folks simply trying to do the Lord's work. I like to think of Jesus being asked by His apostles to straighten out some folks who where doing great works, but they were not part of their group. They thought someone was clearly overstepping. Jesus told them to rejoice in something good being done and stop being so self-centered about doing good works.
As long as church folks are actively serving others and glorifying God they will occasionally infringe on one anothers "areas" and give Satan an opportunity to create a conflict. That won't happen if we decide to simply be happy that good things are getting done and be thankful that God is glorified.
That having been said, The Inclusion Rule is still appropriate, reasonable, and thoughtful for all of us. Now - if I could just remember my own Rootisms when I need them.....

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Movie Magic

In the midst of all our usual church family activities, and with only four weeks of play rehearsals, set construction, costume making, play advertising, etc, etc, left - and with me frantically trying to get our basement construction all finished - somehow (over that last couple of weeks) we managed to watch all five past Harry Potter movies. Getting to see them all so close together really helped me understand things much better and really helped me remember names - which is a constant problem for me when watching long movies (with a short memory). I really enjoyed each of them and I'm glad we own them. I was reminded how important and central the whole "right vs. wrong" thing or "good vs. evil" thing is in every huge movie. Isn't it interesting that in everything from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars, just to name a few obvious ones, the them is "good will triumph over evil" every time. We cheer for the "good guys" and we "boo" the "evil guys" or the "force of darkness".
Everyone wants to believe in values, but for some reason, they don't want to believe they come from God. It's easier and maybe more entertaining (and unbelievable) to have "the Force" or the "good wizards" or the "Brotherhood of the Ring". It seems to me that these movies are all showing us how the seed of goodness, service, sacrifice, and - dare I say it - God, are innately part of our DNA. That may help us understand why Paul said that those without the Law, the Gentiles, in Romans 1, had no excuse for not seeing Him.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Petal Power

Within days of taking this picture of our only azalea bush, they were gone. Their beauty blessed us, and anyone who walked by, for just a few days. I actually found it sad when I first saw all the petals on the ground, but then I decided to give thanks for how much I enjoyed them regardless of the short period of blooming. Boy, talk about a load of life lessons? Everything in God's creation is temporary, but just think about how hard it is to focus on the now? Enjoy the now - the blooming time - and not lessen it or cheapen it by thinking about dead petals on the ground! The value of our life is not found in the number of days we get but in the number of days we truly live. The only way we can enjoy the moment we have is to be thankful for the moment we have. Feel blessed! Feel fortunate! Feel loved - by people God put in our life and by Him - even if those people have to leave us - or disappoint us - or forget us. He doesn't. He made that azalea bush and He made you. Bloom - give - dazzle - enjoy! Yes - you could always have had more time, but then - you could have had less. Thank God for every moment you get to bloom for Him. You can't possibly feel cheated if you believe you'll get to bloom for Him for eternity. Wow! What a garden that will be!