Running Late

Sunday Morning LatenessOur family isn’t always late to church…just MOSTLY late to church.

But we aren’t the only ones.  This past week, I found my parking spot at 11:02 and started walking toward the massive building.  There were still cars pulling into the parking lot and I was surrounded by nearly 100 other people who were also in the process of locking their cars, gathering their coffee mugs and making the trek to the sanctuary.

Once inside and seated by my family, we sang some songs and said a prayer or two and watched a video.  I looked over to the main door and another two-dozen people were waiting to enter the auditorium.  I looked at my watch at it was twenty minutes after the hour.

The casual “strolling in” just shocks me.  There are very few events where this is the norm.

People don’t come late to the movies.  They are there early, get their popcorn and soda and enjoy the previews.

People rarely come late to weddings or funerals.

They don’t stroll in for job interviews or court dates.

They show up for dinner dates, concerts, football games and TV shows.  These things matter and they are there on time.  But amazingly, for a few folks, missing a third of the service doesn’t seem to bother them.

The thing that stood out more than the tardiness is the sheer number of people who are late each week.  Some churches would be thrilled to have as many people in there pews as are late each week to my church.

In my early life, I served a little country church that had 16 people show up on a good Sunday.  We wouldn’t have known what to do with 100 people if they’d walked in the door, early or late!

The church we attend today is a monster.  Multiple-thousands of people fill the seats each week.  Multiple services, in multiple locations provide a variety of attendance options over the weekend.  Thousands of kids attend the children’s programs.  Up to 100 people might be involved planning and performing a single weekend service.  So a few stragglers may not seem to be too out of range when you consider the percent of total attenders who are in place ready to participate from week to week.

And some day, if all things go well, we’ll be on time, too.

 

 

For Old Lang Syne

Our good friends, Dave and Lora at our home in Muncie, circa 1992
Our good friends, Dave and Delora at our home in Muncie, circa 1992. Unfortunately, this picture was ruined by light and time.

Dave and I attended seminary together and became good friends during our studies (actually, Dave studied and I didn’t-so-much).  We were ordained Deacon together, ordained Elder together. Our families celebrated the birth of nearly all our children, the graduation of a few and we will no doubt attend a wedding or two in days to come.  We’ve mourned with one another during family illness and deaths and we’ve shared the joys that come from great accomplishments in our own lives and the lives of our children.

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A picture taken September 2009.

Over the years we made it a tradition, despite distance and busy schedules, to gather our families during the summer months (if possible) and always during the New Year  Holiday.

This year was no exception.  While we were not able to spend the last night of the year with one another, as is our tradition, we were able to enjoy their company this past weekend.  While Dave and I watched football, the kids watched movies and played video games, and the women did what women do (whatever that is). We did our obligatory puzzle and at one point, we all gathered together to play a great game called “Fishbowl”.  And we all laughed until we were in tears.

Dave and Delora, Anita and Curt pose for another fun picture.
Dave and Delora, Anita and Curt pose for a last fun picture for 2012.

As they packed their luggage and pillows for their drive home, we stopped to take pictures and give hugs.  All too soon they were back on the road and our home was quiet again.

For some reason the song, Old Lang Syne kept ringing in my ears the entire weekend.  Every time I thought about our friendship, I thought of that song.  And so I did some in-depth research (which means I went to Wikipedia).  I’m glad I did.  I now like the song more than I did before and truly appreciate its meaning as it relates to our friends and our New Years’ tradition of gathering together.

The words of the song ring true:  Despite years of friendship, miles of separation, joy and hardship, we should never forget our friends of old.  These who have walked with us along the journey, shaped our spirits, molded our souls with their love and care will never be forgotten.  And I lift a cup to them, their love, and our future together.

Thank God for these wonderful friends of old lang syne.

OLD LANG SYNE

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

Christmas Time Is Here, Happiness and Cheer

IMG_3192“And this will be a sign unto you…”

One of my favorite shows each season is “A Charlie Brown Christmas“.  Despite being nearly 50 years old, it still captures our nation’s fixation on stuff.  Though repeated every year, the clear message is seldom heard.  Linus and the gang invite us to recall the true purpose of Christmas and forsake Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Spending Saturday, etc.  The true meaning of Christmas isn’t the aluminum tree, or the show, or the money, or the gifts.  The true meaning is found in the simple story of love and life, given to us in a form of a baby.

But we do it over and over again.  I did it this weekend.  I became angry with the manager during a call to customer service.  He informed me that, despite my opinion and the fact that they could not service the customer, they provide excellent customer service.  He said it was in the definition.  I lost it.

I did it when I called around to find that one special gift and then jumped in my car to race to the store and snatch my prize, the last one in the store.

I did it when I ordered frantically on-line to ensure that my items would be here in time for Christmas day.

Linus told me.  Charlie begged me.  Lucy scolded me.  But I never listen.

Prayers for Matt

Yellow ribbons for those who are away.

We often go for walks on beautiful evenings like tonight.  We tie our shoes, grab some plastic bags and the dogs and hit the sidewalks of our neighborhood, talking about our days and enjoying the quiet sunset.

And so, after dinner was done and the dishes washed, we readied ourselves for our customary stroll.  As we reached the half-way point of our journey, we passed a couple who were working hard to tie a yellow ribbon around the large oak in the center of their front yard.

I asked Anita if I could take a little detour from our walk.  As I crossed the street and came closer, I could tell that the couple was struggling to make the large yellow ribbon look just right.  I called out to them, “Who’s coming home?”

“Our son.” said the man over his shoulder.  His wife continued her work without looking back.

“What branch of the service is he in?”

“Army.  He’s in Afghanistan and he’s planning on coming home to visit in July.”  At this, the woman turned and looked at me.  The concern of many worried nights was written all over her face.

“What is his name?  I’d like to pray for him, if that’s all right.”

“His name is Matt.”  the father replied with humility.

“Great,” I said.  “I’ll remember to pray for him every time I see this ribbon when I drive through the neighborhood.  Have a great day.”

“Thank you.”  his mother replied.

What they don’t know is that I rarely pass their house.  It’s a little out of my way.  But as I walked away from their home, their worried faces and that yellow ribbon, I made a vow to drive that direction every day…at least until July when Matt is home safe and the ribbon has served its purpose.

God bless our troops, God bless Matt, and God Bless America.

Unite / Untie

I noticed the other day that if you shift just a couple letters, you can change the entire word.  In this case, you create a pair of words that are diametrically opposed.

With one, you bring things together.  With the other, you take things apart.

In one, you find unity.  In the other, you separate.

The same is true in life:  Just a small shift in our focus, attitude, and purpose can makes all the difference.

Sometimes, in our day-to-day lives, we shift “letters” without understanding the full consequences.  We mean to be nice when we really are just mean.  We hope to focus on others but spend more time focusing on ourselves focusing on others.  We want to unite when we really divide.  We hope for better but just make things worse.

Get the “letters” in the right place and it can make all the difference.

Hiding in The Open

Luke 19:10  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

When I was a boy and it came to playing Hide-And-Seek, I was a legend.  No one could touch me. In fact, there was one night when I hid in the shadow of a great maple tree and no one could find me.  They walked past, they ran around, they nearly stepped over…but no one knew my fantastic hiding spot.

After what seemed like hours of searching, the entire group of kids gave up.  They stopped looking.  They didn’t even offer to play any more.  They just went inside, leaving me in the dark.

From that day on, I played a different game.  I wanted to be seen.  I wanted to be found.  I didn’t want to be left out ever again.

And so it was with Zacchaeus.  He was tired of hiding from the people.  Sure, he collected their taxes and faced ridicule with every Denarii that hit the till.  Of course he skimmed a little off the top and endured the glances and sneers.  It was his job.  This was his life.  And over time, he’d developed the ability to avoid eye contact with others.  He’d gotten use to hiding in plain sight.  He’d grown accustomed to walking the streets in broad daylight and remaining hidden from view.

But one day Jesus showed up and Zacchaeus was no longer isolated and alone.  He was no longer just another person on the street.  What seemed to be the best spot to see and be seen was the location that, in the end, left him out on a limb.  The tree, intended to keep him above the crowd’s attention made him the center of attention.

And soon people weren’t just talking about the taxes and the little tax collector.  They were talking about his sins, his business, his distasteful association with Jesus.  They were looking at him in new way.  He was no longer in the shadows or even hiding in plain view.  Now he was standing in the light for all to see.

In fact, he saw himself in a new light and his life was never the same.

No matter what you’ve done, the life you’ve lived, the choices you’ve made, Jesus seeks you.  He calls you.  He finds you.  He invites you to step out of the shadow and into the light.  To climb down from your tree and join him for a walk through the crowd, head held high, and into a new life.

Life’s a Party

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We all want the party, the cake, the singing, the presents. But no one wants to clean up the mess when it is all said and done.

One of my favorite lines from the movie Apollo 13 occurs after the first man walks on the moon and all the party guests have left the Lovell home.  Marylin Lovell says in an exhausted and tipsy voice, “I can’t deal with cleaning up.  Let’s sell the house.”

Tradition holds that the days leading up to Ash Wednesday are a party of epic proportions.  Designed to allow the sinner to participate in as much fat food, heavy drinking and debauchery as possible in preparation for the lean forty days of the coming Lenten Fast.

But sometimes those who feast forget the fast.  Those who celebrate Fat Tuesday don’t always remember to observe Ash Wednesday.  We all want the party but we don’t want to clean up.

As you celebrate today, remember the purpose.  Be aware of the coming Fast.  Stay cognoscente of the journey that is ahead.  Don’t sell the house for one night of party.  Stick around and  clean it up.  The end result is worth the effort.

Life According to Hoosiers: An Awful Name

"I thought I already had the job."

In Coach Dale’s first encounter with his new co-workers, he gets off on a very wrong foot.  It is probably because his other foot is now in his mouth.  After being grilled by fellow teacher, Myra Fleener (played by Barbara Hershey), he makes a big mistake.  Rather than walking away (as we’ve discussed earlier), he opens his mouth and with his words he sets the stage for a rocky relationship from that point forward.

“If everyone is as nice as you, Country Hospitality is going to get an awful name.”

You’ve done it.  I’ve done it.  We’ve all opened our traps at one time or another and allowed that witty statement to escape our lips only to lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships.

Today’s Hoosier lesson?  Keep your mouth shut whenever possible.

A Sunday Shout-Out

I’d like to give a little “shout-out” to all my pastor friends today. Some serve in little country churches and some serve in mega-churches.  They ALL have the same job.  No matter the size, the job is the same.

These pastors are the people who work hard to prepare a sermon each and every week, find topics of interest and words of challenge that will captivate, stimulate and motivate.

They often are the first in the building on a snowy Sunday morning and still take time to visit the sick and shut-in late on Sunday night.  They are called to the funeral home and the hospital with little or no advanced warning.  They minister to the homeless, the helpless and hapless without any thanks.  They care for the spiritual giants and the social outcasts often within the same hour.  They are gracious to both the lovely and unlovable because they were first loved.

They worry about the sanctuary carpet and this week’s bulletin.  They manage petty squabbles and turf wars.  They select Sunday School curriculum and next week’s hymns. They invest countless hours in administrative meetings and the business details of the church building, all the while trying to keep our hearts and minds focused on the spiritual truth that reaches beyond the church walls.

These men and women have great jobs.  But they also have very difficult jobs.

God Bless them today.   Amen.

A Little Birthday Never Hurt Anyone

This year, as we celebrated my wife’s birthday, it dawned on me that we’ve been together during our lifetime more than we have been apart.

While we went to the same high school, I don’t think that counts.  We were married in our very early 20’s.  (TOO very early in our 20’s according to most who knew us.)  Since that amazing evening in August 1985, we’ve celebrated a fantastic life together.  Over the past 26 years, we’ve made a happy home, given life to three great kids and have made our journey one for the books.

Of course, all those years didn’t pass in perfect bliss.  We have had our hard times.  There were days, weeks, months and years when we struggled.  We wrestled with being nice and civil with one another.  There were many times when we experienced tears and heart-break.  But we pushed through, sought counsel when necessary and have come to a place of peace.  Life isn’t always perfect, it never will be, but we find love and grace even in the midst of struggle.

Anita is my best friend.  And after 26 years together, I can’t imagine my life without her.

The Change Challenge: Live Life Large!

This past week brought some changes to our house.  My daughter moved into her first apartment.

Of course, our emotions and thoughts are quite a jumble:  We are proud of her and nervous for her.  We miss her terribly and don’t want her to ever move back.  We’ve collected some canned goods for her pantry but are very happy she’s off our meal ticket.

It’s a mixed bag, really.

But her move caused me to stop and think about how we lived life when we are young.  Without much concern for the consequences, we played harder, stayed up later, laughed louder, loved quicker, and sometimes we acted dumber.  But in that impetuous state, we experienced so much of life.

As “grown ups” we don’t always take the same chances that we use to.  We’ve become comfortable in your routine.  We no longer live life large!

We don’t go to that show, because we work the next day.

We turn down dinner with friends because  the weekend is already packed.

We pass over thoughts of travel to an exotic location, just picking up and going, throwing a backpack together and hitting the road.

We have any number of excuses:  Well we have work on Monday.  But someone needs to watch the dogs?  Who will bring in our mail?  What if we get that call from your brother?

Well we…But we…Who will…What if…Those are all very good question.  But they are the wrong questions.  Instead, it’s time to start asking again, “Why not?”

Where has the week gone?

Dear Lord,

What did I do with my time this week?  Where did my days go?

I started my Monday with hopes serenity and meditation.

I planned a time of reading and devotion for Tuesday.

I desired a spirit of charity on Wednesday.

I expected to live a life of graciousness and forgiveness on Thursday.

But here it is, Friday and I have yet to live my life in a way that honors your good works, your loving kindness or your compassion for others.  Instead, I filled my week with activities, television, blind ambition and selfish gain.  I’ve put myself above others.  I’ve met my needs without giving one thought to the needs of those around me.

Forgive me for my failure and renew my heart for the challenge of the weekend and the week ahead.

Amen and Amen.

Wisdom from 168 years ago…

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all out kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

THE CHANGE CHALLENGE: Make it Lighter

I heard a phrase last week that has taken up residence in my heart and has caused me to re-think my ability to help others.  I think it might help you, too.

A team from our church was cleaning a basement storage room.  In this storage room there was a piano. The instrument was of no value.  After years of neglect it was unable to create any music. It was a 400 pound obstacle.  The piano had to come out but there was no easy way to remove it. It was too heavy to lift and too big to get out the door.

Eventually, the work team determined the only way to remove the piano was to take it apart, piece by piece.  With the removal of the piano lid, someone exclaimed, “That makes it lighter!”  When they took off the front panel, two of the team members cried in unison, “That made it lighter!”  Take away the strings, break off the keys, pry back the side walls and with each action the entire crew would shout out, “That made it lighter!”  Eventually, the team reduced the bulk of the piano to a point that it was able to be removed from the facility without much effort at all.

Stick with me here:  Do you know people who have “pianos” in their life?  Do you know someone who has a burden in the closets of their heart and mind?  Sure you do.  But you also know that this bulk of pain is beyond their ability to remove.  What if we were able to “make it lighter”?  What if, with a kind word, a short prayer, a cup of coffee, we could help reduce that burden one part at a time?  Is it possible that our actions can ease the weight of the burden in our neighbor’s hidden places?  Is it possible that we can show kindness, be supportive, love and care?

I believe we can.  And in the process, we can make a difference in their life and our own.

Weekend of Service: Making a Difference in Hamilton County

For the past four years we have closed the doors of our church and sent thousands of our regular attenders into the streets of Noblesville, Fishers, Indianapolis, Cicero and so many other towns in the surrounding area.

Participants hammer nails, rake leaves, paint walls, clean gutters, care for children, write letters, collect food and so much more.  Hundreds of thousands of work-hours are invested.  Lives are changed all over the central Indiana and literally around the world.

But even before we left the parking lot we saw the possible impact of our actions.  Eight semi-truck trailers were waiting at the back of the church parking lot.  Their doors were open, the skid loaders waiting, tables for sorting set up and ready.  The expectation is that this weekend we will collect enough food from all the neighborhoods around the county to fill each and every truck.  Imagine that!  Hundreds of thousands of pounds of food gathered together in one place to help feed the needy of Hamilton County.

Last year’s collection was enough to get the pantries in our area through into the middle spring.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we can make it possible to feed hungry people throughout the entire year? I think we can.  I’m going to do my part by filling a bag of my own and helping pick up food tomorrow.

I’ll keep you posted!

Something’s Happening

I told you about it last year and it’s happening again!

My church (and don’t let anyone tell you different…this is MY church) is closing the doors this weekend and refusing to let people come in to worship.  Instead, 3000 people have signed up to stay away from church!

Rather than going into the building, these people will be going into the community and making a difference in the lives of people in central Indiana!

Some people will be painting at IPS schools.  Some will be collecting food for neighborhood pantries.  Others will be planting flowers.  They will build.  They will clean.  They will feed.  They will love.

Over the next 48 hours, thousands of people will sweep across Hamilton and Marion counties and make a difference in the lives of so many.  And in the process, their own lives will be changed.

There is nothing as powerful as a giving heart.

THE CHANGE CHALLENGE: Raking Flash Mob

Autumnal changes bring a brilliant display of reds, greens, and orange into the trees.  The cold night air has forces the trees to drop their leaves by the thousands, covering once-green grass with a fall festival of color.

It also makes for a lot of work for home owners because of the endless raking, bagging and clean up that comes along with the beauty.

Flash mobs are all the rage.  What if you organized a leaf-raking Flash Mob?  There has to be SOMEONE in your neighborhood who has limited mobility, limited resources and a mountain of leaves that need attention.  Don’t stand idly by.  Take action!

Take another step along the Change Challenge and grab your rake and a few of your friends.  Pick a yard, any yard, and go to work.  Within a few short hours, it will spotless.  Bags of leaves will line the curb and you can walk away, head held high.  You made a difference in their life, and yours.