Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brusha Brusha Brusha...

"Brush your teeth and comb your hair!"

I heard it every morning growing up. I was brought up with fairly good oral hygiene habits. But I'm paying the price (quite literally) now for one slight problem. My parents rarely took me to the dentist. My much older brother had terribly crooked teeth and had to have braces, so all of their money and effort was poured into him. So while he had years of appointments with the Orthodonist over the years, I was never taken to the dentist again. Now, I'm not blaming them for the fact that I didn't go as an adult either, but...

But. It was just a few years ago that my aching teeth drove me to the dentist's chair for the first time in... well, let's just say Gerald Ford was probably in the White House the last time a dentist saw me. By that time, despite my best efforts to brush every day, I had to have four wisdom teeth yanked, 16 fillings, and two root canals. Despite their best efforts at salvaging a front tooth that I chipped as a kid, it finally gave up the ghost last December. My tooth was infected, and they yanked it.

So today, I'm off to Gaylord for step two of a year-long process that will eventually replace the big gap in my smile. Today's procedure includes drilling a long screw into my gum that will hold the new tooth in place. Oooh, fun. As I understand it, I'll be waiting three more months while my mouth adjusts to it before they attach the new tooth. *Sigh* $3,600 later, I'll be able to smile again without worrying that the temporary tooth will fall out of my mouth.

I wish I could tie this experience to some deep theological truth, and perhaps someday I will. If I can encourage you at all through this rambling diatribe, please understand this: A little discomfort in the dentist's chair today will save you a world of hurt tomorrow. Take your kids. Set the example by having regular appointments yourself.

Oh, and don't forget to floss.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So I Like Lists, Okay?

Yes, I know. Another Top Ten. Hey, I like filling out surveys in my spare time, too.

My Top Ten Contemporary Christian Songs

Praise and Worship and Hymns are not included. Come on... that would severely limit the number of categories I can blog. I will have to admit right off the bat that this list is subject to frequent change. I'm sure there are dozens of songs I could have included, and several that will come to mind in a mere matter of moments. So a better title for this list might be, "Ten Contemporary Christian Songs that I Think are Really Neato but Might Not Be My All-Time Favorites After All!"

10. Fields of Grace - Big Daddy Weave
"There's a place where religion finally dies!" Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about!

9. Shine - Newsboys
Please. This was just a given. I think it's in the Bible somewhere... Thou Must Include The Newsboys in any Top Ten Christian Music List. I'm sure I remember reading that.

8. Stranger to Holiness - Steve Camp
I know, I know. The guy could be opinionated, but he nailed the raw, gut feeling of anyone who has ever fallen short of the glory of God, and longed to be more for Him.

7. I Wish We'd All Been Ready - DC Talk
Larry Norman did it first and did it well, but DC Talk did it better. Chills every time.

6. Thought You'd Be Here - Wes King
Spoke as loudly in my life as Mark Schultz's "He's My Son." When he sang, "I never knew that I could miss someone I haven't met," it was like he penned every emotion I've ever felt toward my son in one simple phrase. My story is so far removed from his, but that's the thing about music. It's universal. It can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. Thanks, Wes.

5. Selah - One Thing I Know
I've sang this as a solo in church more than any other song. Again, nailing my testimony and I'm sure the story of many born-again believers perfectly.

4. The Great Divide - Point of Grace
Congratulations, girls. You've made two top ten lists in a row. The greatest group in all of Contemporary Christian Music, their lyrics always hit home with someone. And their lives match the music. What a great ministry.

3. Shadows - The Rez Band
A powerful 80's metal ballad; raw and pointed. I never lived the story, but whenever they sang it, I felt like I had.

2. Dust to Dust - Keith Green
What can you say about Keith? Too many songs to choose from, so I chose the first one I remember. I accepted Christ the day after Keith died in a plane crash. I never even heard of him until a couple years after. What a legacy.

1. I Surrender All - Clay Crosse
The man just sings the living daylights out of this song. I've done this one a few times in church too, but never can seem to do it justice. Yet it's just how I want to live my life - surrendered to Christ, no matter what the cost.

Haven't heard of these songs? Well, that's one good thing about YouTube... you can find just about anything. Or, just stop by for a cup of coffee. I'll dust off the CD's for you.

Maybe even a cassette.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Too Much Yellow

Tonight I can't seem to get a message I heard earlier this week out of my mind. The guest speaker at our sectional Minister's gathering on Monday told a story about a time when he had 28 days out of 30 filled with church activities on his calendar. When he boasted about it to a Pastor friend, his friend told him quite frankly, "you're sinning."


On my calendar, I highlight each day where there is something important I need to remember, like a special speaker at church, a doctor's appointment, watching my god-children, etc. Lately though, there's been a little too much highlighting going on. This week, my body finally told me that enough is enough. I've been sick and tired with very little energy. And the problem is, I know better. I wrote the book on it.

No seriously, I did. When I tapped out my first book, Picking up Stones, I wrote a chapter on what I call, "Servanthood Burnout." It happens when you're doing so much for so many that you become no good to anybody. What you're doing may be admirable, but if you don't take care of yourself then you are eventually going to crash and burn. Friends, we weren't made to run 24/7. Any machine, no matter how well it's made will eventually reach it's breaking point. And besides, God commanded us to rest. We need a break. It's not a sin to say "no" once in a while.

Yes, people may be depending on you. Kids and family might need you. I'm stretched in about 30 directions myself right now, and if the candle had a third end to burn I'd be torching it. But I'll be paying the price for it. The problem is, so will the people who depend on me.

So if you need a break, take one. That's all... just take one. Get away. Go somewhere. Lock the door for a while. Grab yourself a Coke, crank up the Bobby Darin and....

...hey, it works for me all right?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"These Go to Eleven"

Yesterday, I presented the ten songs that quite frankly, make me want to hurl. So today, we turn to the positive with the top songs I have to crank as loudly as I can whenever I hear them. From praise and worship to meaningful to just plain fun, these are the songs I would have to take with me if I were stranded on a desert island with a CD player and batteries. Because after all, where do you plug in on a desert island?

By the way, I couldn't narrow this list down to ten.

11. The Great Divide - Point of Grace
It's obvious enough that POG has the most unique and endearing sound in all of Contemporary Christian Music, but the words to this song are amazing. There's a cross to bridge the great divide... a way was made to reach the other side... the mercy of the Father cost his Son His life...
It's a river of tears every time. And speaking of rivers...

10. Moon River - Andy Williams
Andy was, and is a singer's singer. They just don't make 'em like Andy anymore. Bobby Darin does a great cover, but Andy owns this song.

9. Take My Hand - The Kry
The best song you've probably never heard. Look it up on YouTube and you'll understand. It's one of those songs that has brought me through a difficult time more than once.

8. Centerfield - John Fogerty
The best "crank it up and roll down the car windows even if it's 20 degrees" song ever. This song could make an Eskimo think it's summer.

7. Moonlight Serenade - Glen Miller Orchestra
No better song to dance to - or so I've been told.

6. Then Came the Morning - Guy Penrod
I would listen to Guy sing the phone book. Backwards.
In Swahili...

5. Come Sail Away - Styx w/ Dennis DeYoung
If it ain't Dennis, it's just a lousy imitation. This song was also the theme of my High School prom. Also a great song to dance to, or so I've been told.

4. He's My Son - Mark Schultz
Just as we learned my son was diagnosed with autism, Mark hit the airwaves with this song. No other song I've heard has felt like it was written for me as much as this one. I pray for the day when he starts writing songs like this again.

3. Above All - Michael W. Smith
With a nod to authors Paul Baloche & Lenny LeBlanc, thank you for an amazing praise and worship song. Why don't we sing it more in church? Because this Pastor can't get through it without choking up. What a marvelous picture of what Christ did for us on the cross.

2. Do You Hear the People Sing? (Finale) - Colm Wilkinson
From the best musical ever (don't argue me on this point) Les Miserables', comes the song that will be sung at my funeral. If not, I'm a-comin' back to haunt somebody.

1. Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
From the undisputed king of music comes the #1 song of 1959, from the #1 artist of the century, Mr. Bobby Darin. His life was cut short by heart disease, but what a legacy of musical talent he left behind. A nice little family number about a gangster who goes around whacking people, Bobby never sang it the same twice. And he always nailed it perfectly.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Of Manilow and Jesus Statues

My father never could stand my music. Of course, Dad never got out of the 50's and 60's either. That's okay... it was his generation. And each generation is entitled to their music. If my much older brother or I played something he didn't like he would holler, "Turn down that mumbo jumbo!" Difference was, I had much better tastes in music than the aforementioned sibling. Having said that, I thought it would fun to list ten of my favorite "nails on a chalkboard" songs. Keep in mind, opinions are like noses... nearly everybody has one. This is for fun, not to step on anybody's toes. But these are the tunes I have to turn off if they come on the radio. I would rather drop a bowling ball on my toe than be exposed to some of them. So here we go:

10. God You Reign - Lincoln Brewster
A perfectly wonderful praise and worship song, completely annihilated by a cutesy kid at the end reciting, "Gawd... you wain." Talk about breaking the anointing!

9. Waterloo - ABBA
It's ABBA... 'nuff said.

8. Holes in the Floor of Heaven - Steve Wariner
Despite the obvious theological flaws (God is watching out for us, not Grandma) there couldn't possibly be holes in heaven's floor. Jesus was a carpenter.

7. Daybreak - Barry Manilow
Perhaps the only 70's pop hit that made "Splish Splash" seem as if it were written by a Rhodes Scholar. It can be daybreak, if you wanna believe - it can be daybreak, ain't no time to grieve...
Catchy, but pointless.

6. This is the Stuff - Francesca Battistelli
I know I'm going to take extra grief for this one, and believe me - I think she's a fine young lady. But this song gives me the willies.

5. Angry American - Toby Keith
Watch your language, Toby. We're not impressed by a small mind trying to express itself forcibly through profanity and hatred.

4. 800 Pound Jesus - Sawyer Brown
We would be much better off worshiping the Creator, rather than a chunk of concrete supposedly made in His son's image. Besides, the lyrics sound like they were written by a 5th grader.

3. Light My Fire - The Doors

2. Crimson and Clover - Tommy James
It's bad enough that the song doesn't make sense, but when they do that thing with the effects where it sounds like they're gargling with small pebbles, eeew!

And finally....

1. Achy Breaky Heart - Billy Ray Cyrus
If only for the fact that if Billy Ray hadn't scored a big hit, we may never have had Hannah Montana.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just Like Riding a Bike

Back in the year of our Lord, 19____, I vowed to my college journalism instructor that I would never EVER be a reporter. Journalism was just one of the required courses for my degree in broadcasting. After that course, I was convinced I would never make a good reporter.

Uh huh.

Of my 25 years in broadcasting, I spent 15 of them as a reporter. Note to self: Never prove to the boss that you can do a job you don't want to do. I guess I didn't mind. I enjoyed the competition with the other news stations, if not the long drawn out County Commission, School Board and City Council meetings that ran into the wee hours. But it wasn't hard to give up when management ran three radio stations in our company into the ground and closed the doors. And certainly, when I answered God's call on my life and became a Pastor, I didn't expect to pick up my reporter's pen again.

Uh huh.

So now I'm freelancing for the Roscommon Voice and the new Ogemaw Voice newspapers. And I have to admit, it's kind of cool seeing my work in print. Even though I've published four books, there's something nice about knowing that someone somewhere is reading your words while enjoying their morning coffee, or sitting at a local restaurant somewhere. It's also humbling knowing that my work may be lining a bird cage or two.

So last night, I covered my first City Council meeting in over ten years. It felt very natural, even though I didn't realize that somewhere during the past decade they moved the meeting time back by an hour. Old habits die hard... I was up at 4 a.m. writing the story, just as I used to do in radio. Hmmm... I wonder if K-LOVE is looking for freelance reporters.

Uh Oh.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Minding My Mind

It's not easy being me. When God created man and woman, he made us very complex and sometimes downright confusing. Obviously, He knew what He was doing, but there are times I wonder why. Why did He create me to see object lessons in every little thing? Why do I still question His divine will, when He has proven Himself faithful time and time again? Why do I still hurt when He has blessed me in a thousand ways that most people will never experience?

I think I'll save the details for my private journal this time around... but suffice it to say that spending a weekend with hundreds of Christian teens performing at Fine Arts Festival had a profound impact on me in ways that are impossible to put into words. Until you've traveled the road that I've traveled, and lived out the experiences I've had over the past 14-plus years, you just... don't... get it. That's not a criticism, it's a fact. Just as we may sympathize with the hurting, starving and homeless around the world, you just can't get it unless you've been there.

I watched the sons and daughters of some of my amazing Pastor friends excel in the arts and pick up awards for their hard work and dedication to God. I was truly thrilled for them and their parents. But it tore my heart to shreds at the same time. It's a dichotomy I can't fully explain to most. One or two of you who know me best may understand... my friends who are part of the club we never asked to join.

You know, sometimes facts are just facts. Things are the way they are for no other reason that this... God is on the throne, and He knows what He's doing. I only wish that sometimes I could not only wrap my head around that truth, but my heart as well.

If there's an object lesson out there that shows the way, let me know.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Please Litter Here!

I once read a statistic which claimed it takes just $1 for a missionary to reach a person with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, for every dollar spent on missions, one person is won for the Kingdom of God. If that's true, I'm just five returnables away from winning another soul.

Since I tend to teach with simple pictures and stories rather than long drawn out exegesis, I thought it would be fun to prove a point to my congregation. I set out to show them how easy it is to give to missionaries. For two or three months, I collected every returnable pop or beer can I found on the side of the road. I didn't turn in any of my own pop cans... just those that I found somewhere else. By the time our missions convention came, I dragged a large garbage bag of cans out onto the stage, representing about $10, or ten real people who would hear about Jesus. What did it cost me? Nothing but my time and the chance to burn a calorie or two by simply bending over and picking up a can.

Trouble is, it was so much fun that I haven't stopped. Wintertime isn't really the best time to find cans and bottles, so I've only turned in $4.50 this year. But now that the snow is melting, it's a virtual gold mine out there! On my evening walk tonight, I picked up 5 cans. I feel like a kid in a candy shop every time I run across a can that someone has carelessly left behind.

You have to understand... missionaries are my heroes. Not some Hollywood star, singer or overpaid sports figure. Missionaries. I look up to them. I respect them for what they do, and I'll do whatever it takes to partner with them. But honestly, after we support our church missions program, our sponsored child through World Vision, a missionary couple dear to our hearts that we support on our own, and our friends at Mission of Hope in Haiti, we're tapped out. There's nothing left for my favorite pet project, Speed the Light - which provides vehicles for missionaries to get around. So... STL gets the cans. And let me tell you, it's SO much fun.

So to all the litterbugs out there, I don't much like the fact that you show disrespect for God's creation by throwing your trash around. But I do feel like I owe you some sort of thanks for all the returnables. Just do me this one little favor... when you see a balding middle aged guy parked along the side of the off-ramp, excitedly picking up a discarded can of Squirt from a muddy ditch, just slow down a bit and give him a break.

And if you have an extra can or two... toss them to him gently, okay?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The View From the Stands

And now, Music and Pancakes is proud to take you to the First United Evangelical Church of the Holy Ghost Brotherhood in Anytown USA, for this morning's message:

"Good morning, brothers and sisters. This is the day the LORD has made!"


"It is good to be in the house of the Lord."


"I said it is good to be in the house of the Lord this morning!" (Insert dramatic organ riff here)

"Yes, come on, preacher. Amen!"

"I want you to know that our God is good!"

"All the time!"

"All the time..."

"God is good!" (Insert wild applause here)

"Take your Bibles and open to the book of Ephesians, chaptah four, verse numbah 11..." (Pages being turning) The Bible says, "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be pastors and teachers-ah, to prepare God's people-ah, for works of service-ah, so that the body of Christ may be built up!"

"Yes! Come on now, preach it brother!"

"I want you to know this morning church, that this is not a spectator sport-ah! God doesn't want us sitting in the stands-ah. He is calling you out of your comfort zone this morning!" (Organ music rises to a crescendo, congregation stands to their feet) The Lord says it's not only the Pastor's job to do the work of the ministry-ah, it's not his job to run the nursery-ah, it's not his job to pass out the bulletins or shovel the sidewalk-ah, it's the job of the Pastor to lead the people.. to equip all of you to fulfill your destiny... to be disciples of Christ so that you can have the honor and privilege of serving our Lord by doing the work of the ministry! Can I get an Amen?"


(Congregation sits down)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I'm Not Thinking About Japan

The images on the television screen this morning look like something Steven Spielberg put together after drinking one too many cups of coffee. Massive rivers of water wiping out everything in their sight, following an 8.9 earthquake in Japan. Already hundreds are confirmed dead, and the numbers are sure to rise. It's happening half a world away, yet the world seems to get smaller as information travels faster. As they talking heads on the morning news programs interview people affected by the tragedy, they say in their most compassionate voices, "We're all thinking about you."

Will somebody explain to me what that means? "I'll be thinking about you?" I'm thinking about lunch today, too. I'm thinking about how good that ham and cheese sandwich will taste. I'm thinking about the work I have ahead of me this afternoon. I'm thinking about the dusting I need to do around the house. Yet in Japan, hundreds of people are dying, hundreds are missing, and you're thinking about them? Spare me.

Thoughts aren't going to save anybody. Thoughts aren't going to bring hope or healing. Thoughts, according to Webster's dictionary are "opinions" or "judgments." Do hurting people really need our opinions? What they need is action. They need our prayers. They need friends thousands of miles away who will take a moment to get on their knees and intercede. In the coming days and weeks ahead, they will need the support of prayer warriors who will do more than just "think" or "send good thoughts."

Japan will be all the talk around the office water cooler, in the coffee shops, barber shops, and bars across the United States today. Opinions will be formed and judgments will be made. Hours will be spent considering the news, posting the latest updates on Facebook, surfing YouTube at work for the latest videos, and shaking our heads while we're fixated on the horrific images.

Yet how much time will we devote to action? How much time are we willing to put into doing something useful for very real people who are suffering through a very real hurt?

Let's stop thinking and start praying.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ugly Can Be Beautiful

I'm thinking of painting a big mural of an electric chair on my outdoor shed, and lighting it up at night so everyone driving by can see it clearly.

Okay, not really. After all, who wants to be reminded of a man-made killing machine created for the sole purpose of taking someone's life? It's not a decoration... it's ugly. People die a cruel, painful, humiliating death in those things. Yet, I saw something similar on a back country road last night, and it brought me a sense of peace and hope that I desperately needed.

Of course. It was a cross. A simple lighted cross on the side of a barn. I can't begin to tell you the overwhelming sense of God's presence that flooded my soul like a tsunami when I saw that ancient instrument of torture. Come on, let's be real. The cross wasn't meant to be pretty. It was meant to a painful, public, humiliating and cruel way to punish criminals. Yet we've dressed it up, we wear it around our necks, print it on our shirts and bumper stickers and tattoo it on our bodies. Why? Because for all of its ugliness, the cross is a beautiful thing.

That's just what God does best. He takes something ugly and makes it beautiful. All day long yesterday I was at the point of despair, reminded of all of the beauty God gave us, and how the world has turned it into something ugly. He gave us love, and we hate. He gave us language, and we abuse each other. He gave us the laughter of children, and we throw them away like garbage before they take their first breath. He made woman and man for each other, yet the world thinks it knows better and sets out to destroy the God-ordained institution of sacred marriage. The clay is telling the Potter, "You don't know what you're doing. I know You're the Creator, but you messed up." As Christians, we're not of the world, but we're still in it. The pain and sorrow of it all was getting to be too much last night. I was hurting for people I dearly love.

Then again, that's why Jesus went to the cross.

For the most part, I stopped believing in coincidence years ago. Oh sure, sometimes I'll be thinking of someone just as the phone rings, and there they are! But I've seen God's hand at work too many times to just chalk it all up to happenstance. No, there was a reason I chose to drive down an unfamiliar country road late at night, and come across not one, but two beautiful lighted crosses in two separate yards. God always seems to do this to me when I need a good kick in the pants. Correction... He doesn't do it to me. He does it for me.

Just like He did on the cross.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can I Get an Amen? Anybody? Somebody?

One of the funniest yet most accurate cartoons I've ever seen was a drawing of a man sleeping, and inside a cloud above his head was an image of a church congregation doing "the wave." The caption underneath read, When Pastors Dream. Yeah, that's about it.

I've been doing a lot of preaching lately, and I love it. I preach twice weekly at my own church, with opportunities to share at a local Christian School, small groups, and at our new church plant. I had the privilege of sharing the word at a county-wide Thanksgiving Eve service a few months back. Of all the things I do as a Pastor, and the responsibilities are many, I enjoy preaching the most.

But do you know what's frustrating? I never know when the sermon is going to connect with the audience, or I'm going to lay an egg. It seems that the messages with the most preparation and prayer seem to fall flat. I couldn't get an "amen" if I paid for it. Believe me, I work hard to make sure I never just "call one in." The responsibility is too great, and the price paid by Christ is too high to just wing it from the pulpit and hope for the best. But the truth is, there are some messages that just require more prep. Common sense tells us that more preparation equals better results, right? Not always.

God's word doesn't return void. We know that. But there are just those days when no matter how hard you've worked, prayed, and travailed, it just seems like the Word has fallen on deaf ears. Hey, I admit it... I'm human. I feed off the reaction of the congregation. If they're getting it, then I'm pumped. If there are blank faces, I feel deflated and the preaching suffers as a result.

What to do? Simple. Keep running the race. I'm reminded of the Tour de France... a 3-week bicycle race broken up into day segments. Individual times to finish each stage are aggregated to determine the overall winner at the end of the race. It's where you're standing at the end of the race that matters. That's what makes the race special... you don't have to finish first every single day to finish strong.

Just as long as someone gives you a wave along the way, you'll be okay.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


A Pastor speaking to hundreds of teens at Youth Camp, proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ, smiled and said, "I did something slightly retarded the other day." The kids laughed heartily. I cringed, and then I nearly cried. I felt as if someone had stuck a knife in my chest.

I'm curious. What if he had replaced the "r" word with the "n" word? He would have been fired on the spot, and rightly so. It's an ugly, offensive, and demeaning word. It devalues real people, and causes many to feel like they're less than everything God created them to be. It's an unfair, outdated and mean-spirited slur. Yet how many of you... yes, you reading right now throw around the "r" word like it's some sort of joke? Let me assure you, it's not.

I'm guessing I lost just about half of today's readers right there. For the rest of you, I'm not condemning you. You don't owe me or my friends with intellectual disabilities an apology. But when you understand the truth, that the "r" word is hurtful, demeaning, and cruel, you have a responsibility. Please... stop using it. Just stop. It's not funny. It never has been.

The fact is, the disability community is the one community any of us can join at any time. Ask Christopher Reeve's family. Ask Joni Eareckson Tada. Ask anyone in a nursing home who sits in a wheelchair all day, unable to get around on their own. One wrong turn in your car today, and you could be a part of an exclusive club you never planned to join. How funny are the short bus and Special Olympics jokes now that you're the one using leg braces or a wheelchair?

My son has a disability. He doesn't need anyone's pity. He deserves our respect. He has autism, but he is certainly not "autistic" any more than a person who has cancer is "cancerous." His disability doesn't define him. His smile and infectious laugh are his gifts to us. And certainly, his differences are not a cause for ridicule and mean-spirited comments.

To anyone reading today who will pledge to stop using the "r" word, I thank you. I applaud you. To those who maintain that it's just another word, and that's what "those" people are and they shouldn't be offended, I'll say this. People with intellectual disabilities, particularly those with Down's Syndrome are among the happiest, luckiest, most content, and non-judgmental people I've ever known. So if you want to label them ret-----, that's your choice. I can only hope that you'll learn to be just as wise, happy, and content with your world, so that you can be labeled ret----- as well. But I'm not holding my breath. Prejudice comes in many forms.

Please. Help spread the word to end the word.