Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back... To the Future!

I can now safely add, "Fixes leaking basement problems" to my resume. I'm certainly no carpenter, but it seems to me that when the drain spouts coming down from the gutters are dumping gallons of water two inches away from the wall, you have a problem. We just couldn't figure out why the church basement kept getting flooded when it rained. So I did the only logical thing and took a walk around the building. I got longer spouts, directed the water away from the building and boom... problem solved.

When I first came to the church I've been Pastoring now for over 2 1/2 years, the urinal in the men's room didn't flush. "Oh," I was told, "you just fill this here Maxwell House can with water and..." Please. It took a qualified plumber with a little know-how and a $25 part to fix the problem. His name was John, which I find kind of funny. But I digress.

How often do we just accept the fact that the basement leaks, the urinal won't flush, the floor squeaks and that door always sticks because that's the way it has always been? I've been looking at the church through fresh eyes as part of a project I'm working on to complete my Ordination studies. Why not repaint that chip in the wall? Have we ever shampooed the carpeting? Wouldn't a gallon of paint freshen up that ugly wall downstairs? We can get so used to the way things are that we just accept them. But what about taking inventory and seeing where things can be improved? A simple $24 spotlight I bought on Ebay drastically improved the dim lighting on the stage. Hanging a banner and moving a couple plastic Ficus trees (every church has to have at least two) gave us a fresh look too.

It all ties in well with my new-found commitment to look toward the future without dwelling on the past. "We've always done it that way" won't cut it in the church anymore. Not with a new post-modern millennialist generation that can't sit still for two minutes. The times, they are a-changin', and we have to adapt. And that means I have to adapt, too.

"Those who forget the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them." That's true. But the same can be said for those who continue to live there. Why not resolve to take a look at yourself today through a new lens? What have you accepted about you that not only can be changed, but should be changed? Are you living life like an old home movie that's been rotting away in a garbage dump for years? Why not make a new start... today?

Come back to the future. It's a great place to be.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Still Chasing Woodpeckers

In an earlier post, I shared with all of you enraptured readers my insights regarding memories. I've decided to leave the past where it should be... in the past. I'm moving on with the visions God has given me. Life is just too short to dwell on memories, whether they're as real as the dreams we have at night or rotting away on stolen 8 millimeter films, memories are not worth brooding over. But as the late Paul Harvey would have said, "Here's the rrrrrrest of the story!"

It was during a long walk, while chasing after an elusive Pileated Woodpecker that my mind began to wander, and I resolved to live in the present. The past few days have been liberating, as God and I work together on turning the pages forever. However, the past has a way of trying to creep back in, and oftentimes right at the moment we're on the verge of breakthrough. (Warning: wandering mind is about to make a point. Don't touch that dial.) Does anyone remember the episode of "Happy Days" where Fonzie jumped a shark on his motorcyle? (Point, Mr. award-winning journalist?) Anytime a television show makes a mistake that leads to its demise, it's called, "Jumping the Shark." (And...?) So now, whenever I find myself tempted to live in the past, I'm going to call it, "Chasing Woodpeckers." (Oh, very wise. I get it. You're so creative. So brilliant!) When I'm daydreaming about yesterday and someone asks me what I'm thinking about, I can answer, "Oh, just chasing woodpeckers."

Don't steal that. I'm copyrighting this post.

At any rate, at the end of that insightful walk I browsed through a favorite antique store in town. I'm always on the lookout for unusual items that hail from the golden days of radio. Once in a while, I get lucky and pick up a small inexpensive treasure for my collection. But this time, I was almost knocked over by a vintage wooden crate in the shop's basement. Not literally, mind you. Figuratively speaking. But in very clear black lettering on both sides of the crate was printed, "Mueller Brass Company - Port Huron Michigan."

Mueller. It's where my Dad worked for 35 years. He lost a few fingers on the mill saw back in the late 60's. Shortly before he died, he nearly lost his arm on the same saw. That was the last day he worked there. Dad had a love / hate relationship with the plant, mostly hate. I know that we hated Mueller for how it affected him. They paid him squat. When the company set a new record for brass production, they rewarded all the workers with a free cup of coffee. The union was no better. Dad was in his 60's, sweating away in that God-forsaken Rod Mill 7 days a week for weeks on end with a punk foreman who wasn't even born when Dad started working there trying to tell him how to do his job.

So why in the blazes did I want that crate so badly? Because it was a connection to Dad. I imagined displaying it in my man cave with one of my old radios on top, maybe with Dad's Navy dog tags or his navy cap. What a laugh. He had a love / hate relationship with the Navy, too. The fact is, I wanted to buy it because it's exactly what Dad would have done. He would have brought home a reminder from his past, because that's where he liked to live. I believe to this day that his past is what tore him up inside and led to his death. Needless to say, I left the crate behind.

Me - 1. The past - 0.

I have resolved not to use the past to play the martyr. I won't use it as an excuse for my behavior. I won't lean on it for pity. I won't allow the enemy to throw it up in my face and accuse me. I'll forgive the dog that bites, but I won't go walking into his yard again either. I'm through chasing woodpeckers.

But wouldn't that be an awesome name for a band? (Copyright 2011)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'm Diggin' on the Music

Pastor Rick Warren wrote in "The Purpose Driven Life" that there is no Christian music... just Christian lyrics. He and I may part company once in a while, but I have to say he nailed that one correctly. God created music... and all that the enemy can do is imitate and mock what God has made. So he takes the beautiful created music God gave us and turns it into trash. That's why I've always been so grateful for Christian artists who aren't afraid to step out of the boat and take back what the enemy has tried to steal.

But lately, I've even been bored with Christian radio. Every couple weeks I get a music survey from KLOVE, and frankly I haven't been able to rate many songs above a "3" on their scale of 1-5. Even a long-time favorite artist of mine has had two poor projects in a row, followed by extremely disappointing concerts.

But now... well, it seems the tide has turned in this listener's direction. Peter Furler, former front man from the Newsboys is back with a single, "Reach" and a new solo project coming out this summer. Kudos to Peter for taking a break, regrouping, and coming back refreshed. Laura Story's new ballad "Blessings" is theologically sound and encouraging to anyone who has been going through a trial. That's pretty much all of us, isn't it?

Chris August. What can I say about 70 X 7, except this - Chris, are you the one who stole my old home movies? I've been wondering for 20 years where they were. It's like the guy had a hidden camera in my house. If your growing up years weren't all that they should have been, this song about forgiveness will pierce your heart. If it doesn't, you may not have one. I didn't care for "Starry Night," but he sure redeemed himself with this song. Congratulations.

And then there's Sidewalk Prophets. I could never get enough of "The Words I Would Say," but I wouldn't be surprised if "You Love Me Anyway" surpasses their previous success. It's a powerful video, too.

And so it's good to give out some "5's" on the music survey now and again. I'm just looking forward to the day that "This is the Stuff" drops off the radar.

I'm tired of pressing "1."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chasing Woodpeckers

We call him "Pilly." Not very original, but it's the name my wife and I came up with for the Pileated Woodpecker that began frequenting our bird feeder last summer. I have yet to get close enough to get even one decent picture of the critter because he's either camera shy or just naturally jumpy. Anyway, I spotted him today sitting on the bridge that crosses the river near our home. I stopped the car, rolled down the window, but once again he flew away when I pointed the camera. So, after I got home I took a walk around the woods to try to find him.

That's when things got interesting. When my mind and I get alone for any length of time, we start to wander into unknown territory.

My walk led me just about a quarter mile from my home, off the beaten path a ways toward an old abandoned manufacturing plant of some sort. It's huge, and it's ugly. It ceased operation long before I came to town, or at least it must have been on its last legs. It's a painful reminder of a once productive past. It has served its purpose, but now it sits there rotting. Really, it's the worst eyesore in town next to the moldy drinking fountain in the park. But I digress.

Memories can be like that. An eyesore. A genuine pain in the backside. A reminder of our hurts, our pains and our regrets. Memories are like a sleeping lion that looks peaceful and harmless until it wakes up, sinks its claws deep into your chest and rips your heart out. Nice metaphor, huh?

I hail from a family that loves to live in the past. Guess what? The buck stops here, Bucko. I'm just not going there anymore. I've got some hot visions and dreams stirring in my heart, and if I don't do something about them I might self-combust. If I dwell on the past, think about memories, brood over regrets or keep wishing I had a time machine to go back to my childhood days (which were really Hell on earth to begin with) then I'll never accomplish the awesome job that I know God has given me. The dreams I have are so big, they could only come from Him. They'll only happen with Him. He has called me to pick up my cross and follow him daily, not to drag around a Hefty bag full of garbage from yesterday.

Somewhere, perhaps in a dusty attic or an upstate New York landfill, there sits a box of old home movies that I've given up on ever seeing again. After 20 years of waiting, it's not worth the drama anymore. And you know what? That's okay. I would much rather write a new chapter in my life than rehash the old ones. Like Guy Penrod sang, when I reach heaven just knowing he'll be there is enough for me. We'll "spend a lifetime reminiscing on the past." Enough about yesterday. You don't get to the finish line by looking backward. I'm pressing on to win the race.

In the meantime, I sure would like to find that stupid woodpecker.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bring On $5 a Gallon!

With tongue firmly implanted in cheek, I present my deepest gratitude toward whoever it is out there who is setting the higher gas prices. Please, I'm begging, don't stop at $4 a gallon!

After all, you're saving me money in the long run. I've already decided not to go to any more ball games this year. The gas alone costs me nearly twice as much as my ticket. I'm spending $28 just to get in the door for a minor league baseball game. Add the cost of a Diet Coke and a pretzel (who can afford a $6.75 chicken wrap?) and I'm spending $35 a game. So my two games a month will be reduced to zero. I save $70!! Alternative: I'll have to walk down to the local little league fields and watch the kids play. Guess I'll support my local charities by purchasing a coffee and some popcorn for $2.

Oh, those monthly trips to the Bay City Mall? Forget about it. $16 for gas, another $20 for lunch, in addition to anything we might pick up at the stores? Just not worth it. Money saved: $36. Alternative: Go stroll the downtown antique stores instead and see what's new. Get it... antiques... new? Guess I'll have to support my local retailers instead.

Oh, and a vacation? Ha ha ha! The greater Upper Peninsula economy will have to get along without us this year. Somehow, I think Mackinac City will survive. Munising, you're on your own. Sorry about your luck. Alternative: Guess I'll just have to enjoy the Fabulous Friday events downtown, the Victorian Art Fair, County Fair, and Tuesdays in the Park concerts. I'll pitch my tent in the backyard and brew up some hot cocoa on the stove. Doggone my luck.

What to do with my car in the driveway and nowhere to go? Guess I'll have to do more walking. Gosh, I might actually lose some of the weight I gained over the winter. Maybe I'll finally get my garage cleaned out, finish reading "A Tale of Two Cities," tend to the vegetable garden and clean the yard. Maybe I'll even spend more time playing outside with my kid, and take him to the park for lunch. And all that money I'm saving by not going out of town? Maybe now I can afford to pay our quarterly water bill that the city more than doubled last year.

On second thought, maybe this wasn't so tongue in cheek after all.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Looney Thursday

It's Opening Day!

My Great Lakes Loons take to the field at 6:05 tonight, and I'll be there for my third season opener in a row. My lovely bride is coming along tonight. She doesn't care much about the game... she's a fan of the barbequed pork sandwiches.

But I digress. You know what I love about Opening Day? It's a brand new start. It's especially true for Minor League teams like the Loons, where the roster changes dramatically every year. Most of the players from last year have either moved on to Double-A ball, or just didn't make the cut. Dow Diamond is a training ground for tomorrow's stars. So every Spring, the team gets a do-over. It's a chance to start all over again.

The parallel is so obvious that I just had to preach it last night. It's exactly what Jesus Christ does for each of us when we come to him and admit that we need a do-over. We messed up. We fell far short of His standards. He picks us up, dusts us off, and gives us a booster shot to do better the next time around. Unfortunately, I think this is where many Christians miss it. We've turned grace into license! "Oh, I'm just a sinner, and God knows my heart. He knows I'm a good person."

Please. Get a revelation, Christians. The whole point of grace isn't to make us feel better about our sin. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It's God forgiving us when we don't deserve it. But here's the part we miss... grace is God's gift to us to make us stronger so we don't go out and make the same mistakes again. God gives us a do-over, yes. But the whole point of grace is to mold us into His image! Watch this:
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31, NIV)

Excuses just don't cut it. They don't cut it on the ball diamond, and they certainly don't cut it with God. We're not expected to be baby Christians forever, sucking on the milk of a watered-down "everybody smile and enjoy God's favor" gospel.

My favorite Loons alumni, Dee Gordon was named league MVP in 2009. He led in stolen bases, triples, and had a .301 batting average. He also struck out 90 times. Yeah. 90 times he came to the plate and blew it. He stumbled and fell, but instead of excuses he got up and ran the race. And you know something else? Dee wears a ''WWJD" bracelet on his wrist.

Yesterday, I made mistakes. Today, I set my face "like flint" (Isaiah 50) and vow to soar instead of wallowing in regret. How about you? Are you going to take flight?

Are you ready for a do-over?