The Reasons For Wrinkle’s Rejoicing

     So what makes Wrinkles, the new youth overseer (that would be me), rejoice? Oh Father in Heaven! So many things.

     Tonight I decided to practice omnipresence. That is to say I came to church and decided I would try to bounce between three events successfully in my role as overseer. I scheduled myself in tighter than a small rubber glove on a fat dentist: 5-5:30 e-mails: 5:30-6 check-in for prayer group: 6-6:15 devotion with youth leadership: 6:15-6:45 Opening prayer with prayer group: 6:45- 8 Intercessory prayer with individuals: 8-9 worship and critiquing of sermon for youth pastor intern.

    I kept thinking all day “This’ll work. No problem.”  Truthfully I realy didn’t have any choice but to make it work somehow.

    I informed my youth pastor intern I would be out of the group during game time attending to other duties. I went over schedules with him and made sure his prep list was done. He was golden.

    Yesterday my wife and I realized we had a conflict in our schedules. She had an appointment and the girls and I both had to be at church tonight. My in-laws were on the road. So we had to decide how to help our two friends who cannot stay by themselves at home. The solution was for her to take one of our friends to her appointment while I brought our other friend to youth group.

      So tonight we made an early supper grabbed some magazines (Phil loves the motorcycle mags) and headed for the church. I set him up in the sanctuary reading and started making my rounds: e-mails/ check in with Phil/ final check for youth group preparedness/ check-in with Phil.

    I had my rhythm set and then a friend of the church came needing some assistance. Phil needed help to the bathroom. I talked with our friend for about ten minutes. Phil found his way back to the sanctuary.

     I gathered myself for more rounds: Youth devotion/ check-in with Phil/ Go to prayer.

    I was a little worried because the prayer session started and I knew once I was into it I would not be able to just step out. Then another miracle happened.  Another person arrived for prayer and we needed to multiply our prayer team to cover the needs.

    As we made our way to my office I had time to do another check-in with Phil. Then I was off into prayer.

     I heard the worship music begin in the sanctuary as we were wrapping up our prayer time. We finished just in time for me to get to the sanctuary to hear my intern’s sermon. He hit it out of the park!

     I am not omnipresent. I am thankful I don’t have to be! What makes Wrinkles rejoice? I rejoice in the fact that my friend Phil is so easy to take places I rejoice that he loves to be at church being a part of whatever is going on. I am thankful for daughters who help in youth ministry and are there to help smooth the way for our friends with disabilities in the church. I am thankful we have an intercessory prayer team with enough trained members to multiply into two teams to pray for needs. I am thankful for a wife who is patient with a husband who tries to be omnipresent. I am thankful for a wife who herself is working on the omnipresence thing (it makes for deeper understanding of each other when we fail). I am thankful for a wonderful team of youth workers who can handle the task. Finally I am thankful that as Wrinkles, I have been given the opportunity to watch as a young man I helped mentor steps to the position of ministry and makes his calling and election sure. Any man who has so many good things in his life must surely rejoice.

Keeping House

    I got home today at three.

    My wife was running up and down the driveway in her bathing suit shooting a super soaker at one of the girls from church and her dad. The girl was shooting a supersoaker of her own (provided by my wife of course) at both my wife and her own hapless father.

    One of our friends had just gotten home from his work and was begging my wife to squirt him so he could cool off. The puppies were barking inside the entryway as my father in-law readied the hose on the front lawn to soak both my wife and her young charge.

    I got soaked on the way in. Since I wasn’t carrying anything needing the desert treatment I let myself get sprayed by my sweetheart and her trusty AK40wettin. I didn’t even try to run. Apparently that makes it less fun for the shooter. Who knew?

     “Boring!” Was the cry let out at me as I passed by to the back of the house. 

     My daughter begged all three not to spray them because she had important college papers she was carrying. She got by dry and without one accusation of being a bore.

    Inside my older daughter was entertaining one of her friends just out of high school. Meanwhile the two brothers of my wife’s woman-at-arms were trying to train the rabbits on the back porch to sit pretty.

   My mother-in-law was inside cooking dinner as the vans began pulling up bringing in our other friends who were ready to begin their afternoon routines. One shower, a blood glucose test, two dispensations of medications, four snacks, two dog walks, and a bathroom clean-up later and I was ready for supper.

    My wife made cheesburgers and onion rings for our friend from church, his three kids, me, and Clifford (one of the friends who lives with us). She got two of our other friends ready to go out to dinner. I got ready to go back to church for an orchestra rehersal.

    By five I was on the road again to the church. 

   Now keeping house is not always this busy but I have to say it is always this much fun. What I am living right now is my “gift from God that is why it is called the present.”

    Thank you Jesus for few men get to experience so much life in two hours!

Salve For The Eyes

     The mysterious “they” say that as  a man ages he finds it harder and harder to deal with change. Maybe it’s a general rule of thumb but speaking as a guy who was never really good at change to begin with I have to say that aging has made me more mellow concerning the subject.

    Maybe it’s just because the older I have gotten the more I have actually dealt with change. The world is always changing in case you haven’t noticed. But I have found changes fall into categories. There are family changes (kids grow, new babies are born, someone dies). There are job changes. There are changes of venue (apartment to house, house to apartment, new town, new roommates). Then there are what I like to call fifty two pick-up changes. These are reserved for those moments when  it feels like God has just taken the deck of cards that is your life and cast them willy-nilly to the wind.

      Funny but thirty years ago I panicked at every change. I remember panicking at the start of every school year because I was going to get new teachers. Gym class was the worst. It took me almost a whole year to establish with the other guys in class that even though I was a nerd who couldn’t dribble, pass, or bat any kind of ball, I was a noble nerd who deserved pity if not respect. Then the year would end and I would have to spend the summer preparing myself to start the training all over again with another class of jocks.

     Back then I didn’t realize change was inevitable. So I continued to hope for the days when I would be an adult, could control my life, and keep everything in balance.

     For a long time I kept that view of things. I kept waiting as the changes continued to take me out of control of my destiny. Every time I fairly freaked as my plans went down the toilet in favor of some new twist in the road.

      Some people say that the end of chapter three in the book of Revelation speaks about the church that would live in the days just before Armegeddon. The letter reveals that church will be lukewarm, lacking passion and possessing an “I don’t care attitude.” This church will be self-satisfied relying on its own strength rather than on the strength of God. Now I don’t know whether this refers to the church of the whole world just now, but I do know that it is a really good picture of the church in America. I know it is a really good reflection of who I have been at certain points in my history as a born again. I think I know why.

    Every generation has faced changes. Some of those generations faced fifty two pick-up changes in straight order. But those generations seemed to deal with change without losing their spark. Our generation has not yet faced its fifty two pick-up but we have been dulled to the core by a myriad of smaller life changes which have left us feeling like we are being pecked to death by chickens.

    John, the author of Revelation, counsels us to “anoint our eyes with eye salve so that we may see.” (Rev. 3:18) 

    There is a connection between lukewarmness and our perception. The way we see situations, circumtances, and changes effects our passion.

     Our generation does not have the benefit of a solid foundation of faith wherein every change is seen in the context of a world under the control of The Divine. Without such a vision every change leaves us swinging in the breeze like lacy underwear in a Texas thunderstorm. It’s no wonder we are plagued by depression, anxiety, and OCD.

     John, the revelator, was right. We do need salve for our eyes so that we can see the changes of life for what they really are. We must somehow get back to the truth that, while the world is going to draw us inexorably into the whirlpool of change, we have a God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. All of my life may fall apart with its inconsistency but Jesus Christ will always be by my side to see me through each change.

     If anything this is why I face the challenges and changes of mid-life better than I faced the changes of my twenties and thirties. I’ve got salve for my eyes and I see Jesus more clearly now than ever.

Shut It!

    I got up late yesterday. Twenty minutes is a lot of time to lose when you have to get yourself, two dogs, and a disabled friend ready for the day. My wife got up five minutes after me. She had herself and two of our other friends to get ready. Then my daughters got up. They were trying to get ready so they could get out of the house. We were all whirling around each other opening cupboards and  drawers, ducking in and out of bathrooms, making beds,dispensing pills and breakfasts. It was sort of like a combo fight scene from the matrix meets breakfast with Leave It To Beaver (only in this scenario Ward actually helps June).

     Anyway by the time I finally got to my devotion, which I generally have in the upstairs bathroom (Oh come on you know that is where a lot of guys read their Bibles), I was kind of in a rush and I had forgotten my glasses. It wasn’t until I was half way through Chapter 5 of Isaiah that I realized I was actually reading Chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes.

    With a loud harumph I began to thumb my way to the proper book when I felt a familiar check in my spirit. It was that little nudge that means “Wait! This is a set-up, a divine appointment, a ‘meant-to-be-moment’.”

      “Start again.” Something inside said.

     So I did.

    Ecclesiastes Chapter 5: 1,2 “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth. Do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in Heaven and you are on Earth so let your words be few.”

     Reinventing our prayer lives sometimes means we have to talk less and listen more. For some of us the idea of listening at all is a radical thought. After all we really don’t believe God would speak to us, do we? So we come with our prayer lists of needs and wants, we come with our diagrams of types of prayer. We do A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), or we P.U.S.H. (pray until something happens) and all of it is about us blathering on in God’s face as though somehow He will be impressed with our much speaking.

     Yet so many of the truly powerful prayers in Scripture are not powerful because of their length or their eloquence. They had power because they were uttered by men who were being directed by God.

    When Elijah called down fire to consume the sacrifice on the altar, he did not pray for hours on end, nor did he scream himself hoarse. Elijah prayed two sentences and fire fell from Heaven. (I Kings 18)

    Jesus said “And when you pray do not keep babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them for your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Ma 6:7)

     The more I learn about prayer the more I come to the conclusion that a truly successful prayer life does not consist of what we ask, but of what we learn.

    So many of us go through life having almost none of our prayers answered and it is because when we pray we do all the talking. What would happen I wonder if instead of talking we just shut our mouths and then listened until we heard something from God? What would happen if instead of telling God what we wanted all the time we Shut our mouths and said “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”?

“Ride the Rodeo Wrinkles”

    I youth pastored, in the providence of God, for 17 years. That’s a good run for a youth pastor, in case your wondering.

   It was 2007 and I was judging a Fine Arts Festival several kids from my church were participating in.  I was just minding my own business taking notes on one of the acts when our sectional youth rep brought up a young kid (couldn’t have been more than 20) and introduced him to me.

    “J. this is Rob.” He said. He went on to explain Rob was a new youth pastor visiting our section to see how the Fine Arts festival was pulled off.

    “Why don’t you talk to J. A little Rob? He’s been doing this kind of stuff for years. He probably has a lot of tips that would help your group.” Our rep said.

     “That’s great!” Rob said pumping my hand enthusiastically. He narrowed his eyes appraisingly.

     “How long have you been doing youth ministry?” He asked.

      “About 15 years.” I returned.

      “Wowww! That’s so awesome! I hope I can still handle youth ministry when I’m your a….” 

     I knew right then and there I was the “crypt keeper”. When other youth pastors start calling you grampa, and parents start saying things like “We value your wisdom but are you sure you can keep up?”, you know you have crossed some sort of invisible line in the pastoral world.

    Youth ministry is kind of like riding the bull at the rodeo. The longer you stay on the more points you get. But the longer you stay on the more it hurts. When I started in youth ministry I could do an all-nighter and get up the next morning ready and raring to go. By 2007 sleeping on the floor for youth convention meant for the next week my back would be able to do a rendition of Charro playing the castinets every time I got up from my chair after a meeting.

     Finally by 2008 my senior pastor and I decided it was time for me to hang up my spurs. In 2009 I retired from youth ministry. I handed the group over to a very capable young man. He was great! The kids loved him! He had a vision and has been carrying it out.

      You know man plans and God laughs? I guess God figured if Sylvester Stallone could come back for one more fight with Rocky Balboa I could do the same.In the providence of God (where have I heard that before) my rodeo replacement has been called out and I hear the voice of the Master saying to me. “Ride the rodeo Wrinkles.”

     It’s funny how reinventing yourself often means going back to the beginning and starting again. For me right now it means taking something old in me and giving it a new face. I thought when I left the youth ministry a year and a half ago I would be travelling down a pathway I had never known before. Well it is a new path but it sure has some familiar landscapes. Strangely I feel right at home. Jesus I think I’m ready pull the pin.

I Have Two Words For You

  The secretary at work asked how I was the other day.

   “Groovy” was my response.

     I like that word. It’s not a pat response, but it is still nebulous enough to keep people guessing about how I really am.  

   Alas our culture of moral relativism has even taught us to enjoy words that have no concrete meaning. We live in a world which has left us feeling “Is what I think I heard really what he meant by what he is almost sure  he said?”   

  And we wonder why half the world is walking around in a state of philosophical confusion! If we are ever to put our feet on solid theological ground again we have to learn to say what we mean and mean what we say.

      We have been talking about reinventing our prayer lives. I think this idea of defining terms is really important if we are going to go deeper into the presence of the Living Savior. After all if we are going to say “this” or “that” is the key to a better prayer life isn’t it important that we all have the same definition of “this” or “that”?

     I have two words for you: anointing and discipline. These are two words important to us as individuals, churches and even communities of nations. That we don’t recognize their importance or even sometimes misunderstand what they are does not in anyway negate them.

     So let’s begin. What is anointing? According to the Bible the anointing is the touch of God or the glory of God set upon a person’s life for practical use (I John 2:20, 27) particularly in the area of knowledge and understanding.
     In the Old Testament it was the anointing that set a person aside for practical use by God in a specific calling (Exodus 29:7-33).

     Anyone who does not want  the anointing, or the glory of God applied to their lives for practical use is as dumb as a box of hair! You need the anointing! I need the anointing, because I need God’s glory to live out my practical everyday experiences. I don’t just need God’s glory to help me prepare sermons or lead worship. I need God’s glory to figure out how to pay my bills. I need God’s glory to advise my kids. I need God’s glory to love my wife as “Christ loved the church.” Noone I have ever met has figured out how to do this life successfully without God. Yet so many of us as Christians are trying to figure out how to impress God on our own without the anointing. “Having begun in the Spirit we are now trying to finish the work in the flesh”, the very thing God warned the Galatian church against. We are as C.S Lewis put it trying to live our lives as “practical atheists”. This is because we don’t seek the anointing, or the glory of God applied to our lives for God’s practical purposes.

     There is a reason we don’t seek out the anointing though. It comes with a high price tag. That price tag is discipline. What is discipline? Well so many of us think that the Lord’s discipline comes because we do something wrong. This is true in part but only in part. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 12  that hardship is discipline. It doesn’t come just because we do something wrong but because we are wrong at the core. Everyone goes through discipline of one sort or another and it is not always because we have done something which everyone around us would say is “naughty”. Sometimes we are immersed in the fires of discipline because there is something buried deep inside of us which is unseemly to God even though we might not recognize it as sinful. Many times it is more motive than method that God is trying to get at in discipline.

      God says it this way. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?… Our father’s disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12: 7-11

     Now I don’t know about you but the end of that verse, the results of discipline (holiness,  a harvest of righteousness, and peace) that sounds like the anointing to me.

    What that says to me is that it is discipline that brings the anointing. If that is true we have to recognize that our very longing for a reinvented prayer life (which by extension requires the anointing) is going to set us under the hand of the Lord’s discipline. We are going to face hardships so that the wicked ways in us may be exorcised by the Lord who goes with us into the fiery furnace of our tribulation. Then the anointing will come to fill the space left behind by our crucified flesh. Then we will have the renewed prayaer lives we so desire.

    This is why James can say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” James 1: 2-4

   Anointing and discipline now there are two words I have for you that are really groovy!

To Turn and Turn

     the beginning of a truly powerful prayer life is in turning. I must turn from sin. I must turn to God. This is the way with true repentance.

     But so often we make repentance only about turning away from sin. It is that, but honestly, there can be no turn away from sin long term without there first being a turn to God. For only when we have turned to God and received His grace can we hope to have the power to remain turned from sin.

   Indeed the very act of truthfully coming to God brings with it an automatic renunciation of sin. John showed this truth when he said “The man who says ‘I know Him’, but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in. This is how we know we are in Him. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” I John 2: 4-6

    Now John was not speaking here of sinless perfection. Who among us can claim that? Noone that’s who! Rather he was speaking of the characteristics of a heart that pursued God. A man  who pursues God and really knows Him will hate sin and move constantly away from it even if from time to time  he stumbles into it.

     John is teaching that in a true turn towards God there is the removal of sin as almost a side effect. The man who has truly come to God and gotten to know Him cannot have sin growing in his life because the true presence of God does away with sin. It is a given that when men draw close to God sin starts to go away by increments

    Our lifestyle then indicates not our salvation but our closeness to God. By extrapolation then we can say our outward lifestyle also indicates the strength of our prayer life.

    But to grow in prayer we should not work to rid ourselves of sin. This is backwards. To rid ourselves of sin we should work on our prayer life. For anyone who has a truly powerful prayer life will find they have less and less sin in their hearts.

    So many try so hard to work their way to God.

    “If only I can get rid of this sin ,” They say “Then I will be closer to God.”

   The truth is turn to God and get close to Him in prayer and then the sin will go.  May I say sin does not overwhlem or do away with the presence of God. God’s presence does away with sin. But before God will make His presence known to an individual they must willingly and personally turn to Him.