Thief…..

In my spiritual journey, I have had many mountaintop experiences…..and just like everyone else, many times were spent in the valleys of life. And while we might thoroughly enjoy and seek out those mountaintop experiences, if you count the number of days we spend on top of a mountain, those days pale in comparison to those days we don’t spend on top of the mountain. That is not to say that we necessarily are in the valley — it is just meant to point out that you are either #1) on top of a mountain or #2) in a valley or on your way to or from the mountaintop. #2 is where we spend most of our lives.

I have several posts brewing that highlight certain times of revelation, growth, challenge, struggle, or mountaintop. Some people call these “testimonies”. I call them God’s fingerprints on my life.

For background and foundation, I was raised in a very Lutheran-centric home. My grandfather was a Lutheran pastor. My great-grandparents were Lutheran missionaries to China (where my full Norwegian, white-bread grandmother was born). I attended Lutheran parochial schools as well as college. One of my first memories was singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday School and with my grandma — it was her favorite song. Another early memory was my grandma teaching me the Lord’s Prayer and me having to recite it by memory. I remember the extreme pleasure when I could recite it back to her when I was 7 or 8 years old. So I know doctrine and I know being Lutheran.

However, I did not “feel” Jesus until I was about 10 or 11 years old. Here is that story.

My neighborhood friends and I really liked our bikes. We rode them all over the neighborhood and beyond. They were not only our transportation, but they were also tools.

Tools for status. My friend Freddy had the nicest Redline BMX bike I had ever seen. Other friends had Mongoose bikes. My BMX bike didn’t have a brand because it was cobbled together. I scavenged the frame somewhere and painted it maroon. A friend gave me a pair of cool gold colored BMX forks. The rims were anodized blue. Together it looked more Franken-bike but it was steps above the K-Mart Huffy that kids had pinned as the basement floor of approval.

Tools for respect. Our BMX bikes allowed us the opportunity to gain skills and earn the respect of our peers. We did this through minor accomplishments like bunny hopping curbs, pitching out to crush cans, or most frequently by setting up a street ramp and seeing who could get the most air and land the farthest. I still remember the day when the pothead high schooler up the hill saw our ramp on his way to somewhere and said “Hey little kids, get out of the way. Here I come!”. As he careened his ten speed bike down the hill he probably hit that ramp at 20mph or so and took off like an eagle. We were saucer-eyed as he vaulted past all of our best marks still pointed heaven-ward. However, what goes up must come down. And ten speeds weren’t made for that stunt. He easily doubled our best jumps but landed in a crumpled mess heap way down the hill. His back tire immediately taco-ed and the rest just collapsed and he tumbled in a bloodied mess of flesh and metal. We were speechless and silent thinking he may be dead. He got up and said “Wooh, I taco-ed my bike dudes”. He proceeded to get up collect his bike and head up the hill home. I don’t think the pain hit him because he was so stoned.

Tools for freedom. Our bikes were transportation, not only to school, but to the world beyond. This was still the time where kids would be out “until the street lights came on”. We took full advantage going to the drug store for dime candy, hitting the many rogue dirt tracks, and frequenting video arcades. It was during these times where I picked up a bad habit. I stole.

The targets of my sin were not the candy from the drugstore nor the blips and beeps of the video games. My error was much less insidious, much more mundane, much less evil than any of those. Which made a perfect trap for this little church boy to fall into. I stole chrome caps off car tires. You’re thinking “What?” because you either don’t know what chrome caps are or you are thinking that it is such a minor offense. Well, first off, stealing is stealing so let’s get that out of the way. Whether it is money, candy, or chrome caps, if it belongs to someone else and you take it, you are a thief. I was a thief. I stole the little chrome caps that screw on top of the air valve on a vehicle’s tire. And so did my buddies. We adorned our bikes with them and were always on the lookout for better ones, nicer ones, shinier ones. The thing is you can only put two on your bike at a time. And I had dozens all stored away in little plastic 35mm film containers. Chrome caps had become my proverbial potato chip. I couldn’t eat just one.

Having been raised knowing right and wrong, I knew what I was doing wasn’t right. At first it started with my buddies and I would join in. We used to skateboard across a parking lot scouting the cool vehicles for caps. We looked for Camaros, Corvettes, Cadillacs, and Mustangs. Those were usually guarantees. Once we spotted a vehicle, we would then skateboard by it and pretend to fall. While down, we would quickly remove the chrome caps from that side of the car and move on. Later, however, I would be scouting on my own and collecting caps alone — absent was the peer pressure…..but I did it anyway. And it was wrong. But at that point I was powerless to make any changes.

It was at this point that I was in my sin, doing something wrong, and unable to stop it. In my prayers, I finally reached out to Jesus to help me; to keep me from doing wrong; to keep me from stealing something of someone else’s that I clearly did not need. Even though I knew right from wrong I could not stop and I knew I needed Jesus to help me. And then, that was it. I went out and “sinned no more”. I mean, I did have a little temptation here and there but once I said that prayer of repentance and seeking help, I was able to walk the straight path. And I knew Jesus was with me. I could feel Him with me.

And that is the first time this “raised in the church” boy felt the reality of Jesus. He was no longer words to a song or doctrine or a famous historic figure or someone the pastor spoke about. He was real!

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Bob Russell quote…..

I was blessed enough to attend a breakfast this morning that had Bob Russell as the main speaker. Now if the name Bob Russell doesn’t sound familiar to you, he is the pastor that started my church, Southeast Christian Church, that continues to grow and send out ripples in the pond of Louisville and beyond. And while I did not have the pleasure or opportunity to attend while he was lead pastor, his effective transition plan to pastors Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman has ensured the vine of Southeast which is grafted to Christ continues to produce fruit long after Bob Russell’s retirement.

One of the more poignant comments made during Bob’s talk:

“When the electricity goes out is a great time to be selling flashlights.”

Electricity = our nation and culture

Flashlights = the light and truth of Jesus

He even told a story of a time he was at a social event and a self-proclaimed non-religious person came up to him and said “Preacher man, I am not religious but even I know that our country is on the decline”.

While many believers feel angst and concern for the direction our country is headed — slipping morals, increasing violence, loneliness in spite of the electronic connections, government corruption — now is also the opportunity to show others the light and truth of Jesus Christ. There might not ever be a better time in our country’s history where people realize something is missing and long to fill the emptiness in our hearts. Government is letting us down. Entertainment is fleeting. Sex, drugs and rock and roll are unable to fill the void. Only Jesus can provide the peace that passes understanding. Only Jesus can gives eternal joy. Only Jesus can fill that God-shaped hole in our heart.

To hear more of this great message, Bob Russell also has a great blog at www.bobrussell.org .

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Perspective…..

The quote below was in this last Sunday’s sermon. The series of 4 is only halfway done and already very impactful. Last week’s sermon with an illustration of our life as a mist (referring to James 4:14) really hit home the point that our time here on earth is very brief….. and what are we doing about it that will have eternal impact. What I took away from it was the only actions and decisions in my life that eternally matter aren’t my career, my house, my money, my clothes — they are my choice to accept Jesus as my Savior and my actions that point others to Jesus. Everything else is temporary to this world.

The quote I found particularly profound was:

“If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then your time on earth is the closest you will ever be to hell.

If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then your time on earth is the closest you’ll ever be to heaven.”

You can go watch or listen to the sermon series here — http://www.southeastchristian.org/default.aspx?page=4754&series=46.

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Sermon summary…..

As 2013 begins, many of us roll up our sleeves and launch out of the gate with resolutions, aspirations and goals for the new year. And, unfortunately, once February turns the page on our calendar those resolutions, aspirations and goals are quite often set aside for familiar patterns and habits not so becoming or healthy.

This week’s sermon attempted to inspire and reinforce those resolutions, aspirations and goals with some Scriptural support. There were four points that aimed to buttress all of our good intentions. They are:

  • Think progress, not perfection – so often we dismiss how far we’ve come — maybe 70%, 80% or 90% of our goal — but since we haven’t reached perfection, we condemn ourselves. Give yourself a break and know that only Jesus is perfect and any progress we make towards a goal is positive gain.

  • Think future, not past – Satan loves to remind us of our past. The reason is that if he can keep us focused our our past failures, he can steal our future successes.
  • Think together, not alone – Even Jesus had 12 disciples. While He could have sent out the Gospel message alone however He wanted to, He used people and communities to spread the Gospel. We need to lean on and encourage one another. Jesus did that to set an example.
  • Think God’s Spirit, not in the flesh – We should operate in the Spirit, not in the flesh. Our best long term results are when we harness the unending power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t transform ourselves; we put ourselves in a position to be transformed.

The sermon was ended by this very cool statement — I can’t; Jesus can; I think I’ll let Him.”

Go check it out here.

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Awesome worship!…..

This weekend my church celebrated its 50th Anniversary. And while Southeast Christian Church is one of the top 10 largest churches in the U.S., the worship service was specifically intentional to focus on what God has done and what God WILL do and to give Him all glory and praise, not to self-placate itself with accolades. It was a very special service in that there was lots of music, lots of prayer, lots of worship, and sermons from every pastor who had ever preached there (Bob Russell, Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman). Several times during worship my eyes filled with joyful or repenting tears revealing the piercing of my heart in worship. Moving to say the least.

Senior pastor Dave Stone often comments when Scripture verses are read and the sound of Bibles being pulled out and pages turning fills the sanctuary. He says that it is a sound he loves to hear. I agree with him for several reasons.

One, it means that Scripture is being preached on. Unfortunately, even though I was raised “in the church” (not Southeast but elsewhere), I bore through many sermons that were not based on God’s Word. That is definitely not the case at my church now.

Two, it means that church attendees are actually bringing their Bibles with them to worship. And by diving into God’s Word they move from “attendee” to “participant” to “disciple” — exactly the path God calls us to be on.

But I digress….. Back to Dave Stone’s favorite sound of Bible pages turning.

So during this last service a different sound in the sanctuary came to be my favorite. And I possibly might not hear it again. You see, this 50th Anniversary worship service, celebration and praise to God was initially intended to occur at our local Papa John’s Louisville Cardinal Stadium. It is a football stadium that has the capacity to seat the entire Southeast congregation in one sitting — all three campuses. For logistics purposes, many things had to be considered and rearranged. One was communion. So these unique self-contained communion units were purchased (think “individualized coffee creamer with grape juice inside and wafer on top”).

As these special self-contained communion items were distributed and people began their prayer and repentance, the sanctuary was filled with the sound of people removing the cellophane wafer wrapper. I was in prayer after consuming my wafer and grape juice and it was revealed to me that it sounded like a gentle rain rather than cellophane removal. I basked in this new perspective, soaked up the acoustical expanse and let the imagery of rain in prayer wash over me like God’s forgiveness does when we submit in the Eucharist. It was incredibly metaphorical and powerful.

It truly was another facet to an already amazing worship service and I am so blessed to have participated.

On a different note, the service started out with a very hilarious video snippet — I highly recommend you click on the link and go watch it.

Where’s Bob – 50th Anniversary Pre-Show from Southeast Video on Vimeo.

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Great sermon message today…..

At church we are going through a series on families. Two weeks ago for Mother’s Day we heard about encouraging moms. Last week was on disciplining parents. This week it was on raising respectful kids.

As always, the sermons were very scriptural and spot on. (I encourage you to go check any of them out online — they can be streamed or podcasted at http://www.southeastchristian.org/?page=3477). Today’s sermon had a few quotes that resonated with me and I am sharing the gist of them here. Unfortunately, I did not write them down so I am going off my memory.

“If you have a daughter, you had better show her Christ’s pure love and appropriate touch, for if she doesn’t get it from you, she will begin to seek it elsewhere.” — James Dobson

“If you don’t want your family to turn out like every other family, then you will need to raise your children differently than everyone else.” — Craig Goeschel

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Post NOTE: I went back and listened to the online sermon and corrected the quotes above so they are accurate and attributable to who spoke them. What you are seeing is the corrected edits.

Signing singing…..

With my wife still recuperating from her surgery and trip to the ER, she has been unable to join us for worship. She has missed service all February and I really miss worshiping with her.

This last Sunday with my oldest daughter in town for her birthday, she wanted to go to the late 11:15am service. I have only been to that service one or two times so it was a bit different for me.

One difference of the 11:15am service is the hearing impaired translator. He/she is positioned down front facing the front row of one of the sections. Consequently, the first several rows of that section are reserved for deaf or hearing impaired worshipers. I looked down there during one of the worship songs and noticed hands flying. It had not occurred to me that they sing with their hands just like the interpreter does. It was so cool to see them joyously and passionately signing and singing. And it was truly inspirational — I wanted to join them.

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Happy New Year!….

Well, 2012 is upon us.

We started the year off very differently today. Because today was Sunday there was no staying up until midnight, waking up with no alarm clock, and lounging in PJs all day while watching the Rose Parade. Instead we followed our normal Sunday routine of getting up early, enjoying a pancake breakfast and going to 9am service at our beloved Southeast Christian Church.

Interestingly, the sermon today included a first that I have heard from a pastor. There were a few quotes in there that made it clear that while the Southeast Christian Church enjoys its role as a spiritual shepherd guiding believers and encouraging growth, we are to ensure we don’t become dependent on Southeast as a church for our spiritual growth. We are to have a personal relationship with Jesus and grow ourselves. Southeast will be there for fellowship, praise, worship, and guidance but there might be a time where another church or someplace else will fulfill that role or we will be called and led elsewhere. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pastor offer up other options outside of their own.

On a different topic, here is my oldest daughter’s Facebook status for today.

“Starting the new year right; sober and going to church.”

I am so proud of her!

Happy New Year and many blessings to you for 2012!

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

Sermon quote…..

The quote below was in the sermon this morning and resonated with me. It is reason for hope.

“God’s not finished writing your story”

And….. He just isn’t finished writing MY story, but He is also not finished writing YOUR story. How cool is that?

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net