How Rested Are you

AE is a term that is used in Church circles when everyone tries to catch their breath.  AFTER EASTER.  There is such a build up to Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve for everyone involved in and around church.  All of the volunteers who open doors, greet, run lights, run sound, run the PowerPoint, clean the church, fold bulletins, prepare children’s programs, musicians and singers rehearsing prior to these dates.  As much as we prepare for these important dates it seems like all of the build up and “POOF”, they are gone and its on to the next big thing.  

The bottom line is that Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve are important services, but everything that was done for Easter and Christmas Eve is done every single week.  Each and every service is about every person walking into service and having a connection to the Lord.  Regardless of what kind of week we have had, God will meet you in your situation.  

I have a friend who is the worship pastor for a large church and during Holy week he rehearses with the band Tuesday night and Wednesday night for Easter.  Thursday afternoon rehearses for Thursday and Good Friday service. Then he leads a Communion service for Holy Thursday and then leads a completely different service for Good Friday.  Oh yea, he still does 2 Easter services on Saturday evening and 4 Easter services on Sunday.  Each and every service would not take place if volunteers did not make it happen.  They are just as exhausted as the Worship Leader.  So family time at Easter does involve a nap.

AFTER EASTER, or in the springtime, everyone starts talking about vacations.  Normally our mind is running a million miles an hour trying to do way too much on too little time. When we do make an effort to try to slow down or go on vacation the first thing we do is organize a schedule.  Now that’s relaxing!  I’m reminded of the movie “Vacation” when Chevy Chase travels all across the US to see the Grand Canyon. He and his wife look out of the vastness of the Grand canyon for 3 seconds he then nod’s his head a few times and says “lets go” cause they have to get to Wally World.  A band mate from Missouri once told me this about Floridians, “People are in such a hurry to get somewhere so they can relax”.

A few years ago my wife and I were one of 3 couples who traveled to Spain for 10 days.  We traveled in a van and had somewhat of an itinerary.  We were in Torremolinos and we were looking for a lunch spot around 2 pm.  It was siesta time and all, and I do mean all shops were closed for a nap.  I can just see the sign here in the states.  “Sorry we are closed for lunch and a nap and will return later this afternoon”.  Not going to happen.  There is such a different culture overseas where dinner might last 3-4 hours and the conversation and laughter could last deep into the night.  

What ever your form of rest or rejuvenation is, make it a point to put down what is stressing you out and find your quiet place and turn everything over to God. Let him work out all the details. Enjoy your family, friends or what ever your refuge is. Know that what we are doing today will be our past soon and it forms our character. Pull back the reigns and focus on what is important and keep that thought in the forefront of your mind to make this day count.

Matthew 11:28 New International Version (NIV)

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.


God Bless

Mike



40 Days

Lent was never something I participated in as a kid. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I even heard about it and that people gave something up for a few weeks. Of course, all my friends were giving up sodas and chocolate and so I associated Lent with giving up things that were bad for you anyway and clumped it together with New Year’s resolutions. If you know you need to change, why wait for a certain day to make that change?

I also hated giving up the same thing as anybody else. Because Ive always done something random and that wasn’t a big deal to begin with, I don’t remember what I’ve given up in the past. But this year, hopefully, I’ll remember. You see, this year I gave up shaving. The fun part is, I go through seasons of trying to be clean shaven and seasons of wishing my beard was as long as the Duck Commanders. Not shaving is really just a normal part of my life. But I did this for one very specific and humiliating reason. So I could shave half my face and share this picture with you. 

Half Shave.jpg


There it is. In all it’s hideous, disturbing glory. Why would I go through 40 days of lent, take an embarrassing picture of myself, and share it with you? Because I want you to see how much someone can change in 40 days. Despite my track record of previous Lenten fasts, taking 40 days to get rid of stuff that weighs you down, distracts you from what’s important, or just isn’t good for you can make all the difference for your life. 

The great news is you don’t have to wait until New Years or next Ash Wednesday to get started. You can start to make a change right now. And by limiting yourself to 40 days there is always light at the end of the tunnel. And if you start today, April 30, there are exactly 40 days until Pentecost (just in case you want to keep in line with major religious holidays). 

I have a suggestion though, don’t think too hard about giving something up. Try to find things to add to your daily routine. For instance, you could:

  • Read the entire New Testament (it only takes 18 hours to read it out loud, or less than 30 minutes a day)

  • Pray through the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office

  • Get outside and just bask in God’s creation through walks, hikes, bike rides, bird watching, or whatever makes you happy. 

  • Find one random person a day and make it your goal to make them smile. 

  • Begin and end each day with a Psalm.

  • Memorize one verse a day.

  • Sit in absolute silence for 10 minutes a day, listening for God’s voice. 

  • Keep a journal, write down your prayers, look back at it often to see where God has worked.

  • Search scripture for each time the number 40 appears. 

  • Learn to play an instrument

We all could us a little change in our lives. Don’t put it off, start now.

How Is Your Week Going?

So how are you doing on your Lenten sacrifice?  What did you give up or what did you do to better yourself?  I made a commitment at the beginning of the year to make this a year of Thankfulness.  Each day I want to make sure I take the time to say thank you and to be more attentive to many little things, which happen each day that I could have over looked.   

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

It’s just a small thing but I gave up all sodas.  I was drinking about 3 per day.  I have had one slip in the past six weeks where I had one soda at a meeting (for the caffeine) because I do not drink coffee.  Shocker, I know, there are actually people who do not drink coffee.  

As we enter Holy Week leading up to Easter I am trying to get a better understanding of the weight this week carries. Recently in Pastor Alan’s sermon, he mentioned the shortest passage in the bible John 11: 35  “Jesus wept.”  That verse has resonated with me all week.  Many times we hear of the stories of the Bible and Jesus is instructing the disciples or preaching to crowds.  We so often forget Jesus was a real human with real emotions, real feelings.  He lost a very dear friend in Lazarus and Jesus wept.  He was hurting and the pain was real.  I remember the first time I saw my Mom cry was when her mother passed away.  It was 11 o’clock at night and I saw my Mom face down on the table sobbing.  I hurt because my Mom was hurting.  The pain was real.   

I can only imagine what kind of anxiety Jesus must have felt as he came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday knowing what would happen in the next week.   Now lets be honest here, If we are leaving on vacation, going to the doctor, dentist, first day at a new job, leaving your kids at school for the first time or missing a deadline there is sooooo much anxiety.  Jesus knowing He had to stand in front of a judge and be found guilty, as Pilot asked Jesus “Are you the king of Jews?”  And Jesus said, “ Yes, it is as you say.”  

With those words He was found guilty and tortured and put to death on a cross.

Let’s understand the horrible fashion He suffered.  He was whipped with a strap that had hooks in it to pull flesh from his body.  Then carry his own cross so he could be nailed to it.  And a crown of thorns forced on his head. Jesus felt pain.  And as he was on the cross He was human when He cried out “I thirst.”  

My heart grows heavy with the realization of the suffering He took for my sins and the sins of the world.  So when I think about me just giving up soda’s for six weeks it seem very petty on my part.  

Yes it is a celebration on Easter Sunday, because that day changed our destiny. HE IS ALIVE, HE IS NOT DEAD. Jesus was sent here to forgive our sins. May we never forget the weight of the sacrifice for the forgiveness and love He showed to us and to be thankful everyday just not on Easter.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


When Church Is Like Football

I’ve lived in just about every part of the country east of the Rocky Mountains. But I’ve spent the majority of my life in “Southern” states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas. Even though I still say y’all, there are a few things that make me distinctly not southern in most peoples eyes. I can’t stand gravy (I will literally scrape the gravy off of chicken fried steak if I’m too embarrassed to order it without gravy), I’ve never been a fan of grits, and I no longer live off of sweet tea. But despite my weird food choices, perhaps the greatest thing that makes me stand out is my indifference to college football, or really any college sport. 

I learned early on that I will get asked who my favorite team is several times and that if I claimed one of the actual good teams I would either make an enemy or a friend in less than a second. However, if I said Arkansas State (which is where I spent a year as an engineering major) people are so confused that they don’t know whether to make fun of me, feel sad for me, or ask me in disbelief “Why?”. 

While I was a youth pastor in Oklahoma, I ended up going to an OU game with a handful of students who had season tickets. We get to the campus, which is much bigger than I was expecting, and they directed me towards where we needed to park. As we were walking into the stadium they were giving away bobble heads of Adrian Peterson and they had a large poster as well that diagramed the perfect sooner (arm of Sam Bradford, speed of Roy Williams, etc.). My students were going crazy talking about each of the people listed on the poster and were excited about getting it hung up in their rooms, and even asked if we could hang one of them up in the youth room. 

As we made our way to the seats the crowd was already fired up. One of my guys turned to me and yelled here comes the schooner! The wagon pulled by two horses comes racing out of the tunnel. There were a whole bunch of other traditions that went on during the game that my students just ate up. They knew all the chants, they could even point to other season ticket holders, and they knew that one rather large fellow would take off his shirt and dance anytime OU scored (the game was something like 57-2, so there was lots of dancing). Once the game was done, they were so excited and they asked me what I though of the game. I did my best to be as positive about it as I could, but in reality it was one of the worst sporting experiences I’ve even been to. 

  • When we got to the OU campus, there were signs directing you towards the stadium, but that wasn’t where you parked. Parking was scattered throughout fraternities and education lots. My teens knew right where to go, but I was completely lost. 

  • The bobble head was cool. Even though I knew next to nothing about who Adrian Peterson was at the time, bobbleheads are always fun. They gave away something that appealed to a large spectrum of people. 

  • I gave the poster away. I knew maybe two names of the 15 or so people on the poster, and instead of getting me more interested or excited about the game, it was a harsh reminder that I was an outside.

  • All of the traditions that my students loved just felt weird to me. Besides constantly being reminded that I had no clue what was going on, it was hard for me to get excited about a couple of horses, songs I’d never heard before and couldn’t understand the words anyway, and many of the other traditions that had been slowly acquired over the years but hit me all at once. 

  • Sports chants are just dumb to begin with. I think the players know that they need to play defense or that they just got a first down. Yelling at them doesn’t somehow snap them out of a dream and remind them “Why yes, I think defense right now would be the wisest choice”.  (I understand that there are some psychological effects of chants and the energy and how it can help encourage players, but if you think about just the words, “let’s go Sooners, let’s go” is just redundant and void of any real meaning). 

  • I hate blow out games. The second best team in the nation was playing Chattanooga, so I knew going into it that it was going to be a win, but 57-2 is the type of game that does nothing for me. I would rather have a close, even sided game anytime. There was no suspense, and after watching a 400 pound Sasquatch of a man dance 7 or 8 times I dreaded another touchdown. 

But the best thing that came out of this experience is that I will never look at church the same again. I realize that’s not exactly what most people would take away from a football game, but it’s a memory that is seared in my brain. 

  • Churches usually don’t have confusing parking lots (or do they?) but anytime there is more than one building or entrance to a building there is confusion to a first time guest. Are our buildings clearly marked? Do the words that we use to label them have any actual meaning to the people coming onto our campus. Are there people who can help guide you to where you need to go so that you don’t feel completely lost from the beginning?

  • Do we give away something that people will actually enjoy? Does it make any kind of connection even if it’s just a bit of plastic on a spring?

  • How many times do we talk about people and expect everyone to know who they are? If we say “we all know the story of Moses” we instantly make people who aren’t aware of that story feel disconnected and inadequate. If we just say “go see George”, they have no context to figure out if we are taking about George Clooney, Curious George, or King George. Names matter, but even more important than the name is the ability to make connections between names and why we are saying them. 

  • What traditions do churches have that look strange to people outside the community? Early church critics thought Christians were cannibals because they ate Jesus’ body and blood. Baptism, kneeling at the altar,  acolytes, and so many other things have very little correlation to secular world culture, and so while we might be a huge fan of them and love the symbolism, do we explain to people why we do it?

  • God is good… If you screamed out “all the time” right afterwards, you already know about church chants. We don’t usually call them chants, we typically call them call and response. I won’t name specifics, but anytime someone says one thing and expects a response from other people based on that, you are drawing a line between those who are “insiders” and those who are not. 

  • We all look for different things in church. Some people like highly experiential worship with high energy, others prefer more meditative worship with heavy liturgy, and there are so many other methods of worship.  

One last thing that doesn’t correlate nicely with any of the previous bullet points. You have to define the win. Any football team knows what a win is. It’s where at the end of the game you have more points than the other team. But what is a win in church? Is it when they sing your favorite song or when you get out five minutes early? No, although sometimes those things are nice. A win for us is when someone comes to know Jesus for the first time or when someone grasps a deeper understanding and love for him. 

Love One Another

Years ago, I remember all Americans were saying baseball was the American pastime. Now, the culture has changed especially here in the south where college football reigns. Many pastors in the south have all voiced to me their number one question when coming to a new congregation is what college football team do you root for?

Just from my perspective, NFL football has lost passion because of all of the controversy over the last couple years where football players put their beliefs and agendas above what they are paid to do. We all go to our jobs each day and try to make ends meet. The climate of the America I know does not feel sorry for the millionaires who play a kids game and get treated like rock stars who want to be heard for their beliefs. There are ways to use your notoriety to better this land we love and many athletes have done just that.

But, I think the national pastime now has became an argument about the current administration, politician, Democrat or Republican. The news will spend a gross amount of time bashing what ever the network and/or the reporter wants to get behind. Yes there are stories which need to be heard, but there are stories where the compassion of people caring for others should be told.

I used to love to end the day watching the monologue of the late night shows just to unwind and get a few laughs. I cannot stand any of the late night shows anymore for the bashing reasons. Yet they get paid millions by networks who have their agenda to fulfill.

God wants us all to love one another. His greatest commandment is to love one another. Maybe we should look ourselves in the mirror every morning and ask a few questions to ourselves.

#1 Am I lying to myself? Tell the truth to yourself.

#2 Let what I value be more important than what I’ve got to have.

#3 I will not lead myself by myself.

You are responsible for you. Get someone in your life that is bold enough to tell you the truth so you do not get full of yourself. Guess what, every bad decision you have made you have been right in the middle of. People depend on you. Your family, your job, your employees, your friends. Are you leading your self well? The point is you cannot lead well if you are not leading your self well.

When you get up in the morning start a routine where you ask yourselves questions. Lead your self well now and the bad decisions you have made in the past will be in the past and the choices we make now will lead us to being a better person with better character. Maybe the national pastime could be compassion for one another, oh yeah, and world peace.

The song “We all Bleed the same” pretty much sums it up.

We all bleed the same

We’re more beautiful when we come together

We all bleed the same So tell me why, tell me why

We’re divided Woke up today

Another headline Another innocent life is taken

In the name of hatred

So hard to take And if we think that it’s all good

Then we’re mistaken

Cause my heart is breaking

Are you left? Are you right?

Pointing fingers, taking sides

When are we gonna realize?

So Father God, I pray

That our families will come together right now

And seek Your face

You will forgive our sins

And You will heal our incredible land

In the name of the only Savior, Jesus Christ

Amen

Have a great week.

Mike Conrad