Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Horse Feet

Horse Shoes? Who in the world still plays horse shoes? As you know horse shoes is reserved for those in retirement communities. Shuffle Board, Bingo and Horse Shoes are all events in the Grumpy Old Geezer Olympics. So why would a slightly balding, middle aged dad like me ever pick up the game of those who are teeth challenged?
Two years ago when we moved to Oregon we discovered this hidden park in the middle of a near by neighborhood. It is a great park with a playground, tennis courts, a baseball field, a picnic area and a horse shoe pit. Our wonderful friends the Condellos and the Williams often take our families there for picnics. For some odd reason Erik with a K Williams is the only adult in his thirties who actually owns horse shoes. Odd and Erik with a K are best friends. For the past few years Erik, Brian and I have periodically played the game. This past summer our casual game of leisure has become an all out cage match to the death of high stake horse shoe awesomeness and the quest for horse shoe world domination. On one side of the horse shoe pit is team Erik and Brian (two Pastors who have dedicated their lives to serving God in full time ministry.) On the other side is me (one man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of sophomoric tomfoolery and to being the cheapest man alive). The other person on my team is one of several innocent bystanders who have been unfortunate and foolish enough to get aboard this train wreck. For some unknown reason with a K, most of my teammates have only volunteered once and have opted out of future matches.

I have to confess that I love playing horse shoes. I grew up playing with my Dad. We have a horse shoe pit in the back yard of my childhood home. My dad is an amazing horse shoe player. I have never beaten the man in horse shoes. Dad would rip off ringer after ringer and he would make short work of my horse shoemanship. My Father is a man of honor and integrity and he taught me to play the game with good sportsmanship and with respect for your opponent. Dad always is a great encouragement and was genuinely excited when I managed to get a ringer or a point. Although I’ve never beat him in the game, I always left feeling good about myself and my effort. Playing horse shoes with my two pastor friends is a far cry from those games of honor.

I’m about to expose an ugly truth to you. Please remove small children and sharp objects from the room. I have discovered over the past 24 years of working with youth pastors that they are pathetic. I’m talking shameless unapologetic pathetic. Before I get hit by lightning please let me explain. Clinical research has shown that people seeking a career in youth ministry are slightly deranged. My theory is that when one enters the field of youth ministry they are young and are somewhat able to keep up in competition with their hormonal energetic flock, however as time, the human metabolism, and the effects of ageing cruelly deflate the youth pastor ego it renders them lacking on the field of competition. The youth pastor attempts to level the playing field by over compensating and develops their ability to mock and trash talks their foe. I can’t say that I blame them. It is a survival technique developed to maintain their cool awesomeness. The older you get the more developed the gift. Let me just say that Erik and Brian are very well developed. They are both pushing forty which in youth pastor years is like one hundred and twenty. Erik and Brian have taken mocking and trash talking to an artful perfection. I have had the honor of being on their team and witnessing the fine art of the perfectly timed cough, burp, fart, or inappropriate comment. I have watched their opponents who completely out match them in speed, skill and ability, crumble in humiliating defeat in the wake of their evil super power. This past summer Brian and I were getting schooled in game by this old pro and then Brian unleashed his shameless gift upon this poor man and we were able to snatch victory from a most certain doom. The poor man was so frustrated at Brian that I thought he was going to resort to violence. It was beautiful!

Now that I have set the stage for our all out cage match to the death of high stake horse shoe awesomeness and the quest for horse shoe world domination I would like to take you back in time to painful place which I like to call the worst moment ever in the history of my illustrious horse shoe career. One week ago in the twilight hours of the Lords Day I found myself walking the long lonely trail to the arena of my former glory and my current pain. On this road a small child greeted us with excitement as he joined the parade of horse shoe legends. His name was Ethan and he was a buzz saw of energy. As we prepared the arena for our pending battle, innocent Ethan began to connect to his new found horse shoe heroes. The match began as normal. There was the typical mocking, rock throwing and well timed inappropriate comments. Erik was in rare form as he succeeded in throwing me off my game. My partner answered with some key points that put us in the lead. My partner happened to be Brian’s father-in-law which deterred Brian from wisely unleashing his mocking game upon his Wife’s Dad; however it didn’t stop him from letting it go on me.

As I mentioned before Youth Pastors can be shameless. Ethan who was cheering for everyone was now an innocent pawn of evil in Brian’s pathetic scheme to have victory at any cost. Just as the Candy Man in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang enticed small children into his trap, Brian incites Ethan into his. “Do you see that man about to throw that horse shoe? Every time he begins to throw I want you to laugh at him.” Ethan played the pawn to perfection. He had this great mocking laugh that made me almost wet myself ever time he did it. I was now rendered useless by this innocent child. This made Erik and Brian drunk with mocking glee. Our sizeable lead was being demolished by innocent Ethan and Brian ripping off two or three ringers. My team was up nineteen to eighteen as the day surrendered its light. One ringer would mean victory for both sides. My first horse shoe went inches left of the target and slid to a disappointing nothing. In an act of mocking arrogance Erik tosses his first shoe three feet in front of him. Erik was betting the bank that I would choke on my second toss and that he would get a ringer. He would either walk away from the game a hero or a fool. The prior week Brian did a similar stunt which ended in victory for my team. It was getting dark as I stepped up to silence my foes arrogance. The trash talking and mocking reached a crescendo as I let the shoe slip into the dark. The shoe found its mate at the back of the pit. Erik steps up to the line dressed in all of his gloating arrogance. I shot up a quick prayer asking the good Lord to humble the proud and to give grace to the humble. My feeble prayer was answered with grace for the humble. The Holy Trinity looked on as Erik’s tossed his horse shoe into the night. The sound of metal striking metal and a bright spark that caused my knees to buckle gave birth to the emotional scars of my defeat. Anyone who is schooled in the fine art of trash talking and mocking knows that to win with grace, honor and respect is an invitation to future weakness. A true artist finishes their opponent off by the sheer obnoxiousness of their victory celebration. Erik is an artist. After his victory dance, yelling, screaming, mocking, gloating, boasting and teasing, came his tweeting and his horse shoe victory blog. The next day he even managed to rub it in by typing my name in our bowling score sheet as “Stevelostshoes”. Like a stray cat the memory of that painful evening still lingers. Erik will make sure that I will never forget it. The games that have followed have been haunted with my inner competitive demon. I find myself playing in silence in attempt to defeat the monster within. I love spending time with Brian and Erik. I love playing horse shoes with them. Brian and Erik bring life to my soul and laughter to my heart. They are the best of my friends, which brings me to the final and the main point of this blog. If by some chance you are an excellent horse shoe player or even if you are an expert in the art form of mocking please look me up so that together we can have revenge for my defeat and so that I can once again achieve dominance in our all out cage match to the death of high stake horse shoe awesomeness and the quest for horse shoe world domination.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Numb in the Bum

So how does one know that they are becoming a lazy no good couch potato? Thankfully the good Lord has recently equipped me with an early detection device. This past year my back forty has developed a super human power perception. Some have sensitive feelings, others have sensitive taste buds, I have a sensitive cooley. Anytime I’m sitting for a prolonged period of time my cheeks go numb in protest. The worst part of this super human gift is that if I don’t equally distribute my weight across the length of my assets, one cheek will sing in happiness while the other cheek will feel as though it just went to the dentist. My bum goes numb. When this happens I know that it is time to get up and restore the happy place that circulation and feeling brings to my bottom’s well being. Although the reduction of circulation in my derriere is cause for some concern I’m a little embarrassed to go to the doctor. What advise would the medical profession offer? “Stand up and massage often.” “We will need to see if there is any blockage in the veins in your cheeks. How does booty angioplasty sound?” “Have you considered butt rehabilitation?” For the life of me, I can’t think one compelling reason to have a doctor find the source of my special gift. I guess the big moral in this sad tail (ok that was bad) is that Krispy Kreme doughnuts really do come back to bite you in the end. So if perhaps someday I have the privilege of gracing your home please excuse me for getting up every 30 minutes or so to restore harmony and feeling to my posterior universe.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Come Forth

Directly in front of me I see the ancient walls of the Holy City. To my right, Bethpage. This is the road that was the gateway to Jerusalem and in which Jesus rode on a donkey as the people shouted Hosanna and worshipped Him with words and palm branches. Directly behind me rises the Mt. of Olives which many believe Messiah will return upon. I’m standing in the small village of Bethany. I respectfully walk down the stone stairs of an ancient grave that held the stench of death. I opened my Bible and read John 11. The tomb before me contained Lazarus who lay decaying for four whole days. As I meditate on John 11 my imagination races back in time. Outside of this tomb, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’s family, friends, and some religious leaders gather to mourn the loss of their beloved. Five days prior Mary and Martha send a desperate plea for help to Jesus. Mary once gave herself fully to worshiping Him as she annointed Jesus with ointment and used her hair to wipe His feet. She and Martha knew Jesus was their best hope for their brother’s life. Their desperate cries seemed to melt into heart wrenching grief as Lazarus met his early demise. Jesus begins the long walk back to the very city which vowed to stone Him. Jesus tells His disciples “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of Man may be glorified by it.” “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there so that you may believe, but let us go there.” Days later Martha and Mary receive word that Jesus is on His way. Martha runs to meet Him and just as her sister spilled ointment over Him as an act of worship, Martha spills her grief and pain on the feet of her Savior. “Lord if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Martha’s disappointment in God has been echoed by many of us. Jesus consoles her grief by pointing to the reality of His Kingdom in heaven in which He will pay an unthinkable price for all who accept His sacrifice. “Your brother shall rise again.” This was not the answer Martha longed to hear. She desired to hug her brother, she longed to laugh with him and to share life with him. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus promises Marta something so amazing that these words have become the hope of millions of followers throughout time. “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe? Martha in her grief utters the most important words of her whole life. These words will bring Angels to celebrate and these words will print her name in the Book of Life “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” Jesus continues on to the tomb to meet Mary who falls at His feet as she mirrors Martha’s disappointment. The man who identified Himself moments ago as the Resurrection and the Life joins Martha and Mary in their grief as He begins to weep. When Jesus stood outside of the tomb He commanded, “remove the stone.” Martha gives the all knowing all powerful Savior some kind advise, “My brother has been dead four days and he is really stinky.” Jesus responds “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Jesus after a short prayer speaks words of either God Himself or a crazy lunatic. “Lazarus come forth!” Lazarus who was worshipping the God of the Universe in His Kingdom in heaven is now face to face with the same God incarnate outside of this tomb. "Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus says with authority. Those that gathered together in grief and mourning must have been in absolute shock and disbelief. The roller coaster of emotion on that day was earth shaking. The depth of grief and despair melted away to the heights of joy and gratitude.

In October my pastor became seriously ill. John Stumbo is loved by everyone. He is a man of humility, compassion and faith. I would describe John as authentic. God uses him to challenge, encourage and convict us to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. I have been very blessed by John. As John’s condition became increasingly desperate, so became our collective pleas to the God of our hopes. The Lord prompted many of us to intercede several times a day. My children joined hundreds of others and prayed for him at meals and before bed. John seemed to be spiraling down the dark stairs of death. His systems began to shut down. He was unable to process fluids. John’s dehydrated body retained 50LBS of water. His life hung by a thread as the whole church was called to an emergency prayer meeting. The church was filled. Through this crisis we would unite. We pleaded for help. We sang and worshipped. We hoped that God would rescue. That night John was given a last chance controversial drug. I suppose my pastor was as close to death as one could technically be. That night John’s spiral to death stopped. The God who boldly called Lazarus from his tomb intervened. Each day we offered thankfulness to the Lord as John very slowly pushed forward. Two steps forward and one back. “It may be over a year before your husband would be able to walk again,” the doctors informed his wife. The past months have been marked by small victories and some set backs as John slowly reclaims his strength. Last weekend our church gathered once again for worship. John and his wife Joanna addressed the church via a video. I was overwhelmed with emotion as they shared their journey with humor and grace. There wasn’t a dry eye in that place. As the video faded to black and the lights slowly were brought up, and a lone figure slowly walked to the platform. Every person in that church stood in awe as Pastor John made his way to the podium. The place erupted in applause and shouts of joy. I was completely blown away. I was so overcome with emotion that I began to weep. My heart overflowed with gratitude to the Lord as John addressed those of us that God has entrusted to his care. My mind raced back to that old tomb in Bethany and to that crowd that gathered to mourn their friend. At that moment I believe we all shared their awe, joy, and thankfulness. John spoke of the goodness of God. He spoke of his gratitude for his family, friends and for the prayers of the church. Every word that came from his mouth was a special gift from the Lord. John joked that we prayed him out of heaven. Jesus said to Martha “Did I not say to you, if you believe in Me, you will see great things." On this amazing Sunday, Salem Alliance Church witnessed the great power and glory of our God and we celebrate His goodness.

John’s recovery is far from over. Just as the blind man in Mark 8 received his miracle in stages so will it be for John. Until that time we will continue to unite, pray, worship, and offer gratitude to the Resurrection and the Life.

You can read John’s Blog and order the interview DVD at .

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pew in the Pew

Often my favorite part of going to church is worship. The Worship Team at my church is amazing. They lead us in the great hymns of the faith and worshipful songs of today. I also love watching others worship. Some close their eyes and lose themselves in the song, some lift their hands to heaven and worship with their whole being, some worship in silent reverence as they contemplate the depth of the words, and still others are just to cool to sing in public. Me, I’m some what of an ecliptic Worshiper. I live in all of these different styles. I remember the first time I dared to lift my hands in worship. I felt so self conscious. What would others think? Does this make me look self righteous and spiritual? First it was one hand raised at shoulder height and then two. Eventually I didn’t care at all what others thought, or how I was perceived and I would raise my hands to God hoping to hold His hands in gratitude. I have an audience of One and for now He is all that matters. I enjoy worshipping God most when I’m alone. I will put on my I Pod get on my knees and fully give myself over to the One who created me to worship Him. There are no distractions, only gratitude and amazement. I often weep at my Saviors feet worshiping Him with tears of thankfulness.

I have been blessed with many gifts and talents, however when it comes to singing I’m a pork chop at a bar mitzvah. Those of us who sing much like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs live by a special code of ethics. We understand that as much as we enjoy cursing the world with our melodious melodies the general public loathes us as much as a chain smoker in a crowded elevator. When we sing in public, to avoid being stoned, burned at the stake or thrown to the lions, we keep the volume level down to a whisper. Just to keep myself safe, personally I prefer lip syncing. This simple code of ethics allows us to participate in society in harmony and mutual understanding. Well the lady who was in the pew behind me yesterday obviously didn’t get the e-mail. This well intentioned lady sounded much like a drunken opera singer riding down a bumpy road accompanied by squealing tires. She sat directly behind me as she auditioned for the twisted version of Opera American Idol. The vocals behind me made it virtually impossible to think of anything else. As the service went on I had to pinch myself from giggling out loud. The ego is a powerful drug that can delude us into greatness. Perhaps the lady behind me was drunk on ego. The small boy in front of me stared at this lady with big eyes, his mouth wide open, as he tried to wrap his mind around the crazy rifts that filled his ears. My son Noah plugged his ears and buried himself in my lap. I’m sure that back in the day when opera hymns were all the rage that this lady rocked the house, but now singing contemporary worship songs, it was as out of place as me trying to rap. An evil thought filled my mind as I thought of joining her in on opera worship. Maybe opera worship would become a new acceptable practice for those of us who lacked social singing ability. My rebellious heart gave way to compassion and reverence for the Lord and I restrained myself into submission. In the end I know that we have an audience of One, and the singing from behind me that filled my heart and mind with ugliness was a beautiful sound to the Lord. In a way I admired the lady for singing with such passion. Perhaps one day I will find the courage and break the social contract of the vocally impaired and make a joyful sound to our audience of One. On that day I hope I’m singing behind you.