The Recommendation

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A woman I didn’t even know changed the course of my life today.

Okay, that’s probably overstating things.  Let’s just say she changed the course of my lunch. Staff lunch today was at the Old Mill Tasty Shop in downtown Wichita.  It’s a small soda fountain from back in the 30’s, with a surprisingly tasty menu.

I was heartened to see several vegetarian items on the list, and set my sites on The cheese crisp, which sounded rather nacho-ish.  Our cheerful waitress approached, and I decided to ask her if it was any good.  I’m glad I did.

“It’s small–more of an appetizer,” she waved me off and put an arm around my shoulder. “You really should get the vegetarian burrito.  It’s my favorite, and you’ll love it.”

And I did. I’d give it 4 stars.

Now, before you think I’ve posted my Trip Adviser review on the wrong page, here’s what my waitress got me thinking.  Could I as convincingly offer a recommendation for my church, as she did for that burrito?

I don’t know.  A burrito is an easy sell.  But my church?  I really really like my church, and I really really want new people to come.  But…maybe it’s not for everybody.  Maybe my church’s praise band isn’t contemporary enough.  Maybe the pastor (me) doesn’t preach on enough justice issues…or too many?

Maybe our church only fits for people who are farmers, or in the airplane industry, or school teachers?  Maybe our church doesn’t do enough immersive baptisms, or study enough theology.  Maybe our building feels old to some folks.  Maybe we expect people to do too much.  Or allow others to do very little.

You see?  Whereas my burrito today was a slam dunk recommendation, my church may not be for everybody.  And so my recommendation might be a little halting.  People can hear a hesitation like that and question the sincerity behind it.

May I make a recommendation for all of us Christians longing to connect with people searching for a church home?  I recommend sharing unqualified enthusiasm for your church without having to oversell it, either.

“My Church has helped my children know God, and I’m so proud to watch them grow up. I highly recommend it.”

“My Church has a weekly food ministry, where I’ve learned about serving as a spiritual gift. I highly recommend it.”

“My Church has a small group I’m a part of that studies the scriptures and shares our faith with each other.  I highly recommend it.”

You get the idea.  The waitress didn’t have to tell me everything about that delicious burrito.  I believed in her recommendation because she clearly believed, too

Psalm 34:8a says “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.  Your words, attitudes, and enthusiasm can offer a taste of the kingdom to others.  Remember, you’re not selling your church.  You’re recommending a life in the Spirit, Who is at the very center of it.

I’ve tasted, my friends, and I’ve seen…

And I was filled.

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Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

Love The Children Now

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Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  –Jesus Christ

I don’t have a solution,
But something is amiss,
The problem is appalling
And I can tell you this:

I wouldn’t want to spend my nights,
Upon a concrete floor,
Or caring for a toddler,
I’d never met before.

I wouldn’t want the same three meals
each day for many weeks
Without a way to brush my teeth
Or wash my dirty cheeks.

I wouldn’t want to be apart
from family so long.
To be an innocent, a child.
Who has done nothing wrong.

Forget the funding battles,
Forget building the wall,
We must not be a stumbling block
to children, young and small

Each side, entrenched, the battle waged
The fix? I don’t know how,
but surely Christ would call a truce,
And love the children now.

Mitch

 

O Come, O Come, To Manuels.

 

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Sadie and Wayne Palmer (my in-laws), with my wife Jan.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good -Psalm 34:8a

Blasphemy warning:  I’m about to compare the Christ Child to a burrito.

But oh, what a burrito.  I’d pay triple the price for one. Actually they just call it “a tortilla”.  The one I had for breakfast a week ago was stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, eggs, beans, and onions.  And topped with a special hot sauce.  Here’s what it looked like.

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The thing is significantly bigger than your head.  And the taste makes you want to shout “Rejoice! Rejoice!”

You’ll have to drive down to Port Isabel, TX, to eat one of these marvels.  And you’d better bring cash.  And no attitude.  And an open mind. Because Manuel’s is pretty much a hole in the wall.

Here’s what it looks like inside.

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The floors are rough and uneven.  The walls are covered in posters for old 70’s movies, like “The Godfather” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, along with pictures of Manuel’s family, especially grandkids who are athletes or cheerleaders.  From the ceiling hangs pennants of college and NFL football teams. It has a strange man-cave charm to it.

But let’s come back to the tortillas, or as I call them, “the Reason for the Seasoning”? 

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Beyond delicious.  I’ve been coming down to this place (adjacent to S. Padre Island) for maybe 15 years or so.  Things change down on the South Texas coast, but Manuels stays the same, like a dear friend waiting with open arms.

If I’m describing this Hole In The Wall as if it were a Holy Place, there’s a reason.  Somehow, despite the rundown conditions, Manuels just feels special.  I’m not the only one sharing that sentiment.  I know because of the walls.  Any place not touched by a poster or a picture bears the signature of someone who’s been there.

 

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If you look real close, you can see the writing on the walls.

Hundreds of signatures fill up the walls, with folks from across the country (and beyond, I’m sure), making their mark.  My signature is there, somewhere, from years ago.  I don’t remember where, but I know I’ve gone on record as a fellow pilgrim to Manuels.

 

Now, if your mouth is watering, and you feel the need to road trip down to South Texas for breakfast this week, let me know and maybe I’ll join you.  But I hope that, as this Advent season begins, you are feeling an even more powerful pull towards the manger.

The accommodations that night in Bethlehem were lousy.  The décor? Non existent.  It was, perhaps, a hole in the wall.  But something Truly Holy draws us in to that cattle stall.  It is an encounter with Someone that makes it worth this journey.

We are called to be counted amongst the millions who pay homage to the Child.  To write our name on the walls of the stable.  To tell the world that we were there.  To proclaim that God is here.

And so, in spite of my love for Manuel (he’s a great guy), it cannot compare to my love for Emmanuel. And as much as I want you all to get a taste of that amazing food, it is eclipsed by my desire that you experience the All Powerful Love of Jesus.

Christ is, indeed, more than a burrito, and even more to be savored.  Taste and see that the Lord is good. He will nourish you long after December 25th…

with zero chance of indigestion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Light, Beer

There’s a convenience store in my town. Here’s what the sign out front says this week:

“WE SELL
BEER ON
SUNDAY
NOON TO 8PM
1 JOHN 1:5″

One sentence, no breaks.  Just a beer advertisement and a scripture reference.

The family that owns that convenience store is clearly Christian.  There’s even a cross on their logo.  And this is not the first time they’ve posted a scripture verse on their sign.

This is just the funniest.

Do you notice that they wait until noon to start selling beer?  I wonder if that’s to catch everyone on their way home from church? I suppose that’s better than folks picking up a six pack on their way to church that morning!

Seriously, though…

These folks have a sign with five lines, and they reserve one of those lines for sharing scripture.  That’s double tithing of their space!

And the single-verse scriptures they’ve picked are good.  I like this one especially.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  –1 John 1:5

I wonder what it would mean to someone who got curious about that “1 John 1:5” line, and typed it into Google?

“God is light; in him there is no darkness”.  That’s a statement of God’s immense power and goodness.  It would definitely leave me wondering: Who is this God?

And, think about this:  While there are many out there who can drink beer responsibly, there are others for whom alcohol has become a source of great darkness.

What a strange twist, then, to have this verse of hope at the end of a advertisement for Sunday beer sales?

It seems to me that this family is undermining their own ad–with something, Someone, who brings more joy into the world than anything else.  Even beer.

Well, the store’s sign has gotten a few chuckles in my town.  Who knows, maybe it brings in the Sunday afternoon crowd as intended.

For me, I’ll keep watching for signs to come,

and raise a glass to people who put Good News into the world…

Even when it isn’t a Convenience.

Have a great week,

Mitch

So Long John Silvers


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4 days ago, I drove through Long John Silvers.

It’s one of my “been-awhile” places.  I only go there when I drive by and think, “hey, it’s been awhile since I had that”.

I got some chicken, some fish, and some onion rings, and a drink.

And it was good.  But then…

I drove by today…and the place is gone.

I mean, the building is still there, but the sign out front and the signs on the building have all been removed.  The place is closed!

After the initial shock of seeing a place suddenly un-exist, I got to thinking:

What if I was the last customer to ever drive through that Long John Silvers?

I mean, it’s plausible!  The place had been on its last legs for years.  They never got much business where they were.

Right after I drove through, the manager could have called a meeting and delivered the bad news to the employees.

I may have eaten their last onion ring.  Weird.

My mind wanders to scriptures about God pruning the vine that didn’t bear much fruit (or fish?).  Or Jesus saying nobody knows when the time is coming.

Or Proverbs 27:1 that says:

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.

Of course, these scriptures all point to theological concepts.  To faithfulness and alertness in the light of the coming Kingdom.

Not to the closing down of an outdated chain restaurant in the slow part of town.

Still, I am reminded of the impermanence of things.  How quickly the landscape of our lives changes.

How anything we do on this Earth we may be doing for the last time.

Is it weird that I’m kind of sad? Not about the food, really–I can eat much healthier fare somewhere else.

No, I guess I’m sad at the reminder that time wears everything down.  Even me.

But then, I catch a glimpse of the coming Kingdom. There’s a promise there.  Something eternal.  Something forever.  Something to put my faith in.

A place to strive to live in.

To quote the LJS jingle, “Sounds good to me.”

I think to myself, “So Long John Silvers”…

I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Best. Picnic. Ever.

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The United Methodist men’s annual picnic was supposed to begin at 5:30 in the park next-door to the church. And when I looked at the radar on my office computer, I could clearly see a band of thunderstorms headed our direction.

I’m a weather hound so I was looking forward to the booms of thunder as we relocated into the fellowship hall for our picnic.

At 4:25 nobody was there.

I stood out on the steps of the church and looked up at the bubbling clouds just ready to drop. Then there was Jerry, carrying a pan out into his car. “I’ve got the beans” he said. The beans were a special recipe and no United Methodist men’s cookout was complete without them. He put the heavy pan into his car and started to get in.

“Where are you going?” I asked. “It’s about to start pouring.”

“Duane thinks we have enough time,” Jerry said. “Or maybe it’s Fred that thinks we have enough time. It’s his cooker”. He got in his car “I choose to think we have enough time too” and with a smile he headed down the street to the park where I could just barely see the smoker set up at the other end.

“These guys are crazy,” I thought to myself, and I went back in the church to check the radar again. Sure enough, it seemed like the storm was right about on us. I decided to smugly wait it out at the church for when they came dashing in out of the rain. But at 5:30 on the nose nobody was at the church, and it still hadn’t rained. So reluctantly I climbed into my car and drove down to where they were gathering.

Sure enough there were a dozen men, and a couple tables set up with buns and chips and condiments, and of course, the beans.  Fred’s giant smoker was cooking up hamburgers and hotdogs.

“Yeah, I think we’ll have enough time,” somebody said, and we just stood there for a little bit chatting while Fred cooked up the meat. I went and got a bottle of water out of one of the coolers as distant thunder began to boom. I shook my head at the group. “I thought you guys were silly for setting up out here, but obviously you have to have lived in Mulvane a few more years to understand the weather.”

There was another boom, not quite so distant.

“Pastor, maybe you better pray,” someone said. Someone else said, “and make it a quick one” Just then lightning struck even a little closer so I just said “dear God, don’t kill us amen”.  The guys chuckled at that and the food was ready.

We lined up and started fixing up our hamburgers and hotdogs. The hotdogs looked especially plump and juicy, cooked perfectly. I put one on a bun with some mustard and took a bite just as a raindrop hit my arm. We ate fast, standing around the table, barely talking, just shoveling the food down.

“Did anybody bring any forks for the beams?”someone asked.  Joe said he’d run up to the church and get some.  It was beginning to sputter so several guys yelled “hurry”at the same time.

Meanwhile my teeth sank into that hot dog, and standing there in the moments right before the thunderstorm I have to tell you that was the most delicious hot dog I ever ate in my life. It made me giddy it was so good.

The wind picked up and Joe made it back with some forks. All these guys standing around the table are now shoveling these world famous beans into their mouths, as Fred’s weather radio went off. The storm was on its way and it was a severe one.

Guys began to pack up the supplies and put them in cars as the rain began to drop. Remember, I was the one who thought they were silly to be out there in the first place, but I couldn’t help myself. I made myself another hotdog and stood there in the light rain giggling to myself.

Then the wind picked up and the rain really began to fall and a dozen United Methodist men scrambled like a flock of birds picking up supplies and running for the cover of their cars. I ended up with a cutting board and a couple of oven mitts in my car–no clue whose they are.

The rain poured down and it looked like hail could be on the way, so the cars scattered.  Instead of going back to the church I just drove home, which is only a block away.

I pulled into my garage and I looked at the time on my watch:

5:49.

It had been a 19 minute picnic, and without a doubt it was the best.picnic.ever.

There’s little more to report other than that I sure like being a United Methodist Man!

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Dyeing for the love of it

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At the children’s Easter Carnival I had the best booth.

Sure, there were egg races and bracelet making and several other exciting stations…

but I was at the egg dying booth. Score!

It was three tables long, with pink, blue, green, yellow, and orange cups, ready to receive boiled eggs.

There were white crayons for drawing names, and special Easter stickers for decorating.

From the moment the event began, our booth was the busiest.  Kids excitedly dunking their eggs, and only cracking a few.

I was heart warmed to see how many kids knew what they were doing, using the old wire tool, or the newfangled plastic tool to escort their eggs from one cup to the next.

It had been 20 years since I’d dyed eggs, but I was happy to see that such traditions live on in many of today’s families.

There was only one problem.

Those darn eggs just wouldn’t get dark.

I don’t know why, either.

The mixture was made with vinegar and water, just like the package suggested. The water was room temperature, also as instructed, even though I remember a lot more vinegar and a lot hotter water when I was a kid.

Anyway, the pink looked pink.  The yellow looked off-white.  The blue and the green looked vaguely blue and green.  The orange looked kind of yellow.

The colors were kind of wimpy.

Not that anyone was complaining.  The kids had a great time.

But some of them left their eggs in the cups for a good 15 minutes trying to get darker, with little discernable difference.

Here’s why I was a little annoyed:  Easter is supposed to be vivid.  Bright.  Deep and colorful.

I was reminded of Holy Thursday services that failed to engage the congregation fully.

And Good Friday services that seemed just a little dull.

And Easter services that seem to be a little less…vivid.

What if that’s what Holy Week is like this year?  Like Easter eggs that are a little less wild and a little more mild.

What if it fails to entertain?  What if the sermon falls flat?  What if the resurrection seems like just another old story?

I don’t know what I’m worried about.  Those beautiful kids at our Easter Carnival had the time of their lives.

They weren’t looking for perfection, or drama, or brilliant colors.

They were thrilled to participate.

(They dyed for the love of it,)

Meanwhile, if you have any concerns about Holy Week being a little weak this year, remember it’s not about the flair of the presentation.

It’s about participating,

and it’s about Jesus,

(who died for the love of it.)

 

Have a great Holy Week,

Mitch

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