Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What do you mean, the ATM is broken?

Walking through that church door was tough.  I didn’t want to go but I was at the end of my rope.  I wasn't looking for God or Jesus.  I just needed some money.
I will spare you the reasons.  They are all things that you could just shake your head and say, “He should have known better.”
Yeah, I should have known better.
Well, I made it through the door.  The preacher man is just hanging up the phone.  Maybe he will have just a couple moments to open up the cash drawer and send me on my way.
That would be best.  In and out, just like the burger place.  But this dude didn’t get the memo.  He wants to talk.
He wants to talk.  Maybe I should try the church across the street.  It looks a little newer.  Maybe they have an ATM.  I just tell my story and the cash comes out, maybe it will be a debit card.
Well I have been sitting here for a few minutes; I just as well see what I have to do to get the money.
I have told him that I don’t fit in to any of the churches.  Can’t he get that through his thick skull?
Evidently not, he keeps telling me that my excuses don’t hold water.  He tells me that if I am following Jesus then I will abide in this word.  Preachers like that “abide” word so I call him on it.
He says we need to keep doing what God’s word tells us to do.  In this case to continue to gather together for worship and fellowship.
I tell him that I can be a Christian without coming to church.
He tells me something crazy like we are the church.  What’s up with this dude?  I need some money.
He goes on to say that I won’t be a very effective Christian if I don’t gather with other believers.
I tell him that he has his opinion and I have mine.

“You’re right,” he says.  He stands and reaches out to shake my hand.  I reach out.  He shakes it and opens the door to his office.
I say, “What about the money?”
I look at him like he is crazy.  Maybe he is.
“Oh, the money.  How silly of me.”
“Thank God,” I say.
“We thank God a lot around here and in fact everywhere we go we are always giving thanks.  God has given us so many blessings, and not just for us but enough so that we may bless others.”
Now this guy gets it.  I just used the wrong words.  “I am here for some of those blessings”
“No, you are here for some money.”
“That’s what I have been trying to say but you wanted to use the word blessings so I played the game.  This is getting old.  I have placed to go and things to do.”
“Need to get to work?”
“No.  No job.  That’s part of the reason that I am here.”
“Volunteering somewhere?”
“Out looking for work?”
“Ready to cut to the heart of the matter?”
“No, but I don’t think that is going to make a difference.”
“You’re right.  I am faithful to my Master and he has commanded me and equipped me to speak the truth in love.”
Here he goes again with more churchspeak.   If he starts singing Standing on the Promises then I am exiting the premises.
“The truth is that you came looking for the vending machine, the ATM if you will.”
“I thought only the fancy churches had those?”
“Unfortunately, most of us have had them for decades.”
“I don’t see them.”
“I unplugged ours and threw it away.”
“You what!”
“It was getting in the way of ministry.  You see people would just show up at the door.  They hand to think about it for a long time before they came in, but when they did the just wanted to get out of here as quickly as they could.”
“You’ve got that part right.”
“I know.  Not my first rodeo.”
“So why did you throw it away.  I need that money.  A lot of us need that money.”
“I threw it away because it got in the way of who we are.”
“We are the church.  We are the Body of Christ.  We take God’s light and his love into the world.  We feed the hungry and take care of the needy and minister to the sick and those in prison.”
“That’s me.  I am needy for sure.”
“Yes, you are.  And we are going to help.”
“Thank you!  If I can just get $300, maybe $350 since the cash drawer is already open, then I will be on my way.”
“Oh, there isn’t going to be any cash dispersed today.”
“You said that you would help me.”
“I did and we will.”
“But not with any money…”
“Not right now anyway.  That is not what we are all about.  This is not a place to fill out a form and get a bill paid.  We pay bills for folks every once in a while, but that is not who we are.”
“Is the ATM at the church across the street working?”
“No.  We all sent them to the landfill.”
“Are all of you people nuts?”
“Nuts, no.  Fools, yes.”
“I knew it was something like that.”
“We are fools for Christ.  We follow Jesus and we don’t need to apply the same rules that the world does.  In fact, we had conformed to the patterns of this world and not even noticed.  That dog don’t hunt.”
“I am not sure that I follow but I think it means that I am not getting any money.”
“We do help with some things that are temporary like a water bill or an electric bill or some food, but we are about things eternal—mostly life.”
“You paying my ‘lectric bill or not?”
“Probably not, but we will see what transpires.”
“If there’s no money coming out then I’m not hanging around.”
“I won’t even pretend to be surprised.”
“How can you be this way?  Do you know how hard it was for me to come here?”
“I am this way because I know exactly how hard it was for you to come here today and I don’t want you to ever have to go through that again.”
“You throwing me out?”
“On the contrary.  I am inviting you in.”
“You say you are a fool for Christ, but I’m sticking with nuts.  You’re nuts, man.”
“Could be, but I can tell you that we would not be having this conversation if you were a part of this body of believers.  If this were your family, someone would have known that you were hurting long ago and given you some help.”
“Yeah, well they might have told me that I should give up drinking or smoking or pay-per-view movies.  I don’t like being judged.’
“If you did give up those things and had your utility bills paid in full now would you still consider that advice judgmental.”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
“That’s the way I’m putting it.”
“Yeah, OK, it might have been good advice.”
“We have a church term for that.”
“Surprise, surprise.  I sure was hoping that I could hear some more churchspeak.”
“See, you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”
“Right.”  What’s the term?”
“Speaking the truth in love.”
“Sounds a lot like sugar coated judging.”
“You’re right it sounds like it, but it is different.”
“The condition of the heart.  The person who speaks the truth in love truly desires the best for you.  They want you to have a life as rich as their own.”
“And you think that paying my bill will shortchange this process.”
“No.  I am certain that it will.  Sometimes we pay a bill or two or three based purely on mercy and compassion.  Sometimes a family is so down and out that they need some physical help before they can lift their heads high enough to hear the truth.”
“But you don’t think I am in the same boat?”
“Not even close and if you will have a moment of self examination, you will concur.  You are at the point of temporary discomfort, not desperation.  We have the time and the means to work on the root causes of your problems.”
“That’s not why I came here.”
“I know.”
“I am probably just going to leave and tell everyone that you don’t help anyone, that the church doesn’t help anyone.”
“I know.  Like I said…”
“Not your first rodeo.”
“If you needed to buy new tires for your car would you go to the bakery?”
“No.  Is that where you go?”
“Only for bread.  If you needed a plumber would you call a tax attorney?”
“Dude, you are losing me here.”
“Not making any sense?”
“None at all.”
“Good, because those would be nonsensical things to do.”
“Finally, we agree on something—nonsense.”
“But you come to the church with an electric bill?  If you were to call the electric company and ask who pays most of the electric bills in this country, they would say…”
“The people or companies who use the electricity.”
“But you come to this church with an electric bill?”
“Obviously, here I sit.”
“Have you thought about coming here to worship God or to help others or to learn more about God.”
“I’m not much for church.”
“Yet, here you sit.  You won’t come and be a part of the things that the people of the church are called to do but you ask for help in things they are not called to do—is that it?”
“When you put it that way, it sounds sort of ridiculous.  Maybe, I should not have come in today.”
“That is what is ridiculous.  You are exactly where you need to be.”
“I need my ‘lectric bill paid!”
“Six months or a year from now, how important will it be that your bill got paid today or tomorrow or even this month?”
“It is important to me now.  I know that.”
“So it is.  What I am asking you to consider is how important is your relationship with God and his people right now?”
“That can wait.”
“And so we come the crux of the matter.  You want what you want from a place created to give you something else.”
“If you say so.  Yeah, I want what I want.”
“Who will be faithful to their purpose?”
“I heard that you do sometimes pay people’s bills.”
“You heard correctly.”
“For me to help with your bill and leave you disconnected from the Body of Christ is to help you remain disconnected from the one place where you most need to be.”
“So, I am not getting any money?”
“You have heard the old saying ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime?’”
“Yes, but I don’t like fish that much.”
“Same thinking regardless of taste, except that we are talking about life right now and life without end.  Don’t you think it is time to get your life on the course God has set for you?”
“It may be time, but all I care about is getting this bill paid.”
“God cares for you more than your care about that bill.”
“If you say so.”
“I do.”
“Does he care enough to get me some help?”
“Absolutely!  Let’s start getting you connected to some of the people in the congregation.”
“But what about my money?”
“We don’t have an ATM.  We are the church.”
“Why am I still hanging around here?”
“Because you came to the exact place you need to be.  God wants you following Jesus again.  He wants you to worship him, serve him, and learn more about him and his fantastic love in the company of other believers.  That’s our starting point.”
“Well, thanks, but no thanks or thanks for nothing might be more accurate.”
“You know that Jesus once had an encounter with a rich young ruler who said he followed the Law of Moses his whole life.  He asked Jesus what he needed to do to be complete.”
“Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor and then to come and follow Jesus.”
“What happened?”
“I’m not sure.  The man went away sad because he had a lot of stuff, and evidently loved his stuff a lot as well.”
“What do you mean you are not sure?  How can you start a story like that and not give folks the ending?”
“It is not the ending that has the lesson.  Before Jesus told this man to sell everything, the Bible says that Jesus loved him.”
“Jesus loved him?  He told the man to sell all his stuff and give the money away.  How is this love?”
“The man was imprisoned by his stuff.  It owned him.  He couldn’t walk away from it.  Jesus gave him instructions that would set him free but it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.”
“Is that what you call ‘tough love’?”
“No.  That is just love.  It is genuine love.  It is love that cuts to the core of a person’s being.”
“I can think of other words for it.”
“Jesus told the man what he needed to do to be complete—perfect if you will.  The man cared more for his possessions than he did for living God’s way.”
“So the man went away sad.  Well, guess what?”
“So are you?”
“And a little angry.  You guys need to fix the vending machine.”
“Not going to happen.”
So I am outta here.”
“You are invited to stay and get to know this family.  These are people who have been through lean times as well as lucrative times but have followed the Lord every day.  They know what you are going through.  They won’t judge you.  They will help you.”
“No thanks.”
“Very well.”
“Don’t you have to say, ‘God bless you’ or something like that?”
“I could if I wanted, but my prayer is that you hit rock bottom sooner than later so you can shake off this blindness and we can get you living God’s way.”
“Preachers can’t say that!”
“I see.  Tell me more.”
“Preachers have to tell you nice stuff like ‘Have a nice day’ and that sort of stuff.
“OK.  Have a nice day.  Did that help?”
“No.  I don’t think you meant it.”
“I didn’t.  I hope your day gets worse and your vision gets better.  I hope that you have eyes to see how much God loves you and that he has provided a family for you.  It is a family based in love and truth and encouragement, and discipline, and learning, where you can learn to follow Jesus.”
“It is a family where you will be at home because you will be among your brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Don’t you get it.  I don’t deserve to be in that family.”
“You are right about that.”
“Now you are just being mean.”
“No, I am making a real connection with you.”
“What connection?  You are telling me that I don’t deserve to be a part of the family that you have spent so much effort inviting me into.”
“Yes, you do not deserve the joy of being in this family just as I did not deserve it either.  God loved us when we did not love him.  The entire human race had rebelled against God but instead of destroying us, he saved us.  He made a way for us to live in right relationship with him when we had done nothing to deserve it.”
“You are talking about the blood of Jesus.”
“I remember how that moved me a long time ago, but here I am today struggling just to keep the lights on.”
“Isn’t that crazy?”
“That’s what I have been trying to say.  I need some help.  I need some money.”
“And God has been asking you why you keep trying to live your life on your terms instead of his?  Why are you disconnected from the family of faith?”
“This isn’t why I came here.”
“Did you ever stop to think that you came here when the Vending Machine was broken and discarded because God wanted you to have this conversation?”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I like this one little bit.”
“We do love.  Like is sometimes not included in the sticker price.”
“Tell me about it.”

“That is exactly what I would love to do.  How about I call some folks from the church and you get to know each other?”

The vending machine is broken

Gotta git the kids to school
It’s the best day care around
Can’t go to work
Or they cut my welfare down.

Gotta git some money
So I go to the church
It feels kinda funny
But I’ve been through worse.

If I act like I’m am hurting
Wearing tattered clothes that I keep clean
And tell the preacher my man’s deserting
Maybe he’ll open the vending machine.

I’m squirming in my seat—it seems a little warm
But I go through the motions trying not to pout
Filled in all the blanks so I hand the man the form
I’ve played the came so the money comes out.

But it seems I’m getting nothing
It’s like someone pulled out the rug
The man looks at me and says,
The machine’s unplugged.

I start to panic and my eyes open wide
While he smiles and takes the Bible from the table
I want to git out or find a place to hide
The man says that the machine only enabled.

This is not the way I like it
I want to get my cash and go
Just a quick in and out—licitly split
But that’s all changed you know.

The rhythm’s not forced but natural
It’s not transactional in nature
Another person is connecting with me
Not just for now but for hereafter.

Preacher man’s talking living water and the bread of life as well
He’s not tempting me with heaven or scaring me with hell
But talking of this life in the here and now
How it could be lived more fully, would I like to know how?

My defenses kick in right away, longing for my vending machine
But I am challenged to live with purpose and not just for what pleases me.
I need to run for cover or just make a fast break for the door.
But my phone is on the table and my purse is on the floor.

Why is this so awkward—why so stinkin hard?
I wouldn’t even be here if I could get a credit card.
But the man just keeps on talking about giving my whole life to God
I’ll jump out through the window if he sings “Where the saints have trod.”

I just don’t want this connection—want to get my cash and go.
But the machine is not working, or so he tells me so.
But it is my disconnection that makes this so, so hard
The church has become the church again and not a credit card.

She has reclaimed her identity speaking truth in love again
Light and love and purpose trying to rescue me from sin
But I will have none of it, I will not fall for this sham
I am walking out that door right now, I’ll show them who I am.

But then I listened for but a moment and he tells me I am God’s child
That my Father loves me more than I deserve and I begin to cry
For though I came for money, I knew it wouldn’t last
When I finally listened I learned that I was not shackled by my past.

That in the name of Jesus, I was truly set free
Not from troubles of the world, but having to carry them you see
For this world will bring on its trouble and I’ll still have my part
But the words that reached to my core were the two that said, take heart!

If I get this bill paid somehow, I know that I will have more
I have not lived by God’s wisdom, haven’t even let it in the door
But in spite of all my troubles and beyond the height of all of my pain
I heard that Daddy loves me and I am ready to live again.

I thought I needed money when I came into the church
I thought the broken machine would leave me in the lurch
But somehow, someway, God’s way began to make some sense
When my eyes became wide open all I could do was repent.

For I know my Father loves me forever and even now
I know that I rejected him but he took that away somehow
And I know that I must seek his kingdom and also seek his ways
And leave the pity parties for those who remain blind unto this day.

I know that I am not alone, God’s Spirit walks with me.
And when I gather with some others, Jesus is there you see.
And the whole fellowship of believers welcomes me as their own
Now that I am connected, I never feel alone.

Somehow that billed got paid and I never knew by whom
Somehow my hurt has faded and my heart has lots of room
For Jesus and his family that took me in that day
I don’t want to go back the way I was now that I walk in his way.

This could have ended differently, I could have walked away
In fact that is just what I did, I can finally bring myself to say
I had come to see the preacher man to use his vending machine
When he told me it was broken, I left after making a big and bitter scene.

But an hour later as I approached the local store
Some kids were smiling and ran ahead of me to open up the door
And then they said God loves me and each gave me a big hug
Who are these kids who took my anger with a single heart’s tug?

Then before the day was over my neighbor came to see
If you can believe this, to see if all was well with me
We’ve only waved as we passed in the street and not spoken much before
But without thinking much about it, I opened up my door.

My heart was breaking and I was shaking why I didn’t know
I was in the safety of my own home, but surely wanted just to go
But here I was crying and talking and even opening up
I usually don’t get this way without some 90 proof in my cup.

But there it was all out and spoken, I readied for the worst
Here’s comes my judgment and my sentence, I am guilty in the first
Instead came mercy and kindness full of sincerity
In my tears I lost my blindness and knew that I was free.

I could not run away from God, he pursued me at every turn
Not so he could judge me and send me off to burn
But so that I would know his love and how deep and wide it is
And that in spite of all I’ve done, I am forever his.

I never heard a booming voice or saw a burning bush
His finger etched me no commandments—that would have been a rush
But in children and in neighbors and in the truth spoken in love
I felt my God’s Spirit come upon me as his descending Dove.

Now I am connected to the body, believers one and all
Though they all still have their troubles, some big and some ever so small
But we don’t throw pity parties, we pray and help and love
We encourage one another as brothers and sisters with Christ above.

I wonder what would have happened if the church had just paid my bill
I could have been smartly on my way living according to my own will
But I am thankful for the truth spoken to me full of love

And thankful for the fellowship I know now and will know some day above.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Disconnect Notice


We panic when we see this hanging on our front door.
Did we forget to pay the water bill?
Have we gotten too far behind with our electric?
Please don’t disconnect us.  It is such a pain to get everything turned back on again.
Please, please, please let me get this figured out before I am disconnected!

That’s how we get sometimes.  We don’t like being disconnected.  We get angry when our internet service says cannot connect.
What audacity to tell me that I cannot connect with the cyberworld.  I have a selfie that I need to post!
And then there is the dropped call.  Even with 3 cell towers  every 10 miles, we still get disconnected.
We don’t like being disconnected.
We don’t like it!

That is, of course, with the exception of being disconnected from the Body of Christ.  So many don’t want to be connected with the most important connection of their lives.


Because they have become comfortable with the connections of the world.  They say that they believe in Jesus but Jesus is not their Lord.

Sadly, people follow the prince of this age.  They say they follow Jesus but worship their comfort zones.

They say they pray to Jesus but they live for the god of this world.
They say Jesus but follow the ways of Satan.

If they paid their water bill on time but got salt water instead of fresh water, they would be screaming bloody murder at the town hall.

But when Jesus paid the price for their sin and they decided they were too attached to the patterns of the world; they remain disconnected from real life.

Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers, but why do those who say they believe remain blinded to the truth?

·         Because they choose to be.  They choose blindness.  They choose darkness over light.
·         Because living in the truth will demand that Jesus be Lord.
·         Because living in the light is very hard—at first.
·         Because hopelessness is what they know.

That dog don’t hunt!

It is time for Christians  everywhere to lead people out of the dark into the light and not let go of them while they get through the tough part of living in the truth.  Sounds a lot like detox, doesn’t it?
Throwing scriptures at them won’t help.
Countless barrages of I told you so won’t get them there.
Paying the bill one more time won’t help.

Follow me is what it will take.  These are the words of Jesus.  We should use them more often as we bring others to follow him.  Don’t just give them advice and directions.  Lead!

C’mon, we’ll do this together is the attitude that will bring people home.  Lead!

It’s not all about Sunday morning.  Come with us and see what it is to live for God every day.  I want you to know my joy.  Lead!

You had better believe it is going to be work.  It is the kind of work that comes with doing purposeful things.  It won’t seem like work.  When you accept Jesus really is your Master, his work is easy.  Burdens are lightYou can do what he wants and these things are not burdens to us.  Lead!

How can I lead?

I will help you put aside your doubt and see what it is like to walk with God’s Spirit and enjoy the fellowship of living in community.  We are not in this alone.

I will help you with the how to part of this.  God wants to give you his wisdom.  Once you live in his grace and by his wisdom, you will know fantastic things in your life.

I will help you get rid of the stuff that is weighing you down.  You won’t believe how wonderful it feels to be living the life God wants you to live without all carrying around all the junk we try to hold on to.

Remember that connecting the disconnected is about bringing those who have already professed Jesus as their Savior into the family that truly follows him as Lord.

Connect the Disconnected!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wisdom says use your gifts and talents to connect the disconnected

People in these parts are generous.

They help those who need help.

We who administer the help—aka the church—are called to do more than logistics.  We are God’s people and God gives us wisdom generously when we ask him.

That wisdom says that in all of our ministries we are to connect the disconnected.  Ministry is not about how much food we give out but about people receiving and responding to the Bread of Life.  It is about the Living Water that will quench their thirst eternally.

Wisdom says it is not about how many children received school supplies but about the families that they return to at the end of the school day being connected to the church better than they are to the internet.

Wisdom says that Trunk or Treat can be fun, but more than candy and spooky looking costumes, children need something more substantial than candy.  When children come, they need to experience God’s love.  The parents who come with them need to know that their lives are like the empty calories in Halloween candy without Jesus.  Those who follow Jesus need to speak the truth in love with them.

Wisdom says that going to the ball game and sitting next to people who are disconnected from the Body of Christ and not helping them connect is like watching them drown.

Wisdom says that not doing what we are commissioned to do because it makes us and others uncomfortable is a sign that we have conformed to the patterns of this world.  Ouch!

What do you call a Christian who has conformed to the patterns of this world?  I don’t know.  It is a condition that truly should not exist.

We have one Master and one Lord and one Savior.  He said, “Follow me.”  He commissioned us to take his love and salvation into the world.  We who follow form the Body of Christ and that family of faith does our Master’s work in the world today.

We must not conform to the patterns of this world because they make us and others uncomfortable.  We must do God’s work until it is the pattern of the world that causes us discomfort.

That means that we connect with the disconnected and bring them into the Body of Christ where they can receive encouragement, counseling, discipline, education, fellowship, and so many opportunities to truly serve our Lord.

We always have food and school supplies and even money to help where needed but these must be put to use wisely and produce a return for our Master.  We must use the talents that our Lord gave us through his people, and connect the disconnected.

Our time, talents, and treasures have little intrinsic value.  Their value comes in how we put them to work for the Kingdom of God.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Every flotation device needs a lifeline


Too often we see a person who is drowning in life. Sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, sometimes just overwhelmed by it all.

We throw out a flotation device, maybe a box of food.

A month later we see them barely holding on, and throw them something else to keep them afloat, maybe a "God bless you.."

Again we see them barely hanging on weeks later and we pay the water bill and head along our way.

If we are at sea and saw someone drowning, we wouldn't throw them a life preserver without a lifeline attached. We wouldn't sail on to our destination and them them alone in the middle of nowhere.

But we do it in the name of mercy and kindness all of the time. We give people a box of food and send them on their way. We help with a bill and invite them to church but never seem them until they are at the end of their rope. We say that we want to give people their privacy and don't want to invade their lives.

Fine! That doesn't mean that we don't pull them into our lives--our abundant and sacrificial lives that we have given to God.

The Body of Christ must connect with the disconnected.

Those who say they know Jesus and are still treading water alone, need to grab the lifeline and come back to the family of faith.

Come home.

Connecting the disconnected

God made a companion for man.  Lifelong relationship was to come of it.  Husband and wife become mom and dad.

Children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and cousins became connected by blood and marriage.  We begin to understand family.

Jesus made us all family by his blood.

We are all connected, but some are trying very hard not to be connected to this family.  They know the love of God through Jesus but remain disconnected from the blessings we know when we gather as his family.

It is time to come home.
It is time to get connected with your family of faith once again.
Come home.

Get connected.