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Radical Grace - Peter's Story

As I read the Gospels these days I find the ideas and thoughts of Jesus to be more revolutionary than I ever realized. Jesus teachings were radical not only in his time and culture, but they remain that way to this day in any culture. The biggest reason for that can be summed up in one word. Grace.

For an example take Jesus reaction to Peter's betrayal. Here is a man who not only didn't stand by Jesus during the worst time of his life, but denied even knowing him three times. I can't fathom how much it would hurt for someone you love to do that.

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt when Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection? Peter is face to face with someone for whom he once claimed he would lay down his life. He had completely failed to live up to those words. The shame and guilt he felt at that moment must have been overwhelming. He was probably expecting Jesus to berate him, and truthfully Jesus would have had every right to do so. He would have had the right to look and Peter and say:

"I don't think I could have been more wrong about you. You know that thing I said about you being the rock on which I would build my church? You turned that into a big joke didn't you. I would prefer that you just go on claiming to not know me. It couldn't possibly hurt me any worse than you already have. I don't need friends like you."

That isn't what Jesus did though.

He asked Peter a question. He simply asked "Do you love me?"

I'm sure Peter was hesitant on how to respond. Even though he loved Jesus a response of yes would have left him open to Jesus asking him why he betrayed him if he loved him. He probably didn't want hear that. So, he gave an answer that was a cop out. If you were to translate Peters response into modern English what he said was probably something along the lines of: "Well, I really like you."

Jesus could see the pain and guilt Peter felt. He knew that is where the answer came from. Jesus never doubted Peter's love despite his mistake, albeit a very big mistake. He didn't ask the question to make Peter hurt. So, Jesus asked him again. "Do you love me?"

Again Peter is scared to answer with a pledge of full love. So he says something along the lines of this. "I love you like a brother."

Unwilling to let Peter live with his guilt Jesus asked him again. This time Peter told him that he did. Jesus response was simply four little words. "Then feed my sheep."

Maybe that response seems somehow incomplete. It always seemed to me that Jesus should have told Peter that he loved him too. Then I realized something. For Peter Jesus said that and more. It didn't just let him know that Jesus still loved him, but those four little words eradicated his guilt and shame. How is that you may be asking?

Jesus was telling Peter that he still wanted him to take on the calling to which he originally committed. That said it all. It told Peter he was still loved. It told Peter that Jesus understood and was holding no grudge. It let him know that Jesus still considered him the rock upon which he would build his church.

That is revolutionary and radical. Jesus looked beyond Peters failure and showed him love. Jesus pushed aside his own hurt feelings and showed mercy that was unwarranted. By showing such wondrous grace Jesus took Peter's weakness and used it show him the love and grace he had been trying to explain to him all along.

By the way Peter's story doesn't end there. Peter went on to be one of those instrumental in spreading the message of Christ. History tells us that it emboldened him so much that he did in fact die for Jesus. During Roman persecution of Christians Peter was sentenced to death for the cause of Christ. Peter was sentenced to die of crucifixion just like Jesus.

Peter's story is a great example of what happens when we finally start to catch just the slightest glimpse of that love, that grace, and that mercy. It truly transforms us into a new creation. We find a way past our failures, insecurities, and guilt. We can lean on that grace with complete confidence that in our weakness he is strong.

A Very Unexpected Opportunity

It's been awhile since I updated this blog.  I think it's time to do so.  God has placed an opportunity in front of me that has me excited.

A friend of mine, Bob,  is a pastor at a church here in my hometown.  He is perhaps the most unique pastor I have ever run across.  He is breaking down the conventional and institutional way of doing things in his church.  This church is truly reaching out to the local community and showing every one they possibly can the love of God.  The love they show doesn't come with an invitation to their church.  It doesn't happen because they hope to increase their numbers on Sunday morning.  They simply want to show Christ to those around them.

Recently the youth minister at this church had to step down for personal reasons and my friend wasn't sure where he would find someone to step in considering it is an unpaid position.  He mentioned the situation to me one day just because it was of concern to him.

He thought he was simply mentioning a prayer request to a friend.  That's not what Father had in mind though.  Father immediately tweaked something in my spirit.  I found myself saying I would love to do that.  I would love to fill that position.  Of course I also quickly decided that I wouldn't be able to fill that position.  After all I work second shift at a factory.  I wouldn't have Wednesday nights free to have a youth service.  So, I shot off a quick email a couple of days later and told my friend that if it wasn't for the fact my schedule wouldn't work for him I would love to help.

I should have known that Father didn't put that spark in my spirit for no reason.  Bob emailed me back and told me that if I was truly interested that my schedule wasn't actually a conflict at all.  It seems the youth meet on Sundays and he would really like me to take the position.  I was in shock.  I was humbled.  I didn't feel worthy.  However, I did feel very strongly this is where Father wants me to be. 

So, I asked a lot of questions.  I asked him if it would be a problem that I'm not exactly your normal churchgoer.  I asked if the church could live with a youth leader that defied convention.  I asked if the church could handle a youth leader that didn't teach that the institution and support for all it's various programs were a requirement for them to be a Christian.  Much to my delight he told me they are looking for exactly that.  He said they want someone who will love these youth and disciple them.  It is their desire that these kids not get locked into an institution.  They want to see them become followers of Christ and take the Gospel to their friends and family.  I told him to let me pray about it and make sure what I was feeling was not just me and my desires.  It didn't take long.  I let him know within a couple of days that I wanted to take the position.

Yesterday was my first day as a youth leader (never thought I would say that) and things went great.  I was nervous, but Father was there with me.  I was even very surprised to have one of the youth come to me on my first day with a problem.  I talked to them and received a thank you and a hug for my efforts.  They even told me that I helped them.  I talked to Bob this morning and he said several of the youth told him that they really like me, and many of the people in the church said the same thing.

I am in awe of God today.  He truly works in mysterious ways.  I ask for your prayers as I walk this brand new portion of my journey.  Pray that I can point these kids towards Christ and that they in turn will take him to those around them.

Until later . . .

As I write this post I do so with a small bit of sadness.  At the same time I do so with a sense of great relief.  These last few weeks I have started to feel better than I have in a long time.  At first I thought it was simply because my work schedule has eased up a lot.  I am coming to realize it is much more than that.  God is placing a new direction in front of me, and it is one that doesn't have much time for the internet.

God is starting to put people in my path here where I live.  People that are in a situation very similar to the one I have been going through for awhile.  They are people that want to follow Christ, but find that "going to church" falls short for them.  Also like I was they are unsure how to reconcile those two things.  Most have all but given up their pursuit of God because they have been led to believe there is no other way.  Others tell me they read their Bible, pray, and try to live right hoping that is enough.  All of them feel lost though.  I understand those feelings all too well.  I was there.

It seems I can't go anywhere anymore without running into people in this situation.  I know God is putting them in my path for a reason.  I am humbled that he is giving me the opportunity to encourage and help others struggling in their walk with him outside the walls.

Between my family, my job, and those I am speaking about my life has become very busy.  Though it is busy in a good way.  Things are starting to come together for a group of us to begin meeting once every couple of weeks to help and encourage each other as we follow God along a path that is very much off the beaten course for people living in a very conservative Bible belt town.

I don't know what the future holds with all of these new developments, but I know it leaves very little time for a blog.  I don't know when or even if I will post something new here, though I will check for comments to this post.

So many of you have encouraged me in more ways than you can imagine.  I want to thank you for that.  You may still find me commenting on some of your blogs at times, but even that is going to be to a very small degree.

I want to say a special thanks to Keith, Alan, and Jeff.  I have learned so much from you guys.  Without the things I have read on your blog and your correspondence I wouldn't be in a position for God to be using me in this way right now.

Last, I want to say something to the Cosby's.  It seems that our paths have forked off in different directions.  Believe it or not that does sadden me.  I guess sometimes that is just how things happen, but regardless I would be remiss if I did not give you both an extra special thanks.  I truly think you are great people.  You have been a blessing to me.  No matter what please know that you remain in my prayers and you will always be part of my family in Christ.  I will always love you guys.

If anybody wants to get in touch with me for something other than a comment to this post just send an email or a message on facebook.  Thanks again for everything all of you have done and keep those of us here in my little town in your prayers.  There aren't many of us, but with God's help we plan to make a difference.

God bless you all

The Unlikely Disciple

This article displays one of the reasons that today's evangelicalism does more damage to it's own image and that of Christ than it does to help most of the time.  In my opinion anyway.  "The Unlikely Disciple"

False Satisfaction

I started a book today that I am really enjoying called "The Importance Of Being Foolish" by Brennan Manning.  He quotes someone in the book named Michel Quoist.  Quoist was a French priest.  I don't want to add any commentary to this quote.  It stands on its own quite well.

We are satisfied by our decent little life.  We are pleased with our good habits; we take them for virtues.  We are pleased with our little efforts; we take them for progress.  We are proud of our activities; they make us think we are giving ourselves.  We are impressed by our influence; we imagine that it will transform lives.  We are proud of what we give, though it hides what we withhold.  We may even be mistaking a set of coinciding egoisms for real friendship. - Michel Quoist

Rejoicing in Changes

Today I rejoice and if you are a regular reader of my blog I ask that you rejoice with me.  Why are we rejoicing?  It has everything to do with this blog.

When I first started blogging it served one main purpose.  It was therapeutic for me on many levels.  It allowed me to express thoughts and ideas that I am very passionate about.  It allowed me to find others out there in the same boat.  I found those who have been where I am at and moved on.  As much as I enjoyed it the first few months I have hated the last few.  The last three or four months I have wanted desperately to stop blogging.

During that time I was convinced that God did not want me to quit.  I felt like he was somehow telling me that now was not the right time to quit.  Just this past month I kept feeling that I was supposed to make my blog more personal.  I was supposed to tell others about me.  Forget about the debate over whether or not American Christianity is doing things the right way.  Stop trying to be insightful and inspirational.  Just be Mark.  This one I fought.  I didn't see how this could be right.  There are several people who read every post I write, and it has never been just about me.  Surely it couldn't be good to change things up like that.

That feeling wouldn't go away though.  So, I gave it a shot.  I wrote a story about me growing up.  I gave a little background on Mark.  I got an email from someone telling me they really appreciated me just talking about something fun.  I was reluctant to admit it to myself, but it actually felt really good to do something different.  So, I wrote another one.  I got another email from someone who said they really appreciated my stories.  They said seeing me go a different direction helped them to be able to do the same in an area in their life.

After story three I continued to receive positive feedback and encouragement.  I continued to hear that God was able to use these stories to actually encourage others.  It was only then that I realized something.  God was never the one asking me to keep on blogging in the first place.  I was the one who put that pressure on myself.  I felt like I had some type of obligation to those who read my blog.  God was the one pushing me to write these simple stories so I would stop long enough to see my error.  As I wrote each one it felt like more and more weight was being lifted off my shoulders.  It was weight that I placed there though.

God was simply trying to do what he always does.  He was helping me to become free of my self imposed bondage.  He got me to bring my focus back to what was important.

That is why I am rejoicing.  As I type these words I have greater freedom than I had before.  I rejoice because of the amazing love Jesus has exhibited in having the grace to patiently wait while I stubbornly refused to see his leading because I was bound by chains of my own making.

As I go forward I don't know what that means for this blog.  I will definitely continue to write because I love to do so.  What I write will end up on this blog.  I may continue to write short stories about my life.  I may write short fictional stories.  Who knows?  I could write a novel and put it here on my blog chapter by chapter?  I may end up doing all those things and more.  I hope you will continue to come around and read whatever it is I'm saying.

Regardless of what happens on this blog in the future I rejoice going forward because no matter what I do I will do it with more freedom, more peace and greater joy than before.

Church Stories #4: The Manna Isn't Free?

Every summer our youth group participated in a youth camp sponsored by our denomination for afiiliated churches in the state.  Every year we all complained about how boring camp was the year before.  We complained about how hard it was to sleep at night with no air conditioning.  We complained about everything.  Yet, every year we went back voluntarily.

Of course camp cost money, and that money covered three square meals a day.  Most of the time it was three horrible and barely edible meals a day.  If you wanted something different than the three squares there were certain times each day you could go to "The Manna Hut".  The Manna Hut had the food we really wanted.  There were several different types of candy, chips, and other junk food.  As you have probably already guessed the things from The Manna Hut were not covered in the price of camp.  You paid for your Manna with your own money.  I never thought that seemed fair.  In the Bible Manna just fell from heaven, and we had to pay for it.

As much as I wanted food from The Manna Hut I couldn't buy any for two reasons.  My parents were the type that were not about to give me extra money to purchase junk food when they had already paid for me to  have three meals a day.  What little money I had on my own would barely buy anything there.  It should have bought a lot more, but The Manna Hut could teach movie theatres a thing or two about overcharging for sodas and junk food.

So, what is a guy to do when he is really craving some caffeine and junk food but can't afford the exorbitant prices at The Manna Hut?

To be honest I didn't have a clue.  Neither did Jimmy.  Yep, you knew he was there too, and yes he was in the same boat as I was.  Regardless of how mischevious we were we wouldn't steal food or money from anyone.  However, we were nothing if not resourceful.  We always kept our eyes and ears open to any exciting possibilities.

On Wednesday night we found our opportunity.  It wasn't going to be without risk, but then again Jimmy and I took risks all the time.  We weren't scared of it.  The opportunity presented itself when Jimmy overheard one of the counselors from our church, Sue, talk to another counselor about going out that night after curfew to a restaurant to get some real food.  We asked her to stop and pick us something up for us from a 7-11 or something, but we got the answer we were expecting.  A resounding No!  That left one option.  We had to leave camp with her when she left and go to the store ourselves.  You may find yourself scratching your head about now wondering what I mean.  How in the world were we going to convince Sue to take us with her if we couldn't even convince her to pick something up for us?  I'll bet there are a few of you out there though that have a little bit of that troublemaker streak running through you that are grinning right now.  The light is dawning and you realize what we did.

That night right after lights out was announced Jimmy and I snuck out.  We knew we had to make it to Sue's car before she did.  We managed to do just that.  For the plan to work we had to hope for another bit of luck.  We needed one of the doors to her car to be unlocked.  They all were.  We knew we were in business since we had ridden in Sues car before and had a plan that hinged on us getting inside without being seen.  We popped the trunk via the lever inside.  Jimmy crawled in the trunk since there was much more room and he was bigger than me.  I shut the trunk crawled into the back floor board and covered myself with a blanket that always sat in the backseat.

Within ten minutes Sue and the other woman had made it to the car and we were on our way to the restaurant.  Upon arrival Sue and her friend got out and went inside.  I extricated myself from the floorboard and then reached up and popped the trunk.  Just as we figured there was a 7-11 close by.  Actually it was right next door to the restaurant.  Jimmy and I walked over to grab some snacks.

When we walked through the door the clerk asked if we were in danger.  He wanted to know if we needed him to call the cops.  It turns out he had seen Jimmy climb out of the trunk.  We assured him we were in no danger, and cops were not needed.  Sensing that he was not really convinced we decided to give him the condensed version of how we were from the camp and had snuck out to get snacks.

Our would be hero got a huge smile on his face and said we reminded him of what he use to be like as a youngster.  Jimmy and I each went and grabbed a soda and a couple of candy bars.  When we arrived at the register to pay the clerk rang up each of our items and then gave us a bag filled with jawbreakers, bazooka bubble gum, and other small pieces of candy.  He told us the bag of candy was his treat for making his night a little more interesting.

We expressed our thanks and headed back to the car.  Jimmy again climbed in the trunk.  Though he kept it slightly cracked for the moment.  I sat hunched down in the back seat and watched the restaurant.  We talked for a minutes until I saw Sue walking out of the restaurant.  I told Jimmy.  He quietly pulled the trunk down and I assumed my position on the floorboard.

When we got back to camp we waited until we were sure the coast was clear and got out.  We found a secluded place and sat around talking about girls, drinking soda, and eating candy.

All week long there had been a contest going on between the churches.  Points were earned for various actions and winning certain events.  Points could also be deducted for breaking rules.  Our church had been holding steady in second place all week long.  The church in first place never let us forget they were beating us.  We wouldn't have minded that so much, but their style of winning was to play very dirty.

It turns out the next morning that our first place rivals were docked a whole lot of points for breaking the rules.  Three of them to be exact.  It seems one of the counselors had found lots of candy wrappers in and around the bunkhouse they slept in.  Bringing food of any type into the sleeping area was forbidden.  It also turns out that some of the candy wrappers found were not items that came from the Manna Hut which meant someone had to bring them from home.  That was also forbidden.  When confronted each one of the youth from that church claimed they had no idea where the candy came from, but it wasn't theirs.  So, they were also penalized for being dishonest.

For those three infractions they lost enough points to fall from first to third and vaulted us to an insurmountable lead in first.  Despite their insistence they had done nothing wrong everyone in camp thought they were lying.  Everyone but Jimmy and I.  We knew they were telling the truth.  We knew exactly where the candy wrappers came from and we weren't talking.

This church stories series won't necessarily be in chronological order.  I am just writing stories as I think of them.  Hope you enjoy this one.  I'm going to keep saying this.  If you haven't read the previous stories go do it.  I promise you will enjoy them.

The Great Nerd Transformation

One year our church held a Valentines Banquet.  I had not planned on going since I wasn't dating anyone, and really didn't have any desire to start at that time.  I was taking a fairly heavy load at the local community college and simply didn't want to devote the time to a new relationship.

This however was not to be.  Jimmy's girlfriend had been trying to set me up with one of her friends for several weeks.  Jimmy wanted me to be there so he didn't feel alone at this 'girlie' type event, so he begged me to take Amy up on her offer to go out with her friend that night.  Amy told me after setting everything up that Jane was excited to be going on a date with a college guy.  Jane was still a senior in high school.

The night of the Valentines banquet arrived.  Amy and Jane planned to meet Jimmy and I at the church that night.  When I first saw Jane I was glad I had accepted the blind date.  She was a very pretty young lady.  My joy was short lived though.  Within a couple of minutes time I started to notice the looks of disdain and disgust that Jane was throwing towards all the other young ladies there.

The looks quickly turned to snide remarks.  Most of them were spoken only loud enough for Amy and I to hear her.  Her remarks were all snarky comments attacking the way the other girls looked.  They ranged from criticism of their 'thrift store dresses' to their thin hair.  In other words she looked down at the other girls because their dresses weren't as nice as hers, their hair wasn't as nice as hers and so on.

She was really starting to bother me.  Not only have I simply never liked being around people like that, but the young ladies she was trashing had all been my friends for years.  That made me angry.  My initial thought was that turn about would be fair retribution.  I seriously considered telling her exactly what I thought of her crappy attitude.  After thinking about it I realized that the reason I was there to begin with was to hang with Jimmy.  So instead of making a scene I pretty much ignored everything Jane said the rest of the night.  She never really noticed.  She droned on and on.  She could have been speaking pig latin for all I knew.  Obviously she enjoyed the sound of her own voice though.

I was never so glad for a date to be over as I was when the events concluded that night.  Imagine my surprise when I got a call from Amy the next day telling me that Jane had a great time and wanted to know if I would be interested in going out the next weekend.  I was about to tell her I would rather go on a date with the family dog than date Jane again when my devious mind hatched a plan.  I told Amy I would get back with her. 

I called Jimmy and told him of my devious plan.  I wanted to make sure he was ok with my plan before putting it into motion because I knew Amy wouldn't be happy when all was said and done.  I knew Jimmy approved when he couldn't stop laughing as I explained what I wanted to do.

I made plans to meet Jane Saturday afternoon.  She and a large group of friends from her church were going to meet at a pizza place and then go to a movie.  Those plans could not have been better for my purposes.

Saturday afternoon I arrived at the pizza place ready for my date.  I don't think I have seen a look of such horror mixed with embarrassment as I did that day when Jane saw me.  Why is that you ask?  To understand you have to imagine what I am getting ready to describe.  I was wearing a pair of BRIGHT purple pants.  To say they were high waters is an understatement.  They came half way up my calves while standing.  My shirt was dark green, buttoned unevenly.  My socks were yellow.  And my shoes, well they were baseball cleats.

I walked straight up to Jane.  I intentionally exuded a confidence completely out of place for someone dressed so incredibly bad.  I loudly told Jane how thrilled I was to go out with her again.  I wanted everyone to hear, and they did.  Jane's expression was beyond comprehension.  I wasn't sure if she was simply embarrassed or in a homicidal rage.  One things was obvious.  She was not happy.

I stood there happily and boisterously talking to Janes friends.  I made frequent reference to how happy I was to be dating Jane.  All the while she stood there completely quiet trying to will herself to become invisible.  About fifteen minutes after my arrival Jane had finally had enough.  She flashed me a look of pure anger.  I'm sure she would have shot lightning out of her eyes and electrocuted me where I stood if she had been able.

At that point I decided to perform the final insult as I knew she wouldn't be around much longer.  With everyone watching I turned my head away from everyone and pretended to stick a finger up my nose. I quickly pulled my finger away acting as if there was something on it.  I stuck my hand underneath a table and made a motion like I was wiping something there.  I immediately said:

"Whew!  That felt great.  I have been trying to get that sucker out of there all day."

I immediately heard Jane say "Oh my God!".  She quickly ran to the bathroom.

I knew that was my queue to leave.  I told her friends bye and turned to walk out.  It was then that I realized Jane must be just as horrible around these people as she had been at the Valentines banquet.  Because as I walked out several people began to pat me on the back and tell me how much they enjoyed seeing her taken down a peg.

Now, I'm not saying what I did was right.  But it happened.  To be honest it felt good, and right or wrong it was funny.

By the way.  I never saw Jane again.  Ever.  But I heard that after that day she was at least a little less snooty.

If you read my previous story you know that my cousin Jimmy and I had a slight tendency to be a little like the church versions of Bart Simpson (ht: Alan Knox).  This story will be no exception.  If you didn't read my previous story you need to go do so right now.  Maybe even leave a comment.  It's called 'The Poltergeist in The Pastor's Office".  You will enjoy it.  Then come back and read this one and leave another comment.

Just A Couple Of Swinging Studs

Jimmy had a brother that was a few years older than us.  I'm pretty sure for most young boys an older brother is the universal symbol for being cool.  We were not the exception to that rule.  For Jimmy and I his brother Jerry was cool.  If Jerry did it we wanted to do it.  If Jerry liked it so did we.  If Jerry thought it was lame it had to be.

If you are following my line of thinking here you can guess what happened the day Jimmy and I discovered that Jerry now liked girls.  So did we.  Instantly, and for no apparent reason.  Just two seconds previously girls were disgusting slimy creatures with cooties.  They served no useful purpose other than to annoy us boys, but now they were cool.

The very next Sunday at church Jimmy and I pulled one of our disappearing acts from childrens church.  We didn't end up in the pastors office this time.  Instead we were outside on the new playground our church had installed for the day care center that was about to be opened.

Jimmy and I both climbed into a swing and set off to see who could swing the highest.  As we both reached maximum potential height a girl walked onto the playground.  A girl around our age.  Just a week previously we would have tried to run her off.  We wouldn't have wanted her there.  But not this day.  This day we were cool, and cool boys liked girls.

For a couple of minutes Jimmy and I both tried to convince the other one to be the first to speak up.  We both wanted desperately to be suave and debonair, but our coolness was failing us.  We could neither muster the courage to even make the smallest peep to this girl.

Let me ask you a question.  What does any male do around a female when words fail him?  If you said "Take action" you are absolutely correct.  While I was trying to come up with an action to take Jimmy had already worked out an 'action' plan in his head.

I wasn't sure what his plan was, but I was actually a little jealous when he looked at me and said "Watch this."  I knew he was about to do something while I couldn't formulate even the slightest idea.

Jimmy swung forward reaching the highest point the swing would allow and he launched himself from the seat.  I was even more jealous.  Jimmy was doing something cool in front of this girl.  He was definitely going to get her attention.  The take off was perfect.  He flew in a graceful arc never taking his eyes off the young lady he was attempting to impress.  He even let out a little whoop just loud enough for the young lady to  hear, but not loud enough to be heard inside the building.  I knew something was wrong though when his whoop turned into a whimper.  To this day I'm not sure if staring at a girl caused Jimmy's brain to short circuit, if he simply got scared or what.   

No matter what caused the problem one crucial part to his plan failed to take place.  He never put his feet down.  He landed with a painful thud right on his posterior.  The gasp he let out as the breath quickly left his body sent a chill down my spine.  The young lady who was to have been impressed by this action now set frozen in panic and disbelief.  His plan worked in one aspect.  He had her attention.  She couldn't take her eyes off him.  Though at that point he probably wished she was looking anywhere else but at him.

Determined not to make the same mistake I waited for my swing to come forward and hit the lowest point before attempting to jump out and help my best friend.  As my swing reached a level that my feet could touch the ground I attempted to dislodge from the swing and run to Jimmy.  Unfortunately the speed of the swing was a little more than my legs could handle.  I took a face first belly flop dive sliding so far across the grass that Pete Rose would have been proud.

As Jimmy and I both lay there trying desperately to catch our breath and find our dignity our female friend suddenly came to her senses.  She stood up and told us she was going to get help as she started running towards the building.  I looked at Jimmy and he looked at me.  No words were needed.  Which is a good thing since we could neither one speak yet.  Despite the situation we both knew we had to be gone by the time our friend came back with help.  After all everyone in the church knew who we were and who our parents were.  Our parents would not consider the pain and humiliation we were already experiencing to be enough punishment for skipping service.

We painfully forced ourselves to get up. We moaned and groaned as we hobbled, stumbled, and tripped our way to hide behind a storage shed.  When Jimmy finally regained his breath and ability to speak he pointed out that I had grass stains from my belly all the way down to my knees.  Fortunately for us this was a problem easily solved.  I had spent the night at Jimmy's house the previous night and still had the clothes I had worn at his house.  When the coast was clear I retrieved my change of clothes.  I changed and left the grass stained shirt and pants in an empty Sunday School room.

A couple of years later Jimmy and I couldn't help but laugh out loud as the childrens church put on a presentation for the whole church.  One of their props was a scarecrow wearing an all too familiar shirt and pair of pants sporting grass stains from the stomach all the way down to the knees.

For the next few posts I am going to tell a few stories.  Stories about things I did growing up in church.  Just stories without any analysis.  Eventually I will do a post where I wrap them all up with a little analysis.  In the meantime I hope you enjoy these stories.  Some of them will be funny.  Some won't.  But I think they will all be interesting.  Especially to those of you who grew up sitting in a pew every Sunday like I did.  Or at least in a church building on Sundays.

The Poltergeist In The Pastor's Office

Jimmy and I were best friends growing up.  More than that we were family.  Cousins born a month apart.  We went to the same church.  My Dad was a Sunday School teacher.  His Dad sang in the choir.  They both held other positions at times in the church.

In other words Jimmy and I were not only at church nearly every Sunday.  We were there for nearly every service, and lots of times when there weren't any services at all.  When you have two young boys running around a church often with nothing to do things get interesting.

During a construction project at our church one large room was divided into two smaller ones.  One of the new rooms was used as a kind of storage room and the other became the pastors office.  It wasn't long before Jimmy and I figured out that the lock on the door to the storage room didn't work very well.  With a moderate push the door would open without turning the handle.  For the next few weeks we found time to completely go through the storage room.  We never took anything.  We were actually decent kids, but it gave us a place to hideout.  Sometimes we even hid there during church.  I know.  Now you aren't so sure we were actually decent kids.  Keep reading and you may think we were horrible.

After a few weeks we noticed that there was always one section at the bottom of a storage shelf that never had anything on it.  Of course as soon as we realized this we immediately decided to check it out.  We got down on our hands and knees to find that there was an opening in the shelf and some type of vent behind it at that particular spot.  Our curiosity got the better of us and we did what any young boys would do in that situation.  We decided to see if the vent would come out.  It did.  So, we crawled through to find ourselves in the pastors office.

The first time this happened we were a little scared.  A pastors office is sacred ground after all.  Right?  It was to us for about a week.  The next week we were right back in the pastors office.

From then on we made it a point to sneak into the pastors office frequently.  Sometimes we did it as a way to hide.  Sometimes we just did it to be mischievous.  You see, often times we would sneak in to do nothing other than to move or change things in his office.  We would move the chair from behind the desk and sit it in the middle of the room.  We would turn on a lamp that was turned off.  We moved books from the desk to a bookshelf.  You get the idea.  We would turn his radio from the local gospel station to the local "secular" pop music station.  We can't verify the rumor that he once cast a demon out of his radio after we left it on that station and he turned it on and heard 'Physical' by Olivia Newton John.  Just kidding about that one.  But if you are old enough to understand the reference you gotta admit that it at least made you smile.

One Sunday Jimmy and I heard people talking after church.  They were mentioning what a great sermon the pastor has just preached.  Apparently the Lord had moved his Bible from his desk to the bookshelf the previous week.  The Bible just happened to be sitting next to a book the pastor had been aiming to read for several months.  He took it as a sign to read the book.  His sermon came from the book.  Of course Jimmy and I were the ones that moved his Bible.  We placed it next to that particular book.  Though we didn't do it intentionally.

We have all heard the saying "God works in mysterious ways".  Jimmy and I know that's true.  Because he can even work through two pre-pubescent boys being mischievous to help a pastor give what was by all accounts one of the best sermons he ever preached.  Of course Jimmy and I couldn't say for sure it really was that great of a sermon.  Because the morning he gave it we were sitting in his office listening to the radio.