A convenience and a delight!

At some point while raising my childen, a trip to the “corner store” became a special destination. I think we went there as a reward for good behavior, maybe after a good report card, or sometimes combined with a trip to the library. The corner store was nothing more than the gas station convenience store a few miles down the road. At least that’s how it looked through my adult eyes. Why does it have a special appeal when you’re growing up?

Just walk in the door and you’ll remember. It’s aisles and aisles of candy, cookies, soda, icees, chips, nuts, hot dogs, donuts, and ice cream. It’s every treat you can imagine crammed into a very small piece of real estate, practically heaven on earth. Even as an adult, just walk in the door and your eyes are drawn to coffee, beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets, as well as all the things listed above. Like I said, heaven on earth!

These folks know what they are doing. They know that as soon as you walk past all of that on your way to the bathroom, you’ll definitely buy something on the way out. The store won’t make much money on gas, but the profit on snacks and soda is huge.

Yes, these folks know what they are doing. That’s why the Buc-ees franchise will do very well as it moves out of Texas into other states, including my home state of Florida. Before long, we’ll have two Buc-ees within half an hour drive of my home.

Yes, technically Buc-ees is a gas station convenience store, but it is about the size of three Walmart stores. It has all the heavenly treats mentioned above plus clothing, furniture, souvenirs, toys, sporting goods, tools and automotive supplies and more. Though we stopped at Buc-ees just outside of Dallas to fuel up for our ride home, we left with nuts, barbecue sandwiches, some homemade potato chips, kolachis and a tub of chicken salad. And we saw Buc-ee the beaver himself, who was making an appearance at the store. Buc-ees is much more than a convenience store. It’s a destination for a fun family outing. Yes, everything is bigger in Texas, espcially the convenience store.

I remember when a 7-11 was built in my hometown of Ridley Park probably sometime in the 1960’s. We thought that was the coolest thing ever. Imagine, a convenience store open from early in the morning til late at night! You could go just about any time to get milk or bread or soda. And they had Slurpees. They were new and they were fantastic! I don’t know how they made them then and I don’t know how they make them now, but I still think they are delicious.

Just a few years ago, the Wawa chain began building stores in Florida. People here went berserk. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I grew up a few miles from the dairy farm that would become the “town” of Wawa. Back then, life was shifting from having milk delivered to your home in a glass container (now that was convenience!) to going to a Wawa store to buy a gallon in a plastic jug.

As a grown-up, I mostly avoid convenience stores. For me they are a necessary travel evil. Sometimes the bathrooms are clean-ish. But not often. Sometimes the coffee is tolerable. But not often. Sometimes you get to see Buc-ee the beaver. But not often. However, the kid in me is hopeful.

No more prayer? Plenty of prayer!

Our county school board recently opened a meeting with an invocation by one of the local clergy. From what I’ve read, this was the first time a prayer was spoken at such a meeting since the early 1970’s. After much conversation and conflict, they decided not to continue that practice.

I remember being asked to give the opening invocation at a high school graduation in Coventry, CT in about 1989 or 1990. Another local pastor spoke a benediction. It was the only time I was ever invited to pray at such a school function. It was certainly a different time and place. I’m not aware of any non-Christian religious organizations in Coventry at the time. Any prayers offered from representatives of the local churches would be from a Christian perspective. Today, you might get a prayer from any of a wide range of faiths in the community that you may or may not be comfortable with.

I also had the opportunity to give the opening convocation at a session of the Iowa state legislature in the mid-90s, when I lived in Des Moines. the senior pastor of our church handed it over to me, and I thought it would be a great experience. It was. Afterwards, I received an impressive certificate signed by the governor of Iowa and my representative. The only comment I received that day was, “Thank you for keeping it short.” Apparently, not everyone invited to pray got to the point as quickly as I did.

I was also invited to pray before an after a special gathering of a garden club in our town last year. They were planting a tree in memory of some members who had passed, one of whom had been a member of our church. My words were overtly Christian, cause that’s what I do, but no one seemed to mind.

I’ve heard invocations at a variety of university and government functions. Unfortunately, they are so watered down in order to include every belief that I don’t think God Himself would even know we were talking to Him. So why even bother?

I believe it is much better for us to pray for our nation and government each week when we gather for worship. I believe it is important to thank God for our leaders in our own personal devotional prayer. I believe it is much more important to teach our children to pray and be good citizens of both heaven and the United States. It has been a privilege to gather with teachers and students around school flagpoles for prayer. I am thankful for the chance to teach children about prayer in the school at Good News Club each week.

If we are taking advantage of the many opportunities we have to talk to God, we won’t have to worry about trying to wedge one into a community meeting. Plenty of them will have already risen before Him like incense.

Lunch, conversation and communion

Today I took a ride to a nursing home about twenty-five minutes from the church to visit and bring communion to one of our members there. I arrived about half-way through lunch, so I pulled up a chair to the table where Janey and three others were enjoying a meal of country-fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, roll and some cake.

I’m not sure if these folks were having any kind of conversation before I arrived, but they sure were eager to talk once I joined them! After I introduced myself as Janey’s pastor, the man to my right, Clint, let me know that he had been a long time member of the Scottish Reformed church and also a big fan of R. C. Sproul. He explained that he was rehabbing from a stroke. He must have made great progress. I couldn’t detect any lingering symptoms. He was from Orange City, but was really from south of Denver, CO. The flight path from the airport went right over his family’s 280 acre ranch. How he loved watching the planes take off and land, just like I did when my dad would park the car at the end of the runway at the Philadelphia airport. We both were sad that you couldn’t do that these days. You can’t get near a runway anymore.

On the other side of Janey, a quiet man named John slowly and deliberately worked his way through his lunch. He ate every crumb. When no one was watching, he then took Janey’s drink and her piece of cake. She was pretty surprised to find only a bite left when she was ready for dessert! She she confronted him, he just smiled. I said, “That must be pretty good cake!” He smiled even more. Janey asked for and got another piece as well as a glass of ice water. Everyone was happy. John asked me where I was from. He was from Daytona Beach, but knew folks in Holly Hill and Ormond Beach, too.

A third diner didn’t say anything during the meal. But I did get a “Goodbye” from her when I left.

The room was pretty busy as nurses gave out medication and other caregivers gave out meals and collected dishes. I couldn’t take Janey back to her room since her roommate was getting some xrays. So we had communion right there at the table when she was done her lunch. I know the others were listening as I read the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers and marveled that so many didn[t return to give thanks. After communion I prayed with her and I know I heard a few other voices when we said the Lord’s Prayer.

I imagine every pastor has ministry moments like this. A little worship service around a table in a nursing home or assisted living facility with some you know very well and others who just happen to be there. They may not remember that moment. They may not remember I was there. But the Lord hasn’t forgotten them and I know He treasures those moments. As the song says, “His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over them.”

On my way home from these visits, I often think, “I hope someone comes to see me one day.” That sentiment reminds me of how valuable those moments are.

You call this a lawn?

Boy, if this were the newly planted sod in the yard of my newly built house, I would be very upset. Since when can a builder dump a bunch of what looks to be dead sod around a house and call it a lawn? Okay, I may be wrong. This may grow into a lawn. I hope it does. But I don’t have a good feeling about it.

We’ve got two Christmases

This is just the beginning…

I watched with interest yesterday as my neighbor put up his Christmas lights – on November 16, a week and a half before Thanksgiving. As he kept adding more and more to his display, I asked him, “Are you going to charge admission?” He replied, “I hope I can find the rest of my lights!” He just moved in over the summer and hasn’t yet found everything packed away in boxes. I promise to update this post when I see just how big his plans are.

Every year I take time to wonder why Christmas come earlier and earlier. If stores begin stocking shelves a day or two earlier each year, if we decorate our homes a few days earlier, and we begin playing Christmas music a bit earlier each year, it’s only logical to conclue that we will begin celebrating in October before Halloween, nevermind in November before Thanksgiving. And as soon as the first whiff of Christmas comes along, we’re hooked. We can’t resis. We have to do it!

So I have been pondering, “Why?” Why do we do this? Why do we want to do this? Why do we want to get to the celebration of Christmas as soon as we possibly can? Why are we willing to devote a whole 1/6 of the year to this one holiday? I know it is not because of Jesus. We are not that excited about his birthday. There has to be something else.

I do my best thinking when I am out walking the dog, and here’s what came to me. There are actually two Christmases. There is the sacred celebration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. And there is the Ameican secular celebration of Christmas which revolves around shopping, snowmen and reindeers, Santa and the Grinch, food and gifts. The sacred celebration is a day to observe the birth of the Savior. The secular celebration is months of being nice, feeling good, buying gifts and family traditions. These two holidays are not the same. They are very distinct. And I believe we would be a lot happier if we would just admit that simple truth and not try to or worry about combining the two.

During the church season of Advent, I’m always challenged, “Why aren’t we singing Christmas songs?” I answer, “Because it isn’t Christmas.” We will try very hard to wrap the birth of Christ with decorations and gifts and food. But he never seems to fit into that picture. That’s because he’s not about those things. He is the gift.

Let’s just admit that we’ve got two different holidays on our hands. Let’s not play Joy to the World in Home Depot or Best Buy. Let’s not try to find a place for Santa at the manger. Let’s not worry about whether or not we can publicly display a nativity. Let’s not pretend that movies on the Hallmark channel can teach us about the incarnation.

Let’s adorn our homes with trees, lights and wreaths, but let’s adorn our lives with the fruit of the Sprit. Let’s enjoy singing Jingle Bells and Silver Bells, but let’s fill our churches with the words and songs that praise our Lord for coming to save us. Let’s spend our money on gifts to exchange with family and friends as we gather in our homes. But let’s also use some of our wealth to help the least of these on the streets, those who are homeless, hungry and hurting in our communities.

It’s a win-win. You can have as much worldly Christmas as you want. You can begin whenever you desire and celebrate for as long as you want. No judgment.

You can also have all the Christmas God has in mind for you. It’s just a moment in time when the eternal God becomes a mortal man. It is an instant that changes your life forever.

Don’t try to force the two into the same box or blend the two as if they belonged together. We’ve got two Christmases on our hands, and I hope you’ll enjoy both!

Just like new!

I was making one of my frequent trips to Home Depot and had my grandson Elijah with me. As we approached the entrance he was impressed by the selection of lawnmowers on display. Some were walk behind, some were riders.

I told him that I had a lawn mower at home, and I had a little lawn mower just his size, too. We had stored that toy mower up in the attic about a year ago and being out of sight, it had faded from his three-year old memory. He was so excited to hear that I had one his size, and couldn’t wait to get home!

When we got back home, I let the ladder down from the attic and brought it down for him. It was just like getting a new toy. He pushed it around and around the back yard, as the little balls on top popped around. Then he said, “I need my leaf blower and a gas can.” He had a toy leaf-blower at his house and he remembered that the toy mower had a little gas can that went with it.

I wonder if grown-ups like me can get the same delight from things that we’ve stored out of sight for a while and brought back out? I suppose Christmas decorations would qualify. I get renewed delight from ornaments and nativities I haven’t seen for a year. I’ve got a spiral cutter that I don’t use that often that can make zucchini noodles and curly fries. It’s always fun to get it out. Or the ice cream maker, which we don’t think much about until the fourth of July. I’ve got a couple of boxes at my office filled with props I’ve collected for children’s sermons over the years. There is much in them that I have long forgotten about. Oh, and I’ve got a tweed wool sport coat I only wear when the weather is close to freezing, which is hardly ever here in Florida. I put it on and think, “Hey, this is pretty nice!”

So it does work for me. I don’t have to buy something new. I just need to unpack something that’s been stored away for a while, and my heart feels and my mind thinks that it’s new again!

After we found the gas can.

You do not want to miss this offer!

My stewardship chairman is going to kill me when these coupons start showing up in the offering plate!

Once again, fake coupons for Costco are being shared around the internet. It’s not a new scam. People were printing and clipping them last year, too. And you can be certain someone will be sharing them again next year.

So here is my question: why does anyone even give these things the time of day? Why would anyone think this was legit? I feel badly for all those who believe and propagate these fake coupons, which as you can plainly see, are pretty easy to generate.

How many of those who recirculate fake coupons will openly question the truths of the gospel, will challenge what Jesus said, and even doubt his existence? Way too many.

Blood on the keyboard

It was just about time for the service to begin. As worshipers filed in and found their seats, the organist slid onto the organ bench and punched a few stops. As her fingers hovered over the keys, she suddenly recoiled and let loose a glass-shattering, ear-piercing shriek, banshee-esque, “There’s blood on the keyboard!”

First the room was silent, then abuzz as ushers and choir members rushed over to see the blood-spattered keys. One faint-hearted alto fainted in a crumpled heap. As the organist leapt from the bench, phones appeared to take photos and dial 911. As anthem music flew everywhere from the music loft, the pastor had a feeling the service wouldn’t begin on time…

Alas, most of the above never actually happened. The only fact is the blood! One of our organists played with a cut on a finger that began to bleed. Unwilling to cut the piece short, “blood on the keyboard” became a part of our church’s lore and might just be the title of a future novel.

A servant’s heart?

A close friend of mine shared with me a conversation she had with one of her work superiors. She wanted to do better. He wanted to help her do better. It wasn’t an easy conversation but it went better than expected. At one point he said, “You’ve got a servant’s heart.”

A “servant’s heart” is something usually referred to in a spiritual context. But this moment was strictly secular. In the sacred realm we “serve” by spending our time or resources to help someone. In the secular world, it’s more about caring and helping someone.

I once had someone describe me as having a “servant’s heart.” A member of the church credited me with that attribute because I was willing to move tables or clean up a mess or carry out some trash. They meant I was willing to do a menial task usually assigned to someone else, like clean a bathroom. I never thought of such tasks as heroic, but it sure sounds good to have a “servant’s heart.”

I’ve been pondering this compliment. If I were a servant, I wouldn’t have a choice. Whether my heart were in it or not, I would have to do what I was told. My tasks would not be optional, but expected. My heart or feelings or spirit would have nothing to do with it. I would have no option.

So, a “servant’s heart’ has little to do with willingness and much to do with understanding who you are. You are not the boss of your life. Someone else is. Your tasks are not negotiable. You are a servant. You aren’t commended for doing your job. It’s your job.

If I’m a servant, it’s my job to care, to clean up, to be unappreciated, to be unnoticed and to be invisible.

That doesn’t sound like me. I like to be noticed, appreciated, compensated, commended, thanked and complimented.

If you are one of those who attribute a “servant’s heart” to me, I thank you. But I would also suggest that you don’t know me very well. My heart tends to think mostly about me rather than others. I doubt I deserve that title.

But I know many people who do. And I know someone who is the servant.