Looking for my voice

Looking for my voice. Today I barely croaked out the second sermon as the laryngitis I knew was coming mercilessly set in. As early as Friday I knew it would be a tough morning. I could feel a little soreness in my throat and I just had a feeling that Sunday morning would be a challenge. Saturday morning didn’t start out too badly, but as the day wore one my voice was strained and even though I drank gallons (at least it seemed like that much) of water, I knew Sunday would be a struggle. Sure enough, I woke up with a sandpapery voice that got a little better after a hot shower. I didn’t sing any songs and really took it easy the first service, but I wasn’t at 100%. Fortunately, this is the service we record and post online. Bible class wasn’t too bad, but at the beginning of our second worship service, I knew it would be tough. I did get through the second sermon, but had to ask one of my elders to finish up the end of the service for me.

About 18 years ago, I was singing with a choir in another church and developed a really serious case of laryngitis. Ever since that time, a cold or some pine pollen or any throat irritation can set it off. It’s kind of like my Achilles’ heel, which as you might imagine isn’t good for a preacher. It happens about two times a year, and there’s really not much I can do about it. I had a sermon I was really looking forward to preaching, too. And since I don’t write out my whole sermon but kind of put together a storyboard, I couldn’t just pass off to an elder.

To tell you the thuth, I don’t like being vessel of clay (2 Cor 4). ┬áBut these kind of days remind me I am, and that God just might be able to communicate through a guy who can only croak out a sermon.

How strong do you have to be?

About a week ago, I left early in the morning to meet someone at the hospital who was having surgery that day. As we sat down to talk and pray, she said, “I’m sorry for being such a wimp.” And I thought to myself, “Why do we feel like we must be strong all the time?” When you are about to have surgery and face some of the realities and unknowns of cancer, isn’t it OK to be scared, be weak, and cry? Of all times to feel vulnerable and mortal, this would seem to be one of the most appropriate.

Yet we don’t like to let on that we feel that way. It seems this is especially true of Christians. We’ve convinced ourselves that our faith means we will not be scared, we will not worry, and we will not feel weak. Even if we read numerous Psalms reminding us that God is our refuge and strength, we’d rather dig deep into our own resources rather than have to tap into his. It’s not easy to say that God is your strength and mean it, because it means you are weak, and probably a wimp, too. It’s OK to sing, “I am weak but he is strong” when you’re a kid, but not when you’re grown up.

The apostle Paul figured it out: “When I’m weak, then I’m strong.” Perhaps we need to learn how to be better wimps.

Making some noise

Yesterday in church, during the sermon, I challenged the congregation to make some noise. The lead is was that the praises of Revelation 4 and 5 aren’t polite golf claps, but deafening praise for our Creator and Savior. I had sent out an email on Saturday, telling them to be ready to make some noise and to even bring noise makers with them on Sunday. Since we are usually pretty reserved on Sunday mornings, I didn’t expect much. Boy was I wrong. They were primed and ready and just waiting for the command. They brought whistles, drums, and some healthy lungs with them. And when I called for some noise, they let loose, much more than I had anticipated. Our early service did well. Our second service is a little more traditional, but those folks did even better. You can hear it at at the very end of yesterday’s sermon. I wonder why we sometimes hold back our praise, as well as some of our other emotions. Why pretend we’re not sad, happy, or angry? I’m pretty proud of the way everyone responded yesterday. Nice job, folks!

I’m not giving up anything for Lent

That’s right. I”m not giving up anything for Lent. Zip. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Over the last few years I’ve heard much more about giving something up for Lent than ever. For some reason it has seen a resurgence not only among Christians, but in the secular world as well. On one popular afternoon talk show in Orlando, an avowed atheist and an individual from a Jewish background were discussing what they would give up for Lent. It seems that the practice has gone viral.

I have a problem with the practice on several levels. First of all, if you are going fast, even if just from one particular food or activity, you aren’t supposed to advertise it on social media or talk about it among your friends. Jesus said that if you were going to fast, it was something between you and God. You were to go about your day as if everything were normal. If you’re going to give up something for Lent and then whine about it for the next 38 days on Facebook, I’m going to block you until after Easter.

Next, God’s not impressed when people fast but then turn around and treat each other like dirt. Read Isaiah 58. The kind of fasting God’s interested in is one that helps other people, especially those who are hurting and going without some of the basics of life. When people who have little interest in church or ministry decide to fast, it means nothing. Why bother?

What do you think of this Lenten prayer by Christian Sine?

We have chosen to fast

Not with ashes but with actions

Not with sackcloth but in sharing

Not in thoughts but in deeds

We will give up our abundance

To share our food with the hungry

We will give up our comfort

To provide homes for the destitute

We will give up our fashions

To see the naked clothed

We will share where others hoard

We will free where others oppress

We will heal where others harm

Then God’s light will break out on us

God’s healing will quickly appear

God will guide us always

God’s righteousness will go before us

We will find our joy in the Lord

We will be like a well watered garden

We will be called repairers of broken walls

Together we will feast at God’s banquet table

Rather than giving something up, maybe we could start doing something new for Lent, something that makes God’s love real. Who knows? After forty days, it might become a habit.

A little more time

Yesterday, I needed more time. More time to get things done, get to all the places I needed to be, and more time to spend with people. As the day began (my days typically begin at 5 am, feeding and walking the dog before my devotional time), I knew I’d never get everything done I needed to get done.

I dropped my neighbor off at the restaurant where we have our Thursday morning men’s bible class, went down to the hospital to pray with someone about to go in for surgery, headed back to the restaurant for the rest of the class, picked up my daughter after a doctor’s appointment and took her to school, and then got to church. After that I had two early afternoon appointments, some errands to run, another bible class to attend at night, supper to prepare in-between, and I really wanted to go over my sermon for Sunday. Yeah, one of those days. It’s not like that everyday, but it happens.

Here’s the cool part. I got all that done and had some time left over. It is as if my day had more than 24 hours in it! How did I do that? I guess I could share my secrets in my next best-selling book. But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I have the answer, other than to give God credit for a day that seemed a little longer than usual.

Now it could be that I overestimated how long some of my tasks would take. Traffic wasn’t too bad, the line at the store wasn’t too long, and I knew the guard at one gated community, so entrance was fast and easy. So I had two chunks of time to go over my sermon, was able to make a few phone calls, didn’t have to rush through dinner with my wife, and had a few bonus conversations with people along the way.

I believe that just as God provides other resources, like wealth and abilities, he can provide some time, too. This should be a surprise, because he did it for both Joshua and Hezekiah in the Old Testament. I never expect it to happen to me, and it doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it’s pretty cool. Thanks, Lord.

Role reversal

I didn’t have to preach today. We had a guest preacher for the final week of a stewardship emphasis we had today.

Sometimes it’s harder to sit and listen to a sermon than to preach one. Know why? As a preacher you tend to over-analyze every sermon. You’re constantly critiquing the speaker’s style, content, stories and delivery, rather than just listening, expecting God to speak through that person. It’s not too much different than watching sports and second-guessing the plays that are called. You would have done things so differently. And you would have done so much better.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we get a lot of training in preaching, but very little in listening. Listening is hard work. It’s tough to shut down all the other things going on in your mind and shut out the distractions around you to truly hear what someone is saying. Plus, we preachers get a lot of practice preaching, but little in listening. I did most of my listening before I started preaching, but not much afterwards. I think I need to do more. That’s one resource that’s available to me. There are zillions of sermons I can listen to online.

So even though I really didn’t hear anything new or especially interesting this morning, I did get a message. I need to ┬álearn how to listen better. And to do that, I’ll have to do some listening. I’ll let you know what I learn and who I find to listen to.

Lunch date

Today, after tying up some loose ends at church, I headed out to Gainesville to meet my daughter for lunch. Time’s flown by; I hadn’t seen her since Christmas! We sat, ate, and talked at a burger place (Cafe Gardens) near the University of Florida campus for a couple of hours. She’s twenty-two, about to graduate from college, and is actively looking for a job during her last semester. An exciting, uncertain, and hopeful time, both looking forward to being on your own, and yet wondering if you are really ready for that.

Could I possibly remember being that age and in that situation? Actually, I remember it vividly. I typed up dozens of cover letters to go with resumes, and sought out computer programming jobs anywhere and everywhere. I struggled to stay focused on the last few classes I had to finish up and enjoyed being among the seniors in the frat house. I was so ready and so anxious to be out on my own. My job search didn’t come to an end until about six weeks after my last final. Those were a long six weeks at home, but eventually the interviews and then the offer came and I was off.

Unashamedly biased, I know my kids have much more going for them than I did, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll end up. I can’t imagine anyone not being drawn to their talents, creativity, and character. I have a lot of hope for the future when I see them about to step into theirs.

“I need to talk to the pastor…”

The other day I got a phone call from a member who had a question for me. She wouldn’t tell the office administrator what the call was about. She had to speak to me. A question about something she read in the Bible? Something that came up in a discussion of her faith with someone? Perhaps she wanted to get involved with a ministry at church!

Nope. “Is it OK if I come by at 1:30 tomorrow to show a caterer our kitchen?” For this you need to speak to the pastor? This fits in the category of pulling me aside 30 seconds before a worship service starts to inform me, “The ladies room is out of TP.” Thanks for the timely info. And then there’s the ever-popular, “Pastor, is anything going on at the church June 19th?” Of course I have all the events for the year committed to memory.

I guess the predominant thought in churches is that the pastor pretty much runs everything. I would like to dispel that myth right now. I would love to pray with you about someone you are witnessing to. Let’s discuss a controversial sermon topic. Let’s toss around ideas about where you think God wants to use you and your abilities.

For the other stuff you might want to talk to someone else.

Band boosters

One of the things I’ve been doing in the community is volunteering with the band boosters at my daughter’s high school. It began as volunteering to help out at football games during marching season, then developed into coordinating some of the volunteers, to now coordinating a whole winter percussion show.

I’ve enjoyed doing this and have really learned a lot, not just about how much band has changed since I was in it, but about people and myself. First, it’s been an adjustment to be at and run meetings that don’t begin with prayer, like the multitude of church meetings I’ve attended. Not a negative, just a reminder of the secular world we’re in. Next, secular organizations have the same problems as the church does. A shortage of leadership, volunteers that don’t show up, and the constant challenge of communication within an organization. Third, these folks are hard-core fundraisers. They think of everything. Everything has a money making angle. Granted, this is what they mostly exist for, but they go for it. Finally, they are a nice bunch of people. Moms and dads supporting their kids in band and colorguard. Too often we assume that people outside of our church are evil. No so. They are committed, friendly, creative, caring, hard-working, love their kids, and are nice to be around.

Since my job involves a lot of church stuff with church people, I don’t get to be in that world very often. It’s been good for me, has kept me grounded, and I like it.