Posted in Life, Ministry

A new chapter for the men’s bible class

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As soon as I arrived in Palm Coast to begin serving as pastor at Shepherd of the Coast seventeen years ago, I was informed I’d get to lead the men’s bible study that met on Thursday mornings. At the time, we met at a little diner-like place at the Flagler County airport called “Wings,” where the standard breakfast fare was a “hockey puck” (Fried egg on an English muffin with your choice of bacon or sausage patty). One bite and you know how it got it’s name. That and coffee cost you $1.99 plus tax.

After a few years, though, the restaurant closed and we moved our study up to Perkins restaurant, where we had a back room to ourselves and a larger choice of breakfast specials, including muffins and pie. I generally passed on the coffee, which I suspect was also used to clean the grill. But some of the heartier souls were able to down cup after cup. This past Sunday I heard the rumor and got the official news on Monday that Perkins had closed. Just like that. Our Waitress of many years, Jennie, left a note for me at the church. An era had ended.

But a new one begins tomorrow, at Bob Evans. I stopped by to see if they had a spot for us on Thursday mornings, and was blessed to know the manager there, the daughter of a woman I had visited many years ago in the nursing home. She hooked us up and we are ready to go.

I believe this group has been meeting for over twenty years. Numbering anywhere from twelve to twenty men, I believe we have studied nearly every book of the Bible, watched a number of Bible videos, and in animated conversation, solved most of the world’s problems. We have said farewell to a few who have gone on ahead of us to glory, but new faces have soon filled out our group.

I appreciate this faithful group of men, whose faces I see each Sunday in worship and at breakfast on Thursday mornings. If you’ve ever needed prayer, chances are we’ve prayed for you. Our list is formidable, but we’re undaunted, for we hold to the promise that the prayers of righteous men are effective.

If you are ever in Palm Coast on a Thursday morning, stop in and see us from 8-9 am, now at Bob Evans (next to Home Depot).

Posted in Ministry

Open Arms Preschool Graduation

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Last Thursday night I attended our Open Arms preschool’s twentieth graduation. A couple dozen pre-K students were sent along to kindergarten with our blessing and thanksgiving for the time we had with them. Dressed blue cap and gown, each received their diploma and we announced what they wanted to be when they grew up. There was the usual assortment of public servants I(firefighters and police), doctors and dentists, but my favorite was an aspiring mermaid!

I was privileged to lead them in prayer to open the night, and then sing some songs with them that we had learned though the course of the year. I get to read from the bible, sing and pray with them each Wednesday during the school year and summer program. It is a unique way of reaching into the families of our community, sending these students home to encourage their parents in prayer, worship and mercy.

We had no commencement speaker, nor was there a valedictorian, but a great time was had by all. My youngest daughter, who is now graduating high school, graduated from Open Arms thirteen years ago. She ran the sound board for last week’s graduation all by herself. Another grad, Tabitha, is now a teacher at our school. But the anchor of our program have to be Shari and Sarina, who have taught there all twenty years that the school has been a part of our church. In a business where staff comes and goes, it’s rare and a blessing to have that kind of consistency and commitment.

That’s graduation number two. Number three in just a few days!

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Posted in Life

Baccalaureate

high_school_cap_gown_tassel_royal_blue_Last night, I attended the baccalaureate service for the graduating seniors of Matanzas High School and Flagler Palm Coast High School, both in Flagler County. In a month chock full of graduations, award ceremonies, concerts and trips, it was just what I needed: another event to attend.

I arrived very early with my daughter Olivia who, as senior class president at Matanzas High School, was one of the speakers. As I sat and waited and listened speakers and musicians warm up, I wondered, “Who thought up this idea? Where does this tradition come from?” And I wondered, “How come I never wondered about this before?” I’ve attended some in the past. In fact, I vaguely remember attending one before my own high school graduation in 1975. Vaguely.

From Wikipedia I learned that “The baccalaureate service derives from the medieval European custom of presenting the candidates for the degree of Bachelor (bacca) with laurels (lauri) of sermonic oration. The Baccalaureate ceremony is a service of worship in celebration of and thanksgiving for lives dedicated to learning and wisdom. The baccalaureate service is believed to have originated at the University of Oxford in 1432 when each bachelor was required to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic requirements.”

Last night’s service omitted the Latin sermonic oration. Hosted by one of the local Roman Catholic churches, it consisted of a few prayers, musical pieces, scripture readings and brief reflections on those readings. The service was fairly well attended, with I would guess about 25% of the graduating class from each high school.

After the service was over and we snacked on cookies outside, I realized why this event was important to the students who attended. Though the gathering was faith related, I think the students were most excited about wearing their graduation caps and gowns for the first time and feeling like seniors, celebrating with their friends and family the end of high school. The tests were taken the grades were in and now, finally, it was time for celebration to begin, with the actual graduation still a week away. There were lots of smiles and pictures and hugs for all, a very relaxed atmosphere compared to the big event of commencement.

As I struggled to remember going to my own baccalaureate, I do remember than some of my friends talked me into singing with the choir for that service. I’m pretty sure we sang the traditional Irish blessing, and I think that may have been the first time I ever actually sang in a choir. How about that?

Posted in Grace, Life

Gloom, despair, agony, repentance and mercy

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I guess you have to pick your poison. Tornadoes in Oklahoma, hurricanes in Florida, superstorms in New England, earthquakes in California, shootings, bombs, abduction, epidemic, drought, infestation, pestilence, plague, processed meat — no matter where you go, there is a very real, imminent threat to your life, your family, your church, your friends and your community. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?

Are there really more threats on our lives? Or is there just more breaking news about threats to our lives? Has anyone done the research? Are there really more people dying from those things, or is there just more gloom, despair and agony thrust upon me each day?

A long time ago, the apostle Paul wrote that “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). He wrote that in the context of urging some Christians not to get too attached to the things of the world. They won’t last. And each tragedy, disaster and act of violence that claims life and makes us afraid is a powerful reminder that it’s all going to be gone someday (2 Peter 3:10-13), to replaced by something new and much, much better.

So how do we react to the events? How do we respond to the news? If someone close to us is affected, we show mercy help them through it in every way we can. If they are far away, we pray and contribute to support those who are in that place providing help.

But we also keep Jesus’ words in mind: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Headline news provides a vivid reminder of our sin and its consequences in this world, and the only cure is the forgiveness and life we have through our faith in Jesus Christ. Let the headlines send you running to Him, and then back out into the world with His mercy.

Posted in Ministry

Graduation at the Sem

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After a day of passing ominous clouds and occasional showers, the weather cleared enough for the 174th commencement exercises of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis to be held outdoors in the quadrangle on the evening of May 17. Row after row of white chairs slowly filled with friends and family, including lots of infants and toddlers who suddenly had become pastors’ kids. The ceremony began as graduates, faculty, staff, and regents all filed in to a “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” accompanied by a 12-piece brass choir.

After opening prayer and scripture, the speaker, Dr. Abjar Bahkou related his journey into Lutheran Christianity that began of all places in his home on “the street called Straight” in Damascus, Syria, right across the street from where Annanias had gone to baptize Saul (Acts 9). His Christian life, which began steeped in works righteousness, was soon transformed into one of grace, and he helped plant ministries to Islamic Americans through People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (POBLO). While there is much in the news to make us fear Islamic militants, there are also many stories of the Gospel’s advance into that culture. I have heard many over the past few weeks.

Then it was time for the conferring of degrees. Each graduate was invested with a hood as Masters of Arts, Masters of Divinity, Doctor of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy honors were given. A few honorary awards were then presented. Everything was done in a very somber and academic way, punctuated by screams of delight from the crowd as their favorite graduate’s name was called.

Finally, they were done. Well, mostly. Some still had a few weeks of internship or some recommended study to complete, but their degree was in hand! At that moment, I wondered if they realized the major changes about to take place in their lives. This time when they left each other, they wouldn’t be returning for another semester. They would begin their new assignments in churches all across the country. There would be visits of course, conferences, conventions and some video chat, but not the same day in day out shoulder to shoulder pilgrimage together.

I reminded each of Adam’s closest friends that they may never have friends as close as the ones they developed at seminary. Do what you need to do to stay in touch, for you will always share a bond in pastoral life that those on the outside will never fully appreciate.

Pastor Adam Douthwaite and his wife, Deaconess Sarah Douthwaite
Pastor Adam Douthwaite and his wife, Deaconess Sarah Douthwaite
Posted in Life, Ministry

Time to Go

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Dr. Andrew Bartelt was the preacher at the morning worship service for the conferring of theological diplomas at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis on Friday, May 17. Working from Isaiah 2:2-5, he recalled the typical welcome offered to an incoming class, “We’re so glad you’re here” and added these words for the graduates: “But we  can’t wait for you to go.” Just as Isaiah gained insight into God’s holiness and grace and was sent out (Isaiah 6), so the students have immersed themselves in His Word, and are now on their way.

While we are so thankful for those men and women who commit to academic preparation for full time church work as pastors and deaconesses, it’s a special time of celebration when they are ready to go and begin that work. As good as seminary life and education is, it means so much more when you’re out there. The Greek and Hebrew words, the history of Old and New Testament people, and the basic teachings of the faith come to life in the day to day routines, struggles and celebrations of the church. New lives cry out as others are commended to graves. Couples come together and others go their separate ways. Our lives are blessed one day and severely challenged the next. Each one who goes out will discover that the black and white lessons learned in the classroom are lived out in full color in the church’s life and ministry.

My son Adam and his wife Sarah, pastor and deaconess, have finished their education and will now begin their work. But there is a cycle they will repeat often. Their experiences will send them back to what they’ve learned, and what they learn will send them back out again in ministry. As natural as breathing in and out, we are drawn to our Lord’s promises, and then go back out into the world.

Thank you Dr. Bartelt, for your insights, images and message to this year’s graduates and families. Thank you Concordia Seminary for being both a place to prepare, and a place from which to go on the adventure of a lifetime that is full time ministry.

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Posted in Ministry

Do you listen to sermons online?

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So why do I spend the time uploading my sermons to sermon.net?

I did a little research, and discovered that on average, each uploaded sermon gets about a dozen listens. My all time high is 57 (“When a kiss is not just a kiss”) a Lent midweek sermon from a few years ago. Quite a few others hit double digits, mostly in the teens. Some don’t.

Each uploaded sermon is promoted on both Facebook and Twitter among my friends. My blog has a link to sermons, although I doubt if many click on it.

So what is the point? Is it worth continuing this effort? Does anyone really care? If you miss church for some reason, do you listen to see what you missed? If the message was especially meaningful, do you re-listen? I require my confirmation students to hear and report on at least 12 sermons during a school year. Many want to skip church and listen online. Is that even kosher?

I don’t listen to many online sermons. Maybe I should. It might be a blessing. It might help my faith, understanding, preaching.

What do you think?

Posted in Life

Graduations

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Over the next three weeks I will attend three graduations.

The first will be my son Adam’s and his wife Sarah’s graduation from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis on May 17. He’ll receive his Master of Divinity, ready for the pastoral ministry and she’ll receive her Master of Arts in Religion for work as a deaconess. Though not quite as exciting as the call service, they both worked very hard to achieve this honor, and I am very proud of them.

A week later, it’s time for preschool graduation at our church. This annual spring event showcases songs they’ve learned over the year, includes much pomp and circumstance and each shares what they want to do when they grow up. Along with the usual assortment of doctors and firefighters will be a few aspiring princesses and superheroes! I wouldn’t miss this for the world,

And then, a week after that, it’s my youngest daughter Olivia’s graduation from high school. Our last high school graduation until the grandkids come along. As senior class president, she’ll get to give a welcome speech, and is receiving her diploma with Cum Laude honors. I’m very proud of her, too!

Of course, each ceremony will be followed by festivities. What a month of May! (Watch this space for my response to each occasion.)

Posted in Grace, Life

Break an arm!

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“Break the arms of those who are wicked and evil!” (Psalm 10:15).

Do your prayers sound like that? I’m guessing not. Mine don’t. I rarely pray for bad things to happen to bad people. If I didn’t know better, I would attribute these words to someone in organized crime rather than one of God’s faithful. Although, I guess we’d be talking about kneecaps, not arms, right?)

That’s not very loving, is it? Not at all compassionate. Hardly merciful. Yet, it’s the prayer of the faithful, the inspired word of God and honestly, the sentiment of many of us. Wouldn’t you like God to give people like Dr. Kermit Gosnell what they deserve for killing those newborns? Wouldn’t you like to see some members of our government with an arm in a sling after God had a little talk with them? Isn’t there at least one bully you’d like to have an appointment with the Almighty?

Maybe that’s why Jesus is controversial. He doesn’t teach our enemies a lesson. Instead, He talks with them and is comfortable spending time with them. That’s just not right! And then His body is broken for us (and His blood poured out), for the forgiveness of (my) sins.

That’s life changing. He was broken for me. Any prayer that reminds me of that is a good one.l