Posted in Dad, Life

Things I learned from my dad

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Dad and I – August 7, 2017

Having spent more time with Dad these past few years has given me time to talk about the past with him, look at pictures of family, and remember the things my he taught me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered the question, “How did you learn to do that?” with “My Dad taught me.”

Dad taught me

  • How to throw, catch and hit a baseball.
  • How to keep score at a baseball game. (We went to a game about once a year at Connie Mack stadium in Philadelphia.)
  • How to drive.
  • How to drive a car with manual transmission. (My first few cars had a stick.)
  • How to tune up a car (When cars had distributors, points and carburetors.)
  • How to do a brake job. (Again, when cars were a bit simpler to maintain yourself.)
  • How to plant, weed and harvest a garden.
  • How to play pinochle. And double-deck pinochle.
  • How to sing and harmonize. (My mom would play piano and we would sing in harmony together. We sang a lot of parts in church, too.)
  • How to hang dry wall and mud it.
  • How to prep and paint walls and woodwork.
  • How to wire basic electrical circuits. (Dad was an electrical engineer by trade.)
  • How to solder.
  • How to make Hamburger Helper. (When we got older and my mom went back to work as a nurse, she would work weekend shifts when my dad was home. We had Hamburger Helper for supper about 90% of the time on Saturdays and Sundays.)
  • How to be there for all your kids’ events. (I can’t remember a concert or other event he didn’t attend.)
  • How to build a fort. (When I was about 9, he bought a whole pile of scrap wood and let me and my friends build a “fort” at the bottom of the back yard.)
  • How to eat Wheaties. (For most of my childhood, dad ate a bowl of Wheaties with milk for breakfast before he left for work.)
  • How to eat sardines. (He always spread them on white bread.)
  • Hot to tie a tie.
  • How to be faithful (to God, to wife and to family.)

That’s a pretty decent start. I’ll be back to add more from time to time.

Thanks, Dad!

Posted in Grace, Ministry

How big is my parish?

yeshi-kangrang-337082I’m often asked, “How big is your church?” That’s a harder question to answer than you realize. Are you asking how many members we have? Or how many come to worship on a Sunday morning? Should we include those who are only in town part of the year? Do we include those who have moved away but still affiliate with us.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” (John 10:16). Those words hold true for those of us who are ungdershepherds, too. My ministry includes

  • Some I visit in nursing homes or hospital who have never actually come to our church (see “This is my pastor”).
  • Some who used to attend, but don’t come for worship any more.
  • Funerals and weddings for those who are not a part of our congregation.
  • Unchurched spouses, children and parents of members.
  • Families who have attended our Vacation Bible School or Preschool.
  • A few neighbors around my home.
  • Seasonal worshipers, whose main residence is elsewhere.
  • Friends of my children.
  • Friends of students in our youth group.
  • Acquaintances I only see occasionally, at parties or special events.

A whole bevy of people who call me, “Pastor,” for one reason or another. The walls that previously delimited the church were replaced with chain link fences that you could look through, but now even those seem to have come down.

So what has really changed: the church or me? I’ll have to give that more thought.

Posted in Grace, Ministry

For some, this is church.

IMG_8027Right after our Vacation Bible School a couple of months ago, I had a revelation. Sorry, nothing supernatural, just some clarity about people and church and people who go to church and people who don’t hardly ever go to church.

Here it is: “church” means different things to different people. Let me tell you what I mean.

I had an amazingly easy time recruiting volunteers for Vacation Bible School this year. In fact, I had people coming to me asking to help out. I actually had more help than I needed, but I found something for everyone to do. In fact, I believe we actually had more leaders than children come this year. This is church

They came faithfully every night, they took their jobs seriously, they worked hard and did a great job and even stayed after to help clean up. The thing is, a decent number of my volunteers don’t even come to church very much if at all. A few times a year at best.

Then it hit me. Vacation Bible School is church to some people! Continue reading “For some, this is church.”

Posted in sermon

Paths of grace: Love

August 20 cover pic

(Sunday, August 20, 2017 sermon — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Even though the church tries to makes a lot of noise, it seems like no one is listening. We work hard to communicate spiritual truths and church activities in every way we can, from social media to texts to phone calls to plain old letters in an envelope with a stamp. Yet it doesn’t seem like anyone is paying attention. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard, “I didn’t know anything about that!” How can that be?

And even though we have learned so much in all of our different Bible classes, I wonder how much actually sinks in. I witness those who never miss a class struggling with the same worries, doubts and sins as those who have never been to a Bible class in their lives. How can that be?

So many give generously, even sacrificially of their time, abilities and even wealth in the context of the church and our life together. Yet where has it gotten us? The needs are still so great. We don’t seem to be making any progress. In fact, it seems like we’ve lost ground. There seems to be more hungry, more hurting, and more lonely than ever! How can that be?

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul knew then what we experience now. Something is missing. He wrote

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

The missing ingredient is love.

It happens. It happens to the best of us. Yes, it happens in the church. Jesus mentioned that when he spoke to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2. He said, “I know how hard you’ve worked and all that you’ve done.” “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:2,4). Did you hear what was missing? Love.

What’s the difference between making a lot of noise and actually saying something? Love. What’s the difference between knowing and believing lot of things and actually being something? Love. What’s the difference between giving generously and sacrificially and actually doing something? Love.

If love is missing, we’ve got a big problem. Jesus called that church in Ephesus to repent and come back to where they need to be. Loveless noise, knowledge, faith and sacrifice is sin for which we much seek forgiveness.

How can that be? How can we be doing all the right things and yet still be so far off the mark?

Well, if we aren’t motivated by love, then we must be motivated by something else. So what is our motivation? Why do we do the things we do?

In our context, we want to grow. We want more people to come to our church. We want to be bigger. Why? Because we want to be solvent. We need the cash flow. (And I want a paycheck.) Plus, we want to be as big and popular as the other churches in town. We want people to notice us, so that more people will come, and we’ll have more volunteers to do all the things that need to be done. When you boil it down, our motivation is greed, selfish ambition and pride. All of which Jesus said we should be careful to avoid.

Loveless motivation amounts to nothing. No wonder no one’s listening. No wonder we’re not getting anywhere. Something’s missing. Love.

I guess we better figure out where we dropped the ball. We better go back and learn from Jesus what it means to speak and learn and believe and give with love. We are blessed to have a Savior who shows us that path.

When a rich young man approached Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him to obey the commandments. When the young man insisted he had kept them all, Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said, “You need to sell what you have.” (Mark 10:17-22). Jesus’ words were simple and challenging but also came from a deep love for that man. Jesus knew what that man was struggling with and cared enough to call him away from that into a different relationship with God.

When Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples, before his prayer in the garden and his arrest, he washed their feet and spoke prophetically of what was to come. He said that one of them would betray him, another would deny him and they would all desert him. Yet through it all, “he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). His teachings, his insights into the kingdom of God, his humble service, and his predictions of what would happen to him, all came from the one who loved them with an everlasting love. He knew how hard it would be for them, and he wanted them to know that when things got crazy, his love would always be there for them.

And then Jesus gives up all he had, humbled himself and gave up his life on the cross. It is the single greatest expression of love ever. No other expression of love compares. Period. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Jesus leaves no doubt how he feels about the world and about you and about me.

That’s why Jesus isn’t just more noise in this world. His words are different. His words make us pause. His words make us listen. His words stick in your mind. His words prompt us do things differently. His words are infused with love.

Don’t you find it interesting that the wisdom and the words of Jesus are woven into our literature, conversations, music and news? Without realizing the source, even unbelieving people speak of loving your neighbor. They advocate doing to others as you would have them do to you, They will insist that you not judge others. They speak of a city on a hill. Jesus said all those things. And because his motivation was a love for the whole world, his words speak powerfully in many contexts.

That’s why Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is so powerful. It expresses a love that defines who God is. It defines our relationship to God. It gives worth and meaning to our lives. You might not think your life is all that significant. But he does. His great love speaks loud and clear about the treasured possession you are.

If love is missing from the things that you do, there is only one who can supply that critical ingredient. Christ’s love alone makes our efforts meaningful and effective. That is exactly what happens when we gather for worship. This is where we hear of God’s great love for us and the forgiveness of our sins. This is where we remember in our baptism that we are his dearly loved children. This is where we to eat and drink the sacrament, Jesus’ great gift of love to us. This is the place and this is the time when our lives are infused with love.

You know what happens when you infuse your water or your olive oil or your vodka with different flavors. It makes a big difference, doesn’t? What will happen when our lives are infused with God’s love? It makes an amazing difference.

For one thing, you won’t just hear what God has to say, but you’ll do it. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Our love for God is expressed in following Christ’s example, that is, conforming our lives to him and his word. When we do that, our message isn’t a bunch of noise. The world is watching, and when they see that his words mean something to us, that we believe them and we trust him enough to do them, it makes an impact.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love for others is a powerful message to the world of who we are and what he has done. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). The gospel is seen and heard in the love-filled life of his church.

When our lives are infused with love, even the smallest things we do are not a waste of time, but have great meaning and worth. Lives infused with his love are aligned with God’s plan and purpose that “all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4)

There will be times when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Spinning your wheels. Spitting in the wind. Wasting your time. When that happens, come back to these verses, and listen as God reminds you what’s missing: love. Confess your lovelessness, and hear his words of forgiveness. Pause at the font and remember that you are his dearly loved son or daughter. Kneel to eat and drink his loving sacrifice for you. And be infused once again with the gift of his love. On this path of love you can be confident that you’ve got something important to say, you make a difference and you have much to offer.

 

 

Posted in Grace, Life

Eclipse

ring_of_fireEveryone is pretty excited about the solar eclipse across the United States tomorrow. I really hope we get a chance to see it. Many of our Florida afternoons have been defined by clouds or thunderstorms. Weatherman says fifty percent chance of storms. Thanks, buddy –I guess we’ll just flip a coin.

Anyway, one of the unique features of a total solar eclipse is the chance to see the sun’s corona as the moon blocks most of the star. This got me thinking: what big things get in the way but also help us see other things more clearly?

Sometimes a disability may help us see another ability more clearly. Someone who’s blind may have an enhanced sense of smell or hearing. A power outage may interfere with your wifi connection, forcing you to discover the value of talking to the people you are with. An injury may force you to get the rest your body desperately needs. The class you wanted was filled, so you enrolled in one that you really enjoyed but never would have otherwise considered. A detour made you take a scenic route. You got fired, but found a job in a different field that you really liked. You got cut from one team, but tried another sport that you were really good at.

When something gets in your way, you may have the chance to see something you never noticed before. Be grateful for the darkness in your life that lets you see some light.

 

 

Posted in Ministry

Tough and tender

rare steakAfter working with people for so many years you would think I would have learned this a long time ago: beneath people’s tough exterior is a tender soul.

I’ve too often taken my cues from the rugged, independent, self-sufficient persona both men and women display in the context of church life. We excel in projecting the image that everything is OK and we handling life well. But like a steak that has been seared on the outside for just the right amount of time, we’re still tender and easily cut on the inside.

Forgetting that, I go about my day, not worrying about those who seem to be doing just fine, focusing more on those whose hurts are outward and visible (those who have been burnt, left on the grill too long?) Continue reading “Tough and tender”

Posted in Grace, Life

Looking forward to annihilation?

duck-and-cover-drillI’m not quite old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. By the time I began school there were no more civil defense drills when you had to find the closest fallout shelter or hide under your desk.

But with the recent addition of North Korea to the list of countries with nuclear weapons, the potential of war, catastrophic loss of life and even global annihilation are once on the table. But the specter of worldwide destruction and death are nothing new, at least for those who have spent a little time in the Bible.

When creation is quite young, the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience were felt throughout the world. It’s amazing and chilling to read that early on the Lord regretted he had made people. It didn’t take long till “every intention of the thoughts of [peoples] hearts were only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Ponder that for a moment. Every good and decent thought and intent had been replaced by that which was evil and destructive.

The treatment plan is severs. God resolves to wipe out life from the face of the earth with a flood, and begin again. By grace, he saved eight people — Noah, his three sons and their wives — in an ark filled with animals.

It doesn’t really solve the problem, though, and Jesus spoke of a future time one heaven and earth would pass away (Mark 13:31). Complete annihilation. Once again, God would begin again with a new heaven and a new earth, populated by those whose lives were saved, this time by a Savior’s death and resurrection.

Now here’s the fascinating part. Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). While the world runs for the hills, the church knows that the new can only arrive when the old is gone. Our ears perk up when we hear predictions of disaster, death and destruction. Like coastal communities gathering for hurricane parties before the storm approaches, we gather for worship to anticipate the old giving way to the new in our baptism, in the church and finally in the whole of creation.

It’s going to happen one day. But it hasn’t happened yet. So we’ve got today, an opportunity to live, to be grateful, and to share the hope we have in Christ, our Savior through whatever happens next.

Posted in Grace, Life, Ministry

When the pastor came to visit me

empty apartmentIn 1979, I had just moved to New Jersey into my first apartment to begin my first job out of college at Bell Labs. After a few visits, I found the congregation who would be my church family for the next three years, Luther Memorial in Tinton Falls. Gorgeous location just a stone’s throw away from the horse farms in Colts Neck. The congregation immediately welcomed me, got me involved in the choir, youth ministry and teaching on Sundays. I got to play a lot of trumpet for worship, too. In fact, they gave me a key so I could come and practice there, since the paper thin walls of my apartment prevented me from playing at home.

Before long, the pastor called and asked to come and visit. “Sure. Anytime.” Continue reading “When the pastor came to visit me”

Posted in Life, Ministry, Rant

“We don’t have any shakes.”

McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In JanuaryA few weeks ago I went to visit one of our members (and my friend) David, who has been homebound for a while dealing with aches and pains and cancer and some tough decisions. Before I headed out the door, someone said, “Take him a milkshake.” He hadn’t been eating well, liked shakes and could use the calories. Works for me. I like shakes, too!

There was a McDonald’s on the way to David’s house. Perfect. The drive-thru lines looked short, so I pulled in. One car ahead of me. Five minutes passed. No movement. One car. Patience is a virtue, I’m not in a hurry, no problem. Finally they move ahead and I pull up to the speaker. Continue reading ““We don’t have any shakes.””