An extraordinary Sunday

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I was out of the pulpit, out of the church, out of town today (Sunday, April 15), and had a chance to worship like an ordinary person. Not that I’m extraordinary in any way, it’s just that I didn’t have to worry about unlocking doors, lights and sound systems, preaching and people, and the hundreds of other little things that occupy my mind on a Sunday morning. I could watch and listen and sing and pray in response to God’s Word, which was filled with forgiveness, promises and challenges. An extraordinary Sunday, for sure.

Unless you’ve been a pastor, you may not be aware of just how many things are on a preacher’s mind when Sunday rolls around. I’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t even realize how much is on my mind, until those days when there’s not.

On a typical Sunday morning, I arrive at about 6:30 am, and I

  • Unlock the doors (that’s when I find out which doors weren’t locked properly from yesterday).
  • Turn off the security system (unless someone forgot to set it from the day before).
  • Turn on the lights (unless there was a power spike overnight I have to reset all the breakers).
  • Switch on the sound system (unless someone left it on one day last week).
  • Run through sermon once, while I still have the place to myself.
  • Jot down a few last-minute prayer requests and announcements.
  • Gather up the assortment of folders, papers and belongings that were left in the sanctuary but hadn’t been picked up from last week, including but not limited to glasses, jackets, jewelry, water bottles, toys, food wrappers, coffee cups, newspaper coupons, pens and pencils, hearing aid batteries, and car keys.
  • Set up my bible class room, arranging the chairs, bibles and extra study guides.
  • Put batteries in and strap on my wireless mic.

The next to arrive are musicians who begin their warmup, followed by soundboard person, elder, ushers and their families. This is an easy time, standing out front, talking to people as they arrive, catching up with members and meeting first time visitors to our church.

Once the musicians have finished their warmup, I keep checking my watch until we get to the red zone, five minutes before worship. I give our song leaders a thumbs up and they begin their pre-worship song. As I make my way to one of the seats off to the side, I always have time to greet the children who arrive, and if I’m timed everything right, I begin the invocation right at 8:15.

During the service, I see everything happening. People arriving late, people who leave for the restroom, people passing the babies around, people smiling, people with tears streaming down their faces, and others who do not display one iota of emotion at all. I also see all the people who aren’t there. Some are sick, some are traveling, some I haven’t seen for a while. I see people setting up coffee outside the entryway, I see people head to the restroom for a second time, I see people leave worship early (was it something I said?), I see toys flying through the air in the glassed-off quiet room. (Ironically, it’s usually not very quiet in there.)

My mind is very busy throughout the worship service, too. Thoughts about who I need to visit that week, someone else I need to add to the prayers, an announcement I need to make at the end of the service, a typo in the worship folder, a mark that’s been on the floor for weeks, a bug crawling behind the altar, who’s calling someone in the congregation (and why didn’t they silence their phone?) Who need communion brought back to their seat?

Once the first worship service is over, it’s time to do grab a cup of coffee, lead a children’s Sunday School opening, and teach my adult class. Once the class is over, I have a few minutes to meet and greet those who have arrived for a second worship service, put on my robe and stole and head back into the chancel to welcome everyone straight up at 11:00 am.

When the second worship service has ended, I have one last time to talk with people as they quickly head to their cars. I carefully put away my wireless mic, put the batteries in the charger, hang up my robe, make sure I’ve got everything in my briefcase, and grab my suit coat before I am one of the last to leave. I tug on each of the front doors to make sure they are all locked (sometimes they are), glance at the sound system and lights to make sure they’re off, and check to see if anyone signed the guest book.

So on those precious days when I get to worship at another church and don’t have to worry about any of the above, it is a blessing which exceeds anything I could ask or imagine!

Did a medium really conjure up the spirit of Samuel?

Our men’s Thursday morning bible study was deep into our study of 1 Samuel when we got to the account of Saul finding a medium to conjure up the spirit of the prophet Samuel who had died (1 Samuel 28:3-19).

Saul is in a bad spot. The Philistines have gathered to attack. Saul has exhausted every way he knows to contact the Lord, to no avail. Now what? He tells his servants to find a medium, so he can contact the departed spirit of Samuel and find out what’s going to happen.

Even though Saul has eradicated all the mediums and “fortune-tellers” from the land, his servants find a medium in Endor. According to the text, she conjures up the spirit of Samuel, who gives Saul the bad news: Israel is going to lose the battle to the Philistines, and you and your sons will die.

Here’s my question: did the medium really get in contact with the spirit of Samuel? Is that even possible? What is really going on here?

First of all, this is not a permissible practice. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14 God commands his people not to do this. They are not to consult mediums or spiritualists (Leviticus 19::31).

But it seems that the medium had indeed summoned the spirit of Samuel. Saul recognized Samuel. And the spirit’s prediction came true: Israel was defeated and Saul was killed. So God allowed this to happen? It seems so.

Well, that opens up a can of worms. Are spirits real? Are mediums real? Is there validity to those who read palms and gaze into crystal balls? In just about every town I’ve ever been to you can find a fortune-teller who is able to afford a storefront from those who pay for this kind of information. Is this real? A scam? Just business?

Here are a few things I’ve learned and concluded:

  • The spirit world is real. Satan’s minions were ejected from heaven when they lost their battle to Michael and the angels. Jesus dealt with demons in his ministry. They may be on a short leash, but they are real.
  • God has a handle on our future. When I surveyed the class, asking, “Would you want to know the day of your death?” all answered, “No.” Who wants to live in the shadow of their death? It’s better not to ask.
  • God wants us to trust him. Nothing can separate us from his love, so what else do you need to know. Just enjoy the ride. You may be surprised. You may scream. You may throw up. You might just love it. But it’s worth it. You were made for this.

When it come to the occult, I am very quickly over my head. Not a place I want to be. I’ll trust God with my future, thank you very much.

“You better put a piece of tape over it.”

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Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

We got into a pretty interesting discussion at men’s bible class last Thursday morning. We are in the last few chapters of 1 Samuel and were impressed at how King Saul was often able to find out where David was. With no satellites, drones, electronic listening devices, GPS — just a few spies, probably on foot — Saul repeated tracked him down. In like manner, David knew where Saul was and stayed a step ahead of him.

In the course of this conversation, someone mentioned that we should put tape over the cameras on our computers. A new story reported that without us knowing it, someone can use it to watch us. I asked, “Why would someone want to watch us? What do they think they’ll see?”

Someone else said, “It’s not like we’re taking it into the shower with us or anything like that.”

I said, “If we did, they’d want to cover their screen with tape!”

Best laugh at the table in a long time. Thank God for humor, laughter and great conversation!

Can I have your attention?

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Photo by Loren Joseph on Unsplash

Post-Easter Sunday excitement, wiggles and sugar-hangovers made the Good News Club a little more challenging last week. After a few songs and teaching about the resurrection via the account of the two disciples who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, it was craft and review time. The room divided up by grade to work on a few peel-and-stick crafts and see who could remember a few things from the story that day. Conversation and laughter filled the room, but everything remained under control — except for a few boys in the second grade group. The adult working with that group could have used a few dogs from the herding group to help corral those nine children. I was done teaching for the day so I tapped the four boys on the shoulder and said, “You guys come with me.”

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What happened on Sunday?

IMG-8774This is kind of a sequel to yesterday’s post. It’s mostly highlights from my Easter Sunday. Not necessarily exciting, but a debrief for me nonetheless.

The alarm woke me at 4:30 am. I get up a little earlier on Sunday mornings so I have time to read and write a little before I get ready for the day. First things first, though: feed and walk Samson who is willing to get up whenever I do.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I am a few weeks ahead in my “Today’s Light” readings. I read Deuteronomy 27 today, taking note of the altar Moses instructed the leaders of Israel to built after they crossed the Jordan. It was to be made of uncut stone, a reminder that no human effort would make a sacrifice acceptable to God. It’s all grace.

I then pondered who I would see and wouldn’t see in church today. I’d see a bunch of once-a-year attenders, visiting family and other guests. I wouldn’t see some who were traveling, some who have died and some who I don’t know why they weren’t there. I made a mental note to watch and listen to all the Easter stories going on around me.

After showering and dressing, I got to church about 6:15. I love being the first person there, walking up to the church while it’s still dark as the birds are just beginning to sing and a gentle breeze nudges the flag from its pole. As I was walking to the front door, I noticed a car pull in the parking lot. About half-way in, they turned around and left, and drove to the church next door, which was still dark and vacant. After driving around the parking lot, they drove away. Looking for a sunrise service I guess.

IMG-8773After I unlocked the doors, turned on the lights and powered up the sound board, I practiced my sermon and then took a few pictures of the chancel filled with Easter lilies. I’m glad I got there a little bit early because some of the musicians began arriving about 7 to go over some music. A few folks from the hispanic congregation came to pray in the chapel soon after.

As the Praise Team ran through their music, I stood out front and talked with folks as they arrived for worship. At 8:11, I gave the musicians the thumbs up to begin their preservice song and we began our first Easter service.

Just before the sermon I invited the children to come and look at our last Resurrection egg (which was empty, just like the tomb), and search for the giant empty egg hidden in the sanctuary. Then I gave them their jelly beans and read them the Jelly Bean poem. As I prayed with them, my grandson Elijah, licked a green jelly bean, put it back in the bag, and then put half of the giant egg on my head like a hat. (I’m waiting to see if anyone got a picture of that.) Just another day worshiping with kids!

After the first worship service was over, one of our young men briefly presented to the congregation his eagle project of redoing our playground. I reset my children’s sermon props and headed over to the Fellowship Hall for a really nice breakfast prepared by our Parish Life board and served by our youth. I got to meet a few new families who had come to our area, checking out our church.

About 10:20, I warmed up a little on trumpet, set it out by the music stands, and greeted families beginning to arrive for the 11 am worship service. Straight up at 11 we began with a special cantor/bell/choir call and response, and then launched into the first hymn for a full house of worshipers. This year we had three trumpets and a baritone horn to accompany the the hymns. The choir sang two pieces and the bells rang a second at the beginning of holy communion.

29594660_10211761304368994_4027288363915323199_nAfter worship was over, I got to greet some of the Russian congregation who use our facility on Sunday afternoons. Then it was home for a nap and off to High Tides Snack Jack in Flagler Beach, our traditional Easter supper eatery. We beat most of the evening crowd, and had time to play on the beach a little, too.

29683255_10155600924063460_6691557633990882834_nA long time ago, I can remember Easter Sunday begin hectic, frantic and exhausting. But now with some ministry years under my belt, I just let it happen. Sure, it’s busy, but it’s fun, too. It’s fun to play my horn, meaningful to see everyone, and encouraging to speak and hear the refrain, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”