Posted in Stories

I’m only falling ten inches!

P90X2 is not a new workout program. But it’s new for me. Tony Horton and Beachbody released it ten years ago. I did P90X. I followed up with P90X3, which involves all thirty minute workouts. Just recently I decided to go back and see what P90X2 was all about. It’s been a good, challenging workout, combining strength and balance on an inflated stability ball and a variety of medicine balls.

Some workouts are push ups or side arm balances on two med balls. Otheres are pushups on four med balls. Tricep dips or mountain climbers on three med balls. Plyo pushups onto a ball or two or three. Some of these skills I have mastered. For others I roll onto the floor. Each day I am able to do a few more. When my wife comments, “You’re going to kill yourself out there (in the garage),” my reply is, “I’m only falling ten inches!”

You’ve got to find something which will challenge you in new ways. These workouts are doing just that for me.

Posted in memories, Ministry

The seven seals

I apologize in advance if you ran across this post because you were searching for deep theological insights into the book of Revelation. This two-sided bookmark is on my office bulletin board, and when I glanced at it this past week, it brought back a great ministry memory.

I think my (middle) daughter was sixteen or so when she and a group of her youth group and lacrosse team friends wanted to do a bible study on the book of Revelation. So, once a week we informally got together in the youth leader’s home and worked our way through all the apocalyptic images and symbols. These include the seven seals of a scroll that only Jesus is worthy to open. Their young, imaginative minds delighted in the image of the kind of seals you’d see at Sea World. So I made them each a bookmark with seven seals.

On the reverse side, I arranged pictures of the ten plagues from Exodus. These helped us connect the images of God’s judgment in the Old Testament with these in the New.

Every once in a while, teach kids and youth. It will keep you young. And you will learn a lot!

Posted in flash fiction

Ding

“Ding.”

Oh no. Not again.

“Ding.”

“Andy, if I hear that bell one more time, I’m going to throw it out the window!”

“No! I found it. It’s my friend.”

That’s how the conversations go on the summer youth mission trip. Someone always finds an annoying “friend.” An inanimate object that works its way into the group.

“Ding!”

Don’t say anything. Just let it go. Maybe they’ll fall asleep.

“Ding.”

Before I could open my mouth, a series of clunks echoed down the hallway. The slamming of metal bars woke the whole room of sleeping youth.

“What was that?”

Our whole group had to move up stairs. The church where our summer mission group was sleeping needed the space for one of their summer programs. No problem. We carted all our backpacks, air mattresses and sleeping bags up to the third floor.

The long hallway on the third floor was lined with doors that split in the middle. The top half of each was a smoky glass. Both halves were locked. The doorknobs turned, but the doors wouldn’t budge. What was back there?

We all sat up from our sleeping bags as the ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk continued from door to door.

I went to the door and looked out. “Don’t go out there!” I held up my hand. Shhh. Relax. Sit still. “Stay here.”

When I stepped out into the hallway, I saw the top half of each door ajar. It was like the whole place was suddenly open for business. I slowly walked toward the first door. It squeaked a little as it swung open. I cautiously peeked in.

I saw stacks of chairs, an erased chalkboard and two large empty trashcans. Nothing too exciting.

Feeling relieved and bolder, I moved towards the second open half-door. I took a deep breath and stepped right up to the doorway.

I quickly stepped back, pressing my back against the wall. Did he see me? I stayed perfectly still. I didn’t even breath. I know he saw me. What do I do?

I saw a few heads peering from the doorway down the hall. I frantically motioned them to go back.

“Ding.”

I gasped. The bell’s ring lingered in the air for seconds, finally fading into silence. I didn’t move a muscle.

What was that sound? I looked down to see the floor boards rising and sinking, as if some unseen feet were walking by. I could feel the slow, steady movement of the floorboards under my feet. Whatever it was, it was moving towards the room where our youth were no longer sleeping.

I took off down the hall. I had to get there first. “Let’s go. Everyone. Out. Now. No, don’t take anything. Just go down the stairs and out!”

As the last one disappeared down the stairwell, I felt something grab my shoulder. I twisted away, dropped to the ground, rolled and got back on my feet. “Oh no you don’t,” I whispered as I sprinted towards the stairs. Two, three stairs at a time, I hit the first landing hard. Panting, I burst through the exit out into the courtyard. “Go! Run!”

Looking over my shoulder, the door behind me closed. Windows on all the floors slammed shut. A light flashed and then everything went dark.

“Ding.”

Posted in teaching

The raft of God

When you’re a pastor it’s easy to fall into the habit of throwing out all kinds of phrases that make little sense to some of the youth you teach.

I’m pretty sure we were talking about the word “salvation” and being “saved” when I made reference to “being saved by [Christ] from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).

One of my students immediately asked, “What’s the raft of God?”

I like to use a lot of pictures when I teach, so naturally, I illustrated this important concept.

Posted in shopping

Forced auction!

One day last week I saw these signs at all the major intersections in my community. They weren’t there for long. Code enforcement is pretty quick to clean up such advertisements.

But it really caught my attention. These are high priced items! A Lamborghini? MSRP starts at $200k! Picassos? Really? You’ve got more than one original Picasso for sale? Lol, some of his stuff goes for over $100 million. I thought all the Rembrandts and Matisses were in museums. Dalis go for $8,000 to $12,000. You can get a Peter Max for $2000. The cheapest Rolex watch sells for $5,000.

OK, so what exactly is a forced auction? It is property being sold involuntarily, sometimes due to a court order in a bankruptcy or foreclosure. If someone actually owned such items, I doubt they would need to be forced to sell them off.

But who knows? Gambling debts? A nasty divorce? Need money to pay a ransom? Were drugs involved?

Were any of these items genuine? Would they actually be up for bids? Or was this just a ploy to get you in the door?

I wonder if anyone from our area reserved a socially distanced seat? Part of me really wanted to go just to see if any of it was real.

Do you think they’d take a check?

Posted in Stories

“Do you like it?” “It’s a little chewy.”

We had a big plastic tub in the garage where we’d been storing dry dog food for about twenty years. It came free with a big bag of food and we used it ever since. The top seals tightly, so I never really worried much about bugs getting into it or anything like that.

When I recently made a trip to the pet store to replenish our dry food supply, they didn’t have the usual seventeen pound bags. Only thirty-five. No problem, since it came in a resealable zip lock bag. I’ll fill up the tub now and pour the rest in later.

When later arrived and I was refilling the tub, nuggets of food were falling out on the floor. At first I thought I was just being clumsy, but when the bag was empty, I saw two quarter-sized holes chewed in the bottom of the bag. Someone else had been helping themselves to the kibble! A mouse? The squirrels have been pretty brave lately. Who knows. Lesson learned. I won’t make that mistake again.

About two weeks later, I went out to get some food for our dog’s supper, and noticed a pile of tiny green pieces of plastic in a pile on the garage floor. What the heck is that? Then I saw the lid of the tub. Someone had been slowly but surely trying to chew their way into the dog food. They hadn’t quite made it, but they were making progress.

OK, that’s it. I got a new tub and we’re keeping it inside. We’re not feeding whatever rodent is brave enough to try and tunnel into the dog food supply!

Posted in death, virtual reality

My friends are dead.

This post is going to be morbid. Just warning you up front.

I was poking around on Facebook and noticed the phrase “View Sent Requests.” I clicked on it and saw the list of people I had requested to be friends with who had not yet responded. As I read through the list of about twelve names, I discovered why some hadn’t responded.

They were dead.

Some had died recently. Others a few years ago.

I got curious. I wondered how many of my 948 friends were actually still alive? It took a little time, but I scrolled through the whole list. I had no idea who some of those people were. A few had duplicate entries. One was a closed restaurant? But another ten were dead. Some had been dead for years, but their page was still active. People were still wishing them a happy birthday. They hadn’t gotten the memo.

Isn’t that interesting? In the analog world they’re mortal. They’ve passed. I’ve been to some of their funerals. I’ve done some of their funerals.

In a digital sense, they still exist and they are still my friends. They have achieved a sort of immortality.

There is a whole underworld of Facebook users out there.

Posted in Stories

“Come on, we’re leaving.”

“Hey, are you just going to stay up there forever?”

“Maybe.”

So what if the sign says, “Stay off the dunes”? So what if it’s boiling hot out here in the middle of day? So what if you’re wearing long sleeves and long pants? So what if you’re just plain nuts?

“Come on. We’re leaving.”

“Go without me.”

Sigh. Do we have to go through this again? Yes, you can stay with us. No, you’re not a burden. Yes, I know you don’t have a job. No, you’re not in the way. Yes, we have room. No, we don’t hate you.

“Come on, we’re having fresh fish for supper.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Sometimes you just get dealt a bad hand. Sometimes you have to receive rather than give. Sometimes you’re the taker, not the giver.

That’s a hard message to get across. We all want to help. We all want to give. We all want to contribute.

But sometimes you need to receive. Let others give. Let them help. Be a receiver.

“Come on, we’re leaving.”

“Ok.”

Posted in listening

The art of interrupting

We all need to work on being better listeners. There are many resources to help you become a better listener. I’ve read them, practiced and strive to be a better listener.

But I’ve also had to work on being a good interrupter.

I spend time visiting older men and women who don’t get out much, who don’t have many people to talk to, who we classify as “homebound.” We no longer call them “shut-ins.” No one likes that descriptor.

Anyway, when I stop by to visit, it’s a chance for them to talk. Many homebound folks have mastered the art of talking with no periods. That is, every statement, every thought, every story is followed by a comma or semicolon, leading to the next story, thought or statement.

Let me give you an example.

“When my brother came to visit me last week…he’s from Ohio, the town where we grew up…it wasn’t a big town…my mom and dad met there at the church my grandfather built…the church only had five members when they started…my grandfather used to live out in the country but moved into town when the new factory opened…a factory that fabricated sheet metal…it was a real good job…most of my brothers worked there…my one brother met his wife there…she worked in the office, handling orders…the orders would come in from all over…she worked the switchboard, too…until they changed phone companies…I don’t get many phone calls now…my son said we get too many sales calls…I don’t really buy much any more…I remember when my aunt would take me into the city to go shopping…I don’t know if that trolley is running any more…”

You have to listen. Nod and smile. An occasional “oh?” And sometimes, “Really?” They have all the time in the world. You have a few other folks to visit.

What do you do? What will you do?

First, just be patient. Just listen. Someday you will relish those moments when someone comes to visit you. Pay it forward.

Second, be present. Just listen. You’ve gained entrance into a live well-lived. Learn from their experience and narration. You’ll be better for it.

Third, catch a word. “Factory.” “Brother.” “Trolley.” Catch a word and make it part of your own sentence. Step into the conversation. Hop on board.

Their words are the wave you want to catch. You’re listening but also riding the wave. You direct the conversation to the moment, the present and that place.

“I remember my mom taking me to ride the trolley…I’ll bet you miss getting out and around…”

“Tell me about your brother…”

You can ask questions that subtly take control of the conversation and bring a visit to an end. Yes, everything has a beginning and an end. That’s OK.

There is an art to interrupting. Listen carefully. Listen carefully for an opening. Listen carefully for that opening that will fill the emptiness in their lives. Be blessed by the conversations that fill your soul, too.