Total meltdown

gem-lauris-rk-606993-unsplash“Ok, two minutes.”

That’s all I said. That’s all it took. Suddenly, my grandson fell to the ground, let loose a long, agonizing wail, and would not accept the truth that we were leaving the fast food restaurant play ground in two minutes.

This caught me off guard. A two-minute warning was usually well received. I had never seen such a reaction. I know he was just getting over a cold and wasn’t 100% yet, but this was over the top.

Later, I wondered — what makes me melt down like that? We all have our moments. Most of the time we are well-behaved, composed, and in control. But all it takes is one look, one comment, one request, and we can lose it, too. We may not scream, but we’ll certainly feel like it.

I did a little soul-searching and came up with the one thing that makes me melt down, at least on the inside. (When you are an adult, you learn how to stuff your feelings and make everyone think you’re doing just fine.) It’s when someone asks me to do just one more thing that I don’t consider to be part of my job description, but is a request that makes perfect sense to them.

I know, I have to explain. Here’s a good example. Someone who has no connection with the church whatsoever calls to ask me to perform a religious service for them, like a wedding or a funeral or a baptism. Or someone is concerned about their adult child who has never really shown much interest in the church, but perhaps I talk some sense into them because they are making bad decisions. Here’s another — someone has a great idea for ministry that they think I should implement. Will they help? Not a chance.

Those are just some of the moments when I just want to say, “I’ll be back in a minute,” so I can go outside and just scream at the top of my lungs. I don’t often do that. But I sometimes feel like doing that. In fact, if we’re talking and I step out for a minute, you can be pretty sure that’s exactly what I’m doing.

So I really wasn’t too upset when my grandson lost it. I thought, “I know; I feel your pain.” I’ve been in meltdown mode before. I’ll be there again. I’m thankful that I have a heavenly Father who’s willing to take me by the hand, walk me out of there, and give me a chance to pull myself together. I think there’s a lot of kicking and screaming in the kingdom of God. But he loves me anyway.

What happened on Saturday?

Holy Saturday. For we pastors who run the entire Holy Week race, we’re coming out of the final turn on the way to Easter morning. The week has been filled with extra worship services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and a few visits to some homebound members who won’t be in worship tomorrow, perennially the biggest Sunday of the year. What do pastor’s do on that in-between day?

For me, it’s pretty relaxing. I didn’t have to get up as early as I usually do. I did a little sermon review for Sunday. Then I oiled up the valves and blew a few notes through my trumpet, just staying limber for tomorrow’s hymns. I exercised, did some grocery shopping, bought a new tie for tomorrow, got into the Easter candy, and may still take a nap this afternoon. All in all, a pretty nice day.

What happened on that Saturday before Jesus’ resurrection? Not much. It’s the Sabbath, so it’s a day away from the regular routines of work. The reality of Jesus’ death is beginning to hit those who knew and loved him. Thoughts of having to get up early to finish taking care of his corpse were on the minds of some. Fear haunted those in hiding; “Now what are we going to do?” The Roman soldiers had to work, guarding the tomb.

The one thing that we do not see on that Saturday is any kind of celebration from Satan and his demons. Why not? The Christ is dead. This should be their moment. They can run amok  unhindered through creation and mankind. They’ve won. They should be celebrating. They should be planning the parade.

But they’re not. Maybe they knew. Maybe they knew that this pause in the story isn’t a good thing. When Jesus said he’d rise, the disciples didn’t get it. Maybe the demons did. From the beginning they knew who he was. And they knew they didn’t have a chance.

In a sense, much of life is Saturday. We’re waiting for resurrection, for the return of Christ. For some, it’s relaxing. Others have to work. Some are afraid. Many hope it comes soon. We’ll get a taste of it tomorrow, in word and sacrament and song, and be reminded that death doesn’t have a chance!

Kids

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Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

I never, ever get tired of reading or hearing the story of when people wanted to bring their kids to Jesus and the disciples tried to stop them (Mark 10:13-16). I can just hear the disciples saying, “Get those kids out of here.” And then Jesus says, “Don’t you dare send those kids away. Let them come to me. That’s what this is all about!”

This account resonates on a number of levels. First of all, I think that deep down, we just all want to be kids. We want to be free of all the responsibilities of being adults, to just play and imagine and color. And that’s OK. You get a much better handle on Jesus when you are a kid. You’re not trying to prove yourself or justify yourself. You just look at him with wonder and know that he’s not like any grown up you’ve ever met before. He wants you to hang around, not just go off and play (and be quiet).

I also believe we want to feel his embrace. After Jesus rebuked his disciples and told them to let the children come to him, he took them in his arms and blessed them. With all the uncertainty, violence, politics, prejudice, hatred, jealousy and evil in our world, we just want someone to hold us. We long for someone who can make us feel safe. Who better than Jesus, who loves without boundaries, who provides a refuge from everything that threatens, whose arms can reach and embrace anyone, no matter the distance?

Don’t ever grow up so much that you no longer yearn for the feel of his arms around you. Always embrace your inner child, for that is one of the places where you will best get to know your Savior!

 

 

Keep your stuff. Please.

0006294200035_00It must have been the creaking sound that got my attention. What is that noise? It seemed to be coming from the freezer in the church kitchen. Freezers don’t usually make a lot of noise. Unless someone is trapped in there. Overly cautious, I slowly opened the door and peeked inside.

Perched on the top shelf is a three-gallon bucket of maple walnut ice cream with no lid. It was surrounded by several bags of ice that had been permanently joined together in a moment of melting. Their combined weight strained the top shelf like a bar on the back of a weightlifter squatting who-knows-how-many pounds.squat

But that’s not all. On the shelves beneath were ancient hot dog buns, vintage popsicles, and something orange left over from what I am sure was a fabulous supper. Nice. By the grace of God, it was all disposed of before the health department caught wind of the situation.

There is, as everyone knows, an unwritten rule that anything you don’t want or need — animal, vegetable or mineral — may be dropped off at the church. Common items include books (including many, many bibles), old computers, printers and monitors (working or non-working), TVs, walkers, crutches and commodes, out-dated food, pianos and electric keyboards, broken toys and dried up pens and markers.

To this collection we add other items unintentionally left at church: umbrellas, jewelry, keys (how did you drive home?), clothing (did you go home naked?), water bottles, sweaters and sweatshirts, and every imaginable variety of Tupperware.

I appreciate you thinking of us. But I need to tell you: we just reduced the size of our dumpster. So we don’t have the same disposal capacity we used to. I apologize for the inconvenience, but you might just have to put your stuff out on the curb yourself.

 

Denied.

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Photo by Peter Miranda on Unsplash

I just started reading the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and I think I had forgotten how harsh that prophetic message is. By the end of the second chapter God is basically saying, “Don’t come to me for help. Go to all those gods you’ve been worshiping” (Jeremiah 2:28).

So I began to wonder, at what point could I turn someone away who has been away from the church for a long, long time, but comes back for some a la carte spiritual food? Like someone who you haven’t heard from in about fifteen years who calls up one day and says, “Can I get my kids baptized this Sunday?” Or another who stops by the church now and again and sends an email asking me to do their wedding eighteen months from now. I denied both requests.

Of course I felt guilty. How could I not, seeing as how Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son being welcomed home? And there have been families who have been away for a while who have recently reconnected with the church. And I had no problem with them.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I always thought Uncle Ben said that to Peter Parker (Spiderman). Actually, it is attributed to Voltaire. Anyway, it applies here. Jesus gives the church the authority to forgive or not, to loose or bind people in their sin.

But how do you know whether to apply mercy or accountability in a given situation? The catechism says you forgive the sins of the repentant. But how do you know if someone is repentant?

The bottom line is, you don’t. You can talk to someone and try to understand their story. You could look for the fruits of repentance. But in the end, you really don’t know. I tend to lean towards compassion, but in the two examples above, I just couldn’t do it.

Sometimes Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Other times he said, “You’re already condemned” (John 3:18). Jesus didn’t like it when the Pharisees shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. Yet he also warned against giving pearls to the pigs.

But Jesus was better at sorting things out. He’s really good at reading hearts and minds.

And he’s great at keeping me on task. I’m not supposed to be a religious sub-contractor, providing various services. I’m just the messenger.

 

Thanks, angel.

emergency_vehicleI headed out the door to make a few hospital visits the other day. As I was just about to merge on the interstate to head south, I saw a fleet of fire engines, ambulances and sheriff’s cars along the side of the road. Traffic was moving, just very slowly. As I passed I saw a car on its side in the woods and people being carried out on stretchers. They must have rolled a number of times to get that far back. It looked bad. Couldn’t have happened more than a few minutes ago. Dodged that bullet!

When I was getting off the interstate, I slowed down for a similar scene. Lots of rescue vehicles plus three smashed up cars. It didn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt. Missed that one by just a few minutes, too.

After my visits, I passed yet another crash in the middle lane of the interstate overpass. Bumpers, glass and fenders littered from at least three cars littered the road. Wreckers were starting to pull what was left away. Another close call.

One more stop to make. Publix. I always park pretty far away from the front door. Too many lazies and crazies up there. Too lazy to walk from a parking spot. Crazy enough to run you over. Sure enough, someone pulls around and just misses me. Thanks, buddy.

My guardian angel did a good job that day. Got a little overtime, too. Will our driverless cars be able to do as good of a job someday? I hope so.

Life after death

chu-tai-121706Several months ago I wrote about our preschool’s last graduation as we closed the door on that part of our church’s ministry. Since then, closing that door has been followed by a flood of new opportunities. As soon as we laid that program to rest, new ministries immediately sprouted and began to grow.

A team of members, both new and old spent weeks cleaning out many years of preschool furniture, toys, craft supplies and teaching materials. A new wall, buffed floors and a fresh coat of paint spawned new ministry ideas.

One area was set aside for youth ministry. Soon after, two young adults took a step of faith and offered to lead our youth ministry, which had lay dormant for a couple of years. They now have more than a dozen meeting each week, not just in our facility, but out serving in the community.

Another area was set aside for our Operation Barnabas chapter, ministering to veterans and families of military in our area. The harvest field of retired vets is plentiful in our area. A place to connect with other vets will also provide a way to connect with the local church and other services that they need.

Yet another area was set aside for our preschool Sunday School class, which is suddenly being populated with little people as the birth rate rises in our congregation and community. Two first-time teachers stepped up to lead this ministry.

Both the girl scout and boy scouts have asked to use our space, another connection with our community, and more importantly, the homes immediately around us.

The space we now have available can be used for disaster relief. We now have space usable as a secondary shelter when the primary shelters close down.

We recently got involved with helping out homeless students at our high schools. We now have some space available to expand our ministry to those families.

Over the past few years, we did everything we could to keep our school open. In hindsight, we were simply providing hospice care for that part of our ministry. From scripture, we should have known that unless a seed is planted in the ground, it remains just that. But when it is buried, it grows into something new and much more than it was before. We should have known that death leads to resurrection, not just on Easter morning, but in the life of the church and her saints.

Our most recent experience in church revitalization happened when we laid an old ministry to rest and watched as God breathed new life into that void.

What if all you had was a bible?

a-worshiper-holds-a-small-bible-640x480Today in church I asked the question, “What would you do if you only had a bible?”

We get so much spiritual input from Google, TV and radio, devotional books, bible study books, study bibles, well-meaning friends and family, and our own experiences. All those things are helpful, blessings and important to our understanding of God’s word. But what if we didn’t have any of those things. What if all we had were a bible? Continue reading

Look who showed up at the resource center!

When I walked into the Resource Center today I ran right into our church’s youth group. Working the intake desk were Alexandra, Abby, Grace, Nooch, McKelvey and Michael. In the backroom, where staples were sorted, bagged and distributed were Adam and Addison, Jake and Nick, Anna and Cole, Tess and Mackinzie, and Joshua. They had already been trained by our coordinator, Trish, were supervised by youth leaders Rob and Liv, and were assisted by some great parents: Dina, Beth, and Kelly. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone — please forgive me if I did.)

resource ctr

Some of the shelves were on the verge of empty, but there was enough food to send everyone home with a good week’s worth of non-perishables and bread. In our little corner of the post-hurricane world, I know it meant a lot to the clients.

I had stopped by to take a few pictures and encourage them in their ministry. I am so proud of their efforts to serve the congregation and community. Youth in ministry is a much better moniker than youth ministry. They are not the future of our church. They are the church right now.

I wonder if they understand the impact of their efforts? I know them all and I don’t think any of them have ever come home from school to an empty pantry or refrigerator. They may have lamented, “There’s nothing to eat!” But not because there wasn’t any food — just no Doritos or Oreos. Some of them had just gotten power restored. Others had helped clean up debris from yards this past week. All brought joy, laughter, and youthful energy with them. And for that I am thankful. It’s contagious, not just for me, but for the parents and clients, too.

When I was ten, twelve, or sixteen, I didn’t have a grasp on how much need there is in this world. Sometimes you can see it; they are sitting by the side of the road. Sometimes you can’t; they are sitting next to you in school. They don’t let on that the free lunch they get is their only meal that day. Or that they are living with a grandparent.

On the other hand, they also don’t judge. If someone comes in for food, they just need some food. Period. No thoughts of, “Why don’t they get a job?” or “They don’t look that hungry.” Just an eagerness to share what they have with someone else.

I always learn a lot from young people. That’s why I like hanging around them.

The Resource Center in Bunnell (1510 Old Moody Blvd.) is open during the week as well as Saturdays, providing food for Flagler County residents. Call 386.437.7373 for more information.