SunPass, Jesus and me

Florida_Toll_PlazaMy gospel illustration of the day popped into my head (thank you, Holy Spirit!) during a hospital visit with a friend who was pretty scared about her discharge, prognosis, treatments and eventually death itself.

I assured her that she would continue to receive good care from her doctors and nurses as well as from our Lord. But there was the rub. Not only did she believe she was being punished for past mistakes, she was worried about what purgatory would mean for her. I’d be scared, too. Technically, she identifies as Roman Catholic, but I’ve known her for a long time. I reminded her that Jesus had already been punished for her sins on the cross, so that was all taken care of. To illustrate, I said it’s like driving on a toll road. You don’t have to go through the toll booth and pay anything. You’ve got a SunPass, so you can cruise right through. I had just driven back and forth to the Orlando airport on 417, so the image was fresh in my mind. And it seemed to make sense to her.

She said, “Well, I trust you, so I guess that’s the way it is.” I replied, “Well, I got it from Jesus, and I know we can trust him.” The respiratory therapist finishing up her chart in the room concurred, and after a quick prayer I was on my way.

The SunPass stuck to my windshield had a powerful message to preach this week. Who knew?

A moment of joy: from loose to snug

Jinhao-X750-Shimmering-Sand-Medium-Nib-Fountain-PenOne of my favorite fountain pens is a Jinhao x750 that I guess you could say I actually got for free when I took advantage of a BOGO deal at the Goulet Pen Company. It’s got a medium nib with a really cool looking Shimmering Sands body, writes really smooth and has a little bit of heft to it, which I really like.

Unfortunately, after I had only used it for a few days, it wouldn’t cap snuggly. Now that’s not a big deal, but it was annoying. Capped, it would rattle just enough to bug me. But hey, it was free (even if  bought it, it costs less than $10), so whatever. I put it away, then got it out again when some other pens were out of ink. And that’s when it happened.

As paused while journaling, I was fiddling with it while posted, twisting it around, and when I capped it, it fit snuggly. I tend to twist a pen just a little when capping/uncapping, and that is how it worked loose. Again, this is pretty small potatoes, but I felt such joy in that moment. An ever-so-small annoyance solved. Just like that.

I had promised myself I would chronicle those instances in my life that bring me joy, and this is one of them. I find this fascinating. I don’t need something big, spectacular, expensive, or mind-blowing to bring me joy. Just something simple, small and even trivial.

What other simple things bring joy? Finding a dollar in a pair of jeans. Finding marrow bones for Samson in the freezer at Publix (lately, this has been a rare find). Reaching in the bag and finding one more french fry. Feeling a little hand grab my finger to walk with me.

What simple, ordinary moments bring you joy?

“After prayerful consideration…”

umit-bulut-143016It’s certainly not a new way to begin a thought or statement, but lately I’ve been reflecting on the phrase, “After prayerful consideration…” I’ve heard it a lot of times and have always given credit to those who pray about whatever it is they are considering. However, I want to share a few reactions to those words.  Continue reading

What do the holidays do to you?

denise-johnson-426641As I was browsing through some stories and articles on Medium, I ran across this curious statement: “The holidays do things to some people.” So I began to wonder, “What kinds of things?” Not necessarily bad things. Hopefully good things, too.

The holidays make some people very generous. They give a lot to those whom they love as well as to strangers and causes of every size and shape. That’s a good thing, right?

The holidays make some some very family conscious. There is an underlying expectation that family will gather to celebrate, making it necessary to get time off, plan travel, pack and head out with zillions of other people to make the journey “home.” That’s good, right? Pretty much, unless you’ve neglected that dimension of your life for the past year, making it feel like you’re in an awkward roomful of strangers who don’t know each other very well.

The holidays are a whole bucket full of stress for some. That’s probably not a good thing. Folks become more and more snippy as the season unfolds. Too much to do, not enough time, and unrealistic expectations sap tidings of comfort and joy from their lives.

The holidays drive some to excess. It’s so easy to spend too much, drink too much, schedule too much, and eat too much. Probably not good.

The holidays sometimes prompts you to reflect on your life, the year past, your relationships, and the stuff you have. Such reflection can generate gratitude, make you dream, help you set goals, and maybe try something new. That one sounds good to me.

What do the holidays do to you?

I don’t want to have to go there.

Bunnell - Recent A_largeI had to go to the county courthouse today, more formally known as the Kim Hammond Justice Center. My name wasn’t on the docket or anything like that. I just had to drop off an affidavit at the clerk’s office to get my name back on the list of premarital counseling providers in the area.

I’d been there before, and we don’t live in a large, densely populated area, but it is still an imposing and uncomfortable place to go. There is no parking near the front, so you have to make a long walk up the brick walkway to get to the front door. Of course, you empty your pockets, walk through the metal detector and get scanned by the officers on duty. Long empty hallways stretch to either side as you decide which way you need to walk.

When I finally reached the clerk of courts office at the end of the hall, another long line of attended desks behind glass greeted me. I picked one and stated my business, only to be called to another station. The person glanced at my paper, said, “OK, you’re all set,” and I was on my way.

On the way out I wondered, did they design this place to send the message, “You really don’t want to have to come here”? Was it designed to impress or intimidate? It is meant to be in its own way a deterrent? If so, it served it’s purpose today. I don’t want to have to go there!

 

I’m pretty sure this is bad soil.m

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Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

How much of ministry is throwing seed onto bad soil? I know that sounds like a strange question. But it came to mind the other night after I spent some time with a couple I really hoped would listen, learn and get their lives together as we started premarital counseling. But I doubt this will happen. I have this sinking feeling that the seed isn’t going to grow.

OK, just bear with me. Keep your sermons to yourself. These are just my thoughts. I know nothing is impossible for God. I know all things are possible for God. I know that his word always accomplishes what he intends. I know we’ve all got issues. But I also know that three of the four soils in Jesus’ parable won’t yield a crop no matter how good the seed or the sower is.

You remember the story. A guy is planting seed. More like throwing it everywhere. Some seed falls on the path. Nothing grows. Birds eat the seed. Other seeds falls on rocky soil. No deep roots. Withers and dies in the heat. Still other seed falls among the weeds. Gets choked out by the faster growing weeds. Finally some falls on good soil and grows.

So does this mean that seventy-five percent of the time, preaching and teaching the word won’t yield much result? Does this mean that preaching and teaching only sinks in one out of every four people?

I’ve been reading a lot of Jeremiah lately. I’m glad I didn’t get that call. His call documents laid out the harsh reality that his congregation wouldn’t listen to him and would eventually die or go into exile. Nice. After some of his sermons they beat him up and put him into stocks.

OK, I don’t have it that bad, so stop complaining, right? Plus, what do I know about farming? That is, what makes me so sure I can size up a person and know they are a rocky road or a weed field?

Or — and I don’t like this possibility — maybe I’m doing this because I’m the one who needs to listen and learn from this. Maybe I need to step in a big pile to understand what some folks deal with every day. Perhaps I need to just chill, suck it up, and do my job.

OK, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Paper airplane and cootie catchers.

Picture1So here’s what I learned in bible class yesterday. I am teaching a class on Dr. Howard Hendrick’s book Teaching to Change Lives, previously titled The Seven Laws of Teaching. It is part of our ongoing effort to quip our bible class leaders to become better teachers.

Yesterday’s class on “the Law of Education” encouraged teachers to involve students in learning, teaching them how think and learn rather than just simply sitting there hopefully absorbing material. I used a suggested exercise and gave each person a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Each was to draw a picture on the paper, make something with the paper, or do something with the paper to symbolize the statement “How does a person learn?” I knew it would be a challenging exercise, but I was surprised at how effective a lesson it was.

There were as many creative ideas as there were people in the room, everything from a paper airplane to a “cootie catcher” to stick people learning in some way. The exercise actually primed their creativity for further exercises in the class, and will probably be the thing they most remember about that hour.

So what did I learn? Give my classes more things like that to do! I’ve done it from time to time, but it may be worth adding to every class. One activity per lesson each week is well worth the time spent to encourage discussion, questions and creativity.

Allegations, protection, and common sense

D145_250_179_0004_600Suddenly the whole Mike Pence strategy of not being with a woman who’s not your wife has a whole lot of value. Initially he was ridiculed, but now, as celebrities, politicians and news personalities fall one by one to claims of sexual misconduct, the wisdom of setting and maintaining such boundaries makes a whole lot of sense.

I was taught very early on by some very wise mentors to never put myself in a compromising position. Don’t ever be with a child or young person alone and don’t meet behind closed doors (especially secretly locked doors) alone with a woman who is not your wife. When we designed our new church building, we made sure there were windows in all the doors. When I meet with a woman, I make sure someone else is around. When I’m with kids, it’s always in a group, or with parents present. I am even cautious when going out to visit women twenty, thirty or more years older than me! All it takes is one accusation, and you are fighting for your reputation, ministry and life.

These are not new ideas. In many circles these safeguards have been required practices for years (Cf. Good News Clubs, Boy Scouts, preschools). As allegations of sexual misconduct make daily news headlines, I can’t help but wonder how they didn’t know. Did they really think they would just get away with it? Were they oblivious to the potention dangers? No one saw this coming?

I am thankful for those who were watching out for me, our children, and other adults. Being safe and above reproach isn’t so hard to do. Just have someone else around on site or in the office. Protect yourself and them.

Lunch and a ride

OK, one more “that time I helped someone” story:

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Photo by Oscar Nilsson on Unsplash

This one happened in Florida, late one morning when the intercom from the front office told me, “There’s a man on the phone who wants to talk to the pastor.”

I knew how these conversations usually went. But I wasn’t all that busy and was feeling fairly pastoral, so I said, “OK, I’ll talk to him.”

It was a little different than what I expected. He didn’t ask anything of me other than wanting to have lunch with me. I was free for lunch, so when he told me where he was, I told him I would meet him at the barbecue restaurant just a quick walk away.
When I arrived at Woody’s, I figured that he was the guy standing by the front door, so I introduced myself, we went inside and sat down.

I told him lunch was on me. I was fairly certain a request for help would eventually come, so I was prepared to pick up the tab. When the waitress came, I ordered a lunch special, but he only got a plate of fries and some ice water. Interesting.

As we waited for our food he did most of the talking and I mostly listened. He was an experienced truck driver and was on his way to St. Augustine for his next job. He didn’t have his own truck, but was meeting someone for his next haul.

The food arrived in a few minutes, and while I enjoyed some pulled pork and sweet tea, he launched into a lengthly monologue about driving truck, his experiences and what he hoped his future would look like.

trucks“You know all those orange and blue trailers you see on the road? Those are all beginners. That’s their first job. Trust me, they aren’t making much money. Barely enough to get by. They are just learning how to drive, so when you see them, give them lots of room.” I took his word for it, though I didn’t know if that was a fact.

I did ask, “So how long do you have to drive before you are making good money?”

He said, “At least ten years. Until then, you aren’t making anything. Most drivers don’t last that long. You have to stay clean — no record, no drugs, no alcohol. Most can’t do it. Companies can’t find drivers who are clean and most guys who want to drive can’t get jobs.”

Our conversation went on for about an hour. Mostly about truck, a little bit about family, and of course a mention of church life, since I’m a pastor and all. Then he mentioned that he just need to get up to St. Augustine to pick up the truck for the next job.

I said, “I can give you a ride.” He was meeting someone at a place near the outlet mall. Half-an-hour away, not a problem. Of course, in the back of my mind a voice tried to tell me I probably shouldn’t do this alone. But I didn’t feel threatened and he seemed honest enough, so we headed up the interstate to his destination.

On the way we talked about where he had lived in Florida, his time in the military, his kids, who were grown and living somewhere, and of course a quick mention of wanting to get back to church. In fact, when he was in the area, he would probably stop in.

When we got to the motel, he told me his truck was arriving the next day. I wasn’t going to just leave him there, so I went inside and paid for a hotel room for him.

As I drove home, I marveled at how he chose to spend a couple of hours with me rather than just asking for some help. I don’t know if he had practiced that skill, or if it just worked out that way. But it was effective. I probably would have said no to an outright request, but was willing to help as the need unfolded. Pretty clever. I’ll bet anyone could use that strategy. Invite someone into your life, gradually unfold your need, and let them be a part of your story.

I didn’t come away from that encounter feeling used. Instead, I was fascinated how our lives had intersected for just a moment in time. I learned a lot. Every time I see one of those trailers on the highway, I remember that day and what he told me about those drivers. I also think often about my vocation, and how people seek out a pastor for help. I’m safe, often generous and usually compassionate. I didn’t do any preaching or teaching that day, just bought a guy lunch and gave him a ride. Ministry moments aren’t spectacular. Neither was Jesus. Maybe that’s the point.