A big slice of today

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I had the first appointment of the day when I recently took my car in on a Friday morning for some routine maintenance. With computer, journal and coffee in hand, I found a table when I could read, write and wait. Other than a few service people, the place was mostly empty. Over the next hour or so, I watched as the receptionist, sales, finance, managers and, eventually, a few customers arrived.

As I eavesdropped on casual conversations about their plans for the weekend, one outburst caught my attention. “I’m ready for this day to be over!” He passed by so quickly I never got to find out anymore details. But I thought to myself, “What a dismal way to begin your day!” The sun is barely up, and you are already yearning for dusk.

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe he had a funeral to attend, a root canal scheduled or knew he was about to get chewed out by the boss. So he just wanted to get it over with.

I wonder if he’s the only one. Are there others who just want to get life over with? What happens to your soul when each day crawls by with nothing but boredom, pain or loneliness?

When I catch myself just wanting it to be over (and yes, sometimes that happens), I remind myself that I really don’t know what this day will be like. I don’t know who I’ll meet, what I’ll learn, or what will arrive in the mail. I have to remember that what I dread usually only takes up a small slice of a day rather than defining the whole thing. Most compelling stories begin with a person with a problem who learns something about themselves and creates new possibilities. I want to be a part of such stories, so I don’t want the day to be over until I’ve experienced all of it. In other words, give me a big slice of today!

Prayers for life

Cindy Johanson, director of Central Florida Pregnancy Center, Deland, FL

This morning (January 22) I attended a prayer breakfast hosted by Alpha Women’s Center, a ministry the congregation and I have supported for over seventeen years in Flagler County, FL. I had been invited to say a prayer for the center as well, something I readily agreed to do.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I don’t believe they have had an event like this before. But under the leadership of the current director, Wilma Williams, they are working hard to encourage and expand their footprint in the county.

The event was held in a very small church cafe in Flagler Beach, just barely big enough to hold the thirty folks who attended. At least four other pastors attended, plus representative from a number of other congregations. The meal of quiche, fruit, muffins and oatmeal was just right and delicious.

The guest speaker was Cindy Johanson, the executive director of the Central Florida Pregnancy Center in Deltona, FL. The occasion of her talk was a sober reminder of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade was handed down on January 22, 1973, lifting restrictions on abortion in the United States. Since then, the lives of over 60,000,000 children have been ended by abortion.

Her words were also encouraging. Currently, there are over 3,000 pregnancy centers in the United States. There are 800 abortion clinics. The work of so many for life has increased dramatically.

She pointed out that when someone is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, all they see is a life or death issue. The birth of a child often threatens plans for education, career, and relationships. Those who work to protect and preserve life know that there are many more options, and are glad to speak about the possibilities with any who seek out help. While those who end life make a profit, those who work to save it do not make a penny. Rather, we make great sacrifices to provide these services.

None of what Alpha does would be possible had not God placed a burden for life in each heart who lifted up prayers today. We pray to the God who gives us life and breath and everything else, that he would continue to bring life to our families and communities. We pray to the God who came to sacrifice his own life for us so that we could live. We pray to the God who accompanies us through the valley of the shadow of death to life.

As I was about to leave, I overheard a conversation between a college student and her pastor. She had used her wonderful musical talents to play a few songs for the meeting. But I heard her say, “Remind me again what Roe v. Wade is.” What an important reminder to keep talking about the issues, the history, and our part in it. We cannot assume that all have heard or understand the issues. We cannot assume they know what is at stake. Communication and information are powerful and essential. The opposing side works hard at this. So must we.

A pile of stuff

It looks like the rental property just a few houses up from mine is turning over once again. How do I know? Most of the contents of the house been evicted, only to find a new home on the front lawn. A pile of sofas is also staged inside the garage, waiting for their trip to the curb.

It’s a small home, it’s been a rental for a long time, and it’s had a number of tenants over the years. The thing that caught my attention this time is that most of the stuff out front seems to be smashed, broken, cracked, dented and otherwise damaged. Were all the drawers from that dresser broken apart inside the house? Were all those bike wheels bent and twisted? Were those chairs ripped and torn? Or did those emptying out the house damage everything on the way out the door? Was it deliberate? Frustration? Anger?

The contents of our homes tell a story, don’t they? It might be a happy story, of times spent with family and friends. It might be a sad story, of violence or even death. Spread out on the street, they might announce that you just got new furniture or remodeled your home. They might also reveal the consequences of losing your job or the health to live in that home anymore.

You might not want to share that story with the world. But sometimes, your trash has much to say about what’s going on in your life.

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!”

 

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!

Just pay attention

jordan-whitt-145327Here we are, reeling from another school shooting. Usual post-tragedy rants about what should be done is in full gear, at least for now. As more information about the shooter emerges, there are endless questions and debates about school safety, guns, mental health, thoughts and prayers, politics, rights and legislation.

As I was working on my sermon this past week, I found a disturbing connection between an ancient moment and current events. It seems that asking parents to drop their kids off at school isn’t much different than God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. I know it’s a harsh comparison. But in that comparison, I found some things worth thinking about. Continue reading

“What is God going to do?”

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Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

It’s been three days. Three long days. People are starting to get thirsty. And grumpy. And panicky. We’re in the middle of the desert – when are we going to find some water?

Ironically, three days ago they had plenty of water. Actually, too much. They stood on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their tail and no where to go. But God made a way through the water, on dry ground, and they traversed safely to the other side. When the Egyptians tried to follow, there was plenty of water to swamp their chariots and kill them all.

Three days later, three days into the desert, there’s no water. How many times did they hear the update, “I’m thirsty”? And the first thing they wonder is, “What are we going to do?”

Typical. At least for me. Maybe you’re better at this than I am. But when there’s not enough help, not enough time, not enough money, not enough whatever, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What am I going to do?”

How come I hardly ever ask “What is God going to do?”

God’s the one who brought them out of Egypt. God’s the one who decimated the Egyptians with ten plagues. God’s the one who parted the waters of the Red Sea. God’s the one who caused the waters to return to destroy the Egyptian army. So far, all the people had to do was follow him. He led them with a pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire during the night. He would provide water, food and protection along the way.

When I was listening the the sermon at the hispanic service a few nights ago, one of the small parts I understood was the reminder that it’s Christ’s church. He brings the people together to do his work. It will grow exactly the way he intends. It may decrease at times, just the way he wills. But if you need anything, you go to him. He doesn’t expect you to do the heavy lifting. He just wants you to follow, trust and obey.

Maybe it’s time to stop asking, “What are we going to do?” and start asking, “What are you going to do, God?” That question certainly takes a lot of pressure off of me. It’s not “my” church or congregation or ministry. It’s his. My job? Preach the word. Watch over the flock. Equip the saints. And maybe most importantly, “Be still and know that I am God.”

So that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I’m trying to catch myself when I want to ask, “What am I going to do?” and rephrase the question to, “What is God going to do?” I’ll let you know what I learn.

 

The rhythm of the eternal

vladislav-muslakov-261627In the Old Testament, people’s lives moved with the rhythm of the eternal.

For example, there was a Sabbath, one rest day a week. There were festivals to be observed (Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkoth). Every seven years, debts were forgiven and even the fields got to rest. The pace of life was governed by your relationship with God, the Creator, the Lord.

The pace of my life? Rather than cycles of effort and rest, I push myself until I drop. I work until I’m exhausted. I keep going until I get sick, or burn out.

In the Old Testament, there were daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal sacrifices, feasts and festivals. So much of life revolved around appreciation, reconciliation and atonement. A renewed relationship with God led to restored relationships with family and friends. Regular patterns of worship led gave birth to healthy patterns of life.

In contrast, I feel guilty for taking time off. Time off is interrupted by emails, phone calls, and texts about things I could be doing if I weren’t taking time off. I pay more attention to those who insist I ought to be doing more and working longer hours than the one who says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Rhythm. The steady rhythm of my heartbeat. The daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset, bedtime and time to wake up, of the music I’m listening to, of listening to God’s Word and speaking my prayers. So much of life consists of rhythm.

I’ll bet there’s a good reason for that. We were created with rhythm in mind. Day and night. A pulse. Respirations. Awake and asleep. Joy and sorrow. Alone and in a crowd. Together with loved ones. Life and death. Listening and speaking.

I want to my life to reflect the rhythm of the eternal. To live at Gods’ pace, God’s urgency, God’s patience, God’s priorities, God’s cycles.

Lord, help me to live by the rhythm of the eternal!

“Jhalda, West Bengal, India”

BengalTigerRight, like I am going to answer that phone call.

The caller ID on my phone shows “Jhalda, West Bengal, India.”

Really? Like that is a legitimate call I am going to answer? I probably ignore 80% of the domestic phone calls I get every day. From every state in the union, from a variety of places in Florida, and more than a few from my area code and first three numbers of my phone number.

Oh, I was tempted. So tempted. I am so curious. I’ll bet they weren’t the IRS, telling me I was about to be arrested. Those calls usually come from Florida numbers. I’ll bet they weren’t selling me health care insurance. Those calls are from more local numbers. I’ll bet they weren’t offering me a social security death benefit. Those folks usually call from New York or Washington, DC.

But India? I’m intrigued. But I’m not naïve enough to call back. International rates and all that.

So I wonder – how many people simply let my calls, from the church or my cell, go to voice mail? Because they really don’t want to hear me ask, “So how come you haven’t been in church lately?” (Which, by the way, I never ask.) Or, “You seem to be a bit behind on your tithe.” (Which I never say.) Or, “So, are you still alive?” (No, I never lead with that, either.)

I usually ask, “So how are you?” When I call, it’s just to see how you are doing. If I don’t call – hey, call me, I’d love to talk to you. Especially if you’re from India. And you’ve got Bengal tigers in your neighborhood. I’ve only seen them in zoos. I figure they’re like alligators in FL. You just get used to them.