Posted in questions

Early morning school bus?

I did a double-take early one Sunday morning when I saw Flagler County School Bus drive by. I rarely see another car on the road when I’m driving to church about 6:15 am, never mind a school bus!

So I wondered, “What in the world is a school bus doing out at this time of the day?” I’m going to play with that question and see what answers I can come up with.

1. It was stolen. Someone broke into one of the busses lined up behind the middle school, hot wired it and simply drove away when they thought no one would be up and around. What better time than early Sunday morning?

2. The game went into triple overtime. We won, but it was a long drive home and now the driver is headed for the bus barn. Hopefully, he got paid some overtime, too.

3. Someone got their days mixed up. What? What do you mean it’s not Monday morning?

4. It really wasn’t a school bus. Someone bought an old de-commissioned school bus, refurbished it, and now drives it around for fun.

5. t’s a touring band, on the way to their next concert venue. Instead of advertising who they were, they travel incognito, preserving their privacy.

6. A driver-in-training took it out for a few extra hours of practice when the traffic was light.

7. It’s a team of researchers, testing to see if their algorithm for the most efficient route really adds up to time and fuel savings.

8. It was an experimental self-driving school bus. Better to work out the bugs early in the morning rather than with a load of students.

9. An arch-criminal had rigged the bus to explode when it stopped moving. The driver had to keep driving or…kaboom!

10. It wasn’t actually a bus, but a hologram of the bus. Fooled me.

The possibilities are endless.

Posted in Ministry, questions

Yes, I have time for a question

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Twenty minutes or so before worship began last week, a good friend of mine asked, “Do you have time for a quick theological question?”

My heart rate increased, adrenaline began pumping as I reveled in that moment. Even in those moments when I should focus on the hour ahead of me, I love a good question about God, faith, Jesus or the church. In fact, when someone asks less specifically, “Can I ask you a question?” I will often reply, “I hope it’s a bible question!”

Many questions aren’t biblical or theological. In fact, they are usually anything but. For example,

  • “Do you know the copier access code?”
  • “Do we have any more garbage bags?”
  • “Whatever happened to __________?” (Fill in anyone’s name.)
  • “Where do you go to get your car fixed?”
  • “Who is that person I saw at church yesterday? He was older, had gray hair, wore glasses…”
  • “Why is it so cold/hot/noisy/dark/bright in here?”
  • “Where can I find a roll of toilet paper?”
  • “Why didn’t I get any offering envelopes?”
  • “When is the dumpster going to get emptied?”
  • “Can I use the fellowship hall for a birthday party in June?”
  • “Who left this food in the refrigerator?”
  • “What happened to the food that was in the refrigerator?”
  • “Why isn’t there anything on that bulletin board?”
  • “When did you get glasses?”
  • “Where are your glasses?”

Do I have time for a theological question? Most certainly, yes!

Posted in bible, Ministry, questions

No more ________.

Every Thursday morning between ten and twenty men from our church gather for breakfast and bible study at a local restaurant. This group has been meeting for close to thirty years, longer than I’ve been the pastor at our church. I’m not going to mention the name of the restaurant, unless I feel kind of snarky a little later in this post.

Within the past year, the franchise has eliminated certain items from the menu. The first item to go: raisins. Raisins were no longer available for the guys who ordered oatmeal for breakfast. Dried cranberries, yes. Raisins? Nope. Next, no more Tabasco. OK, I realize this is a niche market. And they did offer a cheap imitation hot sauce. But if you want the good stuff, too bad. One day, we were told, “No more English muffins.” You could choose from white, wheat, sour dough, or rye bread. Or a couple of pancakes. Biscuits? Yes. All of a sudden though, one day English muffins reappeared in our choice of breads. Nice.

So I’ve been wondering, “Who makes these decisions?” I doubt that the franchise owner is fretting about dried fruit or bread. But at the corporate level, in some office somewhere, someone is pondering, “What can we do to increase our profits? Where can we cut the fat?”

Last week, one group member lamented a local Subway’s decision to eliminate Swiss cheese from the menu. Really? Cheese with holes is a staple of deli sandwiches. What happened? Tariffs on imported Swiss? Shortages and price spikes? Who knows.

I’m just curious. Who makes these decisions? And why? I’m no dummy. I know it’s the bottom line. Follow the money. Some bean counter somewhere decided that millions could be made with a simple adjustment to the menu. Whatever. We can always bring our own Tabasco. Or get our subs from a different fast food restaurant. Or boycott until they meet our demands.

So far we can still bring our bibles. That’s the important thing.

Posted in bible, questions

Did a medium really conjure up the spirit of Samuel?

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Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

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.

Posted in common sense, Ministry, questions

“Will you bless this for me?”

examiner-size-cross-in-handWhen I was getting ready to perform a wedding at a non-church venue in St Augustine last fall, the bride’s aunt took a cross pendant next door to the Basilica to have it blessed before giving it to her niece. Someone looked toward me and asked, “Why didn’t you just have him do it?” She just shrugged. 

A week or two later, someone took me aside before worship and showed me a new cross necklace they had just received and asked me to bless it. I was caught off guard, since I wasn’t in the habit of blessing things. But I said a prayer with that individual, asking God to let that cross be a powerful reminder of everything that Jesus had done for them.

Every month the prayer shawl ministry of our church puts on display all the shawls that have been crocheted over the past month so that we can pray for those who will receive one. Of course we don’t know ahead of time who will receive them, but God does, so we commend them to his care. We keep a supply, and members of the church will request them and take them to people who are sick or have something else going on.

Sometimes, a shawl will be finished and given to someone in-between those monthly displays. Well-meaning members will bring the shawl by for me to bless. Rather than blessing the shawl per se, I pray for the healing, comfort, and safety of the recipient.

After doing this a couple of times I began to wonder, “What’s the big deal about blessing something?” Where did this idea come from? Should I be better at doing this? It is true that in the agenda (a reference volume of special ceremonies) there are rites to bless things like organs, church bells, paraments, buildings, furnishings and homes. These rites, however, are a way of reminding us that we are setting these things aside for special use in ministry. However, when people have an object blessed, I fear they may believe this object will now guarantee good fortune, as if it were now a good luck charm. In other words, if an object in their possession has been blessed, they will receive blessing from it. Superstitious at best, this borders on idolatry in my book. 

I can guarantee that an object is just the same after I pray over it as it was before. I am not able to make a cross or a bible or a crocheted prayer shawl any more effective in protecting, healing or blessing anyone. I have no problem praying for somebody who will wear or use or hold one of those things. But give an object special powers? That’s way above my pay grade!

Posted in Life, questions, waiting

A long, long line

img_7631.jpg“Hey honey, what do you want to do this afternoon?”

“I don’t know. The house is clean, lawn’s cut, dog bathed, laundry’s done, bills paid, supper’s in the crock pot. Not much going on around here. Let’s go wait in the car rider line at school for a couple of hours.”

Said no one ever. Except, apparently, in our community. Elementary school dismisses at 3:30 pm. The first cars arrive to get in line to pick up their kids at about 2:15 pm. By 2:45, there are fifty cars in line, on the south side, on the north side and on the east side of the school. I can’t even imagine how long the line is at 3, never mind 3:30 when the fist child walks out the door. No matter what you do, you’re in for a long wait, on a hot afternoon, with the car and AC running all that time.

My math brain wonders what the optimal arrival time is. It’s probably not the first to arrive, nor the last. There must be a sweet spot where you aren’t too far back and don’t have to arrive absurdly early. If I had to do that, I would hack that system to find the arrival time that actually made for the shortest wait time.

However, I would last about one day in that line before I started screaming and tearing my hair out. Our sweet spot was to let our kids ride the bus and for us it worked out well. That plus a little bit of extended day made mornings and afternoons easier. Those might not be the best choices for some, but I’m amazed how many have the free time and the patience to sit that long in the car rider line!

I won’t even talk about walking to school, because then I’ll start to sound really old…

But I will wonder out loud, “What’s the longest line I’ve ever waited in?” Interesting question. Airport? It felt longer but probably wasn’t more than an hour to check in or go through security. Disney? Probably 90 minutes for a ride. International immigration? I think I did a few 2 hour waits for a visa and passport stamp. 

But those were isolated incidents. It would be tough to do that every day.

Posted in listening, questions

How many guns do you need?

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Not too long ago I was wondering, “Who has a gun?” Since then, one headline caught my attention: “Only 3% of Americans own half of the nations guns.”

On the morning of the recent Las Vegas mass shooting, I was on my way to a conference with two colleagues. As we glanced at the TV in a rest stop restaurant area, the reported number of fatalities and injuries continued to rise. Our conversation over lunch turned to guns.

One friend began talking about his concealed carry permit, and the gun he preferred when carrying. He went on to describe some of his handguns and rifles. Some had been customized. Some were special orders. Some had been hand-me-downs. Some were for hunting. Some were for self-protection.

Finally I asked, “How many guns do you have?” Looking up, he mentally counted through his own personal inventory. I don’t remember the exact number he mentioned, but it was more than ten.

Now I’m wondering, “Why does a person need so many guns?” I understand the need for different kinds of guns for different kinds of shooting or hunting. I’m sure there are new models and new technology, as well as old favorites and classic designs. It just never occurred to me that someone would have that many.

The subtitle to the previous headline read, “7.7 million Americans own between 8 and 140 firearms.” Apparently, “that many” isn’t that many when it come to guns. The Las Vegas shooter Steve Paddock owned 47 guns.

The guys I’ve gone out shooting with all own a variety of guns. Each time I’ve gone out, they’ve brought a selection for me to try. They’re always eager to demonstrate their collection. “Here, try this one.” “How did that one feel?” “You’ll like this one.” “This is what I carry.”

I still have a lot to learn about guns, ammunition and shooting. My dad had a couple of rifles. When he was growing up, you had have a gun and you had to know how to shoot. If you wanted to eat. He never taught me anything about them. He never took me hunting with the beagle. But I know he was pretty good. They always had food on the table.

Posted in questions

Sounds good to me.

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Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I read a lot of articles on Medium, another publishing site, as well as blogs on WordPress and Blogger. A lot of pieces have titles that begin

“The ultimate guide to…”
“Simple tips to…”
“What it takes to succeed at…”
“How to become…”
“Strategies that really work…”

I know these titles are meant to get readers, reposts and ratings. And they work, because they get your attention and you think for a second, “This is just what I need.”

Maybe it is. But what do you know about the author? What’s his or her experience and expertise? What are their credentials? How do you know they know what they’re talking about? I’ll bet you don’t. Chances are you don’t check. Most of the time, you accept their words as authoritative. You read their advice, tips or strategies and think, “This is just what I need…”

That’s scary. Without knowing anything about the source, you are just taking someone’s word for it and implement their suggestions! Why is that? Why do we so easily give credibility to the massive amounts of information we take in each day via blogs, social media, and digital newsletters? On top of that, our friends and family are very quick to share, “So-and-so says we should try this…or go here…or eat this…” No wonder fake news works so well. Or bot-generated comments.

There must be some science to this. I’ll have to do a little research. What makes an anonymously generated idea so believable? Can we learn to be more discerning?

I’ll let you know what I find out. And I’ll bet you’ll believe me, too.