Another box.

Okay, so I’ve been doing CrossFit since last October. That means I have a whole three months experience under my belt. It feels like I’ve been doing this a lot longer, but I guess I’m technically still a newbie. I’ve been pretty good at showing up four or five times a week. In just that short period of time I’ve learned a lot of skills and I’ve developed a lot of strength and stamina.

When I took my recent trip to Springfield, VA to visit my dad, I decided to drop in on a box right near my brother’s house where I would be staying. (Dropping in means you are visiting another affiliate other than your home location.) This was a big step out of my comfort zone. At CrossFit Hammock Beach, I know the coaches, many of the other members, and generally what to expect each time I go. I had no idea what I’d encounter at another location.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that CrossFit West Springfield was just a few blocks from my brothers house. Their website made it very easy to sign up and pay for a few workouts and digitally sign a waiver. However, now I was committed.

First, it was snowing when I arrived. I’ve been a FL resident for over twenty-two years. I can’t remember the last time I saw snow! I would not soon forget this day.

When I walked in, I saw a familiar assortment of racks, barbells, rings, ropes, rowers and assault bikes. An open gym time was still in session, so people were working on various skills. Background music was punctuated by the sound of heavy bars being dropped after lifts. Someone met me at the door, learned that I had already signed up, and directed me towards a place to change.

After I was dressed to workout, I reentered the room and met the owner/general manager, Ryan. He was friendly and enthusiastic about the box, pointed out the four o’clock coach, and told me they’d be assembling at the white board in just a few minutes. The room was set up differently than what I’m used to. The racks were all in the center of the room, surrounded by open areas. It was supposed to get pretty cold that night, so they had cancelled some of the evening sessions. This meant that the 4:00 and 5:00 times would be unusually crowded.

My group at 4 numbered more than twenty people. I don’t think the coach, Matt, expected that many. He briefly explained what the days skill and fitness workouts would be, then set us free to work on 5×5 press jerks, increasing weight as we went. He did not lead us through any warmup, stretch or teaching. All the weightlifting skills are new to me, so I stay light as I work on my technique. 85 pounds was plenty. There were many there who were working with upwards of 300 pounds. I felt like these folks were a bit more advanced than most of my friends at home. I learned some just by watching them. From the banners on the wall, I knew that teams from this box had been in regional competitions over the past few years.

Since we had so many there, they changed the workout in the moment. It was a partner workout consisting of a 1500m row, 90 deadlifts, 70 burpees over the bar, and fifty push jerks. A guy who was similar in skill, Carlos, pointed to me and we partnered. He was fine with 85# on the bar, so we were good. “Three, two, one…” and we began. This felt familiar as we traded off 250m rows, and then ten reps on the other exercises. He was able to pull a little better on the rower, but died on the burpees. I can fly through those. We didn’t quite finish under the 18 minute cap, but it was a good workout.

When I came back the next day, it was even colder. No snow, but how holy cow, it was about 15 degrees! Walking in was less intimidating, and the coach on Wednesday was Will, whose style was a little more like what I was used to. Good warm up, good teaching, and then some skill work: handstand walks. No, I can’t do handstand walks. But there were some there who practiced walking the length of the floor and back. I and most of the others walked my way up the wall and back down, developing arm and shoulder strength. I had never worked on that before, so I got to do something new.

The fitness part of the workout was 25-20-15-10-5 double unders and situps, followed by 5-10-15-20-25 walls balls (14#) and kettlebell swings (44#). Since I haven’t mastered double unders yet, I did twice as many singles, but could handle all the other skills. These all felt very familiar, and I enjoyed the challenge of a modified “Annie.” On this second day, the group seemed more diverse in experience, skill and age, and I was both encouraged and an encourager.

Even though I am not the best at any of the exercises, I felt like I knew what I was doing and enjoyed visiting another box. I realized the importance of talking to and encouraging others in the workout. I wanted to buy a t-shirt but there was nothing in my size. Boo.

I’m going to drop in a few times when I’m in Dallas next week. I expect to encounter the same mix of knowing what I’m doing with learning something new. I’ll let you know.

Thirty-three

My son turns thirty-three next week. What do I remember about being thirty-three?

Wow, it’s a stretch. That was 1990. We were living in Connecticut, where I had received my first call as pastor of a small rural church, Prince of Peace, in Coventry, about an hour east of Hartford. Our kids, four and three, were attending the preschool. We had two labs, Gabriel and Rachel, yellow and chocolate, respectively. A big parsonage, probably 3,000 sq. ft. on four acres of land next door to the church. No AC. Only really got hot about 2 weeks each summer. I’m sure my wife had started her nursing classes at UConn by then.

The world wide web was brand new in 1990. No internet for us. No cell phones. No cable TV. We got all our news from TV and the Hartford Courant. Other than the bible, I only had a books I accumulated at seminary for my sermon and bible class preparation. What a contrast with the almost infinite resources available to me now!

I had a computer that I used for word processing, with a 5-1/4″ floppy drive, that I got from my brother, I think. I had a dot matrix printer, too. The church had a stencil duplicator to make weekly worship folders and monthly newsletters. We didn’t have to make too many though. About seventy gathered for worship each week.

I remember getting up very early on a Sunday morning and walking across the yard to the church, where I would practice my sermon a number of times. I would then come back home to help get everyone ready for church at 9:00, followed by bible class and Sunday School at 10:30. I think I taught a midweek bible class, too, but I can’t remember.

It was a very stable community. Not too many people moved to Coventry. Occasional visitors at church. New families joined from time to time. I still remember many of the families who welcomed us and helped me learn how to be a pastor those first few years: Jeram, Sans, Thurber, Garay, Dollock, Ausberger, Hamernik.

I still did quite a bit of running back then, but didn’t race much. I remember hitting softballs out into the yard for the labs to chase. I always wore out before they did. We let them run wherever. When I whistled in the evening, you could see them coming through the field from a half mile away. We had two cats for a while, Fred and Ginger, who also spent a lot of time outside. I’d yell, “Kittykittykittykittykittykitty” and they would come scrambling in from a tree.

We burned a lot of wood in a wood burning stove in the winter. I’d get people to bring over parts of fallen oak trees, and I would split and stack it in the summer time. I absolutely loved swinging the axe through those logs.

The kids and I would often walk down the road where a very small farm had goats and horses near the fence that we could pet. A short drive would bring us to the UConn barns, where we would walk through and visit cows, goats, sheep and horses.

I don’t know if I have any journals from back then. I have to rummage through the box of notebooks I have at church. I don’t even remember if or how much I was journaling at that time. Not as much as I do now. The memories are mostly in my head and in our photographs. But if I find some, I’ll let you know.

From generation to generation

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

“His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him” (Luke 1:50).

I read those words early Thursday morning before I went to visit my dad one last time before I flew home from a frigid Springfield, VA to my temperate home in FL. Dad was awake enough to FaceTime with my three kids and most of their kids. In those moments, I had a front row seat to God’s mercy from generation to generation to generation to generation!

There is no way to explain the generational faithfulness in our family other than the grace of God. Mom and Dad did little more than fear, love and trust God above all things, raising three children who are still active in church life. (My brother and I are pastors. My sister is a church musician.) All of my children are active church members, and are doing an amazing job of raising their children in the Christian faith. None of it was forced. None of it is a battle. It’s just a part of who we are.

But they aren’t the only ones. My in-laws also raised their family in the fear and knowledge of God, a spiritual legacy passed along from my wife’s side of the family, too. Because they worship with us, I get to see those four generations every single Sunday. I hate to admit it, but I often look right past that miracle. A few moments with dad opened my eyes to it once again.

Though I spent a few hours with dad each day, he was only awake for a few five minute stretches. Our conversations were brief and repetitive. Though he knows when I am there, I doubt he’ll remember my visit. As he dozed, I added new photos of his grands and great-grands on my side of the family, a poignant reminder to me of his importance to the family.

Sometimes we wonder why dad has lived so long. I think he sometimes wonders the same thing. Obviously he is still has a few things to teach. His presence reminds me not to congratulate myself too much because I or my family is faithful. God used my father to plant some seeds that have grown more than any of us could have imagined! Maybe he’ll use me to do the same thing.

Why wait?

Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

This morning I was reading about the woman who poured out a jar of expensive nard on Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3-9). While some thought it was a waste, Jesus said it was a nice thing to do before his burial.

This got me thinking: why don’t we do and say nice things for people while they are still around?

Eulogies are filled with the praises of those who have died. In fact, most I’ve heard describe the deceased as the nicest, most generous and least selfish person they ever met in their life. And I am glad that’s how you knew that person. But why not tell them while they’re alive? Why not make the phone call or visit and tell them? Or send a note?

Many deaths are followed by generous gifts given to the church or another charitable organization in their memory. That’s all well and good. But what if you had used that money to go and visit them, take them out to lunch, and create a memory that way?

You’ll never be able to make up for lost time at or after a funeral. But you can say something or do something nice today. And it will never be a waste.

I’m listening

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Lately my prayers have been more listening than speaking.

Does that sentence surprise you? It surprises me. Most of the time I’ve spent learning about prayer and teaching about prayer focused on figuring out what to say, when to say it and how often to say it. But I’ve also always taught that prayer is a conversation with God. Which means you’ll listen as well as speak. You might even listen a lot more than you speak.

My devotional time is typically early morning. It’s nothing profound or fancy. I just read through the bible. Chapter by chapter. From Genesis through Revelation. Right now I am mostly through Mark. I read till something grabs my interest or I have a question or I gain some insight. I usually read just a chapter or two. I’ve actually started listening to the scriptures being read on an iPhone app (biblegateway.com) as I follow along.

I always used to think of this as study, which would be followed by some prayer. Then one morning I realized that this whole process was prayer. God was doing most of the talking. My response wasn’t nearly as much as he had to say, which is no doubt a good thing. I know he’ll listen and I know I can say anything, but it usually turns out better when my words are fewer than his.

Realizing this has been freeing and refreshing.

  • I never have to wonder what to say. All I need to add is, “Amen!” (Yes, he’s that good!)
  • Other times, his words become my response. He never minds if I use his words to form my prayers.
  • Sometimes I just ask a question. “What do you mean by that?” “What does that have to do with me?” “So what am I supposed to do?”
  • His words have a way of bringing to mind people I can pray for. Or a blessing I am thankful for. Or a problem that’s nagging me. Or a sin that’s haunting
  • And then there are those times when I say nothing at all. Grace will do that to you. Grace will silence your excuses, denials, explanations, blame and guilt. Grace is always the final word. All you can really say to grace is, “Thanks.”

So it turns out that even though it’s mostly listening, I’ve been doing more praying than ever.

What did you see, hear or smell?

Photo by Edi Libedinsky on Unsplash

On the heels of my last post, I’ve been musing about the parts of the body listed in 1 Corinthians 12. I like the way Paul asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell” (v17). Of course everyone isn’t an eye, or an ear, or a nose. But some people are, and I think that’s fascinating.

Some people are “eyes” and see things I might miss. They see the things God is doing. Or they see the needs people have. They see miracles happen all the time.

Some people are “ears,” and hear things I might miss. They hear nuances in people’s voices, hearing more than just the words spoken. They hear what someone is really trying to say.

I guess that means some people are noses, too. They know when the coffee is brewing, the wine is uncorked and the flowers have arrived. They can tell when something (or someone) is a little too ripe. They know it’s time to open the windows and air the place out.

Others are hands. They know the power of touch. Some are feet. They are quick to arrive somewhere.

All I want to know is, “What do you see? What do you hear? Or smell? How does it feel? Where did you go?” I might miss the things you think are obvious. Make sure you share them with me!

The blessing of being dispensable

In the sermon this morning, I talked a little about being “indispensable.” It came up in the context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he writes, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22).

Who is indispensable in the life of the church? One might be tempted to say, “the pastor.” I would disagree. I am blessed to have a number of retired pastors worshiping with our congregation. I asked them, “When you retired, did they shut the doors of the church? Did the ministry fold?” Of course not. That church called another pastor. The ministry continued. Rather than being indispensable, we pastors are quite replaceable.

I think this is an important part of longevity in the ministry. The church was here before me. It will be here when I’m gone. What happens when you think of yourself as disposable, dispensable and replaceable? All kinds of good things!

First, you value God and other people much more. As your importance decreases, theirs increases. God’s eternal. He’s always around. He’s the one you want to depend on.

And other people? They are the reason you get to be a pastor. They are the ones you’ve been called to shepherd. They are the ones who need to hear the voice of their shepherd. And you are the one called to preach the word. You wouldn’t have a job without them. I so enjoy preaching, teaching and administering the sacraments. But I wouldn’t get to do any of it were it not for our Lord’s sacrificial love for his people.

Second, you let others shine. You are not the main event. They are. They reach many more people than I ever will. I spend most of my time with those who believe, who are already saved. But the congregation is out there in the world, where they live and where they work. They are out there on the front lines, living out their faith. They know, talk to and witness to people I will never meet. I may help equip them for that task, but they are the ones who actually engage in it.

Finally, you marvel at the work of his hands. You appreciate all those who come to listen week after week. You thank God for all those who daily pray for you. You are grateful for those who make it possible for you to do what you do. And you are motivated to do your best – for their sake. They need to hear,; you get to preach. Actually, you need to preach. It’s a part of who you are. But you couldn’t do it without them. They are indispensable.

Are you willing to disagree?

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

A few days ago, I wrote about a prayer breakfast I attended to support our local pregnancy center. At that breakfast, a man representing a local church had a moment to share a story before he closed the event with prayer. It’s worth sharing here.

He daily attended mass, and that morning, the homily was given by “the “liberal priest.” By liberal, he meant one who wasn’t as anti-abortion as this gentleman. The essence of the homily spoke about justice for women, whose lives had to be considered as well as the unborn.

The gentleman at our breakfast took issue with this and stayed to speak to the priest after mass. He took the priest to task, pointing out that the church had always done much for life, from building hospitals and nursing homes, to cooking and distributing food, to assisting in foster care and adoption, in ministering to the homeless, in seeking justice for those in prison, and providing hospice care for the dying. Such care was provided for both female and male alike. Protecting unborn life was the necessary starting place in caring for life, a task that continued through all stages of life and death.

The thing that impressed me about this the most is that the person who shared the story had no intention of leaving his church because of the comments made that day. He was not afraid to discuss the issues and if necessary, disagree, even with the priest. He wasn’t going anywhere. His devotion and commitment to God could weather a debate on the sanctity of life.

I found this incredibly refreshing. From my experience, members of the church quickly head for the door when they disagree with something they hear from the pulpit. They seek out a place where they can hear what they want to hear. And it doesn’t take much. It can be a single word they didn’t like. Or something they interpret as politically partisan. Or a point that hits a little too close to home and makes them feel guilty. Rather than discussing the issue or making their position known or simply asking some questions, they do not return.

This tendency makes me nervous in another way, too. It makes me wonder whether the church is more connected to me or to the Lord. While my time in the pulpit is finite, the Word of the Lord lasts forever. I certainly hope your devotion and commitment aren’t contingent on me. If so, we are both in a lot of trouble.

Live from our chapel

Preaching live from the chapel

This past Advent and Christmas, I experimented with setting my iPhone in front of the church so that the service and sermon could be on Facebook live. It certainly wasn’t an elegant solution, just easy. Those watching only saw me during the sermon, but they could hear the rest of the service. I figured there is always someone who can’t get out, who can watch and listen and worship with us. They can even watch later since the video is saved indefinitely.

Right after the first of the year, I did a memorial service in our chapel. Some who would have attended couldn’t, so I set up my phone and they got to join us virtually.

So I started setting my phone out on Sunday mornings, too. I discovered that I had an audience. Some were former members who had moved to Wisconsin. Other viewers’ worship service had been cancelled due to a big winter storm in the Midwest. There were some who were sick and stayed home to rest.

I’ve been to churches that had multiple television cameras in the sanctuary to broadcast their worship services. I never thought something like that would be possible with the phone I usually keep in my pocket. Yet here we are, broadcasting live.