One of those Sundays

It was one of those Sundays.

  • I lost my focus and then my place, stumbling over words I’ve spoken dozens of times introducing a baptism.
  • The organ got stuck on a note right in the middle of a hymn.
  • The microphones popped and rung throughout the service, with a little feedback tossed in.
  • Most of the kids wouldn’t come up for the children’s sermon.
  • My sermon, though well-prepared and practiced, just didn’t inspire. (I wasn’t even inspired.)

Yeah, it was one of those Sundays.

Of course, every other church gathered for a smooth, inspirational and flawless worship experience. They always do. At least, that’s what they (my heart and soul) tell me.

The reality?

  • A beautiful little girl was baptized and welcomed into the church.
  • A whole bunch of her non-churched family and friends clearly heard the gospel, some for the first time.
  • We all feasted on God’s grace at the Lord’s Supper.
  • We got to meet Zac, Emma and Sophia (Zac is my nephew, a second year seminarian at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN who our church supports.)
  • There is another Sunday on the way. I’ll get another chance. I always get another chance.

That’s grace. And it’s free. So I think I’ll talk them (my heart and soul) into camping out there for a while.

Another amazing VBS

Center aisle with Elijah

This pretty much says it all. Me, the teens, the adults, and my grandson Elijah in the center aisle, celebrating and proclaiming Jesus, the light of the world!

OK, so this year’s vacation bible school (VBS) is in the can. Finito. Done. I’ve recovered, begun writing several dozen thank-you notes and decided to recount a few lessons I’ve learned from this summer’s program. (For the record we used Group Publishing’s Cave Quest program this year, following Jesus, the light of the world.)

1. The person in charge works hard. It is a big job. I don’t remember ever being at the top of the organizational chart for VBS before. Each year I work closely with the coordinator(s), but this year I got to sit in the driver’s seat. Even though I had an amazing team of station leaders and crew leaders, it takes a lot of time and energy to pull everyone and everything together. The thanks and praise I’ve given to every previous was well-deserved. Now I really appreciate all you did!

2. You cannot begin planning too soon. This time we didn’t start planning our July program until February. I’m going to set the wheels in motion for next summer this August. You need all the time you can get to dream, recruit, plan, collect and publicize.

3. Twenty percent of those who pre-register will not attend. But their places will be taken by walk-in registrants. Twenty years of VBS history proves this to be accurate in our context.

4. When it’s all over, give away or throw away all the old stuff that will not be useable in a year. I know it will kill you, but I threw away and repurchased so┬ámany dried up markers and so much dried up glue and paint. Don’t box it up and put it on a shelf. Give it to your Sunday School or Preschool program.

5. The ones who have the most fun (besides me) are the teenagers. I use teens for my crew leaders, shepherding five younger children from station to station for music, stories, crafts, games, videos and snacks. Though they are not technically students, they ask to come, enthusiastically participate and generate so much energy for the week. They definitely provide adrenalin for our program.

6. Good photographers are gold. I had two this year, and both were outstanding. They catch the moments, the personalities, the joys and the wonder of all the people there, both young and old. When someone asks, “So how was VBS?” you need to show them the pictures. They are priceless. (Thank you Sharain and Angel!)

7. If your gut tells you that the kids will not like a snack, you are probably right. Group does a great job of creatively integrating meaningful snacks into the program, but no one bats a thousand. This year, every snack was a winner but one — the tortillas with lettuce, carrots and ranch dressing. I had a feeling it wouldn’t go over well. My instincts were correct. The kids looked at me and said, “Where’s the snack?” Last year we tossed an awful lot of sunflower seeds. This year: lettuce and carrots. Trust your gut.

8. Many of your attenders will already be churched. VBS is not necessarily a feeder program for attendance at Sunday morning worship. Church-attending families seek out these programs and sometimes bring along an un-churched friend. But I would say that 80% indicate a church home. And that’s OK. We all need to hear the gospel, even those who are life-long, committed believers. And when our kids bring it home, we listen, and we marvel again in the grace of God.

9. My registration desk crew is on the front lines of meaningful conversation with parents and grandparents and kids. They do not just sign the kids in and out safely, but they get to know the families, their joys and their sorrows. You help us make powerful and lasting connections in the community. Great job!

10. VBS is all about the fellowship, both new and renewed connections. Everyone who comes to spends five days in a row in this ministry forms a special bond, much like a summer mission trip or a youth gathering. We were there. We saw what God could do. And we can’t wait to do it again!

In summary, VBS is worth every ounce of effort invested in this week. It’s like nothing else we do. There is no other time in the year when we sing and dance and laugh and jump around like this week in our church’s year. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

 

 

 

Top ten ministry moments – #1: “Pastor Dad”

Finally, here’s the one you’ve been waiting for. My number one ministry moment, though, is actually a series of moments when being a dad intersected with being a pastor and I had the unique privilege of baptizing, confirming, marrying and ordaining my children. Continue reading

Compassion 101

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After four weeks of helping take care of my Dad, I spent a week at home catching up on visits, meetings and planning for some summer programs. Dad’s has actually stabilized, we’re getting good care from some overnight companions, and we are retooling our hearts, minds and schedules for some long term care.

Those visits I made last week? They humbled me and got me thinking about our capacity for compassion. I thought I was dealing with a lot. I thought I had a servant’s heart. I’m playing “A” ball compared to these major league caregivers. Continue reading

“You shouldn’t have to do that.”

not-my-job“You shouldn’t have to do that.”

I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve heard that sentence lately. But I can’t. I’ve lost count.

Due to a plethora of factors, I’ve had to step in the gap and take on a few jobs I’ve haven’t done for  while. When both of my guitar players had other work and family commitments, I led the praise service music. When it was time to begin planning Vacation Bible School, A person was needed to draw together a group of leaders to get that week off the ground. I stepped in this year. When our youth group leader had all her free time sucked into the family business, I found myself meeting with our middle and high school youth. Every step along the way I heard, “You shouldn’t have to do that.”

Maybe they are right. Maybe I should have just stood back and let those things go undone. But I didn’t. I stepped in and led the music, recruited leaders and met with the youth. While others debated the merits of my actions, I stepped in and did what I believe needed to be done. (As I write this, the debate rages in my mind: do I dare post this?)

First things first: I enjoy doing all these things. I enjoy our worship music, I thoroughly enjoy the Vacation Bible School experience, and I love working with our youth. It’s not an imposition. No one is forcing me to do those things. It’s an opportunity to do some of the things I can do and actually enjoy doing.

Second, there are some things I just can’t ignore. Like Sunday, for instance. Sunday comes right on schedule each week, and God’s people will faithfully gather for worship around Word and Sacrament, God’s gifts of grace. It doesn’t require much of me to play a few chords to accompany that blessing.

Third, no one else has yet stepped up to do any of those things. And I am OK with that. I’ve been in this call for twenty years (and in pastoral ministry for thirty) and I’ve learned that God fills in the gaps at the right time with the right people for the job. In between, I might just have be the temp who bridges one season to the next. When the prophet Isaiah got a taste of God’s grace in Isaiah 6, he said, “Here am I; send me.” Mercy moves you to do some amazing things.

So I played guitar for worship today. We survived and God was glorified. I am spearheading our Vacation Bible School. I’ve got all my station leaders in place. I will be here this week to meet with the youth group — and since some of our seniors are leaving for college soon, I am really looking forward to that meeting. I feel like I’m not doing all that much, but I have a front row seat to seeing some of the things that God is doing! Filling in the gaps can be quite rewarding.

I’m debating the wisdom of posting my thoughts tonight. I may be misunderstood. Let’s face it, I probably will be misunderstood. But it helps me clarify my thoughts, settle my soul and navigate the path ahead. By the way, I am thankful for all who hold up my arms, pray for me, make great (and wise) suggestions and keep me humble along the way.

 

 

Pretty sneaky, Dad

If you’ve been reading my posts lately, you know I’ve been spending a lot of time with my Dad, who, as far as we can tell, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. One of the perks of this experience has been the chance to spend time with my brother and sister. But when the call came that Dad might be cashing in his chips, we converged.

We hadn’t been doing much of that lately. Continue reading

It’s a small world after all

you-are-here_2These past few weeks I have noticed how small my Dad’s world has become. This came to my attention last week when at supper, we made sure to keep the bread out of my Dad’s sight. It’s a food he often chokes on, so we don’t let him have any. If he can’t see it, he doesn’t ask for it, and life is good. His reality is quite small, limited to what is in his field of vision.

His daily commute is quite small, too. It’s only a few steps from his bed to his bathroom and about as far to the kitchen table. This is his world now, about a 10′ x 20′ space. He has little interest in the weather, the upcoming presidential election, the news or even baseball. He doesn’t realize all who involved in his care. It’s a small, small world.

I like to think that my world is much bigger. After all, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling these last few years. I know what is going on and keep in touch with people around the globe. I am interested in the weather, elections, the news and sports. But is my world really that big?

The expanse of my experience is really just a small slice of a universe that we see more and more of each day, whether with telescopes or microscopes. I’m not always aware of how much care God provides for me through his angels and other people. My attention is quite often focused on that which is in my field of vision or in the realm of my self-interest. Hmmm. Maybe my world is pretty small, too.

Once in a great while, a window opens and my Dad remembers some of his experiences and travels to places I’ve never been or even heard of. All of a sudden, he’ll begin talking about places he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. Or a world where you built furniture by hand, as opposed to putting it together from pieces packed into a box. How about a world where you tuned up your car in the driveway?

For now, though, Dad’s world is pretty small. But just for a while. Before long he’ll get to experience a world without end, that much larger eternity that we were created for.

 

More time to hang out with Dad (part 3)

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Dad doing what he does best: enjoying a snack

For those who have been following the story, it’s been a month now, and we’re still hanging out with Dad. Perhaps it would be better to say that Dad is still hanging out with us. And he isn’t planning on going anywhere soon.┬áRecent tests show that his kidney appears to have regained some function, which we suspected as he resumed much of his daily routine.

Yes, this is good news. And yes, this is hard news. Continue reading