Eclipse

ring_of_fireEveryone is pretty excited about the solar eclipse across the United States tomorrow. I really hope we get a chance to see it. Many of our Florida afternoons have been defined by clouds or thunderstorms. Weatherman says fifty percent chance of storms. Thanks, buddy –I guess we’ll just flip a coin.

Anyway, one of the unique features of a total solar eclipse is the chance to see the sun’s corona as the moon blocks most of the star. This got me thinking: what big things get in the way but also help us see other things more clearly?

Sometimes a disability may help us see another ability more clearly. Someone who’s blind may have an enhanced sense of smell or hearing. A power outage may interfere with your wifi connection, forcing you to discover the value of talking to the people you are with. An injury may force you to get the rest your body desperately needs. The class you wanted was filled, so you enrolled in one that you really enjoyed but never would have otherwise considered. A detour made you take a scenic route. You got fired, but found a job in a different field that you really liked. You got cut from one team, but tried another sport that you were really good at.

When something gets in your way, you may have the chance to see something you never noticed before. Be grateful for the darkness in your life that lets you see some light.

 

 

Looking forward to annihilation?

duck-and-cover-drillI’m not quite old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. By the time I began school there were no more civil defense drills when you had to find the closest fallout shelter or hide under your desk.

But with the recent addition of North Korea to the list of countries with nuclear weapons, the potential of war, catastrophic loss of life and even global annihilation are once on the table. But the specter of worldwide destruction and death are nothing new, at least for those who have spent a little time in the Bible.

When creation is quite young, the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience were felt throughout the world. It’s amazing and chilling to read that early on the Lord regretted he had made people. It didn’t take long till “every intention of the thoughts of [peoples] hearts were only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Ponder that for a moment. Every good and decent thought and intent had been replaced by that which was evil and destructive.

The treatment plan is severs. God resolves to wipe out life from the face of the earth with a flood, and begin again. By grace, he saved eight people — Noah, his three sons and their wives — in an ark filled with animals.

It doesn’t really solve the problem, though, and Jesus spoke of a future time one heaven and earth would pass away (Mark 13:31). Complete annihilation. Once again, God would begin again with a new heaven and a new earth, populated by those whose lives were saved, this time by a Savior’s death and resurrection.

Now here’s the fascinating part. Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). While the world runs for the hills, the church knows that the new can only arrive when the old is gone. Our ears perk up when we hear predictions of disaster, death and destruction. Like coastal communities gathering for hurricane parties before the storm approaches, we gather for worship to anticipate the old giving way to the new in our baptism, in the church and finally in the whole of creation.

It’s going to happen one day. But it hasn’t happened yet. So we’ve got today, an opportunity to live, to be grateful, and to share the hope we have in Christ, our Savior through whatever happens next.

When the pastor came to visit me

empty apartmentIn 1979, I had just moved to New Jersey into my first apartment to begin my first job out of college at Bell Labs. After a few visits, I found the congregation who would be my church family for the next three years, Luther Memorial in Tinton Falls. Gorgeous location just a stone’s throw away from the horse farms in Colts Neck. The congregation immediately welcomed me, got me involved in the choir, youth ministry and teaching on Sundays. I got to play a lot of trumpet for worship, too. In fact, they gave me a key so I could come and practice there, since the paper thin walls of my apartment prevented me from playing at home.

Before long, the pastor called and asked to come and visit. “Sure. Anytime.” Continue reading

“What will the church do?” (in the aftermath of Charlottesville, VA)

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In the past few days we have witnessed just how much hatred and anger have been simmering below the surface of America as the still present reality of racism came to a head in Charlottesville, Virginia. It did not take long before questions began to fly. “What will the president (or the governor or the congress) do?” “What will the police do?” And even “What will the church do?”

I find it fascinating that though the church has been marginalized in our culture, it is now called upon to do it’s thing, to do something about what is going on, to appeal to a high authority for reconciliation, justice and peace. Relegated to the margins of community life, we are suddenly needed. A majority of Americans may identify as Christian, yet fewer than a quarter of us actually engage in any kind of worship or other Christian activity in a typical week. Now we are suddenly spoken of as a necessary voice, one that must speak, and one that people ought to listen to.

It’s a good question. What will the church do? Since we are the church, the question easily translates to, “What will we do?” Continue reading

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 many 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.