Keep your stuff. Please.

0006294200035_00It must have been the creaking sound that got my attention. What is that noise? It seemed to be coming from the freezer in the church kitchen. Freezers don’t usually make a lot of noise. Unless someone is trapped in there. Overly cautious, I slowly opened the door and peeked inside.

Perched on the top shelf is a three-gallon bucket of maple walnut ice cream with no lid. It was surrounded by several bags of ice that had been permanently joined together in a moment of melting. Their combined weight strained the top shelf like a bar on the back of a weightlifter squatting who-knows-how-many pounds.squat

But that’s not all. On the shelves beneath were ancient hot dog buns, vintage popsicles, and something orange left over from what I am sure was a fabulous supper. Nice. By the grace of God, it was all disposed of before the health department caught wind of the situation.

There is, as everyone knows, an unwritten rule that anything you don’t want or need — animal, vegetable or mineral — may be dropped off at the church. Common items include books (including many, many bibles), old computers, printers and monitors (working or non-working), TVs, walkers, crutches and commodes, out-dated food, pianos and electric keyboards, broken toys and dried up pens and markers.

To this collection we add other items unintentionally left at church: umbrellas, jewelry, keys (how did you drive home?), clothing (did you go home naked?), water bottles, sweaters and sweatshirts, and every imaginable variety of Tupperware.

I appreciate you thinking of us. But I need to tell you: we just reduced the size of our dumpster. So we don’t have the same disposal capacity we used to. I apologize for the inconvenience, but you might just have to put your stuff out on the curb yourself.

 

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Denied.

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Photo by Peter Miranda on Unsplash

I just started reading the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, and I think I had forgotten how harsh that prophetic message is. By the end of the second chapter God is basically saying, “Don’t come to me for help. Go to all those gods you’ve been worshiping” (Jeremiah 2:28).

So I began to wonder, at what point could I turn someone away who has been away from the church for a long, long time, but comes back for some a la carte spiritual food? Like someone who you haven’t heard from in about fifteen years who calls up one day and says, “Can I get my kids baptized this Sunday?” Or another who stops by the church now and again and sends an email asking me to do their wedding eighteen months from now. I denied both requests.

Of course I felt guilty. How could I not, seeing as how Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son being welcomed home? And there have been families who have been away for a while who have recently reconnected with the church. And I had no problem with them.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I always thought Uncle Ben said that to Peter Parker (Spiderman). Actually, it is attributed to Voltaire. Anyway, it applies here. Jesus gives the church the authority to forgive or not, to loose or bind people in their sin.

But how do you know whether to apply mercy or accountability in a given situation? The catechism says you forgive the sins of the repentant. But how do you know if someone is repentant?

The bottom line is, you don’t. You can talk to someone and try to understand their story. You could look for the fruits of repentance. But in the end, you really don’t know. I tend to lean towards compassion, but in the two examples above, I just couldn’t do it.

Sometimes Jesus said, “I don’t condemn you.” Other times he said, “You’re already condemned” (John 3:18). Jesus didn’t like it when the Pharisees shut heaven’s door in people’s faces. Yet he also warned against giving pearls to the pigs.

But Jesus was better at sorting things out. He’s really good at reading hearts and minds.

And he’s great at keeping me on task. I’m not supposed to be a religious sub-contractor, providing various services. I’m just the messenger.

 

Thanks, angel.

emergency_vehicleI headed out the door to make a few hospital visits the other day. As I was just about to merge on the interstate to head south, I saw a fleet of fire engines, ambulances and sheriff’s cars along the side of the road. Traffic was moving, just very slowly. As I passed I saw a car on its side in the woods and people being carried out on stretchers. They must have rolled a number of times to get that far back. It looked bad. Couldn’t have happened more than a few minutes ago. Dodged that bullet!

When I was getting off the interstate, I slowed down for a similar scene. Lots of rescue vehicles plus three smashed up cars. It didn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt. Missed that one by just a few minutes, too.

After my visits, I passed yet another crash in the middle lane of the interstate overpass. Bumpers, glass and fenders littered from at least three cars littered the road. Wreckers were starting to pull what was left away. Another close call.

One more stop to make. Publix. I always park pretty far away from the front door. Too many lazies and crazies up there. Too lazy to walk from a parking spot. Crazy enough to run you over. Sure enough, someone pulls around and just misses me. Thanks, buddy.

My guardian angel did a good job that day. Got a little overtime, too. Will our driverless cars be able to do as good of a job someday? I hope so.

Life after death

chu-tai-121706Several months ago I wrote about our preschool’s last graduation as we closed the door on that part of our church’s ministry. Since then, closing that door has been followed by a flood of new opportunities. As soon as we laid that program to rest, new ministries immediately sprouted and began to grow.

A team of members, both new and old spent weeks cleaning out many years of preschool furniture, toys, craft supplies and teaching materials. A new wall, buffed floors and a fresh coat of paint spawned new ministry ideas.

One area was set aside for youth ministry. Soon after, two young adults took a step of faith and offered to lead our youth ministry, which had lay dormant for a couple of years. They now have more than a dozen meeting each week, not just in our facility, but out serving in the community.

Another area was set aside for our Operation Barnabas chapter, ministering to veterans and families of military in our area. The harvest field of retired vets is plentiful in our area. A place to connect with other vets will also provide a way to connect with the local church and other services that they need.

Yet another area was set aside for our preschool Sunday School class, which is suddenly being populated with little people as the birth rate rises in our congregation and community. Two first-time teachers stepped up to lead this ministry.

Both the girl scout and boy scouts have asked to use our space, another connection with our community, and more importantly, the homes immediately around us.

The space we now have available can be used for disaster relief. We now have space usable as a secondary shelter when the primary shelters close down.

We recently got involved with helping out homeless students at our high schools. We now have some space available to expand our ministry to those families.

Over the past few years, we did everything we could to keep our school open. In hindsight, we were simply providing hospice care for that part of our ministry. From scripture, we should have known that unless a seed is planted in the ground, it remains just that. But when it is buried, it grows into something new and much more than it was before. We should have known that death leads to resurrection, not just on Easter morning, but in the life of the church and her saints.

Our most recent experience in church revitalization happened when we laid an old ministry to rest and watched as God breathed new life into that void.

What if all you had was a bible?

a-worshiper-holds-a-small-bible-640x480Today in church I asked the question, “What would you do if you only had a bible?”

We get so much spiritual input from Google, TV and radio, devotional books, bible study books, study bibles, well-meaning friends and family, and our own experiences. All those things are helpful, blessings and important to our understanding of God’s word. But what if we didn’t have any of those things. What if all we had were a bible? Continue reading

Look who showed up at the resource center!

When I walked into the Resource Center today I ran right into our church’s youth group. Working the intake desk were Alexandra, Abby, Grace, Nooch, McKelvey and Michael. In the backroom, where staples were sorted, bagged and distributed were Adam and Addison, Jake and Nick, Anna and Cole, Tess and Mackinzie, and Joshua. They had already been trained by our coordinator, Trish, were supervised by youth leaders Rob and Liv, and were assisted by some great parents: Dina, Beth, and Kelly. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone — please forgive me if I did.)

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Some of the shelves were on the verge of empty, but there was enough food to send everyone home with a good week’s worth of non-perishables and bread. In our little corner of the post-hurricane world, I know it meant a lot to the clients.

I had stopped by to take a few pictures and encourage them in their ministry. I am so proud of their efforts to serve the congregation and community. Youth in ministry is a much better moniker than youth ministry. They are not the future of our church. They are the church right now.

I wonder if they understand the impact of their efforts? I know them all and I don’t think any of them have ever come home from school to an empty pantry or refrigerator. They may have lamented, “There’s nothing to eat!” But not because there wasn’t any food — just no Doritos or Oreos. Some of them had just gotten power restored. Others had helped clean up debris from yards this past week. All brought joy, laughter, and youthful energy with them. And for that I am thankful. It’s contagious, not just for me, but for the parents and clients, too.

When I was ten, twelve, or sixteen, I didn’t have a grasp on how much need there is in this world. Sometimes you can see it; they are sitting by the side of the road. Sometimes you can’t; they are sitting next to you in school. They don’t let on that the free lunch they get is their only meal that day. Or that they are living with a grandparent.

On the other hand, they also don’t judge. If someone comes in for food, they just need some food. Period. No thoughts of, “Why don’t they get a job?” or “They don’t look that hungry.” Just an eagerness to share what they have with someone else.

I always learn a lot from young people. That’s why I like hanging around them.

The Resource Center in Bunnell (1510 Old Moody Blvd.) is open during the week as well as Saturdays, providing food for Flagler County residents. Call 386.437.7373 for more information. 

 

Be still

img_7401.jpgWe really like it when our Lord stills the storm. When the hurricane’s over and your house is still standing and the skies clear and the sun comes out, we’re ready to go. We’re ready for the power to come back on, stores to reopen, the kids head off to school, fill the car with gas and get back to work.

It doesn’t always work out that way. A day or two later and the power’s still out, cable isn’t back on, gas stations don’t have gas, stores aren’t open, schools are closed, and suddenly, the stillness becomes a nuisance rather than a blessing.

When you have no place you need to be, there’s nowhere to go, no TV, no lights, the world can be a very still place. God says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), it’s as if he’s asking, “What’s your hurry?” Continue reading

All the signs are there

58054dca7ec3a.imageNo church today. Waiting for Hurricane Irma to traverse the Florida peninsula. Plenty of time to think and pray…

Of course you’re going to hear about it. You’ve thought about it, too. How could you not? All the pieces are there: a total eclipse, back-to-back hurricanes hitting the United States, a devastating earthquake in Mexico City, scorching wildfires in the west after record high temperatures and years of drought, hatred and violence in places like Charlottesville, VA and nuclear war just over the horizon. Science fiction writer John Scalzi tweeted, “These aren’t the End Times, but it sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now” (1:20 pm Sept 8. 2017)

[Jesus said,] “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

Just make sure you keep reading. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). The coming of our Lord is good news for God’s people. We’ve been waiting for him, right? Continue reading

God’s whirlwind answer to Job’s profound questions

hurricane-irma-satellite-noaa-ht-jc-170905_12x5_992Sitting here, waiting for Hurricane Irma to traverse the length of Florida, I couldn’t help (because I’m a pastor) think of Job’s encounter with God in a whirlwind in the bible (Job 38:1).

Job had three really good questions for God while he was suffering from the loss of his family and health. His so-called friends tried to help him figure things out, but they weren’t much help.

Job asked, “Why was I even born? If I have to suffer this much, why didn’t I just die at birth?” (Job 3:11) Great question. If life includes suffering – and it usually does – then why even bother? I know from my own turning forty experience that if you hurt bad enough, you just want it to be over.

Second question: “How can you be in the right before God?” (Job 9:32) Job’s well-meaning friends offered him their best advice: “You must have really screwed up. Just turn back to God and get past this.” Job knew he hadn’t done anything to deserve what he had to go through. And how are you going to get in good standing with God anyway? He does what he wants. What chance do you even have to argue your case with God?

“If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14) Good question. If life is hard and too quickly comes to an end, what’s the use? Cut down a tree and it grow back. Terminate a life, and that’s it. Game over. No second chance. No redo.

God answers God from a whirlwind. (Was it a  hurricane? Or a tornado?) And he simply asks a series of questions. “Do you know how this world works, Job? Were you there at creation, at its inception? Do you even have a clue?”

So when the whirlwind comes, we remember that He is God and we are not. We can’t do much to control the weather. All we can do is flee or hide. Our vote doesn’t count. We just ride it out the best we can.

But we know why we were born. We were created for good works (Eph. 2:10). We’ll have plenty of chance to do that on Tuesday, when recovery begins and we can be there for our neighbors.

We can be right before God, but only by faith. “We maintain that a person is justified by faith” (Romans 3:28).

And, there is life beyond the grave. The Lord will come, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

So let the hurricane remind you of our Lord’s power, grace and return. It’s one of the best object lessons ever!