7:22

img_7547.jpgA few months ago, I realized that almost everyday, I glance at a clock at exactly 7:22. Sometimes it’s am. Sometimes pm. It might be my watch, the clock in the car, the microwave in the kitchen, the cable box under the TV, to the lock screen on my phone. On a daily basis my eyes see the digits 7-2-2. By the way, that’s my birthday, July 22.

A coincidence? Maybe. A sign? I don’t know. Some inner prompting? Beats me. A little weird? Absolutely. A number to play? I haven’t tried.

At first it was, “Whoa.” Then, “Again?” Sometimes I wonder, “Does that happen to anyone else?” Mostly I just chuckle. Tonight, I’m trying to imagine some significance.

Maybe it will be a code I need someday to unlock a briefcase filled with cash.

Maybe it’s a message from the future, from another dimension, or from a parallel universe.

Maybe it’s a flight number. A locker number. A key number. A hotel room number. A parking space number. A cable channel. A radio frequency.

When I see it, I now consciously think, “Hey, I’m alive!” I never want to take that for granted. Life is too much of a miracle. Other times, I’ll just whisper a little “thank you.”

 

 

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“I didn’t know that.”

At asuhyeon-choi-184102 recent regional pastor’s conference, the guest speaker, Mark Wood, made me aware of a segment of the population who identify as Christian, but know little if anything about the faith.

Mark shared a story of an airplane conversation with someone who identified as a Christian, but was surprised and even shocked by what Jesus had to say on a number of issues. Someone had witnessed to them, they said a prayer that asked Jesus to be their Savior, but that was it. They weren’t baptized, didn’t go to church, and were functionally biblically illiterate.

I’ll bet they aren’t alone. I’ll bet there are plenty of people attending church who know little of what God says in His Word. In fact, I’ll bet a good percentage of the church fits this profile.

I’m glad they’re saved. But there is so much more! Not only do we have something to look forward to in the next life, but we’ve been transformed to live new lives now. Lives of mercy, forgiveness, and truth.

Wouldn’t that be different than some of the usual suspicion, fear and lies that fill our news and conversation?

How’s your biblical literacy? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

“I’m sorry; I have to go.”

Meeting_Pet_PeevesWhen my office administrator reminded me of an appointment the other day, she added, “We need to arrange an interruption. The last time they were here visiting for ninety minutes!” And so we did.

I’m sure I’m not the first to pre-arrange a meeting ending strategy, but it’s a more recent tool I’ve used to gracefully bring to an end open-ended visits. Early on, I didn’t use this, because I wanted to be available, compassionate, caring and pastoral. With practice, I learned to be all those things, but I also learned that I had my limits.

Some who seek time with me, however, apparently have all the time in the world. A few are lonely and crave human conversation. Others weave a tangled web of woes that seamlessly connect leaving me with no opportunity to interject a thought or conclude the meeting. It reminds me of the stories I have heard from doctors and nurse practitioners of those patients who come in with not one, not five, but dozens of ailments they would like addressed, as if there was no one else in the world, much less crowding the waiting room.

Bottom line: I don’t always have time for that. Solution: schedule an interruption. Before the appointment, I tell my assistant to interrupt me with a legitimate and pressing concern at a particular time. When they do, I have a polite way to bring the time to a close and see my guest on their way. Most recently, I set an alarm on my phone in my pocket. It vibrated at a certain time, signaling to me that it was time to excuse myself to attend to another ministry I had arranged. Worked like a charm.

Here’s the fun part. Now that you the reader know that I do this, you will always be wondering if I have an interruption arranged whenever you stop by to talk to me. Because I’m not telling.

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.

When traditions begin to vanish

I went to the viewing of a friend’s father last night at a local funeral home. When I arrived, the staff showed me into the room for the visitation, a room that was virtually empty. Just a son and a granddaughter. I wasn’t early. In fact, I deliberately came a little bit later.

jerk 2As I sat and visited with them, a few others arrived and I suddenly found myself immersed in Jamaican culture. The conversation was filled with references to jerk seasoning, where to get the best jerk seasoning, plantains, rum, reggae music, Rasta, and cities and towns in Jamaica. As I listened and learned, it seemed like there was a running competition among them about who was still the most “Jamaican” among those who had lived in New York and now in Palm Coast for twenty or thirty years or more. Continue reading

I think I know someone who could do that.

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Thinking about guns, people who have guns, and people who use guns, I started thinking the other day. I wondered if anyone in my circle of acquaintances, friends and parishioners fit the profile of a mass shooter. Do I know anyone who could snap and start to take lives?

I did a little bit of non-scientific online research. Multiple sources report that 13% of Americans over the age of twelve are taking antidepressants. Three percent of the population is bipolar. In my county, there are between eight and twelve arrests for domestic violence every week. Over fifty percent of adults who have some kind of mental illness are not being treated for it.

I believe there is a good chance that I know someone capable of being the next shooter of innocent people in a crowd somewhere. No, I don’t have anyone particular in mind. But I do know some really angry people. I know a few who are really bitter about the hand life has dealt them. I know others with really short fuses.

I also know that each of us is capable of any number of atrocities against humanity — or as we pastors like to call it, sin. The first sin mentioned in the bible outside of the Garden of Eden was murder. Cain killed his brother Abel, in a dispute over worship styles (Genesis 4). Obviously it didn’t take much to flip his switch. King David arranges for Uriah to be conveniently killed in battle, so he can have his wife, who he has already slept with and impregnated (2 Samuel 11). When a Samaritan village didn’t receive Jesus, disciples James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to eliminate the entire population, an ancient version of a drone strike on an enemy village (Luke 9:51-55). And by the way, these weren’t tax collectors or sinners or atheists or devil-worshipers. These were believers. They were God’s people. Yikes.

Whether it is a senseless mass shooting on a college campus or a movie theater or a concert venue, it’s a reminder of the evil in this world and the evil in me. I like to think that I am a cut above those who would abuse children, strike their spouse, or steal offerings from a church. But I’m not. And you know that’s true, because pastors have done all those things. And more.

Every headline about violence reveals the dark, disgusting underbelly of our world, our nation, our community, and people just like you and me. This is a nasty place, and we are nasty people. And Jesus became one of us, like us in every way, experiencing anger, despair, pain and death. When the Bible says that he who knew no sin became sin for us, it means that he became that dark, nasty, disgusting underbelly. He became the mass killer, the suicide bomber, the violent father, and the abusive spouse. He became us, so that we could be something different. So we could be like him.

Maybe some laws will change because of what happened in Las Vegas. Maybe not. Maybe people will turn to God for help and for hope. Maybe not. Probably not. In the book of Revelation, no matter what disaster is poured out on the earth, people still refuse to turn back to God.

But in the midst of all this, who’s on the throne (in control)? Who got hit and killed in the violence of this world? And who says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled?” Jesus.

I not only know someone capable of doing horrible things. I also know someone who brings light to the darkness.

Doing less, doing more.

Businessman multitaskingIt’s counter-intuitive. At least it is for me. When I see a great opportunity, or when there is a need or when I just have the next great idea, my heart and soul tell me to get to work. When I am not getting the results I want, the logical response is to put more time and energy into that effort. Or when something needs to be done and I’ll be around it’s just too easy to say, “I’ll take care of it.”

More and more I realize that’s not the right response. It turns out that stepping in to do what needs to be done has some unpleasant side-effects. Doing more enables others to do less. Doing more allows me less time to focus on some of my primary tasks. Doing more doesn’t necessarily mean that I will get more done, either.

Want a couple of examples? I’ll try to limit it to a couple.

Our church choir needs men. Badly. Health, travel, and age have taken a toll on both tenors and basses. Last year, I thought, “I can sing. I can shore up the tenors until the next choir draft or we can call up some promising voices from the minors.” So I did. But without as much need for low voices, the recruiting process was put on the back burner. The distraction of having to be ready and in place for an anthem robbed me of some of the focus I needed for liturgy and preaching. By doing more, I enabled others to do less and cheated other worshipers out of some of what Jesus called “the one thing necessary.”

When we were in-between office managers, I filled in. With a volunteer to do answer the phone and duplicate materials, I could put together each week’s worship resources. It wasn’t until I hired a new talented office manager that I realized how much time I had been losing each week by doing dozens of little tasks. Within days, I had time to meet with people, visit and make phone calls. I was able to resume shepherding. By doing more, I was able to do less. I was cheating the congregation out of the care they needed. The return on investment of a good office manager has far exceeded expectations.

Some of my elders have recently stepped up to help me keep track of our church’s families, both with phone calls and visits. I’ve never had this much help before. By not trying to keep track of 200+ families alone, I can be more on top of what is going on with more of them. . When I tried to do more, I actually got less done.

Sometimes others don’t step up to meet a need until they see or experience that need. If I step in to the gap, the need goes away and so does their opportunity. But if I keep my nose out of it, someone takes it on and actually does a better job than me. And that helps me be a better me, too.

Who’s got a gun?

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Photo by Sofia Sforza on Unsplash

Eight, nine, maybe ten years ago, I was talking with a few of our ushers at the rear of the church, probably about 10 minutes before the beginning of a worship service. I’m not sure why, but the discussion was about handguns. Maybe they had been to the shooting range, or they were planning an outing. When one mentioned a specific gun, Floyd pulled up his pant leg and revealed that exact model in an ankle holster. He said, “You mean, like this one?” At that moment, I realized that on any given Sunday morning, at least one of my worshipers was packing.

Since then, I know that many members have purchased guns and gotten concealed carry permits. How many have that gun on them or in a handbag on a Sunday morning? I have no idea. When we last worshiped in Haiti, I noticed that many of the ushers had a sidearm under their suit coat. Usually a 9mm. Continue reading

Ocean City conference

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View from the deck of the Port-O-Call Hotel

My travel day to the district’s regional pastor’s conference in Ocean City, NJ began early. Really early. Since I had to fly out of Orlando this time, I was on the road by 3:30 am. Pretty easy drive, breezed through security with TSA pre-check, and had time for some people watching. A few things that caught my eye:

  • They still use dot matrix printers at the gate when printing out the passenger list. The zzztt-zzzttt-zztttt is a strange sound when you are used to laser printers. The continuous feed paper is a strange sight, too. Bonus points if you know the other place they still use these printers. That’s right — at the car dealership, as they print out your financing forms.
  • Chinese food must be popular for breakfast at the airport. The line at the Manchu Wok was longer than any other restaurant. I passed on the lo mein and opted for Cuban coffee and a muffin instead.
  • Classical music is still the go to background music at the airport. Hundreds of years later, Mozart and Handel fill the air at the busy gates. Is there anything else that can match the shelf-life of good classical music? 
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  • This guy carried two basketballs onto the plane. They didn’t seem out of the ordinary. They weren’t autographed. He and a friend practice their dribbling at the gate before boarding.

There was no line at the rental car desk. They asked me, “Will you take a free upgrade to an SUV?” Absolutely. A few colleagues met me there and we had a nice drive to the Jersey shore.