Just pay attention

jordan-whitt-145327Here we are, reeling from another school shooting. Usual post-tragedy rants about what should be done is in full gear, at least for now. As more information about the shooter emerges, there are endless questions and debates about school safety, guns, mental health, thoughts and prayers, politics, rights and legislation.

As I was working on my sermon this past week, I found a disturbing connection between an ancient moment and current events. It seems that asking parents to drop their kids off at school isn’t much different than God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. I know it’s a harsh comparison. But in that comparison, I found some things worth thinking about. Continue reading

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“What is God going to do?”

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Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

It’s been three days. Three long days. People are starting to get thirsty. And grumpy. And panicky. We’re in the middle of the desert – when are we going to find some water?

Ironically, three days ago they had plenty of water. Actually, too much. They stood on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their tail and no where to go. But God made a way through the water, on dry ground, and they traversed safely to the other side. When the Egyptians tried to follow, there was plenty of water to swamp their chariots and kill them all.

Three days later, three days into the desert, there’s no water. How many times did they hear the update, “I’m thirsty”? And the first thing they wonder is, “What are we going to do?”

Typical. At least for me. Maybe you’re better at this than I am. But when there’s not enough help, not enough time, not enough money, not enough whatever, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What am I going to do?”

How come I hardly ever ask “What is God going to do?”

God’s the one who brought them out of Egypt. God’s the one who decimated the Egyptians with ten plagues. God’s the one who parted the waters of the Red Sea. God’s the one who caused the waters to return to destroy the Egyptian army. So far, all the people had to do was follow him. He led them with a pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire during the night. He would provide water, food and protection along the way.

When I was listening the the sermon at the hispanic service a few nights ago, one of the small parts I understood was the reminder that it’s Christ’s church. He brings the people together to do his work. It will grow exactly the way he intends. It may decrease at times, just the way he wills. But if you need anything, you go to him. He doesn’t expect you to do the heavy lifting. He just wants you to follow, trust and obey.

Maybe it’s time to stop asking, “What are we going to do?” and start asking, “What are you going to do, God?” That question certainly takes a lot of pressure off of me. It’s not “my” church or congregation or ministry. It’s his. My job? Preach the word. Watch over the flock. Equip the saints. And maybe most importantly, “Be still and know that I am God.”

So that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I’m trying to catch myself when I want to ask, “What am I going to do?” and rephrase the question to, “What is God going to do?” I’ll let you know what I learn.

 

The rhythm of the eternal

vladislav-muslakov-261627In the Old Testament, people’s lives moved with the rhythm of the eternal.

For example, there was a Sabbath, one rest day a week. There were festivals to be observed (Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkoth). Every seven years, debts were forgiven and even the fields got to rest. The pace of life was governed by your relationship with God, the Creator, the Lord.

The pace of my life? Rather than cycles of effort and rest, I push myself until I drop. I work until I’m exhausted. I keep going until I get sick, or burn out.

In the Old Testament, there were daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal sacrifices, feasts and festivals. So much of life revolved around appreciation, reconciliation and atonement. A renewed relationship with God led to restored relationships with family and friends. Regular patterns of worship led gave birth to healthy patterns of life.

In contrast, I feel guilty for taking time off. Time off is interrupted by emails, phone calls, and texts about things I could be doing if I weren’t taking time off. I pay more attention to those who insist I ought to be doing more and working longer hours than the one who says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Rhythm. The steady rhythm of my heartbeat. The daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset, bedtime and time to wake up, of the music I’m listening to, of listening to God’s Word and speaking my prayers. So much of life consists of rhythm.

I’ll bet there’s a good reason for that. We were created with rhythm in mind. Day and night. A pulse. Respirations. Awake and asleep. Joy and sorrow. Alone and in a crowd. Together with loved ones. Life and death. Listening and speaking.

I want to my life to reflect the rhythm of the eternal. To live at Gods’ pace, God’s urgency, God’s patience, God’s priorities, God’s cycles.

Lord, help me to live by the rhythm of the eternal!

“Jhalda, West Bengal, India”

BengalTigerRight, like I am going to answer that phone call.

The caller ID on my phone shows “Jhalda, West Bengal, India.”

Really? Like that is a legitimate call I am going to answer? I probably ignore 80% of the domestic phone calls I get every day. From every state in the union, from a variety of places in Florida, and more than a few from my area code and first three numbers of my phone number.

Oh, I was tempted. So tempted. I am so curious. I’ll bet they weren’t the IRS, telling me I was about to be arrested. Those calls usually come from Florida numbers. I’ll bet they weren’t selling me health care insurance. Those calls are from more local numbers. I’ll bet they weren’t offering me a social security death benefit. Those folks usually call from New York or Washington, DC.

But India? I’m intrigued. But I’m not naïve enough to call back. International rates and all that.

So I wonder – how many people simply let my calls, from the church or my cell, go to voice mail? Because they really don’t want to hear me ask, “So how come you haven’t been in church lately?” (Which, by the way, I never ask.) Or, “You seem to be a bit behind on your tithe.” (Which I never say.) Or, “So, are you still alive?” (No, I never lead with that, either.)

I usually ask, “So how are you?” When I call, it’s just to see how you are doing. If I don’t call – hey, call me, I’d love to talk to you. Especially if you’re from India. And you’ve got Bengal tigers in your neighborhood. I’ve only seen them in zoos. I figure they’re like alligators in FL. You just get used to them.

 

 

Working concessions in Phila.

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My view for each game for most of the games I worked at the Vet.

It wasn’t my first job. (My first job was church janitor.) It wasn’t my best job. (I kind of like preaching.) But it was a cool job: concessions at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

One of the perks of being a Douthwaite in South Phila? My uncle Jack Nilon had the concessions at Veteran’s Stadium, home of the Phillies and Eagles in the early 1970’s when I was in high school and college. My Aunt Catharine, whom we called “Aunt Smim,” pretty much ran the place and made sure I had a job there every summer through late high school and college. She also made sure I got to work one of the best concessions stands, right behind home plate on a level where I could watch most of the games. If we were busy, I could at least see the scoreboards and know what was going on. Those were good years for the Phils, who hosted the All Star game in 1976 and won the World Series in 1980. (Names from that year: Mike Schimdt, Steve Carlson, Tug McGraw, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa.)

I worked as a cashier, standing at a register just outside the booth where a host of other workers boiled and “bunned” the hot dogs, wrapped up hamburgers, and poured drinks. These were the days before some of the upscale food you pay big bucks for at professional sports complexes. Some games were really busy; others I spent most of my time watching the game.

Even though more than forty years have passed, I still have vivid memories of these days:

  • A gentleman carrying a cardboard tray with six beers ($6 each back then) set them down on a fold out table to pay. The table collapsed, dowsing his pants with all that beer! It was impossible for us not to laugh, so we (we always had two cashiers outside each stand) got in big trouble because we did.
  • Before the stand opened each night, I would help wrap hot dogs to stay ahead of the initial lines when the gates opened. Yes, we would deliberately wrap up empty buns, just to see the reaction when people went to put mustard or ketchup on their hot dog. At least it was funny back then.
  • We got to eat whatever we wanted. The problem was, once you had a hot dog, some chips and a soda, you didn’t want all that much. Hey, keep in mind, this was the 70’s. They didn’t wear gloves to handle food. I couldn’t tell you how often new water was put in the hot dog boilers. Bones in a hamburger? Hey, I’m just the cashier.
  • It was cool to be there for the All Star game as the nation celebrated the bicentennial in 1976. It as really cool to go to one of the World Series games in 1980. (I think I went to game 2.) I didn’t work any of the games, but I used my ID to get in and watch one of the games against the Kansas City Royals.
  • I got to work a few other events during that time. I worked a few Eagles games when I was home from college. I also got to work a few Army-Navy games when they played at JFK Stadium. Boy that was an old dump of a stadium. You got into some of the concession stands by crawling through a hole in the wall to unlock the door from the inside. In the late 70’s, I think I worked a few Peter Frampton concerts there, too. One occasion, I was summoned from the concession and taken to an office because there was some kind of threat against my uncle. I don’t remember how that all turned out, but obviously, everything turned out OK.
  • My Uncle Jack always had a bottle of Mylanta on his desk. Apparently, it was a stressful business. He took frequent sips from it. Yuk.
  • Some of my friends also got jobs working concessions. On one occasion, as my Uncle Jack commented on his sizable schnoz to one of my friends, he said, “How’d you like to have this nose full of nickels?”
  • I got in big trouble one summer. The Phils didn’t win the World Series every year, so some years, attendance was low and business was slow. One game, my cashier partner and I were taking turns bouncing a rubber ball against a wall and catching it. One of us missed a catch and it bounced past a customer who complained to someone. We got called onto the carpet, were chewed out, and then had to work a concession stand out in centerfield for a few weeks. Lesson learned. We didn’t do that anymore.

When I applied for a job at Subway in Ft. Wayne, during my seminary days, I think I put my concession – “food service” – experience on my application. I got the job. And it got me through seminary. Thanks, Uncle Jack.!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned a lot in college. (But not necessarily in class.)

collegeI chose my college (Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA) on the recommendation of my high school physics teacher (Mr. Nicholaus Ignatuk) and the amount of financial aid they offered. Those were the two reasons I chose them over Bucknell and Penn State, from whom I also got acceptances my senior year.

At that time, all I knew is that I wanted to study mathematics. I liked math and was good at math. I really hadn’t thought four years ahead to what I would do with a liberal arts degree in math, but I’d worry about that later. As I think back now, a lot of what I learned at college had nothing to do with academics anyway. Much of what I learned came from outside the classroom.

F&M was a small liberal arts school, about 2,000 undergrads on campus. No graduate programs. Every class was taught by a professor with a Ph.D. Everyone took four classes a semester, and when you got to thirty-two, you graduated. Most of the friends I met were pre-med, pre-law, or accounting majors. Math? Only if they had to. Me? I took as much math as I could.

But there were lots of extracurricular activities. Lots. As I look back, that is where I got most of my education.

For example, the fraternity I joined, Delta Sigma Phi, taught me a lot. Yes, I learned how to drink there. I learned a lot playing intramural sports, from flag football to street hockey to softball. I learned how to play guitar from a brother, learned how to run a kitchen to earn my room and board, and learned a lot about relationships. Some brothers got me interesting in running, and that was a big part of my life for a long time.

I learned a lot from working with the college radio station. I learned how to work the board, how to DJ a show, how to edit and read news, and a lot about music.

I learned a ton in band, too. I was exposed to so much music in marching, concert and jazz band, and I got to play with some incredibly talented musicians. I even got to play a double bell euphonium!

I was a part of the computer club, where I not only spent much time teaching people how to program but also how to hack into the administration’s data base with nothing more than a dial-up modem and a 60 pound “portable” computer terminal.

With my fraternity brothers I learned how to rock climb, how to tap and keg and fill a cup with hardly any foam, how to do the “Time Warp,” how to play hockey, way too much about professional wrestling, and what drinks not to mix together.

I could be way off, but I think we were paying about $5,000 a year to go to college back then. Now? Over $70k to attend F&M. That would be tough for me and my family to afford now. What did I get for my money? The ability to help my daughter with her calculus homework twenty years later. The confidence to work the sound board at church. A little bit about speaking to an audience, teaching a class, and working behind a bar. I can code and I know what a Fourier series is. My undergrad transcript somehow got me some jobs after college and eventually into grad school to get my M.Div. and become a pastor.

I like what I am doing now, so guess that for me, college was worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

Snoozin’

img-8295.jpgThis is probably one of my favorite pictures ever, from the early spring of 1986. We were still in our little rental house in Ft. Wayne, IN. I was getting ready to graduate from the seminary and was anticipating my first call to pastoral ministry.

The dark-haired guy is me, probably catching up on sleep after working the closing shift at Subway. The store closed at 2 am, but I didn’t get home till about 4. But I did get to bring home a foot long each shift, our meal the next day. The little guy sleeping next to me is my son Adam, just a few months old. I’m sure he was up the night before, too. The yellow lab is Gabriel, always up for a nap in the bed with us. He was a good source of warmth during the bitterly cold Ft. Wayne winters.

Needless to say, I don’t remember this moment. But I do remember that time in my life, when changes came quickly and often. I got Gabe as a pup in 1980, when I lived in NJ. In the next six years, I moved to Texas, then to Ft. Wayne to begin my seminary studies. I met my wife, got married, moved to Baltimore for vicarage, moved back to Ft. Wayne, had a son, and would move to Connecticut in just a few months. All in the space of six years. No wonder we were tired!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re watching me.

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Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

I know they’ve been watching me. I’ve known it for a long time.

No, I’m not paranoid. I’m simply aware that the advertisements that frame my searches and litter the news articles I read are not random. They are reflections of me. They are linked to things that I have either searched for, shopped for, or recently purchased.

As I was recently reading a New York Times article about Haiti and its people on my phone, I noticed that the advertisements that showed up every 300 words or so were for yogurt. Usually the ads are for Harry’s Razors (which I have purchased) or Stitch Fix (from whom I sometimes buy clothes) or some Mac maintenance software (I own a Mac). But yogurt?

After a bit of thought, I realized that I had just bought one container of yogurt at a local grocery store recently, after a long period of not buying any yogurt at all. Hmm. Another ad that kept showing up was for Target. I hardly ever shop at Target, but I had gone there just a week ago to pick up a few items. Hmm. I had been searching for some information on reading and writing short stories, and Medium suggested a few articles for me. Hmm. Someone is watching me. Someone knows what I am doing. Someone knows the places where I go.

Apparently, they are watching what I buy and where I shop, as well as what I am looking for. In some ways, this is threatening. In other ways, it’s kind of exciting. Rather than getting a lot of junk advertising – and I get plenty of that – I get stuff that actually interests me. And I learn some things about myself. I don’t pay much attention to what I buy or where I shop. But someone does, and if I pay attention, I discover something about me.

So now I am thinking, “How can I tap into this?” If someone knows what I am thinking and doing, then someone knows what other people are thinking and doing, too. Like the members of my congregation. Like the people I preach to each Sunday. If I could tap into that information, I could hit the nail on the head every week. I would know exactly what sins to mention and how to shape my presentation of the gospel. I could cut right to the chase each and every week!

As I write those words, they sound kind of crazy. But they aren’t. I could pay and get that info. I could acquire mountains of data and details about my members’ lives. But I don’t have to. Like wise Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” No one is inventing any new sins. We just keep doing the same old ones. Immorality, dishonesty, and hate. You got a body and a mind? You know exactly what I am talking about. I do. And I do.

More than a few times, someone has spoken to me after church and said that I must have bugged their home. What I talked about that Sunday addressed the very thing that had been going on in their lives that week. Of course, I hadn’t. And it wasn’t even me who was addressing the situation. It was God. It was his word speaking to them, to their situation, and to their hearts.

So I’m not all that worried about someone knowing where I’m going, what I’m doing, or what I’m thinking. Someone already knows. The one who counts already knows. It’s convicting. He’s forgiving. And it keeps me on my toes.

 

 

 

Tale as old as time

26168685_384909625292954_3414628934557062156_nWedding message for Kim and Daniel, January 12, 2018. Kim is a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast, hence the references to “tale as old as time.” 

Kim and Daniel, in some ways, it’s hard to believe we are actually here today, to witness you taking your vows and becoming husband and wife. I looked at my calendar and we met for our first premarital counseling session in February of last year. And I know that we had this day booked for your wedding several months before that.

But I guess it’s a good thing you had a lot of time to get ready. Kim, you told me last week that your to do list was still pretty long, even after a whole year to get things done! I’ll bet you were still checking things off your list this morning!

But today, I want to talk about someone who’s been getting for this day even longer than you have. The ultimate “tale as old as time” is the one we find in Genesis chapter 2: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The idea of marriage is a part of God’s creation of this world. It was his plan from the very beginning. And today, you get to be a part of his plan, too.

I want to talk about that plan for a few moments today. First of all, God said, “It’s not good to be alone.” He created us to be in relationships. From birth we have a relationship with our parents. As families grow, brothers and sisters have relationships. And then the day comes when you leave your families to create a new family. And as your family grows, you will have a relationship with your children and grandchildren and even beyond. Never forget God’s gift of relationships in your life.

Second, you become one flesh. In marriage, God brings two together to become one. Everything you do affects the other. You share joys and sorrows, meals and a home, friends and family, and intimate moments together. Your language will change. Instead of “me” and “you,” you’ll say “we” and “us.” That’s exactly what God had in mind.

The third one is something we heard in the second reading today, from a letter written by a man named Paul. As he talked about husbands and wives, he called that relationship a model of just how much Christ loves his church. That love is even older than the creation of the world. Paul began that letter by writing that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that is, before creation itself (Eph. 1:4).

So you and I were on God’s to-do list from eternity. He always had us in mind. He knew that we would need someone like Jesus, and he was willing to give us his son. He was even willing to let his son die for us. That’s how much he loved you and me, the ultimate “tale as old as time.”

The animated Disney movie came out in 1991. Ha ha!  – tale as old as you! The original French story was published in 1740, a tale older than our nation. But the real “tale as old as time” is that of God’s love for us, his plans for us, and the future he has prepared for us. It’s so great to know that you’ve always been and always will be on God’s to-do list!