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 Every good and decent thought and intent had been replaced by that which was evil and destructive.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

“We don’t have any shakes.”

McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In JanuaryA few weeks ago I went to visit one of our members (and my friend) David, who has been homebound for a while dealing with aches and pains and cancer and some tough decisions. Before I headed out the door, someone said, “Take him a milkshake.” He hadn’t been eating well, liked shakes and could use the calories. Works for me. I like shakes, too!

There was a McDonald’s on the way to David’s house. Perfect. The drive-thru lines looked short, so I pulled in. One car ahead of me. Five minutes passed. No movement. One car. Patience is a virtue, I’m not in a hurry, no problem. Finally they move ahead and I pull up to the speaker. Continue reading

A shrinking world

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

As the calendar fills up with fall activity, our church tries very hard to communicate and publicize worship, events, meetings, classes and community events. Despite our best efforts, though, there are some we just can’t seem to connect with. They do not notice a poster on the wall, read an item in the weekly newsletter, hear an announcement, check their email or open an invitation. It is as if their peripheral vision is impaired, and they are only attentive to that which they are personally involved in or working on.

It happens everywhere. Shoppers bump into me or block the aisles as they scan the shelves, unaware of the presence of the people around them. Drivers are seem oblivious to the cars around them in traffic as they pull out right in front of me or cut me off as if I were invisible. Too many are unfamiliar with current events, are disengaged from pop culture, and completely miss the hurricane warning.

A few years ago, my dad began to require more and more care, which came primarily from my brother. When I began to visit more often, to spend time and to help with care, my brother explained that the size of my dad’s world had shrunk. Continue reading

Two fingers with Dad

FullSizeRender (1)At the breakfast table this morning, Dad held out the pinky and middle finger of his right hand, holding the ring finger in with his thumb, looked at me and said, “When you order two finger of something, do it like this.”

Good advice, Dad. But where did that come from? I’ve never seen you drink more than a glass of wine. Now you’re sharing some drinking hacks with me. I’m going to remember that one.

It’s been than kind of a morning. The night nurse told us he didn’t sleep at all last night. Sitting at the kitchen table, he suddenly began talking about his graduation from high school (1942) and then his job at the mill (loading up carpet for shipping) until Uncle Sam summoned him for service in the Army Air Corps (1943-44). He then marveled at the good education he got at Villanova after his return, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

“Yeah, I’ve come a long way since Smedley Park.” Smedley Park, now a very nice recreation are in Delaware County, PA, was the boyhood home of my dad and his family. Back then, it was where he and his brother Tommy hunted rabbit. Dad then mentioned how they got water to the house. They pumped water all the way up the hill from the spring on the other side of the railroad tracks. From there, gravity took over and carried water down to the house.

I always learn something new from and about Dad whenever I come up to visit and help take care of him. Definitely worth the airfare.

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

Top ministry moments – #9: No heat

heaterIt was a cold winter day at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Coventry, CT, when I opened up the church on a Sunday morning and discovered that the heating system was dead. It was just about as cold inside the little sanctuary as it was outside in the snow.

It was one of my first years in my first parish, so I wondered, “Now what do I do?” As it turned out, we had a little kerosene heater that had saved us from freezing to death in our little Ft. Wayne house when I was in my last year at the seminary. I brought it over and fired it up in the center of the homemade pews that furnished our church. It didn’t really heat up the room all that much, but we worshiped together that day, even though most of us kept our coats and gloves on the entire time.

One of the church leaders got a repairman out there on a Sunday morning. We could hear him at work throughout the sermon. By the time it was ready for Bible class, the heat was back on.

I haven’t had to worry about being too cold the past twenty years here in Florida. The one Sunday the AC wasn’t working too well, I think I was in Haiti, where it was a whole lot hotter. We all survived and God was glorified.

Top ministry moments – #10: 1989 LCMS National Youth Gathering, Denver, CO

1989In a few weeks I will observe the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination. Thirty years! Where did that time go? Anyway, I thought I would write about my top ten ministry moments and memories from the past thirty years, beginning with the first LCMS national youth gathering I attended in 1989.

I had only one youth from my church (Prince of Peace, Coventry, CT) ready to attend that year, Jason Garay. Since you couldn’t attend with just one leader and one youth, I “adopted” a group from a church in Danbury, CT, and we flew to Denver with the rest of the New England District.

The mass events were held at McNichol Arena in Denver, the old home arena of the Denver Nuggets. The gatherings weren’t as big as they are today, so we could fit everyone in an 17,000 seat arena. Even so, it was unbelievable to walk into that venue for the first time and see so many other LCMS youth groups in one place! Even so, I remember actually finding my brother Jim, who was chaperoning another youth group, on the floor in the middle of that crowd.

Not long before, the leader of the gathering band, Jim Woodruff, had been at a New England District youth event, so we got to go up on stage with him. When a person playing the part of Christ rode into the arena on a donkey, to reenact Palm Sunday, the five-minute roar was deafening. At an outdoor concert event at Red rocks, we were among those who got caught in a sudden violent and torrential thunderstorm. Our group became separated and we had to wait for hours before the busses came back to get us. We all were famous for about fifteen minutes because we survived Red Rocks!

I’ve taken youth to five other national gatherings, but none are as memorable for me as that first one in 1989.