Tough and tender

rare steakAfter working with people for so many years you would think I would have learned this a long time ago: beneath people’s tough exterior is a tender soul.

I’ve too often taken my cues from the rugged, independent, self-sufficient persona both men and women display in the context of church life. We excel in projecting the image that everything is OK and we handling life well. But like a steak that has been seared on the outside for just the right amount of time, we’re still tender and easily cut on the inside.

Forgetting that, I go about my day, not worrying about those who seem to be doing just fine, focusing more on those whose hurts are outward and visible (those who have been burnt, left on the grill too long?) Continue reading

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

“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

The Last Graduation

IMG_5792A vibrant five-year old voice filled the room, announcing, “It’s showtiiiiiiime!” the cue for another dozen small voices to join in singing the opening song for the twenty-fourth — and last — graduation ceremony for our Open Arms Preschool. I’ve only missed one commencement in my twenty-one years here in Palm Coast. As we close the doors on this ministry, I am already missing the songs, stories, prayers, laughter and screams that are a part of early childhood education.  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.

 

 

 

Call me, maybe…

chatting-tin-can-stringYesterday, as many pastors do, I was out visiting people who were in the hospital. It was a busier afternoon than usual, as I had five people to visit in three different area hospitals. I drove about a hundred miles getting around to everyone. The good news: everyone was recovering and improving and looking forward to going home soon. The not-so-good news: the effort it took to find out who needed a visit and where they were. Spoiler alert: this is a rant, so you can decide if you want to read further or not.
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Top ministry moments – a few that didn’t make the cut

rosette-award-ribbons-yghvBvAfter writing about ministry moments from the past thirty years, I thought of a few more that didn’t make the top ten list.

  • Representing the circuit at the 1998 LCMS Synodical Convention in St. Louis, MO. It was very interesting to see the synod at work, and a great opportunity to meet up with friends from all over the country.
  • Giving the opening prayer for the opening session of the Iowa state legislature. Our church was issued an invitation, the senior pastor had done it before, so I got the nod.
  • In 2004, while our sanctuary was under construction, my good friend and Embry-Riddle flight instructor Jim Petrucci took me up in a single engine training airplane and we flew over the nearly completed building where we worship today. I got some cool pix.
  • For several years, my dear homeless friend Eric Zimmerman would meet me when I arrived to open up the church at 6:30 am on Sunday mornings. Intelligent and inquisitive, Eric still reminds me that the homeless have a name, a face, a family and faith.
  • Sharing a year of ministry with vicars from the seminary 2005- 2008. Thank you Brett, Eric and Brian for letting me be a part of your seminary education.
  • Getting “pied” several times over the years, including Lauren and Kirsten Perrotta’s first Sunday at our church.

Those are some that immediately come to mind. I reserve the right to add to this list in the future as I remember some more.