A busy Sunday morning

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I may only work one day a week, but that day is a lot busier than most people realize. Here’s what I mean:

About ten minutes before worship begins, I see a man in a wheelchair across the sanctuary trying to get my attention, wiggling his finger in the air, summoning me like a waiter at a restaurant. I make my way over so he can tell me, “Pastor, will you bring communion back to me” “Yes.” (Just like I do each and every Sunday morning. BTW, no tip, either.)

As I walk over to introduce myself to some guests, a woman bundled up in a coat and scarf stops me to comment, “Why is it so cold in here! We’re wasting energy on so much air conditioning!” I confess, I did not do well in the HVAC class at the seminary, but I do notice the woman behind her fanning herself with a worship folder. I promise, “I’ll see what I can do.”

As I head towards the vestry to put on my alb, I pass by someone who suggests that someone ought to update the bulletin boards, especially the empty black one in the entryway. “Well you see,” I explain, “That is actually supposed to depict the inside of the tomb on Holy Saturday. What do you think?”

Dressed and ready to begin worship, a couple asks me, “Can we borrow some chairs from the fellowship hall?” I shrug, “Ok by me.” An usher notifies me that we may not have enough weekly newsletters to give out. “I guess folks will have to share.” As I make my way to the chancel, someone comments, “My birthday didn’t get printed in the weekly newsletter. I guess that means I don’t have to celebrate one this year!”

After worship, a man mentions to me that I can go with the cub scout pack any weekend they are camping. Before, I would have said, “That’s great, but you know, I do work on Sundays.” But now I’m thinking that might not be a bad idea at all.

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You couldn’t wait for me to get to “amen.”

caleb-woods-182648-unsplashThis hasn’t happened just once. I’d say it happens about once a month. I’ll be out visiting someone in their home or the hospital, and as I wrap up a prayer, they begin speaking less than one second after I say, “Amen.”

“Amen.” “Pastor, I have a question…”

“Amen.” “I’ve always wondered…”

“Amen.” “There was this guy…”

“Amen.” “I just don’t understand…”

So, you really weren’t praying along with me, were you? You were somewhere else, having boarded a different train of thought, impatiently waiting for me to get to “amen.” Anyone who knows me knows I do not say long prayers. It’s not that I lost you in a vast sea of petitions. You had just fast-forwarded through whatever I would say, biding your time until I finally finished.

I’m not really upset by this. It just surprises me. You’d be surprised if I didn’t pray with you, and yet your mind was wandering.

Good listening means you aren’t formulating a response when the other person is talking. You’ve set that aside, so you can pay attention to what the other person is saying. This is very hard to do. Listening is hard. I guess it’s hard to focus when someone’s praying for you, too.

Here are a few tips for the next time your pastor comes to visit and prays with you

  • Keep your eyes closed (if you pray with closed eyes) for just a moment after “amen.” Savor the blessing of a God who listens to and responds to your prayers. Just like a fine wine, prayers have a finish worth enjoying.
  • Take a couple of breaths after “amen.” Let the petitions echo in the room and in your mind for a moment. Let the dust settle before you speak.
  • Add your own prayer after “amen.” Keep the conversation going. Ask and seek and knock.
  • Embrace a few seconds of silence. It’s a noisy world and quiet moments are at a premium. Make the most of them.

I find great comfort and inspiration in knowing that a moment of prayer can turn an ordinary home, hospital room, nursing home or park bench into the holy ground of God’s presence. I know he loves those moments, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“After prayerful consideration…”

umit-bulut-143016It’s certainly not a new way to begin a thought or statement, but lately I’ve been reflecting on the phrase, “After prayerful consideration…” I’ve heard it a lot of times and have always given credit to those who pray about whatever it is they are considering. However, I want to share a few reactions to those words.  Continue reading

I’m pretty sure this is bad soil.

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Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

How much of ministry is throwing seed onto bad soil? I know that sounds like a strange question. But it came to mind the other night after I spent some time with a couple I really hoped would listen, learn and get their lives together as we started premarital counseling. But I doubt this will happen. I have this sinking feeling that the seed isn’t going to grow.

OK, just bear with me. Keep your sermons to yourself. These are just my thoughts. I know nothing is impossible for God. I know all things are possible for God. I know that his word always accomplishes what he intends. I know we’ve all got issues. But I also know that three of the four soils in Jesus’ parable won’t yield a crop no matter how good the seed or the sower is.

You remember the story. A guy is planting seed. More like throwing it everywhere. Some seed falls on the path. Nothing grows. Birds eat the seed. Other seeds falls on rocky soil. No deep roots. Withers and dies in the heat. Still other seed falls among the weeds. Gets choked out by the faster growing weeds. Finally some falls on good soil and grows.

So does this mean that seventy-five percent of the time, preaching and teaching the word won’t yield much result? Does this mean that preaching and teaching only sinks in one out of every four people?

I’ve been reading a lot of Jeremiah lately. I’m glad I didn’t get that call. His call documents laid out the harsh reality that his congregation wouldn’t listen to him and would eventually die or go into exile. Nice. After some of his sermons they beat him up and put him into stocks.

OK, I don’t have it that bad, so stop complaining, right? Plus, what do I know about farming? That is, what makes me so sure I can size up a person and know they are a rocky road or a weed field?

Or — and I don’t like this possibility — maybe I’m doing this because I’m the one who needs to listen and learn from this. Maybe I need to step in a big pile to understand what some folks deal with every day. Perhaps I need to just chill, suck it up, and do my job.

OK, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gone. Just gone.

tegan-mierle-259584Jesus tells the story of a shepherd that leaves a flock of 99 to go in search of one sheep who wandered, who went missing, who didn’t show up for role call. The point is, God cares deeply about the lost. But does a real, live, genuine shepherd do that? Does that one sheep matter that much?

I’m thinking probably not. I’m thinking that he might not even notice losing one out of one hundred. A 1% loss n our investment? We wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

But I find that I do fret, lose sleep, and puzzle over one family that suddenly vanishes from church life. For the purpose of these thoughts, it is a person who held several leadership positions in the church. It wasn’t a gradual disappearance. It was a sudden here today, gone tomorrow event. In the span of just one week — gone.

Yes, of course, I tried to find out what was going on. I called. I texted. I emailed. I wrote two letters, put them in envelopes, affixed a stamp to each one and mailed them at the post office. I had a face-to-face conversation with the person, and never found out why they no longer came to worship, carried our their responsibilities, participated in church life or even responded to my attempts to reach out to them. Other folks from the church reached out to them. Phone calls. Emails. Conversations. The response? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nil.

OK, so when people began to stop following Jesus, he didn’t overreact. He simply asked his disciples, “Are guys leaving, too?” I guess he knew it would happen. He knew that everyone would abandon him. He knew that he wouldn’t win the popular vote or a popularity contest.

So why does it bug me so much? Is it because of all the time and energy I put into that family? Is it because of my own ego and wanting to see the church grow because that makes me look like a good pastor? Is it because I overestimated their commitment? Is it because of something else entirely unrelated to me?

IDK. I have no idea. I guess the only thing I know is that in good or in bad, it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. He is the one I should pursue, think about, and talk about. He’s the boss.

I can’t remember where I read it, but it is a good reminder of what this is all about. Jesus wasn’t a cowboy, driving his herd into heaven. He was a shepherd, leading his flock.

That’s all I’m trying to do.

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.

 

You might have all the answers, but you don’t hold the office.

talkingYesterday, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at an awards ceremony for a long time friend and member of the congregation. After the formal part of the ceremony, the other guests and I gathered for a meal. I had a chance to sit with the other guest speaker for the occasion, the mayor or our city. I looked forward to talking with her and hearing about her first year in office.

However the gentleman sitting to the other side of her hijacked the conversation. I listened carefully as he held forth on many of his own experiences and opinions on the future of our city. I was impressed with the mayor’s capacity to sit and patiently listen to his expertise in economics, civics, politics, and local government. As I sat there, I realized that her job and mine aren’t much different in that respect. We both attract volumes of advice from those who have all the answers, but don’t hold the office.

It is no different from fans who know exactly what the coach and quarterback should be doing, but aren’t on the field. Or those who have much to say about managers and pitchers, but they aren’t on the roster. Or for that matter, those who complain about their doctors and nurses, but have not studied and have never practiced medicine.

I am not immune to this nor am I above this. I need to be careful before I jump all over someone who works a physically demanding fifty to sixty hours a week and doesn’t make it to church. I need to remember the challenges of raising a bunch of kids, any one of whom may be sick on a given weekend. I don’t really now what it’s like to be a deputy walking up to knock on someone’s door, not knowing who or what is on the other side. And I certainly don’t know what it’s like to have the responsibility of governing a local community or in our nation’s capital.

Similarly, you may know exactly what the church (or the pastor) needs to do. And you may be one hundred percent correct. But keep in mind that you don’t hold the office. You’re not the one keeping watch over a flock. You’re not the one who knows too well the dark underside of those who seem just fine on a Sunday morning. You’re not the one they call when they’re hungry, dying or scared.

I am more than happy to listen to your suggestions and solutions. But they may not rise to the top of my to do list. They may not be feasible. They may not even be possible. Don’t take it personally. I’m just doing my best.

 

Eight ways to get me to unfollow you.

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Photo by iorni on Unsplash

  • Post something from a website with an expletive that shows up on my feed, including “wtf”. <Unfollow>
  • Use an expletive in a comment that shows up on my feed, even if it has lots of ********’s. <Unfollow>
  • Post so often that you dominate my FB feed. <Unfollow>
  • Write long, long, oh so long posts ranting about things no one really cares about. <Unfollow>
  • Post way too many selfies of yourself with duck lips or big hips. <Unfollow>
  • Post generic “Happy Birthday” to no one in particular. <Unfollow>
  • Post comments that pointedly insult members of my family. <Unfollow>
  • Annoy me. <Unfollow>

The red sofa

IMG-7566OK, it’s really a love seat. But it is really red. And I see it every time I leave my house or come back home. Because it sits, faithfully, on my neighbor’s lawn.

If you ask me, it shouldn’t have a place in someone’s yard. It shouldn’t have a place in someone’s house, either. Three weeks ago my neighbor put it out on the curb, assuming that the garbage men would pick it up. Nope. They didn’t want it either. It has now been soaked by the rains, ignored on bulk pick up days, and endured the intense heat of the October Florida sun. Passing dogs have baptized it, bugs have taken up residence in it, and mold has begun to thrive in it.

It doesn’t seem to bother my neighbor at all. He cuts the lawn around it. He stacks weekly trash against it. It has joined his unsightly array of halloween, occult and just plain ugly lawn ornaments.

I suppose there are times in life when you need a red sofa. Like when you’re going to murder someone in your living room. Or you’re bleeding from some orifice. Maybe you’re addicted to ketchup. Think about it. Someone actually made this love seat. Someone actually bought it. And yes, now someone has set it out in the yard for all to enjoy.

Just wait — I’m going to come up with a story to go with it.