Sunday after Ian

I left town for Ian; technically, I left the state. Even though I don’t regret the decision, there’s a weird sense of guilt that comes with it (that may be for another post).

I got back to West Bradenton Thursday evening. Electricity on. Wi-Fi working. Cul-de-sac cleaned. It was like nothing had happened. But all you have to do is open any social media platform and be brought into the reality that something most certainly had happened.

Friday morning, my church sent out an email stating that the Sarasota elementary school where we meet isn’t able to host us today. So the challenge was issued to, instead of attending a service, serve the community. Here’s the challenge:

Even though we may not be gathering as a church this Sunday, we can still BE THE CHURCH. This Sunday, we invite you to join us in a SERVE SUNDAY. Would you get out and serve the people around you? Imagine the church in action spread throughout our neighborhoods and our city. What a beautiful thing that will be.  
Serve Sunday doesn’t have to look like just cutting debris and clearing yards, although it might be. This could look like making a meal with your kids for families still without power. This could look like taking some cookies to the local fire department. This could look like simply walking the neighborhood and checking in on each home, asking if they need anything.  
Let’s do this, if we see a need, let’s meet a need.

My guilt was already driving me to do something, which I managed to do on Friday and Saturday. I could have let that be it. But something was telling me that wasn’t enough.

This was supposed to be the first Sunday of my serving in a role that had me showing up at 7AM. With that off the table, I decided to drive to the beach to run, of course, but also to find answers to “enough.” Three hours later, God had given more answers than imaginable.

Before heading to the beach, I stopped to fill up the car. I overheard normal conversation about how other customers had fared the week and how challenging it was to have to keep generators running. AWARENESS #1: Not everyone has power yet.

I always park on the Gulf side of Coquina Beach. But not today. The main public parking was not open. Across the street, however, is a smaller parking lot where boat trailers park and have water entry access. And across the street is where you get a great view of sunrise. I arrived just in time to get this shot.

AWARENESS #2: The sun always rises.

I took off north to head back to Cortez road and cross the bridge to Cortez Village. I had just come to the first bend in the sidewalk and this is what I faced (I took pictures after my run for better lighting).

AWARENESS #3: Ian didn’t respect age.

Few people were moving about as I made my way to the bridge. Honestly, I’m not sure how many people are back. Other than cars on the road, it felt mostly abandoned. When I got up to the bridge, I was thinking about just running up to the draw bridge and turning around, but I felt the urge to continue over. As I ran down the other side, my left shoe felt loose. At the foot of the bridge was a slight right turn into a mobile home park that I have never explored. I saw a sitting bench, so I paused there to tie my shoe. That led me down a further exploration of this park and Cortez Village, which was a first.

All along my run to that point, my “enough” was to pray for the residents, visitors, store owners, and businesses of Coquina Beach. As I continued that as I ran through the village, out of nowhere sat this little neighborhood church.

Photo from their Facebook page

At first, I ran by it. But then I knew I was to pause and serve this congregation by praying for them. I walked the parking lot. Nothing seemed damaged. It didn’t even look like there had been any debris. Either they’d already cleaned it up and disposed of it, or this little spot had not been touched. I counted the parking spaces; only 15 spaces, four of them handicapped. I thought about the pastor of this congregation. How unique his service is. How alone he may feel. How tempted he may be to believe the lie that his work doesn’t matter. AWARENESS #4: All service to others is service to God.

As I started back over the bridge to head back to my car, I still was asking God to show me what else I could do besides pray. The line “let’s meet a need from the email was my focus. And then it was clear. I had already heard the need. The folks buying gas beside me earlier illustrated a clear need people have. That was the final “enough.”

So back to the gas station I went. And I’m thinking, this is going to be a little weird-walking up to strangers and offering to pay for their gas. And my counter to my self talk was, “It’s only weird if you make it weird, John.”

My question after I pulled into a parking space was, how do I determine who to approach. I decided to just watch and see who might look like they had the most need. And as I watched and waited, it became clear.

I ended up approaching two customers. The first one was an elderly couple in an older car with a handicap license plate. He started walking toward the store with cash in his hand. When I asked if he’d allow me to pay for his gas with my card, he paused to see if I was serious. I let the silence speak. He said, “I have the money.” I replied, “I see that, but how about you keep it for something else.” And that was it. Nothing weird. Just mutual gratefulness. AWARENESS #5: Generosity is a universal language.

The second customer I suspected was serving others himself. He opened his truck’s tailgate and started taking the caps off of three 5-gallon gas cans. When I walked up and asked him if he’d paid for his gas yet, he said no. I asked then, “Will you let me pay for your gas?” Too bad we haven’t figured out how to take photos just with eye contact yet. He looked stunned, and his mind was swirling. Again I let the silence speak. The first thing he could say was, “I’m usually the one offering to help others. No one has ever asked me something like that.” My search was over. Customer #2 was enough. Those gas cans were to keep the generators running in his neighborhood. AWARENESS #6: Seek and you will find…God honors those who serve their neighbors.

Thank you, Hope City, for the challenge. The Sunday after Ian will always serve me as a reminder of the many ways God gives us enough.

Check the Power Cords

How does God speak to us?

Someone might say, “Maybe the first question isn’t how, but does He.”

To answer that one, most folks would give examples illustrating their “yes” or “no.” I’m a “yes.”

My “yes” has had the usual answers through my spiritual journeying years. They include prayer, creation, spiritual texts, and other people. Oh, and one more, dreams.

In my early church history, dreams weren’t high on the list. What I mean is, teachers didn’t give them much attention. That was for various reasons. So as a young follower, I didn’t give it much thought. Then as an adult when others have mentioned visions or dreams as means of God speaking to them, it felt like a foreign language. It came across as very real and personal for them, so it left me feeling left out.

The first time I recall believing God had spoken to me through a dream was in 2005. I remember it very vividly. Both the dream and the message I received. I no longer felt like an outsider. Since that experience, I often wake from a dream with a notion to pause and listen. And when there’s a message, it’s pretty obvious. It happened two nights ago.

This post isn’t written to share the message (If you know me and want to know about it, reach out to me). I’m sharing these thoughts for one main reason. I believe the answer to “does God speak” and “how” are found in the heart of each created man and woman. Creators commune with their creations. The challenge we have is returning the favor. Sometimes from boredom, emotional hurt, doubt, discontent, impatience, expectations, or arrogance, we disconnect from all the communion avenues with our Creator. Which offers this counter question posed to the mirror: “Am I plugged in?” Like the first question about IT issues, “Did you check the power cord?”

My experience has led me to believe if I’m not hearing from God it’s not His fault. It’s on me to check all the power cords.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

The Church Gathers To…

I’m now in the bonus episodes of The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill. The episode Everything is Still Falling Apart has this quote that had me saying, “Heard.”

The whole purpose of the gathering of the church is to prepare people for their encounters with death…Everything we do runs in the opposite direction. It’s all in the direction of triumphalism. It’s all in the direction of how great life can be if we get our act together or follow this leader.

Mike Cosper is referring to the writings of another leader. It richly resignates with me. It seems like another way to paint the picture of living for the kingdom of heaven, not building treasures here, etc.

In some odd way this thought validates what I’ve often told people. If I had a choice between participating in a wedding or a funeral, hands down I pick a funeral. Whatever you call it, life celebration/memorial service/funeral, everyone comes with a reality check in their minds and souls. So much room exists, so many impactful moments are possible in the days surrounding the passing of a loved one. If we are prepared, we don’t miss them, and they have the potential for even deeper joy in our sorrow than we experience in other expected, highly anticipated, and tremendously prepared for joyful life moments.

How’s your church preparing you for death? Probably not a question you’ve ever asked. Which probably indicates it’s worth answering.

Photo by Antoine J. on Unsplash

Caved, Endured, Benefited from The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill

I completed a journey today I didn’t want to take for two reasons: a little bit of pride and a little bit of anger mixed with fear. I caved, mostly from the encouragement of two friends. I’m glad I did.

At my pace, the journey took almost two months. Necessary stops and starts to digest, to breathe, to clear, to process. The journey took me to expected and unexpected places; some I knew I needed, some I surprisingly didn’t know I needed. I’m glad I endured.

The journey was listening to the main twelve episodes of The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill podcast. One description of the podcast reads:

Hosted by Mike Cosper, this Christianity Today podcast takes you inside the story of Mars Hill Church in Seattle-from its founding as part of one of the largest church planting movements in American history to its very public dissolution-and the aftermath that followed. You’ll hear from people who lived this story, experiencing the triumphs and losses of Mars Hill, knowing it as both an amazing, life-transforming work of God and as a dangerous, abusive environment. The issues that plague Mars Hill and its founder…aren’t unique, and only by looking closely at what happened in Seattle will we be able to see ourselves.

There would be no point in retelling the story. There’s plenty of that available. Rather, I wish to encourage those like me resistant to giving the podcast a chance to consider these thoughts:

  • We can learn from failure. Along with learning, we can also grow. In order for both to happen, we have to set our minds for them. We can listen to this story, pass judgment, shake our heads, drop our jaws, defend, sweep, have any of all the possible reactions. But if all we do is emotionally react, CT’s work has been in vain. If the message is received like a Netflix binge, we have missed the opportunity to learn and grow. If you are a person who doesn’t want to miss the opportunity, it’s time to cave.
  • There is such a thing as church trauma. If you’ve spent any time in the church, you know it. But what you probably don’t realize is trauma’s impact, subtleties, layers, history, and power. Under so many holy labels, trauma is happening right now. And the danger is we don’t even realize it. Wolves are feasting. If you are a church leader, paid or volunteer, who feels powerless to speak about what’s troubling your spirit, it’s time to endure.
  • Stories are sacred and deserve dignity. Our desire to avoid pain inhibits healing. Our wish to consider it “not my problem” disregards the wounded’s sacredness. Facing our fears, weeping with the discarded, listening to the angry, offering safety, and naming evil must be available in the church. If your church makes these things unavailable, it’s time to listen and restore.

Several moments in the hours of these twelve episodes I felt these words by Mike Cosper:

Part of what drew me to this project was my own history. The fact that even from a distance, I heard echoes of my experience and the stories coming out of Mars Hill. The more time I spent with that story and especially the more time I spent with these people, the louder those echoes got. Now, having seen the story go back out into the world, I’ve genuinely wept at how many others are hearing their experience reflected here too.

Aftermath, December 4 episode

I’m better for having caved and endured. I’ve benefited from meditating, weeping, discussing, and repenting. If someone has encouraged you to listen and you’re resisting, odds are you will also benefit. It’s time.

Running Blind

The other morning I woke up before the alarm and decided I might as well get up and run. Out the door before 6, it was still dark. Roughly 3/4 of a mile out, running in the bike lane through my neighborhood, I approached a clump of something in the lane. As I got closer and a passing car’s lights lit up the lane, I figured out it was a dead possum. Roughly 20 yards later I stepped over a dead armadillo. Then within just yards I had to maneuver around two huge palm branches crossing the lane. Within that same patch, cars timely passed so I could see and not do something stupid.

Thinking about it later, I remembered this verse I’d read and journaled about recently from I John 2:11.

“Those who hate a fellow believer are in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; they do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

Ever noticed how hate makes you do stupid things. Even while you’re doing them your mind is saying, “What is going on? I don’t want to do this. Where is this coming from?” Sometimes it’s not until much later, after you’ve totally blown it, that you figure it all out. Then you have to humble yourself, or at least you have the choice, and admit what was driving your outrageous actions.

Thank God for the light of love. It reveals the dead stuff, guides you to a better path, and helps you avoid roadkill and debris.

Choose it. Run in it. The alternative – running blind – can be quite costly.

(FB post from 8/27/2011)

Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash

Jack’s Purpose

Jack Dietrich passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was 92. His memorial service was held yesterday.

I didn’t know Jack (A friend asked me on behalf of the family to sing his favorite hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”) But the service was one of those that when you left you felt like you knew the person regardless of previous history.

Everyone who spoke weaved the story of Jack’s life which included his influence on their teaching careers, his love of family and really everyone, his witty humor, and his outspoken faith. Apparently, if you walked by his porch on the way to the beach, most likely you got an introduction to sit with Jack.

That was the neighbor’s story who gave the eulogy. His initial introductory conversation with Jack lasted three hours and started an unexpected, life-changing relationship. As he described it, the life change was for both of them.

Although Jack had lived a full and successful life, he asked his neighbor the same question I’m guessing all 92-year-olds do. “Why am I still here?” His neighbor unashamedly told him, “You’re here for me. God knew I needed you. That’s why you’re here.”

Truth is, we don’t have to live 92 years to ask Jack’s question. For a multitude of reasons at any given time, our minds and emotions look at our situation and wonder why we’re in it. We question what’s the point. And as is often the case, the point isn’t about us; it’s about someone else. Someone that needs to be noticed. Someone that needs to be heard. Someone that needs to be touched. Someone that needs something that we have-time on the porch.

We sell ourselves short. Okay, maybe you don’t, but I know I do. There’s plenty God has given me that doesn’t cost me much, if anything, to give away. Occasionally, I’m reminded that’s it’s not as hard to know the why as I make it. Occasionally, all it takes is saying yes to singing a song, to give someone something I can easily give, and the why is clear.

Photo by Ana Essentiels on Unsplash

Stop & Hold

The Day is coming When My

Heart will stop wandering

Peace will stop wavering

Faith will stop studdering

Joy will stop fleeting

On that Day I’ll Finally Stop

Looking in a mirror dimly

Asking needless questions

Forgetting You Are the King of the World

Trying to do what You’ve Already Done

‘Til that Day I Desire to Keep

Holding on to Hope

Holding on to Truth

Holding on to Life

Holding on to You

Photo by Thomas Chan on Unsplash

Don’t Quarrel With the Bus Driver

(From a FB note in 2009)

A few weeks ago while talking with a friend about some things going on in both our lives I made this comment:

“I’m not driving the bus. Just along for the ride.”

What did I mean by that? I’m in a season where I am completely thrilled to sit back and let God be in charge of what’s next. My analogy is that I’m just on the bus, he’s driving, and when it’s time for me to get off the bus at the next assignment stop I’m sure he’ll make it real clear.

Isaiah says a few phrases in chapters 43 and 45 that reminded the Jews about their relationship with their God:

  • Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me
  • No one can deliver out of my hand
  • Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker

About one of these phrases, the NLT Study Bible has this note:

If we could design our own god it would not be like the God spoken of in the Scriptures. Most would prefer a god that answers every prayer positively, or a god that goes along with our cultural values, or a god that will welcome us to heaven no matter what. God’s message to the ancient Israelites who struggled with this was in essence, ‘Go ahead! Find a new god! See where it gets you!’

So does this mean I can’t talk with God if I’m confused, frustrated, or having trouble staying content in my “passenger” life? Absolutely not. It just means that I should approach him in faith with a peaceful spirit; my words don’t need to come from a discontented place in my heart leading me to being quarrelsome or argumentative.

My best response to the ride is to sorta take on the Allstate motto: I know I’m in good hands. God knows the destination. When he parks and gives me further instruction, I hope to say, “Thanks for listening and being such a patient driver and getting me safely to my destination. I wouldn’t want to be traveling with anyone else.”

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

That time Jesus said, “None of your business.”

They could not have looked like promising revolutionary material. That they should see themselves as deliverers of Israel was ludicrous. Their grasp of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection was still tenuous and their perception of their future confused.

What was going to happen on the political scene? What role would they play? Seated among the young olive trees they asked him: “Do you plan to restore Israel’s sovereignty?” Many eyes were turned on him.

“None of your business” was the effect of his retort. “That’s God the Father’s affair. He currently organizes the political scene. Your job will be to bear witness to me not only here, but in broadening circles throughout the earth” (see Acts 1:4-8).

Chapter 4, On Being a Signpost, of The Fight by John White

These three paragraphs start White’s chapter teaching on what it means to bear witness. This “none of your business” interpretation is of verse 7 where Jesus is quoted, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

As I read this, I was reminded of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29. The receivers of his message were not unlike those hearing Jesus’ message in Acts 1. They had a lot of questions. In their confusion and reaction they were tempted to believe and pursue just about anything, including doing what made sense for self-preservation without yielding to the all-knowing and all-powerful work of God.

American Christians would do well to listen to Jeremiah and Jesus. Our actions and words too often sound like we’ve got it all figured out, like we haven’t really heard what was said. Too often, the voice of God is hushed by our demands and declarations, in essence telling him how to do his job. Too often, we ignore the truth that it’s none of our business.

Thank You, Tim Mackie!

Last June I shared a post about starting a monthly “remembering” practice. This morning in my remembering, I chose to listen to a podcast episode about the Passover.

The episode is from the Exploring My Strange Bible Podcast. Exploring My Strange Bible is Tim Mackie’s personal podcast, produced by BibleProject. It’s an anthology of Tim’s lectures, sermons, and classroom teachings collected over 10 years.

I’ve only listened to a few episodes. What I have found so far is worth sharing. Mackie accomplishes his mission of exploring the Bible for everyone-those who’ve explored it for years and those who’ve just started or aren’t sure why they should.

For this episode, I’m guessing 90% of listeners will learn something that will enhance their next “remembering” opportunity. I know I did.

Today I remembered through the lens of those closest to Jesus sharing Passover with him. Thank you, Tim Mackie, for enhancing and deepening my remembering.