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.

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The Gift of Balance: Rest/Play/Sabbath (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fifth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: What are the key components for balance in this part of our lives?

Mark: A couple of thoughts. One that Tonya has already expressed is that we are wired differently. We need to understand how we are wired and recognize what healthy is in terms of resting mind, body, and spirit. Another one is acknowledging and understanding that it is important.

I came up with this analogy of junk food. When we are hungry, we eat; but we don’t always eat the healthy foods. Our body and minds can be craving rest, so we have to feed ourselves healthy rest. Sometimes we feed ourselves junk rest where we are not fully disengaged or something like watching TV three hours a night and calling that rest. It’s not the same thing as unplugging from electronics or work, or going out for a bike ride or a run. So being able to distinguish between healthy and junk rest is also important.

Tonya: That’s really important.  I agree with that need to understand ourselves.  Like, I know what time of night my brain is shutting down. So it’s stupid for me to think I can push through and do a little more work, and I can’t.  If I try, I get frustrated or angry, and then I’m upset with people around me. So I have to know my body and set up my schedule to fit my body.  So I like that, knowing when you need rest and what kind of rest.

John: Using your junk food analogy, Mark, what is healthy food for you?

Mark: I have always been fond of sleep. I’ve often used the phrase, “Sleep is not overrated.” I’m in tune with what I need in terms of sleep. And if I don’t get it, I feel it physically, emotionally; I’m more irritable. Even 30-45 minutes in change of bedtime makes a difference the next day in how I feel.

On the flip side, I’m not so good with play. Part of me being comfortable and valuing play is continuing being present. Being in the moment to laugh, to see an opportunity with the kids or my spouse to be in the moment and just let go of everything else to be creative, whether it’s with a puzzle or a walk or a game, whatever it is to be in the moment.

John: What works in California?

Tonya: Well, we have lots of sunshine, just like you, so a lot of outdoor activities. I agree with the area of sleep; I have to get about eight hours of sleep. If I don’t get that, then I’m not good.  I also know that I need to be in my bed by 9 o’clock.  I might be reading, but I’m winding down. If I try to push past 10, it’s going to go all bad for me.

The other part for me is I need a quiet morning. I get up early, but I don’t necessarily like to talk to anybody. That’s my time with the Lord. I often take that time to go on prayer walks or sit and read in my favorite chair and read; that time helps me get my mind prepared for the day.  I don’t want to be up and moving fast.

Play has also been important to us as a family. Going outside and shooting hoops, just goofing around in the yard throwing a ball; that’s always been important to us. At times, the margin to do that was being lost with traveling with the boy’s hockey. So we had to adjust; sometimes that meant going early ahead of the team or stay a day late and just goof off. That was important to us, but we had to be intentional about it sometimes.

John: Following thoughts about sleeping needs, I read several years ago that the optimal hours of sleep is from 10-2.  That’s when your body most gets what it needs from sleep. When I started paying attention to that, I realized how helpful that was. So it’s rare that TV stays on past 10. I’m working more toward turning it off an hour or two ahead of that, which I believe is a key thing for a single person. If you allow it, TV can become in essence a companion, another voice in the room. So shutting that down let’s you start shutting down your mind, your emotions in order to give space for renewal to start.

Mark: In a similar way, I’m thinking about how noise can be a challenge in a family as well. We can all be together and yet there’s noise in the background, whether it’s music or TV.  I think it’s a struggle for families also, to feel like we have to have this constant companion of noise.  I’m driving in the car and I have the radio going. Why is that? Is it a habit? Is it healthy? Or do I need to unplug and rest from input and work on being comfortable in silence?

John: Which is anti-cultural. Everywhere you go you are inundated, maybe feel like you’re in Time Square all the time. Your house is where you can control that. That’s up to you, how inundated you and your family are going to be.

Tonya: From a counseling perspective, when it’s silent you have to deal with yourself, your thoughts. If that’s painful, you keep noise. So it’s something to pay attention to. “Why is this hard?” There are times, by the way, when it all has to be off in my car.  I love listening to worship music, but sometimes it needs to be silent.

John: I have to tell you about the best day of my month off in October. Mark, it was the day I left your house and drove to New York. It was a nine-hour drive. I had no structure to the day, other than I knew where my hotel was in New York. I hadn’t traveled that highway before, so I determined in my mind that I was going to enjoy this road that I haven’t been on before; I got off on exits that I was curious about. When I got to New York I realized I had never turned on the radio, never had music on, didn’t listen to any podcasts. It wasn’t intentional. It was just the rhythm that worked for the day. When I realized it, it shocked me. It was just me and God and what I was looking at. It was revelational. “I need to pay attention to that.  I feel quite refreshed, and the only input was what I was seeing through my windshield.”

Mark: That’s a great reminder of being present and being in the moment.

John: We’re talking a lot about day to day. For the person who is committed to a weekly Sabbath idea, what’s your thoughts on establishing that for you or your family?

Tonya: I’m a big believer in a day off from work, and that includes house/yard work. We are not just the lay-around-sleep family. It usually means some type of sport, watching or playing. At least one day that is disconnected from work. For me, it is about making it a family day.

John: How does spiritual connection happen in that time frame?

Tonya: Typically when they were growing up that was Sunday. We’d do church together; I liked to have a tradition for going and getting donuts or coffee on the way to church. After church, we might discuss the message, but that was it for us.

Mark: Our family rhythm has been a lot like Tonya has described. Monday through Friday was school and career work.  Saturday has tended to be house work, chores, whatever. Sunday we try to put that down and not to work. Sometimes we are more successful than others; it’s more a guideline than a rigid rule. Sometimes we shift days because of weather, but that’s been the rhythm we have pursued.

In my career, I don’t think I appreciated the importance of unplugging from work for a day until I’d go through really long days weeks at a time. Growing up I had this perspective of Sabbath being a very spiritual day. Practically when Monday through Saturday is jammed packed, Sunday or a day can be very beneficial to give your body a chance to heal and recover so you can hit Monday on a full battery and not running on empty.

In terms of spiritual, for a significant period of our lives it was traditional church attendance with processing and discussion afterwards. For the last ten years, it’s been more of the home context where we set aside time as a family that we label as “God time.” It involves many of the components in a church context just in a smaller setting. We’ve always prioritized the spiritual together as a family for at least a specific time in the week to indicate it is a priority.

John: I just got this imagery of you passing the offering plate around, just the five of you. You should try that just to see what happens.

Mark: We have joked about that at times.

Tonya: That’s not a bad idea because kids are expensive.

John: To answer this for myself, sure Sunday is the day. As a staff member, it can very much feel like a work day; it’s labeled one. I have to play around with other times.  That’s going to look different. Sometimes it’s Friday; sometimes it’s Saturday; sometimes it’s a mix of those two days. I have to be intentional. When I’m good about it, there’s nothing else on the day. It’s probably little engagement with other people; it keeps me from expending energy and resting. I’m trying not to take in too much because it moves my mind toward work. I have to find things that make me disconnect. Running is usually in there somewhere, but the rest of the day goes better if I leave it more unstructured since I am a very structured person.

Tonya: We’re talking about something that is very much a western culture problem. We have so much information bombarding us, and people are moving fast. These are things we know, but it’s still hard. We have to really work at rest. I think it’s much more about where we live.

Mark: I think you’re right. The two words coming to mind are doing, which is how our western culture is biased, versus being, which may be found more readily in an eastern culture. We are raised to do, but we are talking about being.

John: Shelly Miller in her book hones in on that quite a bit. There are some things that we do that are okay to do on Sabbath or while resting, but if we forget the need to just be, or have any intentionality to be, we are not getting the full effect of what the commandment is really all about.

Anything else come to mind for you that you have to focus on to maintain balance?

Tonya: My big motto lately is living out of your values. “Does your time, your money, your life reflect that? What’s the evidence in your life that matches what you’re stating?”

Mark: We have to give ourselves permission to do the things that are beneficial and healthy for us. That’s not selfishness. It’s more about recognizing God’s context for wholeness and healthiness requires these things. Because of this, then you are best able to bless others through your service, your creativity, your relationships, your time. The ripple effect cascades through your impact of creating legacy.

John: I’ll add to that the importance of giving yourself permission to say no. When you are asked to do things that interfere with your normal rhythm of rest, you need to be okay to say no or make rearrangements so your rest is not put aside. It can be tweaked but shouldn’t be put aside. If you have to say yes to something, where else are you going to say no to create balance.

Mark: The image that comes to mind is putting boundaries around rest, just like we’ve talked about putting boundaries around work.

John: And not to be legalistic. You determine what it is.  You and God work it out.  You know what feeds, restores, and refuels you. So don’t let anything else take that away from you.

Mark: Honor the Sabbath and keep that holy and set apart.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s:

Tonya’s:

John’s:

Baseball Series

Recently, my friend Mark Stanifer invited me to join him in a blog series sharing thoughts about life through the lens of baseball.  Of course I said yes.

So this is going to be a nine-post series, you know, because there are nine innings in a game.  But I have to confess, I’m getting you into the game late.  Why?  Because two posts have already been published.

So for those who don’t like getting to the game late, bear with me.  Here is a link to “inning one” that Mark posted last week.  Tomorrow, I’ll post “inning two,” which was posted on Sunday.

Feel free to subscribe to Mark’s blog, and you’ll see these upon publication as Mark posts them each Sunday.  I will try to do better to keep you “in the game” a little better for the remaining seven innings.

Go Cardinals!

 

Praying for Your Pastors

We paid church staffers are often asked, “What can I do for you? How can I pray for you?” So, let me give you an example of how any pastor could use your prayers.

Sunday mornings are when they have the largest volume of interaction with churchgoers, visitors and members. And the range of conversations is quite broad. Just this morning after the service, in less than ten minutes I had five different brief interactions with people about the following subjects:

  1. Church member facing gall bladder surgery
  2. Church member grieving loss of adult son
  3. Church member preparing for professional exams
  4. Church member out of work and shelter
  5. Church member asking about the temperature in the Worship Center

This is common, normal Sunday intake for your pastors. Put yourself in that space for a moment. What prayer(s) come to mind for you to offer on behalf of your pastors?

The one that comes to mind right now is that your pastors would be an example of Galatians 5:16-26. Your pastors are human. They are prone to the same tendencies as anyone else. Paul writes here that we cannot operate well for God’s kingdom without being led by his Spirit. Pray that your pastors stay closer to God than to anyone else, that they remain ready to withstand their flesh and anyone else’s, and that they then will produce the fruit of the Spirit not becoming “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

A last thought. Tell your pastors you pray for them. Tell them how you feel led to pray for them. Tell them you have a glimpse of their Sundays.