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A Youth Group Disaster — part 17 in a series glancing back

They hadn’t listened.

Not sure they answered even one question I’d asked.

I dutifully plodded on through the lesson. Felt like I was swimming in the thickest syrup imaginable.

It was a youth group disaster.

I was glad when it was over, they were gone, and I could lock up the church building and leave.

That was Sunday.

The following Saturday evening we were all in the church van, coming back from a truly wild time of fun and fellowship. We were beyond noisy and well into loud.

Above all the rest of us came a distinctive voice from the somewhere in the back, “Hey Joe, remember what we were talking about last time?”

It was as if someone had hit a Mute button.

I flicked my eyes up to the rear view mirror. “Sure do. What in particular?”

And for the rest of the hour-long ride on Saturday we had the lesson we didn’t back on Sunday.

Three things they taught me

God’s still in business, even when we least expect it.

People are listening, even when we think they aren’t.

People might need time to marinate in the material we’re presenting. We’ve read, prayed, thought about and processed it as we prepared; it’s fresh to them, and they might need reflection as a seasoning.




Children’s Sermon Baptism — 16 in a series glancing back

The baby’s head was wet.

We were surrounded by children, and they were pretty much all talking at once.

But the really amazing thing is what they were saying.

We had another infant baptism that service, and for the fifth or sixth time in about as many months we’d placed Baptism right before the Children’s Sermon in the Order of Worship. I had once again invited “all of our Children’s Sermon people to come on up front now, so you can see what we’re doing during Baptism.”

So there we were, our Associate Pastor and I, both of us with a hand on the head of the baby I was holding. Water from the baptismal font ran from our hands over the baby’s head.

After we’d said the infant’s name we continued in stereo with, “…we baptize you…”— and we looked at each other and stopped speaking. We were surrounded by children, and they were pretty much all talking at once. But the amazing thing is what they were saying, unprompted —

in the name of 

of the Father, 

and of the Son,

and of the 

— the two of us pastors pulled it together enough that between both us we hit most of the syllables of the entire Baptismal Blessing, in unison with the very young voices surrounding us.

I looked at the congregation: “Did you hear that? Did you hear them? Right along with the two of us? They KNOW THE WORDS OF BAPTISM NOW!”

My colleague and I looked at each other, stunned and smiling and feeling tears of joy.

Somehow we finished the rest of the Sacrament, including singing the special song about the significance of Baptism.

For a long time I’d been in the habit of including this thought in my Introduction to The Sacrament of Holy Baptism: “Whenever someone is baptized here, they are baptized into the life of this congregation, baptized into this church.” Never had I been part of a more vivid demonstration of that reality than when those Children’s Sermon people chimed in, claiming this newest person for Christ and welcoming this same precious person into their lives —

We baptize you

in the name of the Father,

and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit.


— Did they grasp the full meaning of all that? Of course not.

But do we? I know I’m still learning.

And I give thanks for those children helping with my lesson that morning.

Henry’s Watch — part 15 in a series glancing back

“What time does yours have, Reverend?”

He was standing in the center of the aisle at the back of the sanctuary, tapping on this wristwatch as he asked me that.

I was walking towards him.

The choir was leading the congregation in their regular end-of-worship song. I had just pronounced the Benediction, and was thrilled not to have not made any major mistakes in my first Sunday morning worship service in this county seat town.

“Pardon me, Sir?”

He looked down at his watch. “What time ya got?”

Pulling my white shirt sleeve back, I looked at my own watch and proudly announced, “Did it! Got us out in one hour exactly! My watch says it’s 11:05!”

He tapped the face of his watch again, and lifting it to his ear, looked at me. “We get out here at 10:55, Reverend.”

He was the Head Usher; his nametag said so. His name was Henry. He quickly became a friend.

Henry and his wife Ruth were two people that could be counted on to be present for almost everything going on in that church. They were two of the most supportive people I’ve met in any church anywhere.

In both word and deed, they let others know that they loved their Lord and they loved their Lord’s church. For real. I think everybody in town knew them, and I never heard anyone say anything bad about either of them.

During all the years I served there, no matter where or when we’d see each other, one of us could tap his watch and the other would grin and reply with couple of quick taps on his own watch.

And yup, after that first Sunday morning I was usually coming up the aisle towards a smiling Henry at 10:55.


Christmas in July

Today would be would be Christmas in July Sunday wherever I pastored if I hadn’t retired at the end of June after 40 years.

Here’s a Christmas story that’s new to me, from Roy Lloyd 

In the midst of The Great Depression, one family of three — Mom, Dad, and six‑year old Peter — had absolutely no money for store‑bought presents. Nevertheless, they were very inventive in celebrating Christmas.

They decided to make pictures of the presents they would like to give one another if money were no object. So they drew pictures or cut out pictures from catalogs and magazines. They put the pictures into boxes, stuck some old bows on them, and put them under a scraggly Christmas tree.

On Christmas morning the tree was heaped with riches. The gifts were only pictures, to be sure, but they were symbols of Christmas giving. There was a new car for Dad and a red boat, golf clubs, a new suit, some sweaters, and an all‑weather coat. Mom found her dream house and a diamond necklace, dresses, coats, and a vacation cruise.

Most of the make‑believe presents were for Pete. There were pictures of a tent, a new bike, a pedal car, and all kinds of toys and games.

Mom and Dad didn’t expect anything from Pete.

But Pete crawled under the tree and pulled out a gift he had prepared all by himself. He handed his present to his parents with a smile and they opened it.

They found a picture-gift more precious than all the others. It was drawn with first‑grade crayons. It was a picture of three people standing together with big smiles on their faces. They had their arms around each other. And under the picture, Pete had printed a single word: US.

Tears of joy filled the eyes of the parents because they realized that, in years to come, they might be able to give some of those Christmas presents they had only imagined this year, but Pete had reminded them of the best gift they could give one another anytime: their gift of love for each other.

— Schmaltzy? Sure.

But does it tell about the birth of Christ? In one significant regard: the Pete story reminds us that it’s about the love that’s at the heart of it all.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Jesus said that in John 3:16-17.

Merry Christmas in July!


Crucible Church

Crucible (literally meaning a place that causes people to change or make difficult decisions) is our weekly conference, says a church group in Tampa (


People invited to change.

People challenged to make difficult decisions.


What say ye?

“I’m Worried” — part 14 in a series glancing back

“I’m worried.”

We were in the hallway of a nursing home. I’d driven almost two hours to be with him and his family and his dying mother.

As I’d walked into her room, he greeted me and said his family had gone to dinner. He then nodded at me, pointed to his mother in the bed and the machine breathing for her, and left the room.

I sat with her. Prayed with her. Sat some more.

Caught up with him in hallway. He was staring out the floor to ceiling windows, watching it snow.

We stood side by side.

“I’m worried. I’m worried about our church,” he said.

He blindsided me with that one.

Reaching deep and calling up all my seminary education, my clinical pastoral training, and my by-now-a-couple-of-decades-in-the-parish experience, I replied, “Oh?”

“Yes. I’m worried about our church.” He turned to face me. “What’s going to happen in ten or twenty years, when the church looks around and wonders why all the gay and lesbian couples aren’t coming to our church with their children?”


Listen — part 13 in a series glancing back

“I’ll be by at nine.”

More than one District Superintendent has called me on more than one occasion with more than one variation of that.

I was fresh out of seminary when it happened the first time. That one would drive us both to a meeting.

Another one took me to lunch.

Still another would simply stay on the phone for a long time.

In every instance, they just wanted to talk.

Not have a conversation, they just wanted to talk.

I listened.

They just wanted to talk, to be heard, to think out loud.

If you know me, you realize that I had to sometimes work really hard at being swift to hear and slow to speak, as James 1:19 says.

But over time I noticed that they reciprocated.

To put that Scripture in context, The Message version of The Bible says, Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. (James 1:19-21) Love that paragraph and its imagery!

Two questions:

Who listens to you? Just…listens?

To whom are you listening? Not interrupting, not advising, not correcting, just…listening?