Fly fishing on the Missouri River

Last Friday, I fished on the Missouri River in Montana. I was alone and the waters were high. The rest of the state seemed almost unfishable from the snow runoff. The Missouri waters, though high, were clear and the mountains rolled along to its side with wide meadows between them on both sides of the river.

I was wade fishing. I enjoy wading more than fishing from a boat and wasn’t willing to pay the price of a guided trip in a drift boat. I found a gravel area along the road and parked. It was private property but the ranch owner gave fishing access. You had to lock the gate behind you by wrapping a chain around the wooden fence. After walking a few hundred yards, the meadow dove down and there was overgrowth and high grass along the bank. I introduced myself with a loud call to warn any bear who might be near and startled by my presence.

I fished for an hour at the bend in the river that was sized down by an island. It was full of beauty and slick water in parts and a seam of riffles in the current where the fish tend to gather. I caught nothing, not even a bite. I wore the neoprene waders and felt-bottom wading boots my family gave me for Father’s Day. Neoprene waders are hardly worn by fishermen now because of how heavy and hot they are. Good and bad fishermen tend to wear the light-weight Simms waders that are triple the price. But I’ve always been stubborn about expensive equipment. I have always thought they were more for show than for use. In my baseball years, I opted for rubbing dirt on my hands over batting gloves. But in reality I needed to get over my judgmental posture. My legs were sweating.

Two fishermen, in shorts, passed by on their way to their car and said to me, “The fish are in those riffles over there. I promise you they are there.” I said thanks. He said, “But tell me one thing. Why in the hell are you wearing waders in this damned heat? You must be from the south.”

“Georgia,” I said with my stomach in knots. “I was going to say Tennessee,” he said. They left and I thought about avoiding the area he recommended, but decided I would rather swallow my pride than to catch no fish. But still no fish. I said to myself, “You have caught trout before and you will catch some today.”

There were many boats that passed me with guides and they were out in the middle past the island, away from the bend and moving swiftly. On three occasions I could hear the echoes of excited voices, anchors dropping on the rocks and fly rod reels cranking. The guides were netting big trout. I kept fishing.

Minutes later a boat came my way at the bend. I gave room and they slowed. A woman, in a fishing hat, with a flustered voice asked me, “Are you catching any fish?”

I said, “No. I have caught nothing all day.”

“Me either. And we’ve been out here for hours. I’m almost ready to call it a day.”

I instantly liked her.

Her guide said, “The water is high and it’s midday.”

I felt better.

Then she said, “Put the anchor down. Hurry. I am hung on something.” She twisted her rod and contorted her body.

“You’re not hung. That’s a fish. It’s a big brown.”

She fought the fish and her guide, who seemed to be her husband, netted the trout and they kissed.

Looking at me she said, “You must have been our good luck charm.”

“Glad I could help.” I didn’t like her anymore.

They lifted the anchor, tipped their hat and drifted towards the swift water. But as they moved along, the guide yelled back over the hum of the river, “It was a green PMD. You might try one. Make sure it’s green.” I tied on the closest fly that I had and thought to myself, “People out here aren’t so bad.”

Are we a Pentecostal church?

Will Zant

Acts 2:1-21

6-5-2022

Haygood has an intern this year. We have welcomed Sangeon Kim to our staff. He’s a student at the Candler School of Theology. He’s helped lead our worship these past few weeks and delivered his first sermon ever in the United States! We were in my office two weeks ago and I asked him. 

“Sangeon, how would you compare our worship at Haygood to other churches you’ve been a part of?” 

He said, “In my previous Methodist church, they are a little more…how do I say it? Pentecostal.” 

I said, “Really? What do you mean by Pentecostal?” 

He said, “They raise their hands.” 

I said, “Well, ok. We could do that.” Alright congregation, let’s see if we can be Pentecostal this morning. Let’s raise our hands high!

I said, “What else, Sangeon, do they do that makes them Pentecostal?” 

He said, “They holler out and sometimes yell” 

I said, “We could do that. We can holler.” 

Right congregation? Let’s try it. Give me a Hallelujah. You see, we can be Pentecostal. 

I said, “Sangeon, what else about that other church made them Pentecostal?” 

He said, “Their worship services last a minimum of two hours.” 

I said, “We can do that. We can have a 2 hour service.” 

Right congregation? 

Come to think of it, we might not be Pentecostal. 

But friends, today is Pentecost in the church. If we define Pentecost by hand raising, shouting and long services, we are not a Pentecostal church.  There is a diversity of worship styles. Pentecostal, Liturgical, Revival, Modern to name a few. We celebrate them all. But I do believe we can be Pentecostal as we define the church by some of the aspects of that first church in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost.  

Let’s give some background. Jesus has been resurrected from the dead. He appeared to the disciples for forty days before he ascended to heaven. Before he left disciples, he told them to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would give them power to be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). If you add that timeline, it’s fifty days since Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That’s where you get the word “Pente” which means fifty. It was also a Jewish celebration that commemorated Moses giving the Ten Commandments. Jewish people from all across the world were gathered for Pentecost. There are three aspects of Pentecost that happened that give shape to the mission of the church. A Pentecostal church relies on the power of the Holy Spirit, amazes the community and proclaims the good news about God. 

Let’s start with the first. A Pentecostal church relies on the power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1, Jesus tells the apostles to wait for the promise of the Father. (Acts 1:4). That promise was the promise of the Holy Spirit. They were not to chart out on their own power to begin their ministry. They prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit to be given to them. After 10 days of prayer, the Holy Spirit filled the room with a power that is compared to wind and fire. The Holy Spirit gave them the power and ability to speak. Even though they did not have the education and training of others, the Holy Spirit gave them the ability. 

This is true for today’s church. This is true for your personal life. The Holy Spirit is what gives us power to carry our calling in life. It gives us the power to make it through the good times and the hard times. If we attempt to carry out the mission of the church or our own life callings on our own, we will grow exhausted. As many of you know, our church recently went through an eight month process for developing a master plan for our campus. Our team that led this effort made a commitment to pray. We wrote out a prayer that we repeated every time we met. Part of that prayer said, “Help this vision not be our vision. Help this vision be your vision God.” We prayed for God’s power and guidance every time we met. I personally witness that this process unified our congregation and we believe in the outcomes of it. It was fueled by the Holy Spirit.

The same is true for our own lives. When we get in a bind or are confused, we grow exhausted and sometimes seek out our own answers. As you think about your own life, have you stopped long enough to ask for God’s direction and power to help you? What if you took a pause for a few days, wrote a prayer and prayed every day asking for God’s guidance?

Let me give you a quick metaphor. I remember when Blair and I were on our honeymoon in Jamaica. One afternoon, we decided we would go sailing. The resort had these small sailboats. I asked the life-guard, “Do you have to know what you’re doing to take one of these out?” She said, “Oh, anyone can do it.” 

I lugged that sailboat to the water. Blair hopped in and off we went. The wind was blowing us pretty good. We were trying to make it a mile or so. About halfway to our destination, the wind just quit. We stopped. We sat there for ten minutes without moving. There were motor boats and jet skis zipping by us. We didn’t know what to do. A man on a jet ski came by. I said, “Well, we’re stuck. What do we need to do?” He said, “You can either pay a lot of money to have one of these boats to tow you back. Or you can pray for the wind.” 

I looked at Blair and I said, “Let us pray.” 

Pray for the wind. Thankfully, the wind did kick back up and we made it back to shore. Wind is powerful. It’s no wonder the Holy Spirit is compared to wind and its force. Maybe in your own life, you feel stuck. You’ve tried everything you know. My invitation to you is to pray for the wind of the Holy Spirit. It’s what directs our life and gives us the power as a church. As a church and an indiviuals, we are called to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. That makes us a Pentecostal church. 

A Pentecostal church amazes the community. When these apostles began to speak, a crowd gathered and they were filled with awe and amazement. The people were hearing in their own languages. They were amazed because they knew these Apostles were simple and uneducated Galileans. They were astounded! There are some traditions who believe that to be a Pentecostal church means you need to speak in other languages by speaking in tongues. I respect that belief. But for today’s purpose, I don’t want us to focus on the language aspect as much as I do the community. 

The presence of the Holy Spirit found a way to stir up this group of gathered people in the area. It’s my belief that a church that is on fire with the Holy Spirit will stir up the community. The community will notice. Because the Holy Spirit has a mission. The mission is to get the news out to the people who need to hear it. 

That’s part of our hope here at Haygood. We believe God has called us to stir up this community. Make them notice that God is up to something. God is not bunkered inside the building. God is trying desperately to help people experience the good news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit wants people to find forgiveness and redemption. This is why we do a Parade on Palm Sunday in the neighborhoods and invite our neighbors to join us.  It’s why we offer a Live Nativity so that our neighbors can witness the story of redemption at Christmas. It’s why we offer a community Christmas concert that helps bring together people who normally would not step foot inside this church. When the Holy Spirit is present it stirs up the community. 

Lastly, a Pentecostal church has a message. A Pentecostal church is about making a claim about God. In today’s scripture we have normal people like you and me declaring the good news about God. There were no ordained preachers in this mix. There were no rhetoricians. They simply made themselves available to God and the Holy Spirit helped them speak for God. Some of you might not feel holy enough. You got baggage! 

Well, think about Peter. Peter had denied Jesus three times during Jesus’ most trying hour. But Jesus forgave him. When the Holy Spirit is poured out on Peter, he is given a new courage to share the gospel with this crowd. Now, I know some of you are nervous about telling others the good news. But the reality is that people can’t come to faith in Jesus unless they hear about it. That means Jesus needs us. You can share the good news in your own way, but share it we must!

During the Pandemic, many of you helped us share an encouraging Bible verse with our community. We had these yard signs that said, “Walk by Faith…Keep Walking” which is from 2 Corinthians 2:7. So many of you put these signs in your yard to encourage people to keep walking and to keep their faith in the midst of the Pandemic. You saturated the neighborhood with God’s word. God would get us through it. A few months ago, I received an email from a neighbor named Mary Ann Downey. Some of you may know her. She expressed how appreciative she was of seeing these signs. The signs inspired her so much that she wrote an article about it for a large Quaker publication. 

She said, 

“Dear Will, 

Thank you for your signs at the church and in our neighborhood with the message ‘walk by faith…keep walking’. I’m a neighbor and often walk by your church with my husband.  We are members of the Atlanta Friends Meeting and I was inspired by this sign to write an article for the Quaker publication “Friends Journal” about my spiritual journey guided by scripture. Walk by Faith…Keep Walking was just the message I needed the first time I saw it, and it stayed on my mind. I felt directly spoken to by God. It offered inspiration and encouragement, and I sent the words to family and friends. It was during August and the Delta variant was increasing. The number of people dying from COVID-19 was increasing and the number of children filling hospitals was increasing. We were wondering where we could find the strength and courage to go on. Here was my answer.” 

Friends, let’s keep relying on the Holy Spirit for our power and for direction. Let’s keep stirring up the community. Let’s keep walking. Better yet, let’s keep telling the good news! 

Can you do that Haygood? If you can do that, will you raise your hand? Better yet, can I get an amen? Wow. You sound Pentecostal! 

What is grace?

I talk about grace a lot. I talk it about most days. But lately, I have not experienced nor extended the grace about which I have proclaimed. What a quandary. The good news is we are in the season of Lent and I’ve been doing some repenting of my own. As part of my faith journey, I thought I’d remind myself of what grace is. I want to make it personal. I remember years ago a colleague reminded me there are two ways of defining theological terms that is determined by two words. “to me.”

Let me explain. You can ask the question, “What is grace?” Or you can the ask the question, “What is grace to me?” I’ll seek to answer the last question. Both questions are necessary, but the personal form is more suited for today.

Grace to me is the experience of a love you do not deserve. A person who extends grace does not let you off the hook. They know you have done wrong. They know you have said harmful words. They know you are acting outside of your character. They will willingly listen to your anger and frustrations. They will challenge you when your words harm them, but even so they will willingly hear them because they understand the need. There may not be much merit in your rational for feeling the way you do. But the person offering you grace does understand there’s merit in honoring how you feel. That’s grace.

There’s a lot of grace in the Psalms if you read them closely. The Psalmist will often complain to God and about God. Read Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” God does not forsake us. But there are times when we feel an absence and we mistakenly associate that absence with God. God shows grace and honors how we feel. That’s grace.

Grace is most manifest in this person of Jesus. My claim is a bold one. Jesus is the savior of the world. He is both human and divine. He has felt the human pain of betrayal. He has experienced the grief of losing a friend. He too has cried out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”

He’s divine too. He can view us in the way that only way that God can view us. Jesus can see past our pettiness, our lack of trust, our misguided anger towards our loved ones. Jesus can peel back the hurt and awaken that good part of us that God created. Jesus can see the beautiful parts that bring out the best in others. Jesus can see into that person that faithfully followed his call and prayed each morning for mercy.

Jesus can see my devotion to him and the way my heart swells because it’s in love with God and longs to be home there, tucked deep in the safety of a merciful, joyful and just God. In those moments where I lack grace, grace spills over in the life of God. I’m thankful that Jesus is human and can understand my all human moments where my cup does not overflow with grace. I am thankful Jesus can see past all those sins and destructive forces. I’m thankful Jesus can awaken and call that faithful part of me that he’s witnessed time and again throughout my life. He calls to me, “You are forgiven.” That’s grace.

It turns out I have a culture

My good friend and music director, Tim Spraggins, lost his mother recently. Several members of our church attended and helped lead the service at a funeral home in Thomaston, GA. We rode together and wound our way through the two lane highways of middle Georgia. It was a beautiful tribute. Daniel Solberg, a friend of ours and arranger of choral music, played the piano. Danny Morris sang. Wally and Julia Rice and I attended. After the service it was lunch time. I asked a local at the funeral home, “Where’s somewhere good to eat?” 

“Peachtree Cafe. That’s where all the locals eat.” Thomaston is in the country and I am from Jackson, a small town nearby. We walk inside. There is this long buffett full of fried food. Chicken and cobblers and turnips. It’s just glorious. It’s a little dingy with a few stains on the ceiling tiles overhead, grime on the floor but sanitary enough. (If you were to walk barefooted on that floor, you would get what we called grocery store feet).

Daniel is not from the country. This may have been his third time at a buffet. He says, “Oh my. They have bacon. I love bacon.” He starts piling it onto his plate. Danny says, “Daniel. That ain’t bacon. That’s fried fat back.” We sit down and this eighteen year old waitress comes over with an apron and a thick middle Georgia twang says, “What would y’all like to drink?” 

Daniel says, “I’d like a club soda.” She pauses and gives this blank stare. Daniel can sense the confusion. He says, “Well, any sparkling water will do.” I say to the waitress, “I think he would like some ice water.” “Ice water ok, Daniel? Ice water then.” She writes it down. 

Then she comes to Julia, Haygood’s organist, who is originally from Russia. Julia says, “What types of hot spiced herbal teas do you have?” Another blank stare. And I said, “I think she would like a Coke.” And Julia said, “And yes with no ice.” And in that moment, I knew right then and there. I had a culture.

A few minutes into our meal the waitress asks us where we were from. Danny says, “Atlanta.” She says, “I’ve been there once.” We try to convince her she needs to visit the Beltline and check out a show at the Fox. We laugh and she brings over a basket with grease splotches on a paper towel. Inside were hot fried green tomatoes made to order for us. And everything was right with the world. 

Lent: An annual weigh in for your soul

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a season of forty days leading up to the Easter celebration. It’s an opportunity for us to take a look at our spiritual life and see where we’ve missed the mark. It’s a chance for us to examine our sin and vices and repent. I’m confident there are times we know something in our spirit is out of order, but we avoid addressing it. I was asking a group of preschoolers the other day. “What do you know about Lent?” This four year old said, “I don’t know, but I really want to have Mardis Gras again.” He sums how many people might feel about Lent. We’d rather have a party. We’d rather not deal with reality. We’d rather not deal with the sin and vices that have worn a groove in our character. When our sin and hurts go unaddressed, our actions can come out sideways and we can hurt people. We are off kilter because we have not addressed our pain, struggle and wounds. We need to travel the terrain of our hearts and open it up to God’s healing mercy. It’s kind of like weighing in on a scale. 

Lent is like a weigh-in for your soul. Do you know what I mean by that? Think about what the experience is like to get on a set of scales, especially in January after the holidays. You walk in the bathroom in the morning. Your feet are cold from the tile floor. You stare at the scale. You’ve been avoiding this moment. You approach it and it just stares at you. You exhale and you gently step onto the scale. You’re nice to it. You wait a moment. You let it adjust and calibrate. You look at the numbers. You step off. Then you take off your socks. And gently step back on it. You look at the numbers. And then you ask, “honey, do we need new scales?” This is a moment of truth when you face reality. The scales are honest. 

Lent is a similar time for souls. Lent is a season for us to weigh-in on our souls. We deal honestly and squarely with our life and spiritual well-being. 

In today’s scripture, we learn about Jesus’ forty days in  the wilderness. He’s preparing for his public ministry. The number forty  has significance throughout the Bible. Noah, his family and the animals were on the ark for forty days as God cleansed the earth of sin through a flood. I have to be honest. If our family had been on a boat for forty days together, I’m not sure if there would be less sin in the world or more. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before crossing over into the promised land. It was a time of testing. They complained against Moses and even wished to return to the land of slavery than to live in this place of wilderness. Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days. 

It’s interesting to me that Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. He didn’t choose to go there. He wasn’t being punished. God was preparing Jesus for his public ministry. At this point, Jesus had not healed one person. He had not delivered his first sermon. He had not eaten with one tax collector. 

God leads him into a dry and barren place. At the conclusion of these forty days, the devil tempts Jesus three times. The first time he tempts him with bread. Jesus is famished. Jesus quotes scripture that “man does live by bread alone but by the word of God.” The second time, the devil tempts him with power. He promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will simply worship the devil. Once again, Jesus resists. Lastly, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. He tells Jesus to throw himself down. God will surely send the angels to catch him. Again, Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

In these moments of temptation, Jesus is experiencing the depth of his humanity. Like us, he felt what it’s like to be tempted with physical appetites of food. He felt what it was like to be tempted to quench a thirst for power by compromising his beliefs. He experienced our human desire for glory by outrageous feats even if it meant putting God to the test. 

Jesus understood our humanity. He was perfect despite those temptations. In these next forty days, it’s my hope we can acknowledge our humanity, our weaknesses and our sin. Here’s the difference between Jesus and us. We’re not perfect. Acknowledge your humanity is the first step to restoration. Jesus came to redeem it. 

What’s been your worst personal moment during COVID? I have had many and I thought I’d share a recent one with you. A part of me is cautious about opening this part of me to you, but I thought it might help you know that you’re not alone. 

In November and December of 2021, we had really regained our footing as a church. Our worship services were filling up again. New people were checking us out. Wednesday night dinners were back to capacity and I could soon envision us relaxing our COIVD protocols. I had optimistically pointed to the brightness of 2022 in a sermon. As we approached the New Year, I had even quoted Taylor Swift (to the eye-rolls of my children) that “I’m feeling ’22.”

Then along came Omicron. It was early January of this year. The Omicron variant was raging at this point. Half of our congregation had COVID. Three of our preschool classes had to quarantine. We had just learned that our local public school would be going virtual for the first week of the new year. And I have two elementary aged children. Our worship attendance did a nose dive. We decided to delay the return of Wednesday Night Suppers. I came home that night angry. 

I was really angry. Like bad anger. It was dark outside as I pulled into the driveway. Blair and the girls were home already. I parked. The anger was so fierce that I needed to do something dramatic. So I grabbed my keys out of my pocket. I wound my body like a baseball pitcher and I hurled them as hard as I could into the night sky. They slammed against the side of the house. With my follow through I knocked over the metal charcoal starter and it clanged throughout the neighborhood. 

I felt better but guilty. I picked up my keys and the plastic electronic key to the Prius was not there. 

I walked inside and my daughter was on the couch. 

“Dad, what was that noise?” 

Blair heard it too and she followed me outside. She instinctively knew. She heard the bang of the keys. Katie comes outside with us. 

“Dad, what was that noise?” 

I said, “My keys broke.” 

“How?” 

Blair steps in, “Sweet girls, it’s time to get ready for bed.” 

I followed my daughter inside and poured a tall glass of water and I cooled off for a bit. 

I walked back outside and Blair is on her knees using her phone as a flashlight. 

I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s smashed. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s going to cost us $400 to replace.” 

“Was it worth it?” 

Then she shows me the key. She had pieced it back together. 

She said, “Well, I found a piece here and over there, but none of them were cracked.” 

(I thought about throwing it again). 

She continued, “I just need a little duct tape to hold this little piece together.” She showed me it still worked as she unlocked the door. 

I said, “Wow. I’ve lost my touch.” 

I went back inside and helped put the kids to bed and kissed them goodnight. I took a shower and put on a clean undershirt. I reached to set the alarm and felt the duct taped Prius key on the nightstand. As clean as I had felt from the shower, my heart still felt more like the duct tape. 

Saint Augustine once defined sin as a disordered love. He didn’t believe sin was necessarily loving the wrong things. He believed that sin was often loving the right things in the wrong order. Our love is out of order. In these next forty days, we have the opportunity to examine where our love is out of order. But the good news is that Jesus came to put our love for God back in the correct order. 

When we reorder our love, God restores us. Lent is a season for God to restore. 

How many of you have ever witnessed Michaelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City? It’s gorgeous. I was interested to learn about the restoration process of these beautiful paintings. In the 1980’s, the Vatican decided to have them restored. There was structural damage to the roof and some of the ceiling had been chipping away. There was a lot of controversy around the project. Many of the art historians desired to restore the chapel because the paintings were dark and they believed by cleaning it you would be able to see its full beauty and color. The paintings were still beautiful but they were quite drab.

The critics of this process believed Michaelangelo didn’t care much for color. They believed he had painted the depictions of the Bible somber on purpose to reflect the times of medieval life.  The Catholic church was experiencing hard times from the Reformation. They believed he chose drab colors for a reason. 

The restorers used sponges and began to clean it over a ten year period. In some places the dirt was embedded deeply into the fresco and the workers worked extra hard to remove it. Underneath the dirt and grime were some of the most beautiful hues and colors the world has ever seen. Michelangelo’s painting had become dingy because of the suit from the smoke of altar candles burning over hundreds of years. Underneath the grime was life and light and beauty. One art restorer said that the restoration process “revealed unexpectedly brilliant colors.”  It’s a good depiction of Lent. As God restores you and reorders your life, I’m confident God will reveal the unexpectedly brilliant colors on your souls.

Lent is a forty day period for God to reorder our love and cleanse us from the dirt on our souls. Underneath is beauty and goodness. 

In Preschool chapel last week, our children’s minister, Caroline Enright was reading the kids a passage from Psalm 51. She asked them, “What does it mean when we say, ‘create in me a clean heart?” And Elizabeth Reed, one of the children, said, “It means we all have some clean in our hearts.” We all have some clean in our heart. You all have clean in your hearts. It’s my prayer you might witness it’s unexpected brilliance. Amen. 

My more recent worst moment during COVID.

What’s been your worst personal moment during COVID? I have had many and I thought I’d share a recent one with you. A part of me is cautious about opening this part of me to you, but I thought it might help you know that you’re not alone.

I’m a pastor of a local church. In November and December of 2021, we had really regained our footing as a church. Our worship services were filling up again. New people were checking us out. Wednesday night dinners were back to capacity and I could soon envision us relaxing our COIVD protocols. I had optimistically pointed to the brightness of 2022 in a sermon. As we approached the New Year, I had even quoted Taylor Swift (to the eye-rolls of my children) that “I’m feeling ’22.”

Then along came Omicron. It was early January of this year. The Omicron variant was raging at this point. Half of our congregation had COVID. Three of our preschool classes had to quarantine. We had just learned that our local public school would be going virtual for the first week of the new year. And I have two elementary aged children. Our worship attendance did a nose dive. We decided to delay the return of Wednesday Night Suppers. I came home that night angry.

I was really angry. Like bad anger. It was dark outside as I pulled into the driveway. Blair and the girls were home already. I parked. The anger was so fierce that I needed to do something dramatic. So I grabbed my keys out of my pocket. I wound my body like a baseball pitcher and I hurled them as hard as I could into the night sky. They slammed against the side of the house. With my follow through I knocked over the metal charcoal starter and it clanged throughout the neighborhood.

I felt better but guilty. I picked up my keys and the plastic electronic key to the Prius was not there.

I walked inside and my daughter was on the couch.

“Dad, what was that noise?”

Blair heard it too and she followed me outside. She instinctively knew. She heard the bang of the keys. Katie comes outside with us.

“Dad, what was that noise?”

I said, “My keys broke.”

“How?”

Blair steps in, “Sweet girls, it’s time to get ready for bed.”

I followed my daughter inside and poured a tall glass of water and I cooled off for a bit.

I walked back outside and Blair is on her knees using her phone as a flashlight.

I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s smashed. I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s going to cost us $400 to replace.”

“Was it worth it?”

Then she shows me the key. She had pieced it back together.

She said, “Well, I found a piece here and over there, but none of them were cracked.”

(I thought about throwing it again).

She continued, “I just need a little duct tape to hold this little piece together.” She showed me it still worked as she unlocked the door.

I said, “Wow. I’ve lost my touch.”

I went back inside and helped put the kids to bed and kissed them goodnight. I took a shower and put on a clean undershirt. I reached to set the alarm and felt the duct taped Prius key on the night stand. As clean as I had felt from the shower, my heart still felt more like the duct tape.

Saint Augustine once defined sin as a disordered love. He didn’t believe sin was necessarily loving the wrong things. He believed that sin was often loving the right things in the wrong order. And if COVID has your love out of order, give yourself some grace, although I wouldn’t recommend throwing keys.

When is it worth it?

Last Saturday night I left our family vacation early and returned home to preach services on Sunday at church. I said goodbye to my two girls and Blair who were in our mountain home in North Carolina. My mother was with us too and friends.

“Why does daddy have to leave?” asked my seven year old daughter Bethany.

“Well daddy’s got to work tomorrow,” Blair said.

Even our dog came around the driver’s side and stared at me with a sad look. I drove the three hours home through the twist and turns of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I pulled into our home in Atlanta around 11am and fell asleep with the Winter Olympics still on television.

The next morning, I led the service and it was a decent crowd for a holiday weekend. Blessed are the members who show up to church on a holiday. It’s a good thing I returned. We had a lot of staff out and our assistant minister fell ill and couldn’t make it. She was supposed to do the children’s message and so it fell to me. I grabbed some whiffle balls from our recreation closet and did my one trick for the kids. I juggled to their delight. It reminded me of David Letterman’s old segment, “Stupid Pet Tricks.” The lesson was on forgiveness. I told them juggling did not come naturally. I had to practice all summer. The same is true of Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness. It doesn’t come naturally. You have to practice.

After worship, I lingered and spoke to folks for an hour or so. I packed my things and I ran into Wally, a devoted staff member, who was locking the church doors.

“You heading back up to the mountains?”

“No. I’m heading home. It doesn’t seem worth it to drive three hours up there and have to turn around tomorrow and drive back.”

Wally didn’t say anything, but he gave me a look that I couldn’t shake.

I drove back to the parsonage. I looked for lunch. There was very little in the refrigerator. I thought about taking a nap and punching away at some emails. But then I started wrestling. The church was closed for President’s Day on Monday. My mother was cooking her famous spaghetti and they were celebrating a birthday as well that night. And if I left then, I could be back with my family before 5 o’clock. Besides my toiletries, I hadn’t unpacked my suitcase. I threw it all in the Prius and headed up I-85. Blair called me on the drive. I didn’t tell her I was on the way.

“Will, whatever you do tomorrow, don’t get caught in emails. If it’s work, do dreaming work. And if you happen to trip and do the laundry, that’d be ok. And if you find yourself on the border of North Carolina and Georgia, I wouldn’t be sad if you came on up.”

I never gave any hint I was on the way. My mother told me earlier they were going to Mast General Store in Waynesville that afternoon.

I did church calls on the drive and pulled into Waynesville around 4:30pm. I drove through downtown and spotted our van. I wanted to surprise them. I packed and checked Mast General, especially the toy and candy section. They weren’t there. So I walked up and down the sidewalks and checked every home decor store and chocolatier I passed. Nothing. I was about to give up on the surprise and call them. I checked Mast General one more time. And there they were looking at t-shirts to purchase.

They spotted me and when I connected my eyes with my seven year old, she dropped her shirt on the hanger and jumped into my arms.

“Dad.” She would pull away and look at me and then hug my neck again still in disbelief. “Dad.” Blair was almost in tears. Katie hugged me. I said, “I didn’t want to do the laundry. And how could I miss mama’s spaghetti?”

We sometimes ask these questions, “What makes it worth it?” And thanks to Wally in that moment I knew.

In the book of Galatians, Paul once used a curios phrase to describe time: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,” (Galatians 4:4). The word for time is ‘kairos’ which is not chronological time, but God’s special time marked by a different quality of existence. It’s the coming together of all of God’s plan and people. When people were with Jesus, they felt ‘kairos.’ And as our family slurped spaghetti around our mountain house table with special friends, and my mother and blew out brownies slathered in icing, it was evident we found God’s fullness of time together. Thanks God, and Wally.

God bless plumbers

Over the past couple of weeks, we kept noticing plumbing issues in our home. I’ll spare you the details, but we had to limit the number of showers we could take upstairs each night. Too much water running upstairs meant the commode and tub backing up downstairs. We realized last night something had to change. We needed a plumber or rent a hotel room.

It was Friday night and cold outside. I gave the local plumbers a call. They had a service number for emergencies. Within an hour, they called me back and were at my house by 9:30 pm in their truck.

“You got kids?” the plumber asked me.

“Two.”

“Well, we’ll stay outside and try not to wake them up. I got three kids of my own.”

They unscrewed the outdoor clean-out pipe to the main line. Water and other material poured out. I could hear one of them, “Man it smells like bleach. They must have used Draino or something.”

I had tried two bottles of Draino. For the next two hours, they worked on the problem and snaked the pipe. It was snowing at this point. Having learned not to disturb tradesmen while they’re working with my own advice, I stayed inside.

Close to midnight, he knocked on the door. I had fallen asleep. I woke and answered.

“Well, we’re going to need to come back tomorrow. We didn’t get quite get it. We’re going to need to jet it and I don’t think your neighbors would like that tonight. But you should be fine to shower and everything now.”

As a minister, I work to help people figure out how their lives make sense in relationship to God’s calling and will. At times, it can be a bit heady and spiritual. And, of course, that’s the point and often the need. But it’s also nice to see God use the loyalty and handiwork of plumbers. I think there’s needs to be a theology of plumbers.

At Jesus’ last meal with his disciples he taught them to love each other. But he didn’t leave it in theory. He stooped down and washed the dirty feet of his disciples. It was his blue collar, servant oriented love for people that made love visible and real like a plumber on a Friday night in the snow. God bless them!

Rhodes Bakery shopper takes the cake

An Atlanta staple was preparing to close its doors. Rhodes Bakery has been in business in the Morningside community for more than sixty years. I personally love their cheese straws and birthday cakes. They are the best in the neighborhood. They announced a couple of weeks ago they would be closing this location. It was December 23rd. They would close for good on Christmas Eve. I thought I’d surprise our tech team and staff at church with some petit fours and cheese straws. The days are long and hectic for church staffs those final two days before Christmas. Apparently, all of Atlanta had the same idea.

I walk inside and the line is twenty folks deep. Their racks of savories and sweets are bare. I’m wondering how in the world will there be enough desserts for any of us. A baker from the back ambles out from the back with more cheese straws. “Who needs cheese straws?”

“I’ll take three.” “I’d like one.” “What are cheese straws? I’ll take two.” He passes out the cheese straws packets wrapped in cellophane.

I’m noticing there is one more caramel cake in the display window for sale. That’s their most popular item. The woman working the register receives the orders. “Alright, one caramel cake it is. That’s our last one.” I don’t really like caramel cake and I am devastated. The groans throughout the store are audible. She hands it to the woman in the front of the line and takes her card. The lady behind her says, “Dang it. I have been waiting in line for thirty minutes hoping to get that caramel cake. Are there any in the back?”

“Nope. Those are all spoken for.”

The woman with the cake is about to head out the door when she says, “I’d be happy to split it with you. Would that work?”

“Seriously? Yes. Please.”

“I can cut it for you,” says the worker.

She takes the cake out of the white box and slices it half and boxes up the other.

They both left with their boxes. Although there were still no cakes for the rest of us, the kindness was dessert enough.

In her book, No Cure for Being Human, Kate Bowler defines bureaucracies as “automated systems made up of people who must choose each and every day whether their job will require any of their humanity.”

And on this day, humanity was on full display and it was a treat to experience.