The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

It happens every morning like clock work. “Hurry! Eat your breakfast. We have to be in the car in 3 minutes. We’re going to be late for school.”  It’s like I forget school starts every morning at 8a.m. My poor children! Part of the problem is the distraction.

In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer cites a study that says the average I-phone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day. It’s on the verge of addiction. He continues,

“There’s a Silicon Valley insider named Tristan Harris doing some really interesting work right now. Labeled by the Atlantic as ‘the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” he points out that slot machines make more money than the film industry and baseball combined, even though they take only a few quarters at a time. Because the slot machine is addictive. And those small amounts of money feel inconsequential in the moment. It’s just a few quarters, right? Or give bucks, or twenty. But over time they add up. In the same way, the phone is addictive. And small moments–a text here, the phone is addictive. And small moments–a text here, a scroll through Instagram there, a quick email scan, drinking around online–it all adds up to an extraordinary amount of time.”

It was a gut punch for me as I started to do the math of how often I touch my phone each minute. Therefore, I’m going to keep my blog short and sweet. It’s getting late in the afternoon and the weather is unseasonable warm and I have two kids to pick up from school.

A scripture that comes to mind is from John 11. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus has died. They send for Jesus to help. John points out that Jesus waits around two extra days before he makes his journey to Lazarus. Why was Jesus not in a hurry? Martha points out to Jesus that had he been there on time, Lazarus may have lived. In savior-like fashion, Jesus calls into the tombs and says, “Lazaraus, come out.” And Lazarus comes out of the tombs and lives again.

Jesus teaches us that he’s on God’s time. He is not rushed by death or our deadlines. He is the resurrection and life. In a world of constant hurry, efficiency and distraction, perhaps the great challenge is to get on God’s time. How might we all work to eliminate hurry in our households? In fact, I think it would be a good experiment to rid ourselves of that word for one day and see what happens.

The sacred in the ordinary

Alfred Hitchcock said the movies are “life with the dull bits cut out.” Most of the content of our lives could make for a good cinematic drama. With the right director, those awkward first dances, betrayals in the family, the wedding that went wrong and the redemption of a career choice could all make for a good Netflix Series. The problem is that covers only 300 minutes of our lives. What about the rest of our lives the drama doesn’t include like washing dishes, taking walks, hunting?

This is the subject of a new book I’m reading, “liturgy of the ordinary.” The author, Tish Warren, seeks to help us see the sacredness God gives us each day. The psalmist once sang, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). God counts each day blessed and each day unfolds with grace. There will be reasons to rejoice if we learn to pay attention to what God is up to during the more mundane duties of daily life. Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

This morning, I rose for my ritual cup of coffee downstairs in the quiet of the house. I’m sure it was providential that I was reading this chapter on finding sacredness in the ordinary. I heard footsteps and to my surprise my daughter was dressed for school 45 minutes early. She looked at the book cover with a picture of a sandwich. She said, “Dad, you’re reading about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”

I said, “Well, no. Ok. Sure.”

“Well, let me tell you how to jelly is made.”

For the next 45 seconds, I learned everything my 7 year old could teach me about making jelly. For the next 30 minutes, we simply talked without the hurry of morning routines.

Indeed, the ordinary is sacred. Jesus taught his disciples in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” May we all see today the sacredness of the ordinary.


The Light Shines in the Darkness

I’m coaching basketball this year for Haygood Hoops. I’m coaching my five year old daughter’s team. I was walking back to the car with her after practice. As we were crossing over Sussex, she asks me, “Dad, is it time for bed?” I said, “No sweetie, it’s only 6:00.” She said, “But it’s so dark out here.” I said, “That’s because it’s winter and the nights are longer.” Then she asked, “When is the darkness going away?”  

When is the darkness going away? Maybe some of you resonate with her question. It’s really dark outside and we’re ready for longer days. But maybe more keenly, we know what it’s like to have darkness and hardships in our lives. We wish it would go away. 

When is the darkness going away? 

There is good news. 

 “The light shines in the darkness. And the darkness did not overcome it!” (John 1:5). That’s God’s message for us at Christmas. That’s what John says in his gospel to describe the coming of Jesus. If you sit in darkness, the Lord will shine His light. If there is pain and struggle in our world, violence and heartache, it cannot overcome the light. 

Luke’s gospel also gives an account of seemingly dark circumstances that God used to birth the savior of the world.  

In Luke’s gospel, we learn about Mary. She and Joseph had her whole life ahead of them. She was about to be married. She could almost hear the wedding bells. She could envision settling down in Nazareth and could see Joseph helping run the local wood shop. And then an angel appears to tell Mary she is pregnant. And her joy turns to fear. Have you been in Mary’s situation where joy turns to fear? 

Or maybe you can relate to Joseph. Joseph is a faithful servant of the Lord but is thrown into confusion and is hurt tremendously by the news of Mary’s pregnancy. The person he loves most has seemingly hurt him. Maybe some of you can relate to Joseph’s confusion and hurt. Have people you loved most hurt you? 

For a moment, both Mary and Joseph sit in the darkness. They are unsure about their future. That’s what happens in life sometimes. Our plan unravels. But the good news for Mary and Joseph are the words spoken by the angel to them both. “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:30). The Lord found favor with them.

The angels tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife. They return to Nazareth. Even though the circumstances continue to change, God is there to guide them. Six months into Mary’s pregnancy, Roman soldiers appear and announce that all families must return to their hometown. For Mary and Joseph, that was Bethlehem, 90 miles away. Mary and Joseph did not choose this path. I’m sure some of us can relate to that story too. When have we found ourselves on a path we did not choose? Because of circumstances beyond our control or decisions we did not make, we find ourselves heading on a path we never anticipated. 

When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, there’s no place for them to stay. Finally, they find a stable where the animals live. You can imagine the look on their faces at every turn. These circumstances seem to get worse and worse, disappointment around each corner.

But in that simple stable, Mary gives birth to her first born son. In the most humble and unexpected of circumstances, Jesus, the light of the world, was born. God can take the hardest of circumstances and give birth to hope. That’s what Mary did. She gave birth to the hope of the world. 

Mary gave birth to Jesus in order that Jesus might give birth to us. Because this baby Jesus would become an adult. He once taught a man named Nicodemus in John chapter 3 that you can be born again. We can be born from above. Jesus gives birth to new and eternal life for all of us. 

Maybe tonight, you’re in the darkness. Like Mary gave birth to Christ, Christ can give rebirth to you. 

Jesus came to forgive our sins. Jesus came so that you might have life and have it abundantly. The second century theologian Iranaeus once wrote,  “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” You are meant to be fully alive. God will birth something new in us. I think about people who have experienced rebirth in the hardest of circumstances. 

Susy was part of our youth choir at a previous church. Susy’s parents were going through a divorce. Susy’s mother came to me and said, “Will, my husband has all sorts of addiction problems. Susy has seen her dad passed out on many occasions on the living room floor because of his drinking. She has had to help him to bed. She is feeling lost in all of this. She’s angry. To add to the heartache at home, she’s being picked on at school. And it gets worse. She has been eagerly looking forward to the homecoming dance and was hoping that a certain young man would invite her. Instead, he invited one of her other friends. She told me she feels like no one cares. No one gets her!” 

 I asked, “Well, is there any bright spot for her?”  

The mother looked puzzled for a moment and then said, “She loves youth choir. The choir director told her that she has a gorgeous voice.” 

Susy attended our youth choir tour that year to Florida. They were at the local homeless shelter singing to homeless men and women there. The choir started singing and then midway through the song came Susy’s solo. She stepped to the front and belted out, “No matter what the world says, I’m a child of God.” You could see the hearts moved in that audience. At the end of their performance, this homeless woman yelled out to Susy, “Girl, you can sing. You need to try out for The Voice.” A huge smile broke out on Susy’s face. 

That night, Susy, who is usually quiet, said in tears, “Today I believed those words I sang. I’m a child of God.”  

God can birth something new in the most unfavorable of circumstances. And I don’t mean to cast Susy’s father as the bad guy in this story. God is working in his life too. He has problems like we all do. Sin is like a wound. Wounds need healing. Our world is full of wounds. The Lord is full of mercy for our wounded world. 

And when God does birth new life, I think about our shepherds in today’s story. The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy. Unto you is born in the city of David, a savior.” They traveled in haste to the manger. They placed their eyes on their messiah Jesus. They were fully alive. And having experienced this good news, they couldn’t keep quiet. They told everyone. All who heard it were amazed. The Lord is full of mercy. On this Christmas night, there is good news for all people. There is good news for you. 

 We have a saying at Haygood. There’s a place for you. Each of you has a place in sharing this good news. I think of Alice Gepp. Alice is a church member. She had an idea this past year.  She said, “We usually decorate the inside of the church, but a lot of people won’t ever see all the pretty lights and tree. Let’s decorate the plaza outside.” So she took to decorating the plaza with a tree and lights for people to enjoy. She knew this good news was not just for people who worshiped into our sanctuary, but for all people. People outside the church walls. She literally helped shine light into the darkness. 

Or I think about Owen Daum. Owen is a 4th grader. One Sunday, I saw him sitting in the balcony with the sound team. After worship, he stops me and says, “I learned a lot in church today.” I said, “Well, I’m glad you were listening to the sermon.” He pulls out this big old book and says, “No. I was reading this manual about the sound system. It’s interesting stuff. I wanted to see if I could take it home and study it.”  

Owen took home this manual and read it backwards and forwards. He said, “Pastor Will, I want to make sure you sound good. Your words are important.” In fact, his dad was telling me the other day that they were running  a little late for church. Owen was pacing at the front door and saying, “Come on dad. God needs me at church.” God does need Owen. 

And God needs you too. Whether it’s lighting lights for our community to see, serving on a volunteer sound team, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, showing kindness to that awkward family member, we each can shine light into the darkness in our own way. 

 Adam Hamilton tells the story about Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is said that he was a man who never enjoyed good health. He spent a lot of time in his room as a child. He was always looking out the window. One night he looked out. These were the days of gas streetlights and there, at the street, was the town lamplighter. He was carefully putting his ladder up against the lamppost, climbing up the ladder, and lighting the lantern. He would take it down, move down the street, and light the next one. 

 His nurse asked him on this night, “Robert, what are you doing?” He said, “I’m watching that old man knock holes in the darkness.”

Knocking holes in the darkness. The light has come to us in Jesus Christ. He has come to forgive your sins and save you. God has given us this light to share with others this Christmas. Bring out your ladders this Christmas. Lean them against those dark places in our world. Climb up and knock holes in the darkness. 

Merry  Christmas!


Spend money on the words

I was at a funeral recently. I ran across a colleague who has always been a trusted resource for evangelism in the local church. I shared with him that our church had put a lot of extra time and energy into our inviting and hospitality ministry. In fact, I was even a little proud that we over-spent in our evangelism line item in the budget. (not too much). He said, “Well, I celebrate your church spending so much in evangelism. Typically what I see is churches spending most of their money on missions, but hardly any on evangelism.”

I then shared with him about our church’s efforts in doing a neighborhood Christmas mailer that that invited them to our Advent/Christmas events and shared a message about the gospel. I told him I struggled a little internally with spending so much money on words. That same money could be helping the hungry during this season.

He said, “It’s ok to spend money on the words if they are the right words. Remember John’s gospel begins with, ‘In the beginning was the word.'”

That’s the truth. Sometimes, words are worth the money. Words are important. They can bring life and destroy it. Our words we chose to share, “Light shines in the darkness.” Jesus came to light our world. I hope that’s a good word for you.

My hymnal was lost but now is found.

Before I attended seminary at Duke Divinity School, I took a year to serve at my home church as an intern. I worked with our children and youth groups. The congregation was kind enough to give me opportunities to preach. In fact, I returned to preach a homecoming there a couple of years ago. One church member said, “I remember when you were an intern. You’ve gotten so much better.” (I’m not sure that was a complement). 

On my last Sunday before I headed off to Duke, my youth director called me in front of the congregation. He presented me with a leather United Methodist hymnal with my name printed in gold. On the inside of the hymnal, he wrote me the most encouraging note of support and thanks for my service. My home church gave me a personalized hymnal. I took it off with me to seminary. During days of doubting myself if I could really handle the workload of seminary, I would turn to that front page of the hymnal and read those words of encouragement. I have taken that hymnal to every church service. 

If you turn to the communion liturgy in my hymnal, you will find grape juice stains on the pages and bread crumbs. If you turn to the baptismal liturgy, you will find water marks from baptisms I have officiated. If you turn to the hymn “Silent Night,” you will find candle wax that has dripped onto the page from Christmas Eve services gone by. My hymnal has become a tangible sign of God’s work in my life and ministry. I treasure it. 

Which is why it pained me two years ago, when I headed into worship and reached for my hymnal on the corner of the desk and it wasn’t there. I felt off kilter the whole service. For the next week, I dug through every box. I scoured the sanctuary. I looked in Blair’s office to see if she borrowed it.

I put a notice in our weekly email. Nothing! No leads. Every time I saw a colleague with their leather bound hymnal, I’d run over to check for my name. I had hoped during our move to Haygood, the hymnal would pop up somewhere as we packed. Nothing.

We all know what it’s like to lose something. God does too.

In chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells these two parable about losing something.

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The truth is that these parables are not about sheep or coins. They are about God’s greatest treasure: you.

Just recently, I wasn’t having the best start to the week. I was upset about the Falcons’ game. I was in my office and saw my phone was blinking with a message. It was a 205 area code so I thought it might be a sales call. Later that afternoon, I finally listened to the message. “This message is for Rev. Zant. I’m the administrator at Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa.  We found a hymnal with your name on it.” 

(I didn’t know they went to church in Tuscaloosa).

It occurred to me that I left it there on a youth choir tour two years ago. I gave them a call as quickly as I could. She said, “I’m the new administrator here at this church. I’m cleaning up this office. There’s junk everywhere. I came across this hymnal. And my co-worker and I were looking at it. She said we could probably trash it. Looks like someone spilled juice all over it. But I saw your name and I looked inside and saw that nice note. I said, ‘I bet he’s been looking for it. I’m sure it means the world to him. I think it’s worth saving.’ So I looked you up and gave you a call. If you still want it, I can mail it to you.” 

And today, it’s in my hands!


As I have reflected back on it, I didn’t once feel, “Wow. You guys have had that hymnal for two years and you’re just getting back to me? That’s awful.” Nor did I feel guilt and say, “Will, you’re such a clutz.” All I felt was joy. I found what was lost. That’s how God feels about us when we are found. If you are looking to be found, God is ready to celebrate you too.

I think about those words on the other end of that phone. “I’m sure it means the world to him. I think it’s worth saving.” Because I hear God’s words loud and clear for each one of us. You mean the world to God. You are worth saving. 



Moonlight in the Cohutta

This past Friday, I headed up to the north Georgia mountains to celebrate my good friend Sam Heys turning the big 40. We were roommates in college at UGA and by God’s good grace we have reconnected in Atlanta. We live just a few miles from each other. 

We met up in Candler Park and picked up one of his friends. I didn’t know him, but he was pleasant and new and not connected to church life. I love our church and the people in it. But it’s nice to get away from having to be ‘on’ for a day or two.  

We were heading up to the Cohutta wilderness near the Tennessee line. On the ride up, I was catching up with Sam. For some reason, I went on and on about my favorite BBQ places in Atlanta. 

“Sam, I got to be honest. I’m not a huge fan of Fox Brothers. Their meats are too fatty. Their brisket was full of gristle. And when we did start eating brisket in the south? Give me a slab of pork ribs from DBA any day. They’re the best BBQ in town.” 

After 10 minutes of this, Sam gently ask, “So Roger, how long have you been a vegetarian?” 

“Oh, about 10 years now.” 

I felt like a pig. Roger was gracious and even said, “Oh, I don’t make a big deal of it. I don’t try to make converts of people. My style has always been just to express my beliefs by example without making a big fuss.” 

After a few moments I said, “Well, I guess the good thing for me is that if we run out of food on our trip, I won’t have to worry about you eating me.” 

“That’s good. I’ll have to use that one,” said Roger. 

I’m sure there’s a sermon in Roger’s words about leading morally through one’s example. 

We started hiking around 4pm and logged four miles with several river crossings on the Jack’s River Trail before finding camp. The river is usually running fast and high enough to make for tough crossings. But the late summer in Georgia had seen little rain and the river felt more like a creek with knee high water on occasions. 

After a meal of Ramon bombs (Ramon noodles with potato flakes added in), we sat around and shared stories. There were six of us in total. Besides the one crank radio to pick up the UGA/Notre Dame game, we had no reason for electronics. One friend made the comment, “You know it’s so good we’re out here talking and there’s not one phone!” It was true. We had no cell coverage for the whole trip. 

After the conversation died down along with the fire, I walked down to the river and happened to looked up. For the first time in a while, I noticed the stars and it felt like I was back at my summer camp as a teenager where many nights I would leave the cabin and lay down on the ground and gaze. 

There was no light pollution, no car horns. A billion stars shined onto edges of the trees. And the sparkle of moonlight flowed down the river. Awe is a good word. For that’s what I felt. Awe at the handiwork and artistry of God. 

Whether I realized it or not, I needed a moment of awe and to be lifted out of screens and emails. I need to realized how incredibly unimportant I felt in the midst of grandeur and how little my problems can seem in the midst of the vastness of God. 

The Psalmist once declared, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (Psalm 8:3,4). 

I think we’ve all known that pleasure of feeling small in the vastness of God. Those moments surprise us and lift us out of ourselves into a new place. 

I have good friends from my hometown who often tell me they love to go deer hunting. It’s usually not to kill a deer, but to sit in nature and watch it come alive. My new friend Roger probably wouldn’t like the hunting part, but I think we all get the need to be in nature. 

How might we learn nurture awe into our lives? In the midst of the pressure to produce, to parent, to lead, a little awe would do us some good. 

How do Christians respond to financial request?

Over the years, people have often asked me, “How do I respond to financial request from those in need?” It’s a good question and one that needs discussion. It hit home for me just recently.

Two Sundays ago, towards the end of my sermon, two women, a mother and daughter, entered the back of the sanctuary. They sat down on the last row. I recognized them because they tend to show up every couple of months. I knew they were there to ask our members for money. In God’s funny way, I was ending my sermon on showing hospitality to the stranger. It was a passage from Hebrews 13. This passage says that you might be entertaining angels when you welcome the stranger. As I was trying to stay focused on the sermon, I could feel the energy of the congregation moving to the back of the room towards our guests. The whole point of my sermon is that angels aren’t necessarily people flying around with wings, but regular people with a message for you. I wondered what sort of message our guests had for our faith community?

After the service, they did as I expected. They asked church members in the parking lot for money to fund their stay at a local hotel. I had an administrative council meeting right after church so I couldn’t really address the situation. The situation escalated. This mother and daughter wanted to speak with me. I was in the middle of addressing our our administrative council, which made it hard as our volunteers tried to balance interrupting the meeting with trying to find a faithful way to respond to our guests.

Thankfully one of our staff members spoke with them and explained we were in a meeting. These two visitors were not satisfied with our church’s response. They wanted to speak with me. When told to wait, they wound up calling our staff member some slanderous names and had some colorful things to say about our church.

Eventually, these guests left the premises. Church members have struggled with how one should respond as a Christian. If we were talking about radical hospitality, should we not open our doors and our wallets (or pocketbooks) more generously to guests in need? But how does one ensure they are not taken advantage of? Herein lies the heart of the dilemma.

To my Haygood family, I would simply offer these words: If you gave to these women, good for you. You were showing radical hospitality, the kind we had heard about in the scriptures. My encouragement in the future is to not give cash, but instead to find a staff member and we’ll work to find a faithful way to give. We have given to this mother and daughter before by paying for hotel rooms for the week. We make our payment directly to the hotel as we know by experience that cash be spent on other goods.

We do our best to be generous. But please hear me. If you feel in the moment, you must give and that it’s the right thing to do, who am I to prevent your good deed? Do as you feel led by the Holy Spirit. I’m simply here to tell you my experience is to inform the staff in order to ensure we are doing the most good as a church.

Several years ago, at a different church, we had another situation. We had visitors, two ladies, at our 8 a.m. service. We were so excited because normally you don’t have many visitors at the early service. Afterwards, I showed them around our church, including our offices. The next week, during the 11a.m. worship service, they stole our offering out of our business manager’s office. They had preyed upon our hospitality and scouted out where we put the money. We bought a safe the next week!

Jesus taught us to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. That’s good advice, but it’s still hard. Our gospel is about Jesus who was so often moved with compassion to help the most vulnerable people of his day. We are called to follow his example. It’s my prayer that we will not allow our hearts to turn to stone. Helping people is rarely easy or convenient.

One of my favorite stories is the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10. It’s not an easy story for the pastor types as we are the ones who pass by the person in need. Instead, it’s the Samaritan who notices. I always like to point out that this Samaritan decides to help as he comes near the hurt of the man in the ditch. He is moved in his inward being once he gets close enough to feel the hurt. That’s my prayer for us. Let’s continue to move close enough to the hurts of this world to care enough to help.

We are still committed as a church to help this mother and daughter. Indeed, I do think they were angels with a message. Our missions and outreach staff member, Wally Rice, has met with them. He has addressed that it’s unacceptable to slander our staff members who were simply trying to help.

I pray our church will continue to be one with a big heart. I’d much rather us error on the side of showing compassion and mercy.

I’ll leave you with this story of redemption. I hosted a “Dinner with the Pastor” gathering at our parsonage on Sunday night. We like to bring together Haygood newcomers and church members in our home. We had a good group. We also had plenty of leftovers. Given there were cookies involved, we thought about keeping them in our home. Instead, we brought the leftovers back to the church. The next day our custodial worker, Larry Williams, knocks on my office door.

“Pastor, I noticed all those leftovers in the refrigerator. I don’t want us to throw those out at the end of the week. That happens a lot. I know some people who might want them. Do you think I could take them if no else eats them today?”

I said, “Sure.”

Later that afternoon, Larry had spread out all these to-go boxes and was filling them up with chips, tacos and salad. He took more than 30 of them to places throughout Atlanta where the homeless tend to gather.

Larry told me later, “I just drove around and when I saw someone who looked like they could use a meal, I said, ‘here you go. This meal is from you from our Haygood family.’ That’s all I did.”

In truth, the meal was really from a good-hearted person like Larry who takes seriously the call of Jesus to provide for the stranger.

So often, we make discipleship and preaching more grand than it needs to be. Sometimes we don’t have to start the non-profit to follow Jesus (sometimes we do). Sometimes it’s packing to-go boxes of tacos and heading out to the streets.