To Love in Pain

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I was supposed to write a different post tonight, about what the most challenging aspect of my ministry is. I was planning on a nice rundown of the challenges I face and rating them. But then… things happened.

I love so many hurting people.

I’m calling the police again. And it hurts. It hurts so much. This time I’m not mad at me – it’s a very different situation. I’m hurting for the person involved, though. This is a person I love.

Sunday a man tried to come in to worship after we’d started. He never entered the sanctuary. I found out after that his ex-girlfriend, one of my members, saw him and… well, it wasn’t a good look. She told me after that he wasn’t allowed to come into church. I answered that, um, no. We’re not going to bar anyone from coming in unless they cause trouble here. And this is a person I love.

A prospect came to church on Sunday! And a family member of the prospect told me he couldn’t come to church if she was there, because her very presence distracted him so much. And I love both the prospect and her family member.

Today a mother wept for her children to come to church, to see Jesus. Today an unrelated man cried for his children. “Don’t harden your hearts to God!” he wept. And these broken people… I love them, too.

And I hurt so much with them. So much. These are my sheep, the sheep my Shepherd has entrusted to me. (more…)

Bracing for the Storm

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Speaking the truth in love is easy when there are no stakes. But now…

I did a survey of the congregation. Spoke to roughly half our members one-on-one. Asked them where our church does well connecting people to Jesus. Where we don’t do well connecting people to Jesus. And what they wanted the church to look like in five years.

A few things surprised me. Moreso, though, the biggest complaint surprised me not at all. About half of the people I interviewed mentioned this problem. As one member said, “Our church does a great job connecting us to God. Not so much connecting us to each other.” We have a congregation full of lonely people. They want to develop deep, real relationships. They want to be able to lean on each other, to support one another, to laugh and mourn together.

The cry was not unanimous. Several people said we were friendly and warm. Those voices were few in comparison, though.

Our congregation is looking for so much more. (more…)

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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And now it’s stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

Today we hosted our annual Neighborhood Cookout. It’s a great day every year. The church provides free burgers and hot dogs. We provide live music (this time a guy doing covers of classic rock). There’s a bounce house. Games. A few local agencies have booths (for instance, our teen center). The neighborhood generally shows up. In fact, in the last couple of years, people in the neighborhood look forward to it and it almost becomes a neighborhood pot luck, with people bringing a dish to share.

But, before the neighborhood can show up… they need to hear about it. So we go out and hand out invitations to neighborhood homes. We knock on doors, and give a simple invite: “Hi! I’m Jon from St. Smithins (not our real name), and we’re having a free cookout next week! Just wanted to give you an invitation. Thanks!”

A couple weeks ago we headed out, with the goal of handing out invitations to 500 homes. And my eldest son accompanied us.

Wow. He was eager, walking swiftly to homes, knocking on doors solo, and inviting person after person. He would spot someone walking on the sidewalk and launch himself forward to invite them. He’d come back, proud. “Did you see, dad? I invited them.” And no one said no to this nine-year-old boy. I was so proud of him.

And today. Today, as members and neighborhood folks milled around, as we yakked over burgers and while listening to the live music, as we watched our kids jump in the bounce house and try their hands at the frozen t-shirt contests…

My boy was there again. Inviting. He told people they should come to church. Fearless. Eager. Ready.

Oh, my boy. I wish I had your courage. I am so proud of you. (more…)

Reboot

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God has timing.

I’m a Trekkie. I’ve enjoyed the more recent movies – Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness, but I don’t consider them Star Trek. They’re decent sci-fi action films that I enjoy at that level, but they’re simple sci-fi action wearing a Star Trek skin. I heard a lot of good things about the most recent film in the franchise Star Trek Beyond. I wanted to see it in theaters, but didn’t feel a great draw to actually spend money on it. Today, literally the last day it’s in the theater here, my Bride kicked me out to go take in a matinee.

I’m very, very glad I did.

See, reboots need to have a certain balance. They need to respect the old, while still forging ahead to something new. Lean too far one way, it’s a remake that only the fanboys will see. Lean too far the other way, you upset the core audience and lose what made it a thing in the first place.

And Star Trek Beyond… finally got it right. Slight spoilers ahead for the movie, so if it matters to you, don’t bother reading. And for those of you wondering, yes, this has a lot – a lot – to do with ministry. My ministry, at least. (more…)

The Unsavory Art of “Blackmail”

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Can I use the church basement to babysit?”

It was a prospect. My immediate knee-jerk reaction was, “No!” I didn’t respond that way, though. I asked for time to think about it. Realized I really didn’t have a good reason to say no, as long as no one else was using the space and they followed some rules. So I texted back, “I’ll need to lay down some rules. We can talk tonight at church.”

I won’t be at church.”

OK. Any reason?”

I’m mad at you and I’m never coming to church again.” (more…)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Llama

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Don’t send the police to my house.”

And so began the slide today. For once it didn’t strike at the hand of a member. For once it didn’t come from a leader of the church displeased with something God is blessing, or displeased that God isn’t blessing the way they want, or some such nonsense. Instead, it came from a prospect that, well, if you read this blog this past Monday, you can probably already guess at.

We had texted through the week, though I’d not seen anyone from the family. And then this text today.

And the slide began.

We texted back and forth, and it wasn’t… it wasn’t what I wanted. I asked to meet face to face. They refused. Only texting.

Sometimes texting is a real blessing, and other times it is a mask to hide behind.

And it got to the point that… sigh.

Sometimes depression just plain sucks. Actually, most of the time depression just plain sucks. There aren’t many times I can imagine it being awesome.

So as the afternoon edged into this evening and I got ready for evening church, I was thinking about a church I’d heard of just today that would soon be calling a new pastor. Boy, it would be nice to start over, wouldn’t it? To take all the lessons I’ve learned the hard way the last five years and chuck all the bad and start over?

My daughter dogged me as I set up the room for evening worship. She was happy, and her joy kept me from sliding perilously over the edge into pure glum.

But the texting conversation continued. And kept pulling down, down down. Family is angry. And apparently the dam let loose today. It’s my fault. I embarrassed them. I alerted the whole world to all their problems. They never want to see me again and refuse to ever talk to another church.

And then it was time for worship.

Well… it helped. It gave voice to my sorrow. We got to talk some about depression, and how God comes to us in our depression. And I got to say something I often need to hear:

When we face depression, our emotions tell us that it will never, ever get better. Those emotions are wrong. Because there will be a last tear. There will be a last bullet. There will be a last time a family is shattered, a last time there is shame. And after that… there is joy. Because Jesus faced all our pain for us. Our darkness will end, because he faced darkness for us. And what comes after is only light.”

So by the time worship ended… I was ok. Not great, but ok.

But we had two guests in worship tonight. Two teen girls I’d arranged (along with other teens of both genders, but these are the two that came tonight) – two teen girls I’d arranged to come, participate in worship and then evaluate afterward over ice cream – my treat. And so we went out to DQ after everyone else had departed from the church.

And they chattered away. And told me about things they liked, things that didn’t work, suggestions…

…and it was fun. Just to listen to them talk. These are two young women I know and serve through our teen center. They laughed and giggled and told secrets as I ate my mini Blizzard. And they talked about seeing llamas today at a petting zoo.

On the way home, I played them a song by one of my favorite bands: “Let Me Be Your Llama.” And by the time I dropped them off, both of them were belting it out at the top of their lungs.

And by the time I got home… yeah. Happy.

So in my ministry, I pissed a family off. For doing the right thing. And I have suffered for it – if not “in fact,” then in my heart. I may never see them again. I pray more opportunity to serve them with the Gospel, but… well, that’s not up to me.

And then God does this. He finds two young women that delighted in tonight’s service. “I like that you asked for opinions, so we didn’t have to worry about being wrong. And then you used that to teach us about God. I like that you joke around, but then you use it to tell us about Jesus.”

And then singing about llamas at the top of their lungs.

He allows me to feel pain. He allows me to feel the cross. He allows me to suffer for serving him. And then he brings me joy from another source entirely.

Father, keep going. You told me that I must bear the cross. Teach it to me. But Lord, please, bring me your joy as well. Teach me to love those you give me, even in pain. Show me how much you love me, and grow me in trusting you. Because you know what you’re doing, even and especially as you teach me to bear the cross. Make more and ever more your servant.

All Things New

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I will not sob on the way home.

I will not sob on the way home.

I’ve done it again. And I can’t go into details here, which is why you won’t hear much of the story as to why this is happening, but the end result is the same:

I’ve destroyed another family.

No.

No, that is not true. That family has destroyed itself. I only reported it.

I told. (more…)

To Wear the Faces of the Dead

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His mother died.

He’s not a member yet, but he’s been taking membership classes. He’s a young but eager Christian. I’m supposed to officiate at his wedding, and would have, except… he got caught violating parole. I believe him when he says he didn’t realize he was doing it. I withhold judgment on whether or not he should have known what he was doing was violating.

He’s been held in jail, and his courtdate is set. And then… last night, his mother died.

I know this man. I know his heart. This will rip him apart. It’s going to break him that this happened while he was on the inside. That he can’t be with his family. That he can’t mourn with them, but is stuck in a cell.

I got the news last night not long before bed. I started planning what I had to do to see him today.

And then I went to his mom’s funeral. (more…)

A Sea Brighter than the Sky

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The waters were restless this morning. Breakers roared in, and I felt their spray even fifteen feet above as I ran along the cliffs over the Lake. Out on the horizon and over the Lake, dark blue clouds blotted out the sky. And yet, here and there, you could see the sun poking through.

And the Lake responded.

If I looked up to the sky, I saw a dark, foreboding scene. But as I looked down, I observed a bright, shining lake that left me dazzled. The sight took my breath away: the waters reflected an unseen sun under a dark sky.

Christian, this is you.

You have been called to be light. You have been called to reflect your Savior, the one who redeemed you, the one who bought you out of darkness at the price of his own life. The skies are dark here. Oh, they are so, so dark. I know. Trust me. They overwhelm so easily, and we give in to despair.

Look up. Do you see? The Son has not abandoned you. Look down. Do you see the proclamation in Word? He knew the deeps you keep secret from the world around you. He knew the secrets you have not told, for fear that those around you would reject you. And do you see? He has loved you anyway. He has purchased and won you, not with silver or gold, but with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.

Oh, even under the dark sky, Christian, reflect him. Be brighter than those around you. Surprise and delight. Don’t fade into the darkness. This is not who your Savior made you to be.

But you cannot do it, dear one. It is impossible for you – unless.

Unless you are reflecting him. Unless you see the Son and focus on him and his love for you. Unless you grow to gasp at his goodness and revel in his brightness. Unless you grow in the grace and knowledge of our lord Jesus Christ.

You have been called to be a sea brighter than the sky, but never brighter than the sun. Oh, that can never be. But Christian: reflect that light you have been shown. Shine bright.

A Weekend with the Family

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Usually not a happy sight.

Of course I’ll take you.

Grandpa had open heart surgery. He’s a church member; I’d already been planing to take the one hour one-way trip to the hospital to see him. His daughter and grandchildren don’t have a car; they want to see grandpa, too. So up we went.

And on the way, not only did I get to spend time with my members… I got to know them better, and minister to them in their need. And then minister to grandpa in his need. And then minister to a sad and shaken family on the way back. Stepdad in the family was taught growing up that “Real men don’t cry.” I got to teach him otherwise. If it’s ok for Jesus to cry, it’s ok for you.

It is good to be the family of God. (more…)