Month: April 2012

I am a stupid, STUPID clay jar.

Today has been difficult…

Early this morning (thankfully after my private devotion), I received a call. Suicide. The family wants me there when they tell the children and grandchildren.

As I drive there, I search through my memory for good Bible verses or stories. I don’t know the person who killed himself. I don’t know the circumstances. I need to be ready for anything. Was this person a believer? Did this person ever have faith? Was the manner of death such that repentance could have come after the point of no return? What’s the family’s relationship with this man?

I arrive. I enter the home. I am greeted by the sounds of wailing. Open, unashamed, broken-hearted wailing. Nothing is held back in those screams of despair. Nothing is hidden.

One of the grandchildren found out about the suicide on Facebook.  Facebook. I understand why she is wailing. The particular cousin who posted the news is not very popular within the family right now.

I gather what information I can. Person was loved within the family. Not a believer. Brutal death.

No hope.

I understand the wails. Though much of the family present here with me are Christian in only the loosest sense of the word, they know that suicide, in general, does not lead to hallowed bliss. They are feeling guilty. “He was so alone,” is the common refrain from shaking voices.

And here I am. The pastor. “Pastor, I’m so glad you came. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. Here, Pastor. Talk to the family.” And the family turns to me.

And what can I say? Since the moment I’ve walked in, I’ve been in silent prayer. Words. What words? I’ve been praying for wisdom. My heart goes out to them. But what do I say? Pastor has all the answers? Yeah, right.

I go to despair. I talk about despair. I talk about having no hope in this world. I go to Psalm 22, as the Savior himself cries out. He knew what it was to have no hope in this world. He knew what it was to have every avenue of joy cut off to him. He knew what it was to have friends betray. Yet, he trusted in his Father in all that. And we get his record.

If that seems clunky to you there… trust me, it’s a whole lot more eloquent here than when I said it.

And to cap it off… I didn’t even pray with them. Despite the fact that I had been praying from the moment I walked in the door and really from the moment of the phone call.

I sat with them around an hour, encouraging where I could. And then I left.

And I am a stupid,  stupid jar of clay. I know that I’m a cracked jar that holds God’s treasures. I know that I am nothing, I only carry a message. But man, did I biff that message. This jar of clay caved in, and the dust hid all that precious treasure. I don’t know if I did anything other than prove that Pastor cares enough to show up. I suppose that’s something, but that’s so not what I want to do. I want to bring God’s Word. I want to carry the Gospel with me. Did I do that?

I’m pretty sure I failed this time around.

Yeah, I know, I’ve learned and I can do better next time. Yeah, I know, I am covered in Jesus’ robe of righteousness. Yeah, I know the elect will be saved despite my best efforts. Yeah, I know I’ll be visiting them again many times in the coming days and weeks. But right now all I see is my brokenness denying a family any modicum of comfort.

Stupid clay jar.

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Since when does God keep his promises?

Luke 24:36-49 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

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Welcome to the War Zone.

Acts 26:19-29 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

 

Welcome to the war zone.

  1. Have confidence in your ammo.
  2. Have confidence the enemy will keep firing.

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The Shock of… wait a second, God blesses us? When did that happen?!

Over the last month or so, I’ve asked the church council to fill out a spiritual gifts discovery tool. It’s a handy little thing that helps participants find out where their gifts likely lie. The tool also comes with directions on how to confirm or toss out the findings — basically, “Based on what you answered, this is what we’d say your gifts are. But here’s how you go out and find out if we were right.”

I had the council hand in their “numbers” anonymously. I have no interest in “checking in” and pushing individuals in this manner. I much prefer seeing something and praising it or saying, “Hey, I’ve seen you have this gift and we have this need. Would you come help in this way, please?”

So, if I’m not interested in who has what, why would I ever ask the council to fill out the forms?  (more…)

The Shock of Resurrection

Mark 16:1-8 16   When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

 

The shock of resurrection

  1. Our human minds can’t comprehend it.
  2. God promises and acts anyway!

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But It’s Hollow

Thursday night was Maundy Thursday. At the end of worship, we stripped the altar. This means, as the congregation watched, I took one item from the altar at a time and handed it to an usher. In a slow and dignified manner, soon nothing sat on the altar. Paraments (the cloths that hang off the altar). Bible. Bookstand. Candles. Cross. Everything left, leaving the altar bare and alone, just as Jesus was left bare and alone as he was betrayed and every single friend abandoned him.

It may sound strange, but it is incredibly emotional to see the altar, usually beautifully adorned, stripped of its glory and left alone. As the congregation dispersed, there were more than a few wet eyes. Every single woman who left the service hugged me — they needed that contact after seeing this grief. The ushers told me they were fighting tears even as they bore the instruments away.

And me? I felt… nothing. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. It was a sad event. But the power seemed empty to me.

Last night was Good Friday. We observed an austere celebration of the sacrifice of the Lamb. We focused on the seven things Jesus spoke from the cross. The choir sang the burial. We left in silence.

Once again, the congregation was somber on their exit. Downcast eyes. Sniffling noses. More hugs.

And again… the power didn’t lay on my heart like a weight.

I’ve been considering this. These were the first two days of the Triduum — the most holy three days of the year. Usually I get very involved. But “usually” I’m not a pastor. Usually I’m not concentrating on moving from place to place, thinking of what must be done next. Usually I’m not presenting God’s Word. Usually I’ve not worked on these passages for weeks ahead of time to be able to proclaim them effectively. Usually I’m not watching to make sure everything goes smoothly so the congregation isn’t unduly distracted.

And so… this is part of the price of being a pastor. I wrote the rough draft of the Easter sermon a week ago; I’m working on it today and will have it memorized well before our festival service tomorrow. And that takes away from the “surprise” of Easter for me. Tomorrow will be joyous, yes. It will be a high festival! But the “surprise” of it will be gone.

It’s a good thing the power isn’t in the emotion. It’s a good thing that my heart is not the measure of effectiveness. No, the power is in God’s Word.

I got to proclaim God’s Word Thursday night. Awesome.

I got to proclaim God’s Word Friday night. Awesome.

And tomorrow? I get to proclaim God’s Word again!

And that means that none of it is hollow, despite what my heart tells me. God’s bigger than my heart. Good thing, too.

How could he?

  1. 1.      Luke 23:26-34 26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”

and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’

31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

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Will you honor Jesus’ last will and testament?

Mark 14:22-26 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

 

Will you honor Jesus’ last will and testament?

  1. Do you honor it for what it is?
  2. Do you honor it in what you do?

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The King Comes Home

Mark 11:1-10 11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

10    “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

 

The King comes home!

  1. The Procession!
  2. The Pride!
  3. The Praise!

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