Month: November 2012

What do you expect from a king?

John 18:33-37 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

(more…)

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Reaching Out to Those Who Aren’t There

“I noticed you weren’t here on Sunday…”

I think church members feel a general frustration when they think about those people whose names are on the church membership list but haven’t attended any kind of worship service for years. I’m not talking about shut-ins; if I explain that someone can’t attend a service because of health problems, but I visit them regularly with God’s Word, I usually get an, “Oh! I’m glad you’re visiting them!”

I’m talking about those members that are in fine health but have convinced themselves that they are “too busy” for church. They have other things to do that are far too pressing. And besides, God can wait. Church is always there, right?

I know members in my congregation are frustrated. For a good year and a half (and even before my arrival here), the congregation has attempted to reach out to “delinquent members.” We’ve sent letters. We’ve phones. I’ve made personal visits, all to invite. We invite to special events like our neighborhood cookout. We invite to “little” events like a pot luck. We invite to plain old church.

We’ve had some positive results. Some people have returned and become regulars. Many, though, don’t seem to care. Some will make a verbal commitment to appear… but come Sunday, they’re still absent. (more…)

I posted this to the other blog I write for (Seeking the New Earth). As the thoughts expressed there are very germane to my ministry, I thought I would “reblog” here.

Seeking the New Earth

I can’t see the blood as he texts, “I’m OK.”

A few days ago, Mike posted on the science-fictiony wonders of technology. He wrote how technology that erases the nonverbal cues will be of enormous aid to his autistic son. And it’s true! Technology has helped in incredible ways. I’ve worked with families with autistic children in my professional life before I became a pastor. I’m familiar with the struggles families and individuals have as they live as autists in a world of neurotypicals.

I can’t hear the shaking of his voice as he texts, “I’m fine.”

The same technology that helps him has hurt my personal ministry, and by anecdote (if not research) it has hurt others as well.

I can’t see how truthful he is as he says, “I haven’t hurt myself.”

Technology has provided a barrier for my ministry, particularly with “googlers” – with those who…

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The Victors Will Arise

Mark 15:24-27 24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“ ‘the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light;

25    the stars will fall from the sky,

and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

(more…)

Swords and Sermons

See, an illustration should illustrate a biblical truth!

A sermon illustration needs to pop. It needs a certain kind of life to help the congregation make connections between God’s Word and their own lives.

But how far is too far?

Yesterday we celebrated Saints Triumphant. We celebrated the upcoming triumph we will have over sin, death, and Satan as Jesus shares his victory with us. He’s already won the war, and then we’ll celebrate triumph in our personal battle as well.

I focused a bit of the sermon on our current distress. I talked about our enemies trying to tear us away from Jesus – those enemies we will be triumphant over. I talked about how God has not left us without weapons. He has given us a sword.

And then I took a full sword out of the pulpit.

In fact, this is the sword I used! Narsil, from Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t mine. I borrowed it from a congregation member.

I talked about how a sword is important in battle. It’s used to kill and lead and protect all at once. God’s given us a blade that only Children of God can use. It’s a weapon we can use to rally others to God’s banner as well as slaying the enemy. Oh, that weapon is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

I held up both the blade and the Bible. “The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword!” We talked about our battle and how to use God’s Word as we continue to fight.

It took up… maybe (maybe!) five minutes out of a twenty-minute sermon.

And my question is… did I go too far?

I will say that the illustration is solid. I took it straight from Scripture; St. Paul and St. John both call God’s Word “The Sword of the Spirit.” But… that wasn’t the main point of the sermon. And now, if anyone thinks about the sermon, I suspect they’ll remember the sword. They’ll remember the part about fighting… but not the part about triumphing.

I think I went too far. I think I used a good illustration at the wrong time. I should use an illustration like that when talking about “the Armor of God” from Ephesians. That would be a great time to actually show real armor or weapons. But now, when we’re talking about triumph?

So, yeah. Illustrations should pop… but they shouldn’t be the thing that the congregation remembers, and it shouldn’t be used to illustrate a “minor” point. The big illustration should be used to underline the main point.

Hey, I’m still learning. And I know better for next time…. I hope.

But I’m a good person!

John 5:19-30 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

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Can I just deal with the congregation members that aren’t sinners?

You’d think a Bible study on heaven would just be plain refreshing — if done right.

Sometimes the people that are supposed to be smart are the dumbest of all.

Now, I understand that that’s really harsh. It’s also true.

We had our men’s monthly Bible study this past weekend. I had taken a request and we studied heaven and hell. I started by doing a comparison of what other cultures believe about the afterlife and asked why nearly every culture and belief system has some version of heaven and hell. It afforded a nice discussion on the natural knowledge of God, which then opened us up to asking, “Well, if that’s what they believe, what does the Bible say?”

It was meant to be a fairly simple Bible study: Here’s what the Bible says. That’s all – nothing huge. In between hell and heaven, I made the point of saying that according to the Bible we belong in hell. So how do we get out? “Therefore there is no longer any condemnation for those that believe!” So we also got a strong dose of justification in there.

Except… toward the beginning of the section on hell…

“Pastor, the Old Testament doesn’t have hell.” (more…)

Why should I tear out (what little) hair I have?

I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

You see, here I am on a Tuesday night, attempting to write a post for the blog. I usually just post a sermon, but as I didn’t preach last Sunday, I have no sermon to post. Thus, a post to write.

I find myself a little distracted, though. We have an election right now. I’m watching the poll numbers. I’m thinking about what the next four years will bring. I’m biting my nails.

And it’s stupid. I tell my congregation all the time not to worry. Usually it’s applying to things like health or money. Sometimes it’s to tell them that they need to stop working and destroying their family lives. There’s all sorts of reasons not to worry, but the biggest is that God tells us: he’s got us covered. We have no reason to worry. In fact, when we worry, we’re telling God he’s not doing a good enough job taking care of ourselves, so we’re taking the job of taking care of us away from him.

So what am I doing? (more…)

Come Back

Calling people out isn’t the most fun thing in the world.

Last week I made a first visit to a congregation member that I’ve seen numerous times in her own home but only once or twice in church. Her son is going through confirmation and regularly is able to attend. That same son gets dropped off in time for worship services pretty often. But her? Not so much.

So, it was past time to make a visit. There were some choices coming up for her son in confirmation – I’m thinking of switching up a few aspects of the program, and he’s one of the ones It would affect the most. This mother also has a daughter (nominally a member of the congregation) who was born about two months ago and hasn’t been baptized. So, it was time to visit for other things.

The thing is, I know this woman. She’s not a person who is “too busy” for church the way so many say they are. She’s run ragged by her various children. She’s exhausted and badly needs the rest that only Jesus offers.

So, I asked her: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you in church. I know you’re busy. I’m not here to drop the hammer on you. I’m here to ask: How can I bring you Jesus?” (more…)