Month: April 2014

The Best Thing About Church

It was a long, hard catechism process fraught with communication issues. You see, she’s Deaf. I have some basic signing, and she is an excellent lip reader, so most of the time it worked all right. She has told me repeatedly that I saved her life. She’s never been involved in a church before, and she’s been pulled in deep her. She loves women’s Bible study and attends faithfully.

Today she nearly cried.

After all that, what is it that affected her most? More than preaching the Gospel? More than the announcement of forgiveness or a home in heaven? More than peace with God?

I sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

“She was almost crying,” another church member told me after. “She said no pastor had ever sung Happy Birthday to her before.”

Um… ok.

Look, I get that as a small congregation, we get to make things far more personal than larger congregations. I can get away with silly things like singing Happy Birthday on a Sunday morning right before Bible study. I get that the people here greatly value that personal touch.

But… but the center isn’t my personal touch. That should be a “bonus feature” on the DVD of church. The main feature is Jesus. Not pastor – Jesus!

I’ve long struggled with church worship here. I’ve only barely been touched by pastor worship… but now I see it a little. It happened with a teenager, too. He told me that he can’t pay attention to other pastors, and now that I’ve had to enact discipline on his mom, he refuses to see me. So he might as well not go to any church, because he won’t get anything out of those other pastors, anyway. That’s pastor worship there – and other sins, too.

I have told people repeatedly – it’s about Jesus, not about me. When I leave (and it is a when, whether that’s in one year or twenty) – when I leave, nobody better leave this congregation. If they do, it shows me they were attached to me and not attached to Jesus.

I can’t save anyone, no matter how many times I might sing Happy Birthday to them. Knowing me will not forgive any of your sins.

This may shock you, but I’m not Jesus.

I appreciate that this woman appreciated my singing Happy Birthday. I do these things on purpose to express love. And I’m not calling her a “pastor-ologist” or anything like that. She trusts Christ and rejoices in him.

But if that’s the thing that gets her most excited about church… something’s lacking.

Does that mean I need to be less friendly? I don’t think that’s the solution. Can I point better to Christ? Well, yeah. Obviously. I can always do that better.

The best thing about church, though, shouldn’t be the pastor. And it shouldn’t be the people. Those things are nice and good, but they shouldn’t be the highlight.

The best thing about church is Jesus: hearing what he has done proclaimed to you; praising in response; confessing sins and hearing forgiveness; receiving the Sacrament… these things are the best things about church. Not pastor!

…wherein a pastor tells himself to get his head out of his posterior.


He is not here

Yeah. It’s past time that I got my head out of my ass.

Yeah. A pastor just said that. Sometimes it’s gotta be said, though.

Easter! Easter, right? Jesus, alive again! Hope restored! Because he lives, I also will live! His life is the death of death! What could be better than that?

When I was little, I loved this day. Waking up, getting to dawn service – OK, I didn’t like the waking up bit, I admit, but to hear the pastor announce, “He is risen!” And I shouted back, “He is risen indeed!” I got to be a part of the service and announce my joy! Growing up Lutheran, there weren’t many times you were “allowed” to get excited in a service… but this was one time you could let that joy show, shout it to the world, announce it to everyone!

And every Easter since donning the stole, I’ve relished being the one to initiate that for the congregation. Every year, the first response is a little shy, of course. “Are we allowed to be excited?” By the end of the service, though, you’ve got half the congregation reveling in the complete joy that yes, HE IS RISEN!

…but not today. (more…)

Holy Week Hell

If the devil can steal Jesus from a church, he wins. One of the easiest ways he can do that is to drive the Pastor away from Jesus, particularly during those times when the most people are naturally thinking about church – like, say, Christmas and Easter. There’s a reason that Christmas and Easter are just insane with people inside a church saying, “Oh, we have to do this! We have to do that!” whether or not God’s Word says we must do anything. If the pastor is so busy he loses Jesus, Satan wins. If the pastor is too drug down by the woes of this world, he has such a hard time pointing to Jesus.

They warned us at Seminary that anything that can possibly go wrong during Holy Week – the week that started today, Palm Sunday, and runs through Easter a week from today – anything that can go wrong this week, will. Expect it.

For an average pastor, Holy Week is already insane. An average Lutheran pastor will have to prepare worship for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and sundry services Easter morning. Considering it takes me ten to fifteen hours of time – easily – to write and memorize a sermon, three sermons in a week is a lot of work.

But then you throw in additional weights: I get to preach a Christian victory service – you may know it as a funeral – for a man I’ve served since arriving here. It is an honor to serve him in this way. It is also additional work in an already busy week.

I get to lead a chapel devotion at a local Christian school. Again, an honor – but an additional weight in a busy week.

There’s numerous things in the church I need to take care of, or at least oversee. Yes, ok, we’re set for Easter breakfast. Yep, we’ve got someone lined up for projector in the many services. Choir looks to be all ready!

All that is important work, and while the funeral will certainly be emotional, it will be a good emotional.

But now the actual weights start coming in. Things that aren’t just “busy but things we can do,” but things that burden the heart and make it hard for me to get up. (more…)

400 Years

The steel of the whip on my shoulder
The salt of the sweat on my brow
Elohim! Eloi!
Do you hear your people cry?
Help us now
In this dark hour…
Deliver us!

So begins Prince of Egypt. At least, that’s how I sing the lyrics. I’ve been known to get lyrics wrong, so if you know better, please forgive anything I misquoted.

I was listening to the Prince of Egypt soundtrack on my way to the hospital today (like ya do) and this opening lyric really struck me. The people of Israel groaned in Egypt. All the movies focus on their deliverance from slavery. They show God raising up Moses, preparing him to be a servant, and then going to war to release his people.

They all forget that opening lyric.

Israel was in Egypt 400 years.

400 years.

Granted, they weren’t slaves that entire time. Exodus doesn’t give us the exact amount of time that Israel had favored status and how long they were enslaved. However, it sure looks like they were slaves for multiple generations.

Can you imagine looking for that deliverer that had been promised, trusting that God would bring you to the Promised Land… and dying before Moses arrived? (more…)

THE GOSPEL and Processing The Epic Fail

I’m not alone in the struggle. I don’t want to say, “Huzzah!” to another man’s struggles, but it is good to know that I’m not alone!

Pastor James Hein's Blog

blog - failure WARNING: I’m writing this mostly for myself. But I hope those who have been here will know I’m not trying to whine, just longing out loud for the life we were meant for.

Truth be told, I’m going through something of an early, existential, midlife crisis at the moment. It’s awful. And at its core, I think, is this realization I’ve come to – that I JUST CAN’T WIN.

Now, I’ve always intellectually recognized, at least to some extent, that Christianity wasn’t going to overcome this world by winning a popularity contest. But I think I’ve finally come to know that experientially.

My feelings right now are telling me this: I’m getting a little tired of living in a world where, when Christians act together in united beliefs, it’s dehumanized as “The Evangelical Machine”, but when the LGBT moves to make a change, it’s more sympathetic “advocates” or “activists”…

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