Month: August 2014

For the Joy Set Before

I think it was Mike Warnke who said it: “Do you have to get cleaned up to take a bath?”

I’ve known her for perhaps my entire ministry. I’ve seen her rise and fall so many times; into drugs, into alcohol, into all manner of sin and losing control of herself. And I have always held my hands out to her.

And now she’s asked me to come to her house. With tears in her eyes, she tells me, “I’m ready to start over. I just… I just needed to get some things under control.”

Oh, my shattered sister… oh, my broken daughter… don’t you know? You will never, ever get anything under control. Not really. You can fake it, but you will never, ever get yourself put together. Not enough. If you wait until you are better, you will never, ever come. You will never clean yourself up enough for God.

She tells me, “I just feel such guilt… but I’m doing better now, you know? Why can’t I get rid of my guilt?”

Oh, my filthy loved one… oh, my stained heart… don’t you know? You can’t wash those stains away. You will never, ever be good enough to whitewash what you have been, what you have done. You will never clean yourself up enough for God.

She thinks she’s doing better, but there’s still this haunting specter. She can’t place it.

I can. (more…)

Pray for Death

I prayed for his death. Out loud. In his hearing.

This is not the kind of thing a pastor usually engages in. It’s considered uncouth at best. Really, it’s a big insult.

The man thanked me.

He is “well and full of years.” Simply put, he is dying. The man entertains no thoughts of suicide; he knows that his times are in God’s hands. Yet, every time I visit, he tells me, “Pastor, I’m ready. Every day I pray, ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus.’” The man longs for the bright skies of heaven. His confidence rests in Jesus; he has repented of his sins. “I’ve been such a rascal, Pastor!” He rejoices in forgiveness, looks forward to the Sacrament, and always begins our conversations with, “Pastor, I was reading the Bible. I was wondering…”

When I visit, his conversation always rests on grace. This is not a “religious” man who’s focusing on right and wrong and on how terrible the world is, though he recognizes the state of sin that our world relishes. No; he focuses on the miracle of forgiveness he has received.

And this man longs to go home. And so when I visited him this week, I prayed that Jesus would come and take him home soon. And he thanked me. (more…)

Stupid Other Preacher

“Thank you for holding good prepared services and not just reading off of a paper”

That was the text waiting for me after I wrapped up Bible study this morning. It came from a teen who was visiting family several hours from here. She had visited a local church.

And what a compliment she paid! I’m very thankful for it. It shows that what I strive for gets accomplished, at least some weeks: A service that centers on a theme, as shown in the Bible lessons for that day. I make a point of announcing (in a one-sentence introduction) how each lesson and hymn fits that theme. She understands how a service is meant to communicate a particular truth from God’s Word each week in a very pointed way.

It also gladdens my heart that she appreciates the work I put into my sermons. In my years of ministry, I’ve only used notes for a sermon once – and that once happened to be the day after one of my children was born. I’ll give myself a pass for that day. Otherwise, the sermon is memorized. I have my Bible and use that to read the passages (usually paperclipped) – which means I’m usually making eye contact with the congregation the entire sermon. I’ve been told by other pastors I have talent for preaching God’s Word; I love communicating what Jesus has done for us.

You can see what she thought of that other church. (more…)

Not Mourning, But Love, Breaks the Heart

“I’ll pray for your dad.”

“Your dad’s in my prayers – and you, too.”

“I’ll pray God blesses your trip.”

Person after person, hand shake after hug after concerned smile, they came.

I announced after church today that I wouldn’t be sticking around for Bible study – probably the first time a pastor has said something like that here. “My father suffered an unexplained paralysis. He’s getting better, but the doctors still don’t know what happened. There’s other complications. So that we get the chance to see him today, I’ll be leaving as soon as we finish shaking hands.”

I paused, looking over the congregation. “But if Dad dies… I know I’ll see him in undying lands under a sky that’s always bright. I can’t say that about the people in our neighborhood. Instead of Bible study, since I can’t be here to lead it, one of our members will lead discussion on reaching out through our neighborhood cookout next month. We want to share Jesus.”

And on the way out, so many of our members and not a few of the regular visitors expressed prayers and blessings on my family. Some of them have met my father; many haven’t ever laid eyes on him. But someone their pastor cared for was hurting; that was enough for them.

And I felt so small. (more…)