The rain drizzles down as I make my way there. I pray, “Lord, you love me, and I don’t deserve it. Let me love him the way you love him.”
I’ve visited this man nearly monthly since I met him this summer. He has not endeared himself to me. He rambles. His political ideas are all he seems to have, and they seem rather askew to me. He keeps pushing me to see 90 Minutes in Heaven, which I have zero interest in viewing. He smokes. A lot.
This is a man that Jesus died for.
And so I go, yet again, to invite him to our Christmas Eve service. I have a little postcard with the time of our service, as well as an invitation to join us for cookies before the service. An easy invite. It’s Christmas!
He talks a little bit about The Passion of the Christ. He can’t believe how much Jesus suffered. Oh, a softball. Now I get to talk about why Jesus suffered! And I share Law: This is what Jesus suffered, because this is what you deserve. I share the Gospel: This is what Jesus suffered, because he loves you.
By the time I got home, I seethed with anger. I don’t remember the exact flow of the conversation. I remember snippets, though. (more…)
Only the Gospel converts. Only the good news that Jesus loves sinners, of whom I am the worst – only that good news creates faith and strengthens faith. And on a night like Christmas Eve when we have more visitors and occasional members, that message must right forth. That doesn’t mean the Law shouldn’t be preached – we need to hear why the Gospel is so amazing, after all – but the Gospel must take center stage.
And really, isn’t that the center of Christmas? That baby is God! Here he is, stepped into his own creation, to this dirty, broken place, to be broken in our place. This Child will be stricken, smitten and afflicted. We will esteem him not. And yet, by his wounds are we healed!
So tell me this: For a preacher who revels in the Gospel, who marvels at the love of God for a broken sinner like me, why is it that my drafts for sermons on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are so law-heavy?
I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. (more…)
The week began in court. The judge talked about a previous case similar to this one that ended in a suicide. “I don’t want a repeat here. You’re not getting out until you’re in someone else’s custody.”
The week ends with a prospect telling me, “I used to go to that church. And then I stopped. For reasons. But you… God used you. I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you.” She’s halfway through membership classes.
The week began in despair. He was supposed to get out. But now, because of some other case, he had to wait two additional days before he got out. He panicked. His mom wept.
The week ends in a bed. He’s out now, yes, but he still has no home. Every night since he got out on Wednesday he’s been in a homeless shelter. I’ve dropped him off there almost every night. He’s spent days with me. The church has put him to work to get some money to him until he gets a job – and already he’s applied in many places while also attending his necessary classes. It’s not where he wants to be… its’ not where I’d like him, but he’s safe and warm. (more…)
Long ago God beat into my head the important lesson: “I will take care of you and yours.” I was unemployed, my Bride was eight months pregnant with our first, and we had just moved and so were ineligible for any state aid for a while yet. Despite my pain and fears… God pulled us through. We never starved. We never lived on the street. I learned the lesson well and still treasure it: God will take care of my family.
Some people want me to worry. During dark days in the past, a member of my congregation has attempted to scare me by saying, “Pastor, if the church closes, what’ll happen to your family?”
I shrugged and answered, “We’ll be ok. God’ll take care of us.”
And it wasn’t a flip answer. It’s still not. This is where I stand: I trust that God will keep his promise not only to me, but also to my Bride and children. I’ve seen it before. I know he can do it again.
What I have learned for me, though, I have not learned for others. (more…)
No one has ever seen that tree before.
I arrived in the church’s parking lot, to where I park the car to get to my house every evening. My shirt is stained with my sweat; it was a good workout at the gym tonight. Puffy white flurries skitter across the night sky, darting through streetlamps and wafting onto the windshield.
I’m exhausted, but I can’t go in and shower. Not on a night like tonight. The air doesn’t bite. The wind is still. The flecks of white in the darkness enchant.
I don’t need to go inside. Not yet. This… this is home. This is a blessing designed for me and only for me. No one has ever served this congregation before. (more…)