Month: December 2015

Bury the Gospel

So, today I did this.

OK, not exactly that. But close.

First off, I’m mentally exhausted. And physically. These things do not go together with well-presented sermons. I’ve been struggling with a cold, and for some reason part of that means I’ve been having disturbing dreams. They started out just silly and weird. In one, I was a magical pony in charge of keeping time running. You know, nothing scary, but plenty odd. I’m fairly certain I have no plans or hopes of jumping a special barrier and becoming a pony. But then I dreamed that I lost an eye in a disturbingly realistic and long dream (even featuring pain!). And then I dreamed two dear friends separated. And then I dreamed my mother-in-law died. In short, I haven’t been sleeping well.

Add to that a fantastic family reunion yesterday that necessitated eight hours of driving and a way-too-early start, along with prepping for Christmas week, and I’m just shot.

And that sum equals… me going off the script.

Usually it’s not that big a deal. Usually it means I’m adding some insight or an illustration that’s just come to me to try and clarify a main point. Usually I know my audience and myself well enough to know what works and what won’t.

Ah, but today?

Crap, man.

I get to the Law section of the sermon. And I lose it. It’s not quite what the dude in the movie did. I didn’t whine or anything. But man… it was not good. One of my regular visitors told me he thought I’d turned into a Baptist. He meant it as a compliment, but it stung me.

Now, every sermon should have law. (Or nearly every – on occasion I will preach a sermon that’s pure Gospel, based on what the text is, but those are very, very rare.) Every sermon should remind us why Jesus is so amazing and why we need the Gospel. Of this I have no quibbles. But the Law has its place. It should never overwhelm the Gospel. While we need the Law to cut, it should not so decapitate that I am unable to process the Gospel at all. If the Law blinds me to the Gospel, I have missed the point.

And today… today I fear that I went so over-the-top with the Law that for at least some of my congregation, I overwhelmed the Gospel.

Seriously.

A woman in the first occupied row was bawling her eyes out. My congregational president was teary. More than one person was queasy.

Pounding on the pulpit. Shouting. I just lost it.

You guys!”

OK, I didn’t say that. But what I did was over the top and out of bounds.

And I realized it. I didn’t backtrack; what I said had not been wrong. It was the Law in all its force. But I had presented it in such a way– no one’s going to remember the Gospel from that sermon. They’re going to remember law law law law law. And the only result of law is either despair or deceptive self-righteousness.

The rest of the service, I poured on the Gospel. Especially for that woman in the front row. I know her. She needed that Gospel. The Law had broken her. She needed not more Law, but Gospel Gospel Gospel Gospel.

As we presented the offering, I told the congregation, “We suffer under the curse of sin, but Jesus has come to us and forgiven us. Now, let’s respond to that forgiveness!” 

We sang the “Lamb of God” — you might know it as the kyrie — and afterward I said, “We just prayed, ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us.” We recognize that Jesus is the Lamb of God. He was sacrificed, he died so we don’t have to. He took the punishment of the sins of the world, and we recognize that. Now we pray — ‘Lord, just like you took away the sins of the world, have mercy on me, too.'”

At Communion, I pointed out before we began distribution, “Here is forgiveness you can taste and see. Do you see how much your Jesus loves you? He gives his own body and blood in, with, and under the wine to show you, to give you forgiveness.”

And after worship…. I apologized to the congregation. I told them point blank that the Law needed to cut, but to overwhelm the Gospel, and I fear that this morning I had allowed it to overwhelm.

One man kept insisting that I was fine. Others said I had gone overboard. Honestly, part of the problem is that we’re all at different points, and what “cutting” is and what “overpowering” is are different things to different people with different levels of maturity and struggles.

So I probably didn’t need to apologize. The congregation in general probably saw that as a “Ok, pastor needed to get something off his chest.” And ok. Maybe that was it.

But man.

Lessons learned:

      1. Get some frigging sleep. Somehow.
      2. Let the Law speak, but make sure it never overwhelms the Gospel.
      3. Get some sleep.

And in other news… it’s time for bed. Good night!

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Hello. I’m an idiot.

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This is stupid.

I mean, really. I have no excuse. This isn’t a matter of me not knowing better or making an honest mistake. This is me looking at a brick wall, saying, “My, what a fine hard surface upon which to bash my head!” and then proceeding to bloody the wall with what should be under my skin.

This morning we had very few people in church. No big deal – well, no, I can’t say that. It was depressing, but not surprising. It didn’t hit me too hard. The congregation is old, and we’ve had so many activities lately it doesn’t surprise me they’re burned out.

I look at this as a neat possibility though: Well our evening service outnumber the morning two weeks in a row?

Will it?

…no.

Tonight it was my family. The family of our tech guy. And three teen girls – one of them a first time visitor, so that’s cool!

But the room was so, so empty. It was so, so quiet. Every single regularly-attending family was absent tonight. Every. Single. One.

I considered canceling. It wasn’t worth having worship tonight. Two things kept me from doing it: I knew I had some internet watchers, and that first-time visitor. I wanted her to see what “normal” was for us.

And it’s so stupid.

It’s not my job to get people in the door. It’s my job to preach Law and Gospel. And that happened tonight. I preached Law and Gospel. I fully admit, I did not do as good a job as I would have liked. I’m physically and mentally exhausted, so it was not as organized nor as strong as I prefer. I heard from a trusted friend who interacted via internet that things went well from me, so there’s that.

Woo.

I did my job.

In front of a mostly empty room.

But everyone there was engaged. The first-time visitor asked repeated questions, was greatly involved – great stuff! I could hear people singing tonight that I normally can’t hear! And yes – the Holy Spirit was present as God’s Word was proclaimed!

It should be enough!

But me?

I’m just gonna mope over here. Because… stupid empty room. I don’t see the filled chairs; I see the empty ones. I don’t hear the people talking…. I hear the silence in the Sunday school room.

Why yes, I do like my cup half-empty, thank you!

I am stupid. And this is the source of my stupidity:

I am finding my worth in other people attending a church service I invented. I am finding my identity in “I’m the guy who started that church service! That’s my thing!” That’s why this morning didn’t overly affect me, while this evening did. I don’t depend on the morning service to find my worth; I serve and love there. Oh, but the evening service?

It’s all about me.

The ruler of the universe, the one who made me, the one who knit me together in my mother’s womb: he has given me his own worth. On the cross he traded spots with me and made me his own child. He has declared me to be a saint. I shine like the stars because of the worth he gives me!

Nah. I think I’m gonna trade it for some one-hour chunks of time in a dying church.

And here all I can think of a skit from an old movie, where a man yells at me, “You’re so stupid!”

Here my sinful, evil heart makes itself known. Here my wickedness becomes evident: I find my worth in what other people do, in their showing up. And all it takes is one night of people being busy elsewhere for me to just… fall apart.

We had ten people there tonight. Ten people! I would have killed for that this summer! But now? Now it’s not good enough. I am insatiable. My pride hungers. More people! More attendance! Come! Come to me, make me feel good about me! There is never enough! Get in here!

And when they don’t come… it must mean I am worthless. It must mean that I am not good enough.

Tonight in our evening service we talked about… we talked about Jesus choosing the twelve apostles. We talked about how Jesus picked people that made no sense. Hotheads. Zealots. Tax collectors. A traitor. They had no business serving Jesus. They had no business representing him.

Jesus didn’t choose them because there was worth in them. He chose them because he loved them. It wasn’t about their worth. It was all about his.

Are we worthy to serve Christ? We investigated passages that told us that God has made us worthy. It’s not about us. It’s not about our service. It’s about what he has done for us.

We checked out how Jesus did that: by dying for sinners like us.

Pastor, get your head out of your ass and listen to the wine spewing forth from your mouth.

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I am such a hypocrite.

Do you see? Do you see how stupid I am? Finding worth in me – trying to purchase what has already been given to me? And even beyond that – finding worth in what other people do, as if I have any control over that?

I have made an idol out of a stupid attendance number.

I am broken. Here is the solution, here is Jesus, who has given himself to me. Not because I get people into church. Not because I preach his Word. Not because I long to serve him.

Christ Jesus came to die for sinners.

Of whom I am the worst.

He came for an idiot. He came for me.

He came for idolaters. He came for me.

He came for hypocrites. He came for me.

Father, take me. Forgive me. Hold me. I need you. I’m trying to find my worth in such stupid, little things. Turn my head away from them. There is no worth there. I am trying to find my worth in what I do. Take my eyes away from these. There is no stability here. Turn me to you. Turn me to Jesus. Forgive me. Show me that you have made me qualified. Show me what you have done, and that I helped only by sinning more and more and more. Show me your love.

Lord, you make me worthy.

Now connect that truth to my heart. Please.

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Prayer Answered

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Yesterday I prayed that God would remove my head from my ass.

God does what is best.

Today we had a lunch. And what a lunch it was. Our entire cafeteria was set to accommodate sixty-four people. Several ladies were ready with their pasta and rather tasty meatballs. And in worship we had…

…we had twenty-six people. A low week for us lately. Instead of having more people in worship for our big event, we had less people than usual. On the other hand, we did have a handful of visitors.

Only one of whom had heard we had a special thing going on. (more…)

Hoping for Failure

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I want this evangelism effort to fail.

Several members of the congregation have pulled together to prepare a feast. I hope no one shows up. Invitations have been going out for almost a month. I’m hoping they go unanswered. I’ve spent hours and hours writing a special church service for tomorrow. I hope it’s in vain.

But I suppose I should back up. (more…)