Month: April 2016

The Grave is Overwhelmed

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And as the music swells, their voices grow. They shout out, “Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed!” I can pick out a few voices. Mostly treble, with a smattering of bass.

That one’s the teen who has come to deeply love Jesus. Tonight as I was dropping off teens after worship, I stopped to invite a mom to worship next week. This particular teen waited patiently in the van. When I told her I was inviting the other teen’s mom, her response was, “Yeah. It’s so sad she doesn’t know Jesus.” And she meant it; no sarcasm there.

This one is the young mom who is struggling with consequences of past sin. I can hear her voice tremble as she sings, “I will rise when he calls my name!”

There is the voice of a young man who hated me last week. I called him on a sin, and he didn’t want to hear it. Tonight he brought a friend to church.

Here’s a woman’s voice, deep with age and smoking. She sings with her son, returned to Jesus after many decades away. Her voice shakes with the lyric, “I hear the cry of every longing voice: Worthy is the Lamb!”

I am surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses. I have gathered with Jesus’s people. He has brought them together to hear him, to grow together, to praise and pray together, to confess sin and rejoice in forgiveness. And I get to lead them? I get to take them into God’s Word? I get to announce what he says to them? I get to deliver forgiveness to hearts that yearn for it?

I love these people who have gathered together this Sunday evening to worship. It breaks my heart as I think of each of their stories. I know them, and they know me. I call to them. They answer.

How can such things be?

Who am I?

This morning I stepped out of the sacristy as the church bells rang. I announced the theme of worship. “Today, we’re going to talk about something really, really controversial. Love.” There’s some snickering in the congregation. And then I look at them all. Every single one. And I say what may be the hardest thing to actually say out loud: “I love you.”

And I let it sink in.

I love you. I know you all. And it is honor to serve you.”

And then some people begin to panic.

I continue, “No, I don’t have a call. I don’t plan on leaving. Don’t worry. But I want you to know. Today we’ll be talking about loving one another, because Jesus loves us.” I announce the first hymn, and as I turn, one woman bursts from the congregation, “We love you too, pastor!”

I nearly melt.

Bible study. We’re checking out shepherds, sheep, and the Good Shepherd. And one of the questions: how is a good shepherd (a good pastor) like the Good Shepherd (Jesus)? And the congregation goes through several.

And I point out one they missed: A good shepherd loves his sheep.

And I say, “If I don’t love you… I’m failing.”

Oh, God. What have I done?

I have failed.

I have sinned.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’ve struggled in loving this congregation. Yes, they have failed in so many ways. Yes, I have hit my head against a brick wall as I attempt to give them God’s Word, over and over and over again.

So what?

Jesus doesn’t tell us to “Love those who make your life easy.”

He says, “Love each other like I love you.”

In the sermon this morning, I told the congregation that love nearly always leads to pain in this broken world. And loving this congregation leads to such pain. It hurts to love them.

But that does not give me an excuse.

Jesus loved me. Look what happened to him because of that love. Look at the pain he endured for a sinner like me. For someone with such a hard heart he’d rather not love the blessing of a congregation God has given him.

But this morning, as I looked over this flock God has given me to shepherd… I meant it.

I love them.

And there is no way I can take credit for that love. I have not gritted my teeth and said, “I will love you anyway!” This is not some decision I made. My heart is not superhuman.

But my Savior’s heart… it is amazing. And he loves me?

And he loves them.

And I will rise. And so will they. And we will live together, walking on golden streets. And we will praise the Lamb forever.

This love I have for them… it is not me. That love is a gift Jesus gives.

And it hurts. It really does.

But it is a gift from Jesus, so it is good. And for this I praise him. Even through pain. Even through tears. I will love, because he has loved me, and because he has loved them.

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“…unless someone explains it to me?”

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And sometimes God says, “Here! I want you to talk to someone!”

I have a member in the hospital. I went to go visit her. On my way out after a devotion and some time with family, I hop in the elevator. A woman’s in there. She looks at me and asks, “Are you a pastor?”

Yes…” I answer, unsure of what is about to transpire.

Oh! My father just had a stroke. We don’t have a pastor to visit. Would you visit him?”

OK!”

And back up I went. Oops. His room is empty. But as I turn around, there’s a man standing in the hallway by a nurse. Well, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not him?

I ask if his name is Mr. X [name redacted for privacy concerns]. It is! I explain his daughter sent me, and he gestures to his room. “Want to talk?”

And we talk for about half an hour. We get to know each other. Apparently it’s not a stroke, but he will be in the hospital for a little bit for observation. He mentions how his upstairs neighbor has recently lost someone he loves, and is mad at God. “You shouldn’t be mad at God,” this man says.

And I’m able to share the story of Lazarus. How Martha was so angry at Jesus for not being there to heal her brother, but Jesus did not scold. He did gently correct. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus reminds Martha that she will see her brother again, and not “just” on the Last Day.

The man sits and thinks a little bit. “I need God in my life again, too.”

I mention, “You seem to know your Bible fairly well, but you didn’t have a pastor to visit…?”

He shrugs. “I’m Catholic, but I haven’t been to church in over ten years. I really should go back. What was your name again?”

I offer my card.

He smiles. “I should get back to church. But you found me first. I’ll give you a try.”

We shake hands and I head out. Over the course of the conversation, he expressed at least an intellectual understanding of the Gospel and a good working knowledge of the Bible. And now God poked him through me to say, “Come back.”

And God poked me to say, “Go. Share. Tell others.”

Apparently I’m entering a season of evangelism. God has sent me to be a fisher of men… but apparently sometimes the fish just jump into the boat.

I’m ok with that.

Things Not to Do on an Evangelism Visit

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So, I accidentally broke into a woman’s house today.

Yeah.

Oops.

Next week we’re starting a new Bible study, and at the end of it, if you agree with what’s been taught, you’re welcomed into membership. I’m going around to just about anyone who has any connection with the church and inviting them. Today I’ve visited a lot of homes in a lot of areas to meet with a lot of people.

I came to one of those homes that have lower and upper apartments. Often both apartments share the same outer door that leads into a hallway. I knocked on the exterior door, got no answer, and peered through the shaded glass. Looked like one of those hallways. I opened the door, thinking I had to go in and knock on an inner door. 

I completely startled the woman who had been napping on the couch in her living room after a day at work.

Oops.

I apologized up and down and up and down. I think we were both embarrassed.

Anyway, we laughed, I invited her, she says she’s coming. (Whether or not she comes remains to be seen, of course.)

So, protip: Don’t break into people’s houses when you’re trying to invite them to a Bible study. But if you do, make sure to apologize a lot.

The Stolen Congregation

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So many unexpected guests this morning in worship; how would my congregation fail this time? They have a history of that, you know. They have this habit of ignoring guests after worship, talking only to old friends. They fill up a table for women and a table for men. They ignore others.

How would they fail today?

Sometimes. Sometimes I am proud of my congregation.

As I walked into the cafeteria after worship, as I steeled myself to have to greet all the guests because no one else was –

–my members were scattered over several tables. I don’t know if there was one single-gender table present. People broken up into three’s and four’s, talking. Not a single person left by themselves. Laughter and nodding and hugging – it was all happening.

Who stole my congregation and gave me this dream? (more…)