Month: May 2016

When the Preacher Sleeps Through His Own Sermon…


This is what everyone loves seeing! 


The flight home was canceled.

Gracious and generous friends had provided for my family to go visit them in Arizona. My only condition: I couldn’t take an additional Sunday away from worship. So, leave on Monday, fly back Friday night on a redeye, so even if it’s late, I would be back in time for worship. I arranged a pulpit swap so that I could repeat a sermon. (And now putting those two thoughts so close together, I realize that I wanted to be home for worship… and then wasn’t home for worship. I’m a genius.) Part of the pulpit swap was preaching at 5:30 Saturday evening, but we were due to get back at eight in the morning. Even getting in late, I should be able to get in a nap before preaching, right?

And then they canceled the flight.

About a hundred passengers crowded around the service desk on Friday night, staring in disbelief. This woman was a maid of honor flying to the wedding. This couple was going on their first vacation in a decade, to an all-expense-included resort. Five days.

And then they told us: Busy holiday weekend. Every other plane is booked solid. Soonest we can get you out is Monday.

Yes, they had to call airport security. Yes, I was nearly witness to/ involved in/ willing to start a riot.

Molotov cocktail

Molotov cocktails weren’t served on ANY airline, surprisingly enough.

I’m going to name names: Spirit. Spirit canceled two flights on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and sent notices out five minutes before they recommend that you be at the airport. We had no problem with them on the way down (several annoyances, but no problems). And then, as they start dealing with the mob… well, maybe it was the employee fed up with someone canceling a flight and her having to deal with it, but she was not gracious to anyone. “I found a flight for you on Monday. It’s that or we refund your ticket. Those are your choices. No, I won’t try to find anything else.” No understanding given, just… well, I wasn’t pleased.

They tackled each passenger individually. International fliers were given priority (and this is a thing I understand and support). An hour and a half after we were supposed to take off, I got tired of waiting and went up to the counter and found a woman. I explained, “I’m a pastor. I need to get home for worship. I’m supposed to be there at 5:30 tomorrow.”

And this woman, oh, God bless her. Her face broke. “I understand. I’m a Christian. I’m going to get you home.”

And she did. About a half-hour later she called me. Flying home on a different airline later that morning – takeoff at seven, home by one. Her airline lost more than two grand on the swap.

By that time, it wasn’t worth driving back to our hosts and then back to the airport. We said goodbye, and my Bride and children bedded down. I stayed awake to watch over them (and also, I couldn’t sleep on the airport floor). Made it to the airplane on time. And… I passed out at last.

For two hours.


My neck isn’t designed for this.

Plane touched down. We got home by four. No time for a nap – time to change, review sermon (probably a good idea, huh?) and get to the church.

By then I’d slept two hours over the previous thirty-eight. If this were college, I’d have no problem. But now… oh, exhaustion. I got dizzy simply standing. Every time I sat down, I blacked out briefly. How could I possibly have enough energy to preach a sermon? How could I stay conscious? I honestly feared passing out in the middle.

And God’s Word was preached. He fed his people.

And I’m not the one who did it. Or, rather, I can take no credit. None. I had no energy. How could I? My mind was gone. And yet, God used me. He gets all the credit, and I get none. He took this sorry, exhausted shell of a man and used him to encourage his people.

This morning: three church services. And, man, did I not want to wake up. And once again, God carried me through. Once again, I can take no credit. I got an email from a person I don’t usually hear from thanking me for the sermon, calling out one specific part. Somehow God took me at my most exhausted and blessed his people.

Because it’s not about the messenger. It’s about the message. It’s about law and gospel, sin and grace. It’s about God’s love for us at our weakest, at our most evil, at our most shameful… and being broken on our behalf, taking the wrath of God, and giving us his righteousness. And that message, whether spoken from lips wide awake or lips heavy with sleep, that message gives life.

I got home and fell onto the bed. My Bride, oh, how good she is! She brought lunch up to me because I didn’t have the strength to go down the stairs. I slept… and then, it was time for our evening service here.

I had prepared this before leaving and had reviewed. I knew I could teach it, but man. Sleep sounded so good.

There are not many weeks when I am happy that no one shows up. (I don’t think it’s ever happened to me, but low attendance can be an instant depressive episode.) But today… no one showed. And the computer broke, meaning we couldn’t stream. I had only my family there.

We did a family devotion – deeper than I would usually go with just us, sure, but…

…I am content. God has given me rest. I’m not happy about the decisions others have made. I’m not pleased that others are sick or have chosen to say that other things are more important than praising God.

But I’m not upset that I now have the opportunity to rest.

Over the next week or so, I hope to type up some observations from my vacation. God used it well to encourage me and give me rest… even if the ending was exhausting! For now, I am content. God has used me, even as a shell, to bless his people. It is good to be used by an expert craftsman.

And now, I’m going to go sleep some.

Now you know, Lee.


As pastors have for millenia, we gathered around coffee and sugared sweets and gabbed. It was almost time for the pastor’s conference to start, and we all wanted to catch up with old friends.

My phone rang. Not out of the question for 8:30 in the morning, but when I glanced at the caller ID I stepped away from my conversation quickly. These people wouldn’t be calling me at this time unless it was serious.

Hello, this is Pastor,” I answered.

I expected to hear the shaky voice of an older woman or the raspy voice of an old man. Instead, a young man greeted me. “Is this pastor?” Strong voice. Sure voice. Not a voice that belonged in that house.

This is,” I answered.

I’m officer –” I don’t remember his name. When I heard the younger voice, I expected it to be one of their sons or grandsons. Not an officer. I tuned back in: “– wanted to call you, but she couldn’t get her fingers to dial. Here she is.”

And the phone transferred and I heard that dear woman’s voice. “Pastor. Lee’s, um. Lee’s dead.”

I left the conference. I gathered my things and headed out to the car. It would take at least a half hour of driving to get back to their home.

It’s not safe driving through the rain when you’re weeping.

Oh, Lee. Oh, Lee!

This man, even as his body betrayed him, even as his physical form withered, was more of a man than any five others combined I’ve known. His scratchy, raspy voice always smiled, though. I’d come to see him, and he’d always be in his chair, oxygen in, waiting with a smile and a question. “Pastor, how is Gideon?” or “Pastor, where is this in the Bible?” or “Pastor, when will Jesus come?”

And every time I visited, he told me: “Pastor, I always pray, ‘Thy kingdom come.’ And I always do it in two ways. First, I want more people to know him. The children, Pastor. The children. They need to know Jesus. I hurt for them so much.” And he’d stop and wheeze for breath, near tears. “And second, I pray that he comes for me soon. I want to. Can you imagine it, Pastor? Can you imagine feeling Jesus’s arms around you?” And his eyes shone with unspilled tears.

Oh, this man. He knew Jesus’s love so well, and he longed for others to know it. He shared that love. He prayed for others so vigilantly. He asked after others. And yes. He loved.

As I left his home, he would wave me over to his recliner and embrace me. “I love you, Pastor,” he’d wheeze.

I love you, Lee,” I answered.

I told him that last week.

He told me that last week.

And now.

Finally. Finally, I’ve reached their home. I run up the driveway and pass the medical tech on her way out. And there, there is his wife.

His widow.

And we move toward each other and embrace. And we sob. We weep.

This is the family of God. It is not drinking coffee and gabbing on Sunday morning – at least, not that alone. It is not smiles and nods and pats on the back. It is weeping and mourning and sobbing together.

Because death stings. Oh, the sting of death will be removed, yes, it will, but today we are broken together by the curse. Oh, we hurt so much. We miss him.

We hold each other for a long time.

And then we step back and sit and talk. And talk.

I ask, “How did it happen?”

He went last night,” she tells me. “I didn’t call anyone until this morning. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to leave him.”

Oh. Oh, my sister. Oh, how I grieve for you and with you. Oh.

And we talk. I ask her to tell stories she’s told a thousand times before, but needs to tell again in her grief. I tell her stories of how Lee longed to know the feel of Jesus’s arms around him. Of how Lee struggled with guilt but clung to Christ. Of how yes, Christ took his guilt and there is no question: Lee knows what it is to breathe again without oxygen. He knows what it is to dance again, though it has been years. He knows what it is to feast again, though he’d not eaten anything in so long.

We talk for hours. And we weep together. And we laugh together. I hold her hand. We pray.

And Lee. Now you know.

Now you know your Savior’s love fully. Now you feel his embrace. Now you can touch the nail-scarred hands and weep together with the God who loved you even in those sins that haunted you.

I miss you, Lee. I love you.

Lee, you wanted to experience His love. You wanted to know those arms.

And now you know, Lee.

Now you know.

The Long Sunday


It begins in a peaceful sanctuary. Gotta be the start of a good day, right? 


I’m in the sanctuary, practicing a devotion for a council meeting and then the sermon for the day. Both go well, but long. It’ll have to do. I finish with enough time to practice playing the hymn for our evening service and even print out the music for it.


It starts with Jesus. It’s all simple after this, right? 


Council meeting. It begins with a devotion.

Yesterday I went to an evangelism seminar, and the keynote speaker said something that was really cool. I want to share it with you.

Men, especially, need a purpose. We need a project of some kind. Rebuilding a car. Building a deck. Writing a novel. We need a purpose, or we just fall to pieces. And Jesus gave us that purpose.

Easter night. The tomb has been empty all day, but the disciples are still terrified. They’re hiding in their room. And then Jesus shows up, even though the doors are locked. And he showed them his hands. Look! They look like they’ve been staked to a cross! And then he gives them – and us – a mission: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” And I look at the men in the room. One of the councilmen is missing. Not surprising, unfortunately. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Jesus’s mission is now our mission. What did the Father send Jesus to do?”

And one of the councilmen says it, word for word, exactly what I was looking for: “He came to save the world.”

Exactly.” I smile. “Exactly! The Father sent Jesus to save the world. And now that’s our mission. Jesus sends us to save the world. It’s not a little thing. It’s not a hobby. This is major.”

And we go on to explore Jesus accomplished his mission: He left his comfortable home in heaven to come to those who needed saving, he served, he shared his Father’s Word, he was all about what his Father said and not about what he wanted, he suffered, he died. And we will follow that same method.

Oh, I am excited. This is such awesome stuff, and I’m thrilled to share it. Not because I’m awesome, but because Jesus is awesome.


My face at council. 


Council meeting continues.

We’ve covered some good basic things. We need to set up guidelines for building usage so I can just say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to those who want to use the space. We’re going to support a VBS put on by some sister congregations, in large part because we simply can’t do our own.

A councilman voices an idea about how to use one of our rooms. Not a bad idea in itself, but there are practical matters to consider. It would require a fairly large outlay of money, and given the nature of the idea, a new monthly budget item that would be fairly major. Councilman’s willing to foot the bill for it.

I ask, “How does this connect people to Jesus?”

We’ll figure it out later,” he says.

No. Does not work. Our mission is to share Jesus. Our mission is to save the world. You don’t have an idea to commit the church to something and say, “We’ll figure out the Jesus part out later.”

He is not pleased.


Sorry, dude. Not gonna change some things. Actually, no. Not sorry. 


The last council member shows up an hour late.

We’re talking about evangelism. He asks about a certain visitor who had expressed interest in joining. He asks for her by name – by a name that I don’t recognize. I thought she had a different name. I tell about how she had been very interested in coming to a Bible study, and we’d just started a new membership class. She didn’t show up, but she had been excited. She wasn’t in worship last week.

We shouldn’t make people take a class. It scares people away,” he scowls. “If you told me that, I’d go to another church that didn’t make me take a class.”

I take a breathe. “We love God’s Word enough to teach it to others.”

He sulks.


Despite my frustration with some, others eagerly await the Gospel. 


Out of council.

Seriously. These are the men that lead our congregation? A man who wants us to get people in instead of teaching the Bible? A man who doesn’t care if we connect people with Jesus, as long as we get them in the building? Really?

Is this my people? Am I wasting my time here? Is this a waste of service?

Stow it. I need to focus.

Time to greet people at worship. Finally. Of course, fifteen minutes before worship, and not a lot of people are here yet. Most people come five minutes before worship.

The woman that the councilman asked about? That he thinks shouldn’t take a class? She’s here. I grab her. We talk. I double-check her name. Lo and behold, I had her name right.

(In other words – I cared enough about her to learn her name. The councilman didn’t care enough to get her name right. Looks like [surprise! ] he was only interested in getting another body in church.)

She asks me, “Can I be baptized? I was never baptized.”


Oh, yes.

We arrange to get together this week so we can talk about baptism, what it is, and prepare. Because yes. I will baptize you.

Love is not getting butts in the seats. Love is sharing Jesus.


It’s not me that’s awesome. It’s Jesus. 


Worship starts a few minutes late because I don’t get away from the woman who wants to be baptized. Because, really, you don’t want to walk away from a moment like that.

And worship.

Oh, to stand in the grace of God. To pronounce the simple truth that we are broken. That we are sinners. That we are evil. That we are dead.

And Jesus loves us.

That he died for us. That he took on our evil. He took on our sin. He took on our brokenness.

I told the congregation I was excited today. I think it came through. The council meeting is out of my head. I don’t care about it now. The concern will come back later, after most of the day is done. But for now, ti simply stand in the presence of God and share it… oh!

To give the body and blood in with and under the bread and wine, to give the people forgiveness they can taste and see… oh, there is nothing like it. To lead others to exclaim praise that yes, I am forgiven, that yes, I am God’s child!


I love our members, but they’re really not as photogenic as stock photography people. 


Worship went a little long. That pastor, he just doesn’t shut up about Jesus, does he?

And I come downstairs to our fellowship area and discover… God’s people greeting visitors and loving each other. Oh, it is good. This is not the group that I saw even two months ago who ignored visitors.

I spend time talking to a few people. Asking if I can call this week, if I can visit. I long to be with my people. I stop by visitors. Arrange to meet. Talk.

Oh. It is so good.


There was no math in Bible study, thankfully. 


We start Bible study almost a half hour late.

Silly pastor doesn’t shut up when he’s conversing with God’s people. It’s almost like he enjoys this.

And for Bible study, my Bride and I share what we learned at the evangelism seminar. And we’re excited. I’m not sure how much got through to others, but we’re excited.


You’ll never guess where I devoured cowmeat. Well, something kinda close to it, anyway. Kinda.


Driving a regular visitor home after Bible study. Grabbing fast food with my family for lunch. Because I have an appointment to get to.


I’m the worst pastor ever. I don’t like coffee. I just order lots of chai lattes.


I’m in a coffee shop with four other adults gathered around a table. They belong to a sister congregation, but have been visiting weekly for just over a month. They want to transfer membership. I want to get to know them better. The coffee shop is a good place to meet.

We talk for two and a half hours.

These four brothers and sisters share their lives with me. I get to know where they work. How they met each other. Their life stories. And I delight. One of them is in tears, sharing herself in ways she never has outside of her family.

And I love these brothers and sisters. I’m not saying that in a jock way, but in the way that happens when you know someone, when you learn some of their darkness, and share God’s grace with them. And they bond as I share God’s grace. We talk about what membership in this family means.

The time flies by. And in the end… three of them want to transfer membership.

Oh. One of them isn’t a member anywhere. She was baptized a couple years ago, but never went through instruction.

She’s going to come tomorrow to the membership class. She’s excited. She wants to know if there’s a women’s Bible study she can come to. We don’t have one now, but there’s a few women interested. We start brainstorming right there different ways to set something up and get it going.

God is so, so good.


No one named Glinda has ever done this to me.



Just in time to start prepping for the evening service!


“I have a dad?!”


Supper with the family. I get to spend some time with family.

I have kids! Who knew?


On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again…


I leave to pick up people for our evening service.



Five minutes before worship starts, I discover that for some reason the speakers have stopped working.



There is no joke here. Simple truth.


Evening worship. It’s… it’s so empty. For some reason, a lot of the regulars aren’t there tonight.

God’s Word is still preached.

God’s people are shown their sin. God’s people are shown their Savior. God’s people rejoice in forgiveness. And even with so few… it’s good.


Is it sleep time yet?


I’m home from dropping everyone off. Time to put things away. Time to write down what needs to be recorded.

I’m so tired.



Nearly fourteen hours straight of ministry time. Most of it people time. I am drained.

It is so good.

Parts of today were terrible. I hate that the worst parts of my day had to do with my council simply not getting that it’s about sharing Jesus. I hate that immaturity. I hate that my day began with that. And it hurts that they don’t value the one who gave his life for them.

God knew that would happen this morning. He knew that one councilmember wouldn’t care about connecting people to Jesus, and that another would rather get butts in the seats, even to the detriment of the people there. And he knew how much I would gnash my teeth.

And so he sent the others.

He sent the lamb who wants to be baptized.

He sent the family that wants to serve.

He sent the members who encouraged me.

This day has been long and so good, and it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with Jesus. He gets all the credit.

He comforts a sinner like me. Not just with forgiveness, but with love.

Lord, thank you for this long, long day. Forgive me my anger, and direct me with a fierce love of both you and those who don’t acknowledge you. Make it my passion more and more to reach out. And Lord… thank you. Thank you for the encouragement. Thank you for the blessing of sharing your good, good Word.

And Lord… if it’s your will… please make tomorrow shorter, but no less good!