Month: April 2017

A Time to Mourn

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Monday night: The evening before the moving truck arrives. All day long we have been packing, throwing up dust as we take up items we’ve not glanced at in years and decide on keep, donate, or trash. Over the last couple weeks we’ve made twelve runs to goodwill. But now, in the evening, everything needs to get wrapped up. The moving truck is coming! I need to run over to the church office to settle just a couple paperwork items and leave them in church coucilmen’s boxes. And to get to the office I need to pass through the Sanctuary.

And as I walk through that darkened room… it finally hits.

This isn’t my church any more. I don’t belong here any more. I am only a guest here now.

This is not my Sanctuary.

Shove it away. I scamper through to the church office. I don’t have time for this right now. We have so much to do yet tonight. I do what I need to. My Bride finds me, we touch base on a couple of things. I ask if I can spend some time in the Sanctuary.

My Bride is amazing. Have I mentioned that before? “Take your time.”

And so I go and turn on the lights…

And there she is. The place that has frustrated me so often. The home of the people I have loved. Her stained glass, her wooden pews, and there… there is the altar.

And at last. At last, the tears come. (more…)

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Farewell Eve

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Tomorrow I say goodbye.

OK. Deep breath.

I’ve really been saying goodbye for a long time, though. But all this week, I visited shut-ins for the last time. One of them wept and begged, “Don’t go! Please, don’t go! Change your mind! You just can’t leave!” And my heart broke a little… but not as much as I thought it would.

Last Sunday I delivered Communion to my congregation at a regular service for the last time. God used me to deliver forgiveness they could taste and see… for the last time. I placed the wafer on her lips, one last time. I handed over that little cup to her, one last time. One last time I received Communion from this man.

And… I thought it would be more emotional. But it wasn’t.

And is it because… because I’m listening to what I’m saying? My theme the last week has been, “Because of Easter, every goodbye is temporary.” Because Jesus lives again, every Christian will live again. All those united to Jesus’s death through baptism will surely live again. And that’s not just you.

It’s this goober, too.

And that means my congregation.. they’re stuck with me for all eternity. But I won’t be their pastor. No, we will all be guests at the wedding supper of the Lamb. We will be around the Throne day and night, and we get to serve Jesus in his temple! I won’t be their pastor, because our Pastor will be with us in ways we can only dream about now.

And is it… is it that I’m soaking this in as much as I’m trying to deliver it? Is it not as emotional because I’m getting it?

Then again… Paul certainly knew he would see his beloved congregations again, and he still wept at parting.

Or is it that all my tears have been saved up for tomorrow? For my last service, my last formal proclamation of Law and Gospel to this particular congregation?

There are some who are honestly happy to see me go. They’ve told me as much. And you know what? To be honest, I won’t miss those people all that much, either.

But there are others that… that I will miss so, so much. I love the people God has given me, and parting will hurt.

I’ve theorized that maybe I’m not feeling much because I’ve been so busy. Packing isn’t the most…. relaxing of pursuits, you know? And maybe because I’m so tired I just don’t have the energy to deal with the emotions, so they’re going to hit after I leave. And – yeah, I think that’s going to happen in a major way. It’s a good thing I’ve got some days between leaving here and arriving there. I think I’ll need that time to mourn.

But right now I’m bracing for tomorrow. To see these faces that I love one last time.

Well, one last time until forever arrives.

Empty Shelves

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Your life is a luxurious library filled with every book you have ever read. Shelves hold volumes dedicated to your triumphs and countless screeds to your shames, tucked away under your more public adventures.

And there will come a time when every book will be torn from you. Every valued paragraph you ever read, every character, every page, until the shelves are bare and you are left without any precious fiction to protect you. When that time comes, cling, cling to God’s Word. The other books may well entertain. They may inspire. They may define who you think you are.

But none of them were written by the God who knew you in your deepest shame and still loved you. None of them were written by a God who chose to die to take your guilt. And no other book has the power to actually strengthen what matters: your grasp of God’s love for you. Revel in this story, for it is the only one that matters. Here God died and lives for you, to make you his own.

When the shelves of your life are empty, cling to this book, even if it is the only book left.

Gratitude at the Wrong Time

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Tonight is not about me.

Tonight is about Jesus.

If tonight is about me at all, it’s about my sin. It’s about the enormity of my filth. Look at me. How many times have I said I’d do something, but failed to follow through? How many times have I made promises but not kept them? How many times have I been selfish, making it about me, and not about others? My filth, and how often I have returned to it, even knowing better, again and again and again and again.

I have sinned. By my fault. By my own fault. By my own most grievous fault.

And tonight I see the weight of my sin, the offense my filth has caused. Do you see your Savior? Do you see him, there, all his weight hanging on three nails piercing through skin and muscle and arteries? I did that. Me. That is how offensive my filth is. That is the cost.

And Jesus pays it all.

He screams at the top of his lungs, bursting vocal cords, bellowing out with all the strength that is left in him, “It is finished!” Paid in full! It’s over! It’s done!

I owe nothing.

Tonight is not about me.

It’s about Jesus.

Tonight I led a Good Friday service. And I pray I pointed to the cross. The only time I talked about me is when I stood with the congregation and confessed my sins. Otherwise, it was about Jesus, only Jesus. How he completed our salvation. How he paid the price. We stood in wonder at the foot of the cross.

And on the way out, in the silence, I received tearful hugs, and people whispered in my ear, “I’m going to miss you pastor. I love you, pastor.”

And… and… but…

But it’s not about me!

Says the guy that one post ago was trying to figure out if he should be offended that there seems to be no official goodbye planned.

if it’s about me, it’s about my sin. My selfishness.

I’m never happy, am I?

One day I complain about no one seeming to notice… and the next I complain that they do notice, but at the wrong time.

If I am known as a pastor who pointed to Christ, I will be content.

I need to say it again so I get it through my thick skill: If I am known as a pastor who pointed to Christ, I will be content.

And I pray that tonight, when the people expressed their sorrow over my leaving, it was because tonight I pointed them to Christ, and they want a pastor who does that. I pray that it was the proper love a people have for the person who connects them with Jesus. And… and I think it was.

And… and if there is no formal goodbye, these words, even if they were after a Good Friday service, I will value them.

I will miss the people here. I do look forward to a new adventure, but… man.

It’s not about me. And that’s a good thing.

It’s about Jesus.

Forgotten

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Today was my goodbye party. Supposedly. There were no speeches and no tears. There was a cake. It wished God’s blessings to my family. But that was the only thing that marked today as a farewell.

Because it wasn’t really a goodbye party. Not at all. Today the congregation met with my church body’s district president to arrange to get a new pastor in here. The district president couldn’t show up until the early afternoon, so to make sure people stuck around for the meeting, church leadership invented a goodbye party as an excuse to keep people around.

Except I’m here for another two weeks, and one of those weeks is Holy Week. Saying goodbye now is marvelously premature. And I think the congregation gets that.

Next week is Easter, and all glory goes to Christ. I’m glad to be here for one final Holy Week.

But the week after is my goodbye. And right now… the only thing planned for that day is worship. That’s it. If there’s something planned, the congregation as a whole is… really mum about it, and that’s highly unusual. Certain people can keep a secret. But others can’t. And, frankly, a surprise something would not be good for me as I suspect I’ll already be pretty emotional that day.

Which means… I’ll lead worship one last time… and then everyone will go home. No formal goodbye. No party. Nothing.

And… I’m really, really torn about this.

On one hand… I’m just a servant. I’ve worked hard to point to Christ and away from me. I want them connected to Jesus far more than they are to me. And they need to stay loyal to him, whether or not I’m here. So if they don’t freak out that I’m leaving, if it’s just going from one preacher pointing to Christ to another… isn’t that a good thing?

But.

But I have wept with them and for them. I have bled for them. And yes. I want them to weep for me. When I leave here, I will mourn. Oh, I will mourn so much! But… is my passing simply a nonevent? Or is this just another sign of immaturity in the congregation? Should I be surprised that the congregation just lets me go with a pat on the back?

Or am I being selfish in thinking I should receive some sort of recognition? Shouldn’t I be happy to serve Christ, whether or not the people I serve recognize me?

Or should I expect to depart like Paul did, as his people wept at his passing simply because yes, he pointed them to Christ?

At this point… it appears that when I leave… there will be no goodbye. Or at least, no special noting of my leaving. And I am struggling so much. I pray that I receive such… disdain? Is that what this is? I pray I receive it as simply a sign of their immaturity, and move on to a congregation that has some maturity. I pray that the slight rolls off my back… because there is no point in holding on to it. Why? What would it accomplish?

No. Just… just serve.

And see what the next adventure is.