christianity

Stand firm.

You may have noticed if you’re reading here regularly: I’ve had… a hard time of it lately. To the point where last week at this time I was ready to call it quits on this congregation. I wasn’t convinced I shouldn’t be a pastor; I was simply convinced that this was not the place for me any longer. Everything was broken. I was done.

And in that dried-up, vacant state, I visited my pastor.

(As a side note – yes, I have a pastor. Our church body arranges for one local pastor to not only pastor his congregation, but also take care of spiritual needs of the other pastors under his care. This is not hierarchical at all, at least where I’m at. My pastor feels more like a wise big brother.)

My pastor listened to me as I outlined my problems. He probed with questions. He considered. And what he said helped a good deal.

He affirmed my feeling: What I am experiencing burdens the soul and makes cheerful service difficult. Current events weigh on the congregation heavier than many other congregations, simply because of our small size.

And then he told me what I needed to hear: Stand firm. (more…)

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Laughter fails.

Sorrow is heavier than laughter.

I laughed a good amount today. We had a fun Bible study (yes, that’s not only possible, but fairly regular at my congregation). I got to spend an hour playing Wiiu for the first time with some of the teens. I cuddled my kids and hugged my Bride. And worship… to speak those words, those true words, “I forgive you all your sins!” To deliver Jesus’s own body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine, and with it forgiveness? Yes. So many good things today, both for ministry and with family.

But even in laughter, the heart may ache.

“I can’t support a pastor who chases members away.” And so my day began, as a man accused me of trying to murder the congregation. He refuses to understand that God’s Word is very plain regarding sinners who refuse to repent: warn patiently and gently, but should there be no change, harsher methods start – for the good of the soul of that person. And so it is my fault that we are losing some members, when one person refuses to let go of a sin. At least, that’s what I’m told by a few.

Two members arguing to the point of destroying furniture. And I know why Paul begs. “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

A man dear to my heart sits in the hospital, and he weeps. I sit with him and comfort, but his heart is so weighed down.

A woman dear to my heart sobs; she has been so hurt by another.

And there is so much pain. There is so much hurt. And no, I do not bear it – that is not my job. It is not my task to carry all of these hardships. I bring them before Jesus. And yet, I mourn with those who mourn.

It has been a hard month, and where I thought laughter would buoy me up again soon, sorrow continues to drag down. I don’t know what to do.

I talked to brothers in the ministry today. I don’t know if I’m being a whiny brat or if this is a Jeremiah ministry. I need someone to either tell me to shut up and be the shepherd of this flock, or if I am in that hard a ministry that my sorrow is justified. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting with another pastor who knows this congregation and knows it well; he’ll be able to either whack me upside the head or help me to carry on. Probably both.

I don’t know if what I have is “grass is greener syndrome” or sitcomitis (the belief that everything should be wrapped up in time for the next episode) or, as my Bride called it, “first-year-itis” – simply put, the honeymoon is over and now I’m starting to notice the warts. I don’t know. But I know that tonight, I’m tired and down. My sorrow is heavier than my laughter. 

Elephants in the Bible Study Room

Jesus knows how to take care of souls better than we do. Go figure; he created them. So why is it we insist on taking care of things our own way?

Bible study was more than a little interesting today. I lost my voice due to a combination of cold and being outdoors and shouting all day yesterday. So, I planned a video for Bible study. It was one that I thought should elicit a good amount of conversation. It’s a well-done video that you can find here:

 

And after the video, I asked: “What did he get right? What did he get wrong?” I expected a conversation following why we need to gather as Christians, condemning legalism, and the like. (And if you want a great response to the video, watch this:  )

 

OK, so I asked for responses. I got some of the expected basic answers: He was able to talk about the Gospel, how Jesus is the center, how we do nothing, how hypocrisy is bad… And one woman asked: “If we’re supposed to be full of grace… if we’re not supposed to judge… then how can we judge sin? Everyone sins! We shouldn’t be kicking people out of church just because they sin!” (more…)

I’ve got backup.

People pray for me. That blows me away.

I mentioned in Bible study today, after church, that it hit me during church. “Sure, it was a pre-written prayer. But in it, you all prayed for me. And that blew me away.”

And a woman in the Bible study shrugged and said, “Every day I pray for my pastor, my church, and my synod.”

Whoa.

They say – they being the Bible here, which means the “they” in this case is God, which isn’t really a they – I think daylight savings time is getting to me – they say that one of the purposes of gathering with other Christians to worship is simple and necessary encouragement. And this was incredible encouragement. I’m important enough that others are routinely lifting me up before God’s eyes and refusing to let him forget me?

Whoa.

It came to me as we were discussing this at Bible study, but I think the analogy is true.

When you find out others are praying for you, it’s like running into battle. You’re on your white charger, blade held high, screaming at the enemy as you race toward the oncoming tide of terrible, dark forces. You feel alone.

And then you realize that there is an army chasing after you, backing you up. A tidal wave of valiant, honorable troops backing you up.

And that is what prayer for another person is. It is backing them up on the field of battle. They are not alone, though they may feel it.

And at least some in my congregation are backing me up. They’re praying for me. And that is humbling. And scary. Me? I’m nothing! I’m just some guy!

It’s funny… right now in that same Bible study we’re reading through the book of Esther. As Queen Esther contemplates risking her life to do the right thing, her cousin Mordecai says, “And who knows but that you were put in your royal position for such a time as this?”

Who was Esther? Just some girl. She was blessed with beauty. She was blessed with wisdom. She was blessed to be put in the right place at the right time. But in the end… she was just some girl that God used to rescue his people from annihilation.

I’m just some guy, but God has placed me here in this congregation at this time. I shepherd his flock – for now, at least. Unless Jesus comes again, another will come after me, just as many preceded me.

But for now, the congregation supports me. And that still blows me away.

I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to this.

Dilemma

A young woman, a minor still well within her mother’s care, desperately wishes to be baptized. Her mother has forbidden it.

Now, do I:
1. Listen to Jesus’s command to “baptize all nations” and baptize this young woman anyway?
2. Listen to Jesus’s command to respect parents?

Things to keep in mind: 

This young woman has saving faith. The Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, has created a love of Jesus in her heart. She is forgiven. She has eternal life already. She is a member of God’s family. Baptism, while an awesome gift, does not convey anything she does not already have.

This young woman is certainly not despising the Sacrament; this is not a matter of her saying that the blessings of baptism aren’t that big a deal.

Yet, baptism has very real blessings, even when applied after faith already exists. It is not merely a symbol; I Peter says “Baptism now saves you.” Titus calls it a “washing of rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit.”

Complications in this case:

The young woman and her family will be moving in about a month to a place where it will be very difficult for her to get to a church to worship or stay connected with a face-to-face Christian family.

Her mother does want her baptized; however, the mom is Jehova’s Witness. Because they deny the Trinity, their baptisms are not real.

Mom has a decent amount of pull in the community. This young woman came into contact with the Gospel through our Teen Center, which does most of its work with teens who had never before heard the Gospel. If Mom finds out we went against her wishes, it is realistic (as I know her) that she would then speak badly of the center to other parents, directly limiting the amount of Gospel outreach we could do.

Saying no to this young woman could realistically cause offense to her in the Christian sense; it may hurt her faith. At the very least, it would cause a very real struggle for her that may be unnecessary.

Things to bring comfort:

This young woman has saving faith. This is not a question of whether or not she goes to heaven. It is a question of whether or not we can participate in giving her this solid reassurance, this sacrament, at this time.

It is God-pleasing to obey the fourth commandment and honor parents.

It is God-pleasing to baptize.

Either way, we win.

To wrap-up:

What do you suggest? Do you have any advice or questions? Help me out here!

You are accepted.

Hebrews 2:10-18 10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers;

in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

(more…)

When the Preacher Doesn’t Pay Attention to his Own Sermon…

This is not a good time to lose your train of thought.

Yesterday I slipped into the sacristy as the congregation sang the last verse of the pre-sermon hymn. I grabbed a sip of juice from the glass my wife left for me. I closed my eyes to pray for blessing on the sermon as I usually do.

No prayer came.

Instead, I saw that empty back pew. The pew where the older teens usually sit when they’re at church. The pew that should have been filled, based on what several teens had told me.

It stuck in my craw. I had to physically shake the thought out of my head. Now was not the time to ponder. Now was the moment to concentrate, to focus my thoughts so I could bring God’s Word to God’s people that were present. It does no good to preach at people who aren’t there – and in fact, it does quite a bit of harm. (more…)