christianity

This is Brave. This is Bruised.

adult alone black and white dark

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Jesus ain’t got no taste.* Jesus had low standards for who he invited to follow him. His disciples were a mess. The apostles in-fought. Prostitutes and tax collectors were comfortable bringing their friends to Jesus.

I am sick and tired of churches that have higher standards than Jesus.

I am not saying that I don’t expect Christians to grow. One of our problems is how little we seem to mature in the Gospel, to grow in its implications and live under the cross.

Nearly everyone I associate with agrees that the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. But then… then you mention that someone who was indeed guilty of one of “those sins” is coming to church, suddenly they stress out. When I talk about inviting “those” people in, it means disrupted meetings and messes and…

…why are we holding this gathering of saints-and-sinners to a higher standard than Jesus held?

The tension is growing. (more…)

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It’s more than a locker room speech.

I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. It was a time of amazing sports movies. Mighty Ducks was probably my favorite of them, but you probably know at least some of these great sports movies that have graced the silver screen: Hoosiers. Rudy. Miracle.

I read an illustration in Move Toward the Mess by John Hambrick, and I used it today at a congregational meeting. Shamelessly. (Pastors are the best thieves.)

On Facebook, I asked for the best locker room speech in a sports movie. I got a lot of amazing suggestions. Remember the Titans. The Replacements. Any Given Sunday. Friday Night Lights. A lot of them I couldn’t use because of language or simple time requirements, but then today at the beginning of the congregational meeting, I played this clip:


(more…)

…But I Want to Die

abandoned abandoned building broken decay

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Today is not a dark day. I’ve experienced plenty of those.

This showed up in my newsfeed today: “I really love Jesus, but I want to die.” I do not agree with everything this writer believes theologically based how she phrases some things, but her description of depression, how it affects her, the lies it whispers, and what helps are all spot-on.

Please, read this. It is well, well worth your time.

Wedding Whine

Wedding Day

I’m at a wedding. I just married two people. Pretty awesome. The bride’s shone, though she didn’t walk down the aisle with the dress she had last night. Something happened with the fitting, and she had to find a replacement today. Still, her smile was enough to outshine the sun.

Speaking of the sun, it was an outdoor wedding. Those are chancy; the weather can do so many things. But it was mid-seventies, bright sun, and the breeze was a touch strong but otherwise perfect.

I could tell the bride was a little stressed. She’s like me; an introvert. My wedding day was amazing because it started my marriage, but man, was I done by the end of it! She looked about the same. Happy. Stressed. Done. Happy.

Most everyone is happy now, though. Kids are running around screaming and giggling. Adults are chuckling and chatting. Food is being eaten. Music blares. Everyone is happy.

Except my son. (more…)

Review: Authentic Christianity

Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World
by Gene Edward Veith Jr. and A. Trevor Sutton

People are burned out on churches. They’re taught that things are a matter of opinion, and what churches teach are spiritual, divorced from “hard reality.” Is the answer for churches to update what they do to try and reach the current culture? Authentic Christianity proposes something different: Teaching what Lutherans have taught for hundreds of years. It tackles big modernist and postmodernist beliefs, and shows how Lutheran theology perfectly answers both.

I’m not sure that the subtitle fits. While it does talk a lot about postmodernism and how it shows up in our world, as well as the vestiges of modernism that still attack, the focus seems to be in… a slightly different angle. Much of this book shows how Lutheranism is a physical religion that takes real things and deals with them in real ways. It shows how Jesus became flesh. It shows that the body is not a bad thing. That God chooses to become physical. The book then explores how that effects life in many, many ways.

Now, to be clear, I am not saying the book is bad. It was very good and gave me a lot of things to think about! I’m just saying I’m not sure the subtitle was the best choice to reveal what the book was about. (To be fair, a book talking about how Lutheranism combats neo-gnosticism probably wouldn’t sell well.) (more…)

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…)

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!