church

Gifts for Me

Christmas Card

She is alone much of the time. As I visit her, she tells me, “I haven’t left my room in over a month.” I know this woman fairly well. She may be in a nursing home, but she’s hardly sedate. She’s active with the other residents, playing games, solving puzzles, and sharing Jesus.

Normally.

Just about every time I visit, she’ll say, “Pastor, my neighbor doesn’t believe in God. How can that be? How can I tell him about Jesus?”

Her heart yearns for her Savior and yearns to share him, too.

But now she’s sick. It’s a new medication that’s simply not cooperating well. Hopefully it’ll be solved soon. In the meantime, she hasn’t left her room.

She hasn’t been to church in years. Her family stuck her in a nursing home far away. It was cheaper. But it’s so far away she physically can’t handle the drive to church anymore. It’s so far away pretty much no one visits her. It’s about an hour away by interstate.

And she longs to be with the congregation again. She misses the family of believers. (more…)

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Why Christmas Matters

macro shot photography of christmas stockings ornament on a christmas tree

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He is risen!” I greeted the congregation.

They blinked at each other. They glanced nervously at the Christmas tree. They observed the chairs nicely lined up for the kids to sit in for the Christmas program. The Advent candles were lit. “…He is risen indeed?” they asked back. There was a nervous chuckle.

Some of you are a little confused!” I smile.

Cause you’re not supposed to say that now!” one of the members in the front row answers. More laughter now. (more…)

Am I OK?

Crowd

Today before worship one of my council members pulled me aside. “Pastor, can I have a second? I need to ask you a question. If you need to think about it before answering me, I understand. It’s about that paper you gave me.”

Ah.

About a month back, I made available to my council members a paper I had written on pastoral depression. It was meant to be a show of transparency: “Hey, I wrote this, and if you want, you can have access to it. It’s not an assignment or even something I’m asking you to do; it’s just something you can have if you want.”

And this man has read it now.

He pulls me aside, and very concerned, asks, “Is this a cry for help?” (more…)

This is Brave. This is Bruised.

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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…)

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…)

Your pastor might have depression.

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So yesterday I presented a paper on depression in the ministry. I shared my story as part of the paper. All of it: My struggles with worth, with shame, with cutting, with laziness, all of it. I talked about the need for Gospel, the need to admit needing help, the need to have someone to talk to. I talked about needing Jesus, not “just” for salvation but for our infirmities and our sorrows, too.

And afterward, pastor after pastor approached me with thanks and asked for more.

What did your counselor do with you?”

How do you find someone to confide in?”

What kind of music helps you?”

More approached with their own stories. I won’t share them here for respect for their privacy, except to say that depression in the ministry is not unique to me. These stories shattered me. So many of my brothers thought they were alone and broken and had to hide.

This is a call to you. If you are not a minister or you serve on a ministry team, help your ministers. There are two huge ways you can do that: (more…)

Alone in a Church

“Why is it people I scarcely know know how to talk to me better than anyone at my church?”

She asked me that. She’s a young adult trying to connect at her home congregation. (Yes, I asked her permission to quote her, anonymously.) Her perception is that no one in her home congregation cares about her, nor do they care about their surrounding community. They insist on doing things the way they have always been, without any further examination. They don’t reach out, especially if it means breaking out of a very narrow comfort zone. And for her and her needs? A lot of shrugging. Connecting with her? Whatever.

She just came back from a conference where she vaguely knew… two people, I think. And she connected with them more and better than people she’s known her whole life at her congregation.

This is a problem. (more…)

Review: Unfashionable

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Unfashionable
by Tullian Tchivdjian

What is the church’s relationship to the world supposed to be? Are we supposed to stand apart from the world and refuse to let it in? Are we supposed to be in the world, making it better? Are we supposed to learn from the world or run from it? In this book, Tulian tackles what the church should be. He claims that the church makes the best changes in the world by being different – by being, well, unfashionable. We can only make a difference by being different. And the only way to be different is to be what we are: Sinners saved by grace, children of God chosen by his pleasure and mercy. And to be strengthened to do that, we must be in the Word.

Tullian has “fallen from grace” in many circles because of what appear to be true allegations concerning his conduct and refusal to repent. I won’t defend the author of this work – assuming the allegations are true, Tullian must repent, and should he repent, I pray he is shown true grace.

That said, even with those allegations, Tullian wrote several books that spoke Law and Gospel so well that I still pick up his books when I find them available. (His excellent Jesus+Nothing=Everything still receives my highest recommendation!) (more…)

The Best Thing About Church

It was a long, hard catechism process fraught with communication issues. You see, she’s Deaf. I have some basic signing, and she is an excellent lip reader, so most of the time it worked all right. She has told me repeatedly that I saved her life. She’s never been involved in a church before, and she’s been pulled in deep her. She loves women’s Bible study and attends faithfully.

Today she nearly cried.

After all that, what is it that affected her most? More than preaching the Gospel? More than the announcement of forgiveness or a home in heaven? More than peace with God?

I sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

“She was almost crying,” another church member told me after. “She said no pastor had ever sung Happy Birthday to her before.”

Um… ok.

Look, I get that as a small congregation, we get to make things far more personal than larger congregations. I can get away with silly things like singing Happy Birthday on a Sunday morning right before Bible study. I get that the people here greatly value that personal touch.

But… but the center isn’t my personal touch. That should be a “bonus feature” on the DVD of church. The main feature is Jesus. Not pastor – Jesus!

I’ve long struggled with church worship here. I’ve only barely been touched by pastor worship… but now I see it a little. It happened with a teenager, too. He told me that he can’t pay attention to other pastors, and now that I’ve had to enact discipline on his mom, he refuses to see me. So he might as well not go to any church, because he won’t get anything out of those other pastors, anyway. That’s pastor worship there – and other sins, too.

I have told people repeatedly – it’s about Jesus, not about me. When I leave (and it is a when, whether that’s in one year or twenty) – when I leave, nobody better leave this congregation. If they do, it shows me they were attached to me and not attached to Jesus.

I can’t save anyone, no matter how many times I might sing Happy Birthday to them. Knowing me will not forgive any of your sins.

This may shock you, but I’m not Jesus.

I appreciate that this woman appreciated my singing Happy Birthday. I do these things on purpose to express love. And I’m not calling her a “pastor-ologist” or anything like that. She trusts Christ and rejoices in him.

But if that’s the thing that gets her most excited about church… something’s lacking.

Does that mean I need to be less friendly? I don’t think that’s the solution. Can I point better to Christ? Well, yeah. Obviously. I can always do that better.

The best thing about church, though, shouldn’t be the pastor. And it shouldn’t be the people. Those things are nice and good, but they shouldn’t be the highlight.

The best thing about church is Jesus: hearing what he has done proclaimed to you; praising in response; confessing sins and hearing forgiveness; receiving the Sacrament… these things are the best things about church. Not pastor!

“Maybe I need to rethink belonging to this church.”

“One of my old pastors told me a church isn’t a building. It’s a group of people. And I have my group of people at work. We watch a pastor on tv together. That’s good enough!”

That’s what she told me. Never mind that what she said meant she didn’t belong to the same congregation as her family. Never mind Jesus invited her to the feast of Communion only in a local congregation, not through television. Never mind that her tv preacher was a false teacher. Never mind that I was her shepherd calling her back.

It didn’t matter what Scripture I proclaimed. It didn’t matter at all – she didn’t need church.

Never mind that she constantly complained that her son didn’t come to church. (I wonder where he learned that?) Never mind that she was constantly so overstressed that she needed Jesus to calm her down and make her let go of her stress. Never mind that Jesus commands us to gather together.

Sigh.

Well, as might guess, it wasn’t a fun conversation for either of us. She left, telling me, “Maybe I need to think about whether or not this is the right church for me.”

Oh, the next day?

Her brother (also a member) was in the hospital and about to undergo emergency surgery. “He’s about to go into pre-op, so you probably can’t get here in time. Just say a prayer, ok?”

I grabbed my coat and drove to the hospital. I’m known in this particular hospital, and if the patient allows it, I’m allowed to go all the way in until the actual operating theater. When I arrive, he’s still in his room, surrounded by family.

Including that woman.

“Pastor! You got here fast!” she says.

I look at her. “A tv pastor will never visit you in the hospital.”

“You’re going to be mean about this, aren’t you?”

“Yep.”

And I turned to the man in pain and shared the Gospel with him. I visited him every day until he went home – and I’ll do a follow-up this week at his home. (I make it my policy, whenever possible, to visit a member every day they’re in the hospital. It might be only a five-minute visit, but I’m there with them! There are definite positives to pastoring a smaller congregation!) I shared Jesus and comfort from him at every visit.

See, God has given us a great blessing through television and the internet to share the Gospel with others. But there are things that cannot come through a screen. A personal visit when you’re in pain? No matter how close you might be to that person on the other side of the screen, they can’t hold your hand as you pray together, and they can’t sit with you in your pain and simply be there.

But I can’t help but feel God timed this all to happen just right to show that woman… yeah, you do need a local congregation.

I just hope he gets through to her. Personally, I’m not confident – she’s a stubborn woman, she is! – but if anyone can get through, it’s God!