exhaustion

When the Preacher Sleeps Through His Own Sermon…

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This is what everyone loves seeing! 

Canceled.

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.

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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.

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Deceptive Heart

God created us as emotional creatures. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the first thing the first man is recorded as saying in the Bible: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23) He reacted in delight to this amazing gift God had given him. This wasn’t the result of a cold, logical process where the man calculated that a woman would improve his efficiency in serving God; no, this was a very articulate “Wow!” The overflow of his heart reached his mouth with the first love poetry. We were created with emotions.

The problem is that our emotions, like everything else that is in us, have been corrupted with sin. I need look no further than me to see that.

Last week was long. I have no reason for it; there were no particular setbacks that struck last week. There were the normal, daily disappointments, of course, but nothing that stands out. Quite a few bright spots illuminated that passage of time. Yet, for most of the week, I felt deflated. I felt weak and powerless. I felt as if I accomplished nothing.

I’d get home at the end of the day and just collapse. I feel I wasn’t much help to my bride for the last week. I feel as if I did nothing with the children. I simply got home and decomposed onto the couch, accepting the succulent offerings of food my wife offered, or the cuddles from my children. I went through the motions, of course. We still did bedtime devotion with the kids and I made sure to accomplish the bare minimum needed to prep for Bible studies, meetings, and worship. I’m sure I did more than what others would consider the bare minimum, but I felt listless. (more…)

But It’s Hollow

Thursday night was Maundy Thursday. At the end of worship, we stripped the altar. This means, as the congregation watched, I took one item from the altar at a time and handed it to an usher. In a slow and dignified manner, soon nothing sat on the altar. Paraments (the cloths that hang off the altar). Bible. Bookstand. Candles. Cross. Everything left, leaving the altar bare and alone, just as Jesus was left bare and alone as he was betrayed and every single friend abandoned him.

It may sound strange, but it is incredibly emotional to see the altar, usually beautifully adorned, stripped of its glory and left alone. As the congregation dispersed, there were more than a few wet eyes. Every single woman who left the service hugged me — they needed that contact after seeing this grief. The ushers told me they were fighting tears even as they bore the instruments away.

And me? I felt… nothing. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. It was a sad event. But the power seemed empty to me.

Last night was Good Friday. We observed an austere celebration of the sacrifice of the Lamb. We focused on the seven things Jesus spoke from the cross. The choir sang the burial. We left in silence.

Once again, the congregation was somber on their exit. Downcast eyes. Sniffling noses. More hugs.

And again… the power didn’t lay on my heart like a weight.

I’ve been considering this. These were the first two days of the Triduum — the most holy three days of the year. Usually I get very involved. But “usually” I’m not a pastor. Usually I’m not concentrating on moving from place to place, thinking of what must be done next. Usually I’m not presenting God’s Word. Usually I’ve not worked on these passages for weeks ahead of time to be able to proclaim them effectively. Usually I’m not watching to make sure everything goes smoothly so the congregation isn’t unduly distracted.

And so… this is part of the price of being a pastor. I wrote the rough draft of the Easter sermon a week ago; I’m working on it today and will have it memorized well before our festival service tomorrow. And that takes away from the “surprise” of Easter for me. Tomorrow will be joyous, yes. It will be a high festival! But the “surprise” of it will be gone.

It’s a good thing the power isn’t in the emotion. It’s a good thing that my heart is not the measure of effectiveness. No, the power is in God’s Word.

I got to proclaim God’s Word Thursday night. Awesome.

I got to proclaim God’s Word Friday night. Awesome.

And tomorrow? I get to proclaim God’s Word again!

And that means that none of it is hollow, despite what my heart tells me. God’s bigger than my heart. Good thing, too.

I don’t want to go.

Some of you may have noticed that Thanksgiving has come and gone. I, for one, am exhausted. That was two sermons, hosting family, and lots of the pre-Christmas busy work of a church worker. I love my family dearly, and it was awesome seeing them, but it also meant my wife and I didn’t really get the chance to relax for a while.

Then, Sunday evening arrived. And it was a good thing. Sunday evening, once all the Sunday morning worship and related activities ended, usually means relaxation time with family. It means playing games with my kids and shelving books with my wife (yes, trust me, that’s relaxation time for us).

And then I get a text.

I could have ignored it. I could have, but I saw who it was from — not a normal person to be sending me a text. I check it. This congregation member has a friend who just lost everything. He’s asking help. Could the church provide it? (more…)