One of the reasons my professional reading has slowed down is that I’m purposely taking in more video content. As I grow in my professional life, I want to learn in as many ways as possible. I will often take in videos of others pastors’ sermons. I want to grow in my preaching ability, and this is one way to do it. And this morning, I watched this video:


This one hurt me. A lot.

In case you aren’t able to watch the video, here’s how it begins: The pastor asks, “Have you ever seen Matthew 18 happen? Have you ever belonged to a church where they actually followed this part of the Bible?”


He related a story where a pastor said they would start keeping Matthew 18, and his church asked him to leave. Because it’s scary.

So, what’s Matthew 18?

When your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. Just between the two of you. Not judging him, but because you love him. Because you don’t want him going to hell, because he has chosen to love his sin and deny what God says about his sin. If he listens… show him Jesus.

And if he still says his sin is more valuable, go with one or two others. Show him that you’re not the weirdo here. Show him that what he’s doing is that serious. And if he listens… show him Jesus.

And if he still says no, I want this sin more than I want forgiveness, I want what I get with this sin more than I want Jesus’s promises of heaven, I value this sin more than I value God himself, then go and tell the church. Mourn over this person. Ask if anyone has more information, or has a connection that they can talk to this person. And if that person listens… show him Jesus.

But if he still doesn’t listen, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. And how did Jesus treat them? He loved them. He spent time with them. But he never, ever let them think that they were good with God when they weren’t. The goal was always, always to put them in touch with forgiveness.

And as this sermon went on, I thought of… this man. That woman. These people.

I have failed. This shepherd has failed over and over again. I have run away from being a good shepherd. I’ve said I was too busy. Or I knew how it would end. I have let people slip away from God’s Word. I have allowed people to think that their sin and their Savior can be held in the same hands and loved in the same heart.

And in this sermon, I was the one called to repentance. I have not loved the people our God has given me to love. I have loved approval and business and praise more than I’ve loved the souls that Jesus died for.

I have sinned.

And as I sit here typing, my first impulse is to say, “And I’m going to do better.”

But… that’s putting the fruit before the vine.

Doing better isn’t wrong. Wanting to serve God well is certainly good. But before I am enabled to do that… I need God’s forgiveness. Confession isn’t just admitting that what I have done is wrong.

It is seeing that Jesus did better for me. He obeyed for me. And he died for me.

I need to go spend some time with my Savior and see this miracle.

And then… then, when I know how loved I am, when I see that I am forgiven that much, when I am empowered to see how loved these others are…

…then, and only then, can fruit come. Only then can I share Jesus.

You didn’t forget me.


Photo by Matthew Ansley on Unsplash

The tears start the second she sees me. She was taken into custody yesterday. The reason doesn’t matter for now. What does matter is the shame that overwhelms her. What does matter is her fear of abandonment. What does matter is the uncertainty of the future.

And then she sees me.

Look, ain’t no one gonna accuse me of being pretty. My face does not bring joy to millions.

But today, it brought joy to her. She was not forgotten. (more…)

Review: Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
by Michael Yaconelli

Is your life messier than it seems like a Christian’s should be? In Messy Spirituality, Michael Yaconelli shows that Christians lives are meant to be messy, because we’re messy people. Rather than pretending we have it all put together, it’s good to live in the messes and praise God for forgiveness. Through several short chapters and a number of emotional examples, Yaconelli demonstrates that Christianity really is messy.

I picked this book up because of the subtitle. I love that phrasing and may well steal it. Unfortunately, the book focuses less on God’s love and more on how we’re messy and that’s ok. The author waffles a lot when it comes to sin and any theological distinctions, leaving a marshmallowy mess that could have been so, so much more comforting. (more…)

The Reality of Grace

You can get used to the idea of grace. It’s God’s undeserved love. It’s getting a gift you never earned and could never repay. And I pray you hear it every week in church. After all, that’s the center of the Christian message: While we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. And it’s nice, but… our sinful natures reduce the reality of grace to the idea of grace.

You can get used to the idea of grace. But the reality of grace always, always overwhelms.

I had a pastor’s car. It was… not in the best shape. Old by most measures of cars, the sedan had seen better days. In fact, the driver’s window had been replaced by plastic sheeting, so it was obvious just looking at it that it was not in the best shape. I didn’t mind so much. Retaping the plastic every week or two was a pain, but not the end of the world.

A member said he’d work on it; I accepted his offer. He came. Took the door panel off to see what he could see. Told me it was more complex than he could handle; he’d have to come back next week.

Not a problem. I’m pretty patient with these types of things.

And then… then God laughed. (more…)

To Love in Pain


I was supposed to write a different post tonight, about what the most challenging aspect of my ministry is. I was planning on a nice rundown of the challenges I face and rating them. But then… things happened.

I love so many hurting people.

I’m calling the police again. And it hurts. It hurts so much. This time I’m not mad at me – it’s a very different situation. I’m hurting for the person involved, though. This is a person I love.

Sunday a man tried to come in to worship after we’d started. He never entered the sanctuary. I found out after that his ex-girlfriend, one of my members, saw him and… well, it wasn’t a good look. She told me after that he wasn’t allowed to come into church. I answered that, um, no. We’re not going to bar anyone from coming in unless they cause trouble here. And this is a person I love.

A prospect came to church on Sunday! And a family member of the prospect told me he couldn’t come to church if she was there, because her very presence distracted him so much. And I love both the prospect and her family member.

Today a mother wept for her children to come to church, to see Jesus. Today an unrelated man cried for his children. “Don’t harden your hearts to God!” he wept. And these broken people… I love them, too.

And I hurt so much with them. So much. These are my sheep, the sheep my Shepherd has entrusted to me. (more…)

The Unsavory Art of “Blackmail”


Can I use the church basement to babysit?”

It was a prospect. My immediate knee-jerk reaction was, “No!” I didn’t respond that way, though. I asked for time to think about it. Realized I really didn’t have a good reason to say no, as long as no one else was using the space and they followed some rules. So I texted back, “I’ll need to lay down some rules. We can talk tonight at church.”

I won’t be at church.”

OK. Any reason?”

I’m mad at you and I’m never coming to church again.” (more…)

Ah, Vacation!


Arizona. Vacation. At last. A chance to sleep in with nothing telling us to hurry up.


There’s a child in our bed, and he’s not ours. “EEEEEEEeeeeEEEEeeeeEEEEEEE!” He’s excited to see us. Oh, look. He’s in our bags now. He found some sunscreen. SPURT! Now there’s sunscreen all over the carpet. And the bed. And him.

Our hostess appears, apologizing, grabs her son and vamooses from the room.

And this is how I met their youngest. Through our week of vacation, I got to see him at his best. Oh, such a kid. I don’t envy his parents. This child is incredibly lovable and loving. I got more hugs out of him in one week than I do out of my kids for a month. He loves being held. He loves making noise. He trusts. If I took his hand, he had no questions. He would grab mine and ask for whatever he desired at that moment in that incredible way of his. He loves exploring and emptying everything and, well, being naked.

Their youngest child has autism.

Their child is someone you quickly either love or want to run away from. (Sometimes both, his parents assure me.)

I saw so much of me in this young boy.

On the ride back from Tombstone, he melted down. Too much stimulus. Get out of the car. Now. “OOOOOOOOOOO!” he wailed from the back of the van.

His mother reassured him verbally. Not much longer Ten miles. It’s ok. Not much longer.

OOOOOOOOOOOO!” he mourned.

His mother reached back a hand. It’s ok. The end is coming. We’re almost there.

OOOOOOOOOOOO!” he insisted.

And as he broke down, his mother unbuckled, shuffled to the back, and held him. And he calmed down.

And look. There I am.

Father, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore. Take it away from me.

And God is good. He’s taking me somewhere.

Oh, but I can’t take it anymore. It hurts. There’s too much going on all around. Please. Make it stop. My people don’t get it. I have to work so hard. I’m always depressed. I want it all to end. Just stop, please. Make it stop. And I wail. And I mourn.

But it’s not time to stop yet. We’re not to where God has chosen in his goodness for me to be yet.

But God comforts this child who calls out and can take no more. He reminds me of his love. He doesn’t end the ride… but he points me to how he’s taken care of me in the past. How he loved me in my shame. How he died for me, while I was yet a sinner. And though I have farther to go… it is better, because he is here.

This child that hosted us… he would run from one thing to another to another so fast. And he’d get into trouble – say, spraying sunscreen all over – and move on, no shame, no connection in what he’d done.

And look at me. I move from sin to “be busy” to sin to praising God so quickly. Look! I praise in church, glorying in Jesus loving me! And look! SPURT! Sunscreen all over! That’s me.

I’m God’s autist?

No. I’m pretty neuro-typical, from all I can tell. But that little boy and I have some things very much in common.

We are sinners.

Saved by grace.

Rescued by Jesus.

Still having sinful natures.

But now we have put on Christ.

I don’t envy his parents. This boy is lovable. Yes, after just a week of knowing him, I can say I love him. I can also say I don’t mind not being around the noise or that style of wake-ups. But… he helped me see me, maybe a little bit, as God sees me.

Someone he loves, despite the many times I prove I shouldn’t get that love.

This child didn’t “do” anything for me. He didn’t let me sleep in. He demanded attention. Demanded love. Demanded I let him outside.

And yet… and yet, I could not say no to loving him. And yes, I’m convinced he loved me in return.

God loved me. I have done nothing but demand from him. What could I possibly give him that he didn’t give me first?

And yet… he loves. He has not stopped himself from loving.

Thank you, Father.

Oh, look! Sunscreen! SPURT!

In the Shadow of the Wave

I’m done. I’m sick and tired of fighting.

It’s not a mental thing. It’s not conscious thought. It’s not even emotion in the way I normally experience emotions. In some ways it’s like a color lens put over a camera. Except the camera isn’t how I see things or even how I process things; it’s a lens over my heart. And that lens is futility.

I know better. I see God doing amazing things. He has accomplished so much in the hearts of his people, ruling in his kingdom of grace.

It doesn’t matter what I know. The lens doesn’t cover my intellect.

The week has been fine. Better than fine. A breath of fresh air after a month of hectic, frantic activity: Several big evangelism events. A preaching symposium. A funeral. A rally. A few people in the hospital. Visits from friends. And this week, finally, some rest.

Yes, a few days were busy. Tuesday in particular I was with people all day long. I lose energy with people, even people I love. I need alone time. That’s not the cry of some pathetic child looking for attention; I recharge in solitude. So at the end of that day, when I was down, when the lens of futility revealed that nothing mattered, I knew I simply needed time alone.

But the lens has remained, and I see everything through the lens of futility. (more…)

So Much Depends

It started when she told me she was planning to live in sin. I chose a lighter touch. “Before you make a choice, ask, ‘What does God have to say about relationships?’” It wasn’t the time to dig deep and pronounce all the fullness of God’s Law. She also knew what God said, even if she had to be reminded. This wasn’t a choice made out of ignorance.

But by that evening… I was done. It began: that slip into… into what? It’s hard to describe. That darkness that says, “It’s all going to hell.” That silent malevolence that creeps into the heart and insists that the end has already come; I should just recognize it and give up.

That gloom settled on me the next morning. I wasn’t in tears; why should I bother? I set to work on my sermon with a mechanical blah.

I considered: a long week ahead of me. Every day, I needed to be with people. There was very little time of aloneness. I know me; I need solitude. I don’t recharge by being with people. I cover up that fact well. In fact, I do enjoy being around people… but it’s draining. I recharge alone.

And this week presented no recharge time. Last week presented no recharge time. That’s what was wrong: I lacked solitude.

That knowledge slackened the darkness that brooded over me. It certainly didn’t hold it at bay, but knowing the black for what it is certainly lessens its menace.

With a heavy heart I set out for my afternoon visits. I steeled myself, knowing that I would be pouring out of an empty well. Yes, I would share God’s Word as appropriate. Yes, I would listen and love, but I knew that as the week went on the strain would become so great. (more…)