humility

More Than Their Ability

burial20casket20grave20cemetery

Too much. You have given beyond your ability. Too much.

I know this family. I have served them for these years. I love them. Visiting them is a joy. I take out Communion and I ask, “Are you a sinner?”

Yes,” she answers, looking at me like an idiot. Pastor, of course I’m a sinner. What’s wrong with you? You know that as well as I do!

Yes,” he answers, his eyes downcast. His guilt weighs heavy on him. All the time. Every time.

I ask the next question: “Did Jesus die for your sins?”

Yes,” he answers, clinging to that hope. It’s the only way. Please, please, he died for my sins.

Yes,” she answers, confident after years of having being taught otherwise, that indeed, yes! Her Savior lives.

Having heard your confession of sins and your confession of faith, as a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I answer with joy.

She smiles. She loves seeing her pastor give the absolution. He smiles. He loves that lifting of weight, the guilt gone.

But no more.

She died. (more…)

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And then he told me to leave.

And that’s when my member told me that he thought I should leave this congregation.

Wait. That’s not where we start this. Let me back up.

A member of my congregation runs most of our evangelism events. We’ve just wrapped up two fairly large efforts, and we were debriefing. I asked what went well, and among other things he mentioned, “There were plenty of prospects there, and our members made sure to talk with all of them. My son,” who is not a member, “said that he really enjoyed talking to the people of the church, and that’s really important.”

I agreed. “Yeah. That’s one of the purposes of the church – not just to connect to Jesus, but to be encouraged by other people here on earth. If you’re only connected to the pastor, that’s a bad thing. After all, someday I’m leaving. I don’t know when – it might be six months, it might be sixty years, but eventually I’m leaving!”

And he nodded. “Yeah, pastor. You’re too good a preacher to be at this small church. You need to be someplace bigger.” (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.

I’m doing great things?

“God’s using you to do great things.”

That’s what the pastor said to me. He was my predecessor, visiting briefly to pick up mail that refused to be forwarded to his new address. (Yeah, he moved a good two years ago… some mail just refuses forwarding, you know?)

Anyway. He told me that. “God’s using you to do great things.”

And I want to change that. I want to alter that. I don’t want to accept what he says. I’d rather say, “God’s doing great things.” (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…)

Pride: Lesson Not Learned

We like education — yes we do! We like education! How ’bout you?

So, a week ago we started a new Bible Information Class. You may recall that I struggled with this before. I invited a good number of the same people along with new prospects. Lots of invites, though this time around I’d like to think I had more realistic expectations. I prayed. I prayed a lot that God would grab these people and bring them. I want to show people Jesus. I want to be used to grow those who already have faith. This is a good way to do that. So, I invited lots of people.

Who came?

Six people came. One of them is not a member.

So, I feel a bit like a failure. I’m thrilled that the one non-member came. That’s sweet. I’m excited to be teaching her. However, I feel a bit like a failure.

(It’s not about me it’s not about me it’s not about me it’s not about me I’ll get this right eventually)

But… of the other five who came, three are church council members. And this… this is a win. We have been talking in council for months that if the church council doesn’t take the lead in growing in Christ, why would anyone be interested in learning more about Jesus? We’ve been talking for a long time about the council demonstrating their growth so others can be encouraged by it. I saw little evidence that God’s Word was working in their hearts to make them want to grow in Christ.

And now three in BIC, to demonstrate their desire to grow in Christ?

This is sweet! This is a win! We can do this! God may not be growing our church numerically at the moment… but it sure looks like he’s growing us in maturity!

Call Day!

This image is actually from a year ago at my call day. Sorry; I couldn’t find anything newer.

Last Thursday I trekked to the seminary to attend Call Day. On this day, graduates from the seminary present themselves for assignment to a congregation or other ministry (for instance, teaching). Others also present themselves: for instance, me. I had a one-year call, remember?

Thankfully, there were no surprises about my call: It was in fact made permanent. Yay! Some of my friends got sent to various places around the country or the world.

After the worship service where the calls are announced, the ministerial candidates go to meet with their new district presidents and get some information about the ministry they are to serve. My congregation happens to be in the South-East Wisconsin District. Though I didn’t need to stop in, I decided to poke my head into the meeting.

The District President made a nice welcome speech and introduced the soon-to-be pastors to pertinent people within the district (himself, his wife, a few other prominent pastors that are involved in big doings). After that, the meeting broke up as he moved from candidate to candidate to talk about some specifics.

I noticed a timid form in the corner. I went over to introduce myself and found out that he was the new vicar (or intern) for the congregation where I had vicared! Now, I may have been misreading this man. It was a busy, warm day and there were a lot of things going on. I gave him assurance: The bishop (supervising pastor) was an excellent man. He had talent in being able to read talent and put it to good use. The congregation was welcoming. The city was ripe for evangelism in so many ways! This man is going to have an awesome time at his vicar year.

And then… my bishop was there! We’ve not talked a lot since that year. We weren’t exactly close, though he taught me so much that I still use on a daily basis. (Remind me to mention our evangelism plan for this summer…) He put his arm around me…

…and told me he was proud of me.

Whoa.

I’ve never been good about accepting compliments. And, really, I haven’t done a whole lot here. I’m a tool. When someone puts together an awesome rocking chair, you usually don’t say, “Man, you have a spectacular tool set.” No, you compliment the man! Well, God has used me as a tool to do awesome stuff. And I can admit that. There are amazing doings here. And all of it’s God’s doings. He just used me to accomplish his purpose!

But to have that acknowledgement from a man I greatly respect and in many ways pattern myself after…

…whoa.

I’ve been blessed in incredible ways. I’ve been used in ways that blow my mind. But to have someone of that caliber say that he’s proud of me?

It’s a shadow — a teeny one, I grant you — a shadow of the last day. When God looks down and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To be acknowledged that what I’ve been used to do is good? That someone like that is proud of me?

Whoa.