Jesus

Review: Death by Love

Death by Love: Letters from the Cross
by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Jesus died on the cross to take away your sins. If you are Christian, this is a truth you hold close to your heart, because it is the ultimate comfort. Yet the cross is so much richer than that. In this book, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears explore various aspects of Jesus dying for you, examining it as though it were a multi-faceted gem. Every chapter, Driscoll introduces a person he knows, outlines their problem, and then in a letter to them shows how the cross is the answer to their problem. Then, Gerry Breshears steps in after each letter to answer some of the more technical questions about the theology examined in each chapter.

In general, this book is solid. Every chapter looks at the cross of Christ using a different theological picture: justification, redemption, propitiation, atonement, reconciliation… the list goes on. What makes this book excel though is that it’s not a dry theological text; every chapter begins with a real person struggling in real ways, and Driscoll excels in showing how the cross is the answer to what they need. (more…)

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Proof of Racism

According to this article, I pastor a church that is “racist as hell:”

If your pastor, priest, or leadership is silent about the events taking place in Charlottesville, VA, you attend a white supremacist church. Simple. If your church does not spend a significant amount of time this weekend denouncing, condemning, and speaking out against the actions of the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville, VA in the strongest possible terms, your church is racist as hell.”

Today we opened with the hymn “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.” It’s a hymn that praises each person of the Trinity for how they rescued fallen sinners. It’s got a glorious, soaring melody. The congregation struggled through it, since it was the first time we’d ever sung it.

Then, I opened worship with the Invocation. This ancient part of worship reminds us whom we are there to worship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder of our baptisms, when the Holy Spirit created faith in many of our hearts. Even when I baptize adults, I refer the baptism as the “day you got your adoption papers from God.” The invocation also calls God to be present in this place as we worship him.

The next thing we did: as a congregation, together, we confessed our sins to God. And as soon as that was done, I announced forgiveness. Jesus was punished in our place, and our sins were taken away!

It’s kind of funny… but there were no current events at all yet in our worship service. (more…)

Review: The Jewish Trinity

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The Jewish Trinity: When Rabbis Believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Yoel Natan

The New Testament teaches the Trinity fairly clearly: God is three Persons, each equal and separate, and yet there are not three gods, but one God. But what about the Old Testament? Many are taught that the Trinity is murky at best there. The Jewish Trinity claims that the Old Testament presents a clear case for the Trinity, and that the Jews at one time worshiped one God in three Persons.

It’s been a while since I’ve been challenged by a book I read in this way; the last time I encountered a book like this was Gioacchino Michael Cascione’s excellent Repetition in the Bible. Natan has clear respect for not just God’s Word, but specifically for the Gospel. In fact, at one point Natan goes on a tangent to talk about Communion, and accurately teaches the doctrine of the Real Presence, a doctrine I don’t find accurately conveyed very often!  Natan also appears to write for a learned Jewish readership, calling Jesus by his Hebrew name Yeshua.

Natan’s work here presents so much amazing information. I had a number of “ah-ha!” moments as I read his book. Some relatively simple observations like: “The NT shows that Yeshua, the apostles and early Christians considered the OT to be thoroughly Trinitarian. Since the NT was not yet written, they surely did not derive their Trinitarian beliefs from the NT” (24). (more…)

Review: Keeping the Faith

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Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse
by Marie M. Fortune

This slim volume offers exactly what the subtitle claims: guidance for Christian women facing abuse. After a brief introduction, Fortune guides through an easy question-and-answer format, taking the reader through questions like, “Why is this happening?” “What do I do now?” and “When do I accept him back?” She then has a section of reading, both biblical and extra-biblical. Following that she has a brief section addressing clergy and friends of abused women. The entire book is about 100 pages long; I read it in about an hour.

Let me sum up my review in one sentence: If you are abused, or you know someone who is abused, do not use this book. (more…)

Blessings Beyond what may be Borne

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No one has loved us like you.” She was about to cry, this dear, dear woman. “Don’t leave us, pastor. Don’t leave.”

And how can I? I do love her. God has used me to call her back to his side, to bring her to Jesus’s feet, to lead her to rejoice in forgiveness and raise her face to the light of grace. And now she tells me that I cannot leave. How could I leave her?

Later today, I look over the evening service. I see people God has used me to reach. I see teens and young moms and old men and… and I know that this is a unique ministry that I have here. That not every pastor could handle ministering to this group of people. How could I leave them?

And I hear another call. And they tell me what they’re looking for. And what they’re looking for… it’s me. Or at least someone with the same talent set God has given to me. And I talk to others to make sure that what they say they want is really what they want and need. And the previous pastor tells me yes; what they need matches my gifts. How could I not go?

And I learn more about what life is like at this other call. And it sounds like it doesn’t have the problems I’ve faced here. It is not perfect; I am assured this by all the right people. But the heartaches I have had here would not follow. And I would love to start over. And these people match who I am in ways I have not seen here. And… how could I not go?

I’ve started talking to the members of this other congregation. They sound like people I can serve and serve well. They sound like people I could indeed love. And they call out for a shepherd to shepherd them. How could I tell them no?

And I see the teens I work with here. And they cried out this week when I told them about the call. And these teens need a shepherd to be with them, too. How could I tell them no?

I love this place where I am. I love these people. They have been thorns and hurt me again and again and yet God has allowed me to love them and serve them. How could I leave?

And I have already begun to love this place I have been called to, so far away. How could I stay?

I can’t.

I can’t do this. (more…)

Done.

exhausted

The words battered at me.

“No. You need to focus on our own members, not on reaching out.”

“We won’t risk anything for outreach.”

“We need to keep the church open long enough to bury the little old ladies. Then we can close.”

“We’ve tried outreach. Nothing works.”

“That doesn’t count because they don’t give any money.”

For about a week straight, my church leadership effectively told me my job here was to babysit the members until we closed the church. I was to risk nothing – not even time – on outreach, unless it was a sure thing. And as long as it didn’t mean I wasn’t babysitting our members. I was told that our purpose here was to stay open until we buried a requisite number of people, and then close the doors.

And I seethed. I chewed on the comments. I gnawed on them. As I awoke, I dwelled on them and thought of what I should have said, what I could have said, how I wanted to blow up at them, how I wanted to remove them from leadership, how it was time to give up, how it was time to go to war.

To the point that Thursday I met with my pastor, a man who shepherds a nearby congregation. My plan was to request another congregation. If my leadership’s plan was to just stay open long enough to close, they don’t need me for that. If all they want is a babysitter, let’s get them a babysitter.

I said it to some of my friends: “I’m done.” (more…)

The Long Sunday

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It begins in a peaceful sanctuary. Gotta be the start of a good day, right? 

6:30am

I’m in the sanctuary, practicing a devotion for a council meeting and then the sermon for the day. Both go well, but long. It’ll have to do. I finish with enough time to practice playing the hymn for our evening service and even print out the music for it.

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It starts with Jesus. It’s all simple after this, right? 

7:30am

Council meeting. It begins with a devotion.

Yesterday I went to an evangelism seminar, and the keynote speaker said something that was really cool. I want to share it with you.

Men, especially, need a purpose. We need a project of some kind. Rebuilding a car. Building a deck. Writing a novel. We need a purpose, or we just fall to pieces. And Jesus gave us that purpose.

Easter night. The tomb has been empty all day, but the disciples are still terrified. They’re hiding in their room. And then Jesus shows up, even though the doors are locked. And he showed them his hands. Look! They look like they’ve been staked to a cross! And then he gives them – and us – a mission: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” And I look at the men in the room. One of the councilmen is missing. Not surprising, unfortunately. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Jesus’s mission is now our mission. What did the Father send Jesus to do?”

And one of the councilmen says it, word for word, exactly what I was looking for: “He came to save the world.”

Exactly.” I smile. “Exactly! The Father sent Jesus to save the world. And now that’s our mission. Jesus sends us to save the world. It’s not a little thing. It’s not a hobby. This is major.”

And we go on to explore Jesus accomplished his mission: He left his comfortable home in heaven to come to those who needed saving, he served, he shared his Father’s Word, he was all about what his Father said and not about what he wanted, he suffered, he died. And we will follow that same method.

Oh, I am excited. This is such awesome stuff, and I’m thrilled to share it. Not because I’m awesome, but because Jesus is awesome.

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My face at council. 

8:00am

Council meeting continues.

We’ve covered some good basic things. We need to set up guidelines for building usage so I can just say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to those who want to use the space. We’re going to support a VBS put on by some sister congregations, in large part because we simply can’t do our own.

A councilman voices an idea about how to use one of our rooms. Not a bad idea in itself, but there are practical matters to consider. It would require a fairly large outlay of money, and given the nature of the idea, a new monthly budget item that would be fairly major. Councilman’s willing to foot the bill for it.

I ask, “How does this connect people to Jesus?”

We’ll figure it out later,” he says.

No. Does not work. Our mission is to share Jesus. Our mission is to save the world. You don’t have an idea to commit the church to something and say, “We’ll figure out the Jesus part out later.”

He is not pleased.

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Sorry, dude. Not gonna change some things. Actually, no. Not sorry. 

8:30am

The last council member shows up an hour late.

We’re talking about evangelism. He asks about a certain visitor who had expressed interest in joining. He asks for her by name – by a name that I don’t recognize. I thought she had a different name. I tell about how she had been very interested in coming to a Bible study, and we’d just started a new membership class. She didn’t show up, but she had been excited. She wasn’t in worship last week.

We shouldn’t make people take a class. It scares people away,” he scowls. “If you told me that, I’d go to another church that didn’t make me take a class.”

I take a breathe. “We love God’s Word enough to teach it to others.”

He sulks.

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Despite my frustration with some, others eagerly await the Gospel. 

9:00am

Out of council.

Seriously. These are the men that lead our congregation? A man who wants us to get people in instead of teaching the Bible? A man who doesn’t care if we connect people with Jesus, as long as we get them in the building? Really?

Is this my people? Am I wasting my time here? Is this a waste of service?

Stow it. I need to focus.

Time to greet people at worship. Finally. Of course, fifteen minutes before worship, and not a lot of people are here yet. Most people come five minutes before worship.

The woman that the councilman asked about? That he thinks shouldn’t take a class? She’s here. I grab her. We talk. I double-check her name. Lo and behold, I had her name right.

(In other words – I cared enough about her to learn her name. The councilman didn’t care enough to get her name right. Looks like [surprise! ] he was only interested in getting another body in church.)

She asks me, “Can I be baptized? I was never baptized.”

Oh.

Oh, yes.

We arrange to get together this week so we can talk about baptism, what it is, and prepare. Because yes. I will baptize you.

Love is not getting butts in the seats. Love is sharing Jesus.

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It’s not me that’s awesome. It’s Jesus. 

9:18am

Worship starts a few minutes late because I don’t get away from the woman who wants to be baptized. Because, really, you don’t want to walk away from a moment like that.

And worship.

Oh, to stand in the grace of God. To pronounce the simple truth that we are broken. That we are sinners. That we are evil. That we are dead.

And Jesus loves us.

That he died for us. That he took on our evil. He took on our sin. He took on our brokenness.

I told the congregation I was excited today. I think it came through. The council meeting is out of my head. I don’t care about it now. The concern will come back later, after most of the day is done. But for now, ti simply stand in the presence of God and share it… oh!

To give the body and blood in with and under the bread and wine, to give the people forgiveness they can taste and see… oh, there is nothing like it. To lead others to exclaim praise that yes, I am forgiven, that yes, I am God’s child!

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I love our members, but they’re really not as photogenic as stock photography people. 

10:35am

Worship went a little long. That pastor, he just doesn’t shut up about Jesus, does he?

And I come downstairs to our fellowship area and discover… God’s people greeting visitors and loving each other. Oh, it is good. This is not the group that I saw even two months ago who ignored visitors.

I spend time talking to a few people. Asking if I can call this week, if I can visit. I long to be with my people. I stop by visitors. Arrange to meet. Talk.

Oh. It is so good.

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There was no math in Bible study, thankfully. 

11:05am

We start Bible study almost a half hour late.

Silly pastor doesn’t shut up when he’s conversing with God’s people. It’s almost like he enjoys this.

And for Bible study, my Bride and I share what we learned at the evangelism seminar. And we’re excited. I’m not sure how much got through to others, but we’re excited.

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You’ll never guess where I devoured cowmeat. Well, something kinda close to it, anyway. Kinda.

11:45am

Driving a regular visitor home after Bible study. Grabbing fast food with my family for lunch. Because I have an appointment to get to.

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I’m the worst pastor ever. I don’t like coffee. I just order lots of chai lattes.

1:00pm

I’m in a coffee shop with four other adults gathered around a table. They belong to a sister congregation, but have been visiting weekly for just over a month. They want to transfer membership. I want to get to know them better. The coffee shop is a good place to meet.

We talk for two and a half hours.

These four brothers and sisters share their lives with me. I get to know where they work. How they met each other. Their life stories. And I delight. One of them is in tears, sharing herself in ways she never has outside of her family.

And I love these brothers and sisters. I’m not saying that in a jock way, but in the way that happens when you know someone, when you learn some of their darkness, and share God’s grace with them. And they bond as I share God’s grace. We talk about what membership in this family means.

The time flies by. And in the end… three of them want to transfer membership.

Oh. One of them isn’t a member anywhere. She was baptized a couple years ago, but never went through instruction.

She’s going to come tomorrow to the membership class. She’s excited. She wants to know if there’s a women’s Bible study she can come to. We don’t have one now, but there’s a few women interested. We start brainstorming right there different ways to set something up and get it going.

God is so, so good.

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No one named Glinda has ever done this to me.

3:45pm

Home!

Just in time to start prepping for the evening service!

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“I have a dad?!”

5:00pm

Supper with the family. I get to spend some time with family.

I have kids! Who knew?

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On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again…

5:30pm

I leave to pick up people for our evening service.

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6:10pm

Five minutes before worship starts, I discover that for some reason the speakers have stopped working.

Wonderful.

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There is no joke here. Simple truth.

6:15pm

Evening worship. It’s… it’s so empty. For some reason, a lot of the regulars aren’t there tonight.

God’s Word is still preached.

God’s people are shown their sin. God’s people are shown their Savior. God’s people rejoice in forgiveness. And even with so few… it’s good.

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Is it sleep time yet?

8:00pm

I’m home from dropping everyone off. Time to put things away. Time to write down what needs to be recorded.

I’m so tired.

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8:30pm

Nearly fourteen hours straight of ministry time. Most of it people time. I am drained.

It is so good.

Parts of today were terrible. I hate that the worst parts of my day had to do with my council simply not getting that it’s about sharing Jesus. I hate that immaturity. I hate that my day began with that. And it hurts that they don’t value the one who gave his life for them.

God knew that would happen this morning. He knew that one councilmember wouldn’t care about connecting people to Jesus, and that another would rather get butts in the seats, even to the detriment of the people there. And he knew how much I would gnash my teeth.

And so he sent the others.

He sent the lamb who wants to be baptized.

He sent the family that wants to serve.

He sent the members who encouraged me.

This day has been long and so good, and it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with Jesus. He gets all the credit.

He comforts a sinner like me. Not just with forgiveness, but with love.

Lord, thank you for this long, long day. Forgive me my anger, and direct me with a fierce love of both you and those who don’t acknowledge you. Make it my passion more and more to reach out. And Lord… thank you. Thank you for the encouragement. Thank you for the blessing of sharing your good, good Word.

And Lord… if it’s your will… please make tomorrow shorter, but no less good!

Pray for Death

I prayed for his death. Out loud. In his hearing.

This is not the kind of thing a pastor usually engages in. It’s considered uncouth at best. Really, it’s a big insult.

The man thanked me.

He is “well and full of years.” Simply put, he is dying. The man entertains no thoughts of suicide; he knows that his times are in God’s hands. Yet, every time I visit, he tells me, “Pastor, I’m ready. Every day I pray, ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus.’” The man longs for the bright skies of heaven. His confidence rests in Jesus; he has repented of his sins. “I’ve been such a rascal, Pastor!” He rejoices in forgiveness, looks forward to the Sacrament, and always begins our conversations with, “Pastor, I was reading the Bible. I was wondering…”

When I visit, his conversation always rests on grace. This is not a “religious” man who’s focusing on right and wrong and on how terrible the world is, though he recognizes the state of sin that our world relishes. No; he focuses on the miracle of forgiveness he has received.

And this man longs to go home. And so when I visited him this week, I prayed that Jesus would come and take him home soon. And he thanked me. (more…)

…wherein a pastor tells himself to get his head out of his posterior.

 

He is not here

Yeah. It’s past time that I got my head out of my ass.

Yeah. A pastor just said that. Sometimes it’s gotta be said, though.

Easter! Easter, right? Jesus, alive again! Hope restored! Because he lives, I also will live! His life is the death of death! What could be better than that?

When I was little, I loved this day. Waking up, getting to dawn service – OK, I didn’t like the waking up bit, I admit, but to hear the pastor announce, “He is risen!” And I shouted back, “He is risen indeed!” I got to be a part of the service and announce my joy! Growing up Lutheran, there weren’t many times you were “allowed” to get excited in a service… but this was one time you could let that joy show, shout it to the world, announce it to everyone!

And every Easter since donning the stole, I’ve relished being the one to initiate that for the congregation. Every year, the first response is a little shy, of course. “Are we allowed to be excited?” By the end of the service, though, you’ve got half the congregation reveling in the complete joy that yes, HE IS RISEN!

…but not today. (more…)

Holy Week Hell

If the devil can steal Jesus from a church, he wins. One of the easiest ways he can do that is to drive the Pastor away from Jesus, particularly during those times when the most people are naturally thinking about church – like, say, Christmas and Easter. There’s a reason that Christmas and Easter are just insane with people inside a church saying, “Oh, we have to do this! We have to do that!” whether or not God’s Word says we must do anything. If the pastor is so busy he loses Jesus, Satan wins. If the pastor is too drug down by the woes of this world, he has such a hard time pointing to Jesus.

They warned us at Seminary that anything that can possibly go wrong during Holy Week – the week that started today, Palm Sunday, and runs through Easter a week from today – anything that can go wrong this week, will. Expect it.

For an average pastor, Holy Week is already insane. An average Lutheran pastor will have to prepare worship for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and sundry services Easter morning. Considering it takes me ten to fifteen hours of time – easily – to write and memorize a sermon, three sermons in a week is a lot of work.

But then you throw in additional weights: I get to preach a Christian victory service – you may know it as a funeral – for a man I’ve served since arriving here. It is an honor to serve him in this way. It is also additional work in an already busy week.

I get to lead a chapel devotion at a local Christian school. Again, an honor – but an additional weight in a busy week.

There’s numerous things in the church I need to take care of, or at least oversee. Yes, ok, we’re set for Easter breakfast. Yep, we’ve got someone lined up for projector in the many services. Choir looks to be all ready!

All that is important work, and while the funeral will certainly be emotional, it will be a good emotional.

But now the actual weights start coming in. Things that aren’t just “busy but things we can do,” but things that burden the heart and make it hard for me to get up. (more…)