The Mirror at the Bottom of the Bottle

The computer informs me it’s 1:28 AM. Sometimes ministry runs late.

Thank God my Bride is gone this week visiting her family with the kids. I munched leftover Chinese while watching Doctor Who. A banging sounded from my office door. A man’s there. A prospect. He reeks of alcohol. Nothing new for him. About a month back his dad died; since then I’ve had a hard time finding him. Tonight he found me.

He admits he needs help. He needs someplace to dry out; someplace to get him through withdrawal.

“How many have you had today?” I ask.

“Two,” he answers.

Yeah right.

Well, whatever. He’s admitting he needs help; I’m going to get him the help I can. It takes traveling to another nearby city to find a hospital that’ll take him in. No problem. My Bride’s gone, so I don’t have to worry about keeping her up if it goes late. I have no idea how long this process takes. (more…)

A Psalm for the Frazzled

Every morning, in addition to other devotional and Bible reading, I make sure to soak in a Psalm. It’s the dessert to my reading, a moment to simply bask in what God says. I love the Psalms; they speak with such honesty, with no makeup or masks. It’s a great way to end the time “filling up” before I have to start pouring out.

But not this morning.

This morning was a little nuts. We were hosting a women’s missionary society rally, and we were more than a touch busy. I set the kids up with breakfast and ran nextdoor to practice my devotion at the church. Then change the church sign to welcome the visitors. Then set up the sanctuary. Are the doors unlocked? No? Why in heaven’s name not?!

On a normal Sunday morning, all the wheels are greased. Everything gets done. We have people that take care of “little things” like unlocking doors. This morning none of that happened.

Nothing exploded, no one burst into flames, and the sky didn’t turn to licorice as a result of our controlled chaos. Yet, by a half-hour before rally start time, I was exhausted from all the running around.

And I never read my Psalm.

I went home to double-check on the kids (my Bride had stationed herself in the church kitchen). Yes, they were in fact still breathing. Miracles do happen!

And I took the moment to pick up my Psalm.

Psalm 134
A song of ascents.
1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the Lord.
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

God just has that wicked sense of humor. “Yes, I know you’re busy. I know you’re busy serving my people. I know you’re flustered and winded trying to do your best for my chosen nation. but you know what? … you praise, too. You ministered by night last night. Yes, I saw as you got the text about the emergency room visit from one of your members. And I heard your prayers. And answered them. Now, praise. Take a moment in your office, right there, and praise. Look, you can’t even use the excuse it’s a long Psalm. I made sure it was short and to the point, because that’s what you needed this morning. I timed your devotions so this Psalm would land on this day for you. Now, my son… simply take a moment and praise.”

And I did. How could I not? How could I not praise the God who has carried me through the impossible week, through a year of depression, through a congregation on the end of closure, through all my sin… when I bring nothing to the table but failure, and he carries me anyway? Forgives me anyway?

And then he lines up that i get this Psalm on this day?

Yeah. I spent some time right there, eyes closed, in praise of the God who gives such good gifts to servants who don’t deserve them.

Have I mentioned that I love the Psalms?

Father Tim of Mitford, Spider-man, and Me

The two clearly have a lot to do with each other.

The Mitford books by Jan Karon are a delight to read; they focus on Father Tim, a priest in a small town, as he goes about his daily business. Yeah, I know, sounds terribly boring, but Karon writes with such charm and wit that not only did I laugh through most of the series, but it has the first book I can remember literally bringing me to tears.

In one of the books (forgive me; I remember not which one) Father Tim suffers a time of “deflating.” He just has a hard time getting things done. And several times during that portion of the book, he feels better. Life moves on! And then he deflates again. I remember being very frustrated as I read that portion. I wanted him to get better. Something to happen to force him to wake up. Dude, snap out of it!

Really, it’s a lot like my Spider-Man comics from the 90’s. Something terrible would happen to Peter Parker, he’d get mopey, and by the end of the story arc he’d be better and ready to face the day again — until the next issue. Dude! Snap out of it!

In my last post, I said I was feeling better.

Well, today was Monday. Guess what? I guess I’m like Father Tim. Or like Spider-Man. I logged onto my congregation’s Facebook account to post, and saw there on my screen a post from a congregation member announcing involvement and joy in sin.


Now I have to deal with this.

I’d been looking forward to starting a new week fresh. Ready to study for the sermon, meet several congregation members in need, and bring God’s Word to his people. But this derailed that nice beginning. And my thoughts went there.

It went better than it would have a few weeks ago. I’m learning to set matters aside until it’s time to deal with them. I’m also learning what I’ve told people in the past: It’s my job to share God’s Word; it’s not my job to make sure it sticks. If this person refuses to listen to the Law, that’s on them, not on me.

But that doesn’t mean I’m exactly cheery. So, I’m now like my mopey protagonists: I thought it was good, but now it’s not.

Stupid sin. Just as soon as God comes in and fixes things, sinful nature comes in and knocks it down.

It’s not as bad as it was for me. But it’s also not as good, either.

So, back to learning. Back to the forge. And the forge is never comfortable for the blade… but in the end, the blade is stronger for it. Forge me, O Father. Forge me, and teach me to trust.

“Let’s change –”

I raised my hands to give the blessing at the end of the service. Then, as I looked out over my congregation to announce the closing hymn, I did something different. “I hope this doesn’t bother anyone, but I’m going to change the last hymn on the fly. Projector, could you please press ‘B’ to blank the screen so we don’t have conflicting words up there? Thank you. Deborah, what hymn number is Amazing Grace?”

I hear a sudden gasp from someone in the congregation — not a gasp of shock, but of sudden, unexpected joy.

The organist calls out from the balcony, “479!”

“All right,” I refocus on the congregation. “Let’s close with hymn 479.”

Oh, and they sang out. They sang out with joy and emotion.

I had chosen a different hymn to end — “Jesus Sinners Does Receive.” That hymn was printed in our bulletin, announced to those who call in to listen to our service, and up on the hymn board. It was typed up and ready to go on the projector. It’s a good hymn. One with a lot of meat. And it certainly conveyed the core thought of the service. All the readings, the sermon, all the other music pointed to that theme.

And yet, Amazing Grace also conveyed that main thought. And we needed to end an emotional service with a hymn that could carry the heart of the congregation. The other hymn? It would carry their minds, sure, but not their hearts. So, it was time for a sudden change.

I have been so blessed. To my knowledge, no one was bothered by that sudden shift. The organist played with gusto. The congregation sang out. And since I do most of the worship planning, I know I didn’t offend anyone on any worship team! So, huge bravo to my congregation, this group of Christians, for being able to swerve.

And not only swerve, but swerve with joy.  (more…)

“Remember who you are…”


No, this isn’t a post about the Lion King. Sorry, we’re not going to talk about Simba. (Though the movie is epic in scope and just a lot of fun, for the most part.)

This is about reminding a pastor who he is… and being reminded myself.

Yesterday I got to take part in the installation of a brother in the ministry into his new congregation. It is traditional in our circles that any pastor who is there may lay hand on the pastor and speak a word of encouragement or advice, ending with a proper Bible verse. I got to do it, too!

This was a first for me. Frankly, as I stood in a lineup of… nine? Ten? pastors, I was very nervous. I wasn’t the youngest one there — two other pastors involved in the ceremony were in my graduating seminary class, in fact. Yet, I was being entrusted to speak a word of blessing on a brother in the ministry. I was entrusted to speak God’s Word to one of his representatives.


I put my hand on his head and told him, “Newlin, there’s a lot of new things in your life. It’s a new city. It’s a new church. It’s a new home. But don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget who it is that you serve in this congregation. They are New. And you are New. From 2 Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come!”

I was not the most eloquent. I wasn’t even the briefest! I was not the only one to really concentrate on Gospel. Yet… I think God spoke. No, scratch that. His Word was applied directly and well. I know God spoke.

And that’s… that’s a wow. That God would use me, not only to speak to my congregation, but also a brother in the ministry?

Yeah. Our God’s pretty nifty.