Late for My Own Sermon

How could I show up fifteen minutes late for worship? I’m the freaking pastor! My family scuttles in to a row of seats as I rush back to get my robe on. The guest pastor is sort of hopping from leg to leg – his granddaughter is being baptized today, and he asked permission to step in and do that. So not only am I late, showing disrespect to my congregation, but I’m looking bad in front of a brother in the ministry.

Not just any brother in the ministry.

The freaking president of the seminary. A man who taught me.

He leans over and whispers to me, “You good to go?”

I nod.

He stands to start the service. And as he does, he sort of quirks his head like I remember him doing so often in class. “You know, this sort of reminds me…” And he launches into an incredible devotion, just off the top of his head, like always did in class. Just taking something that just happened and using it as an example of Law or Gospel, marrying it to a biblical text, and just making the sacred an everyday thing in the best way.

And he’s doing it here in my congregation, where I just showed up fifteen minutes late for worship. And then I glance at the bulletin.

I don’t remember what I’m preaching on. (more…)


The Fall of Christ, Chapter 2: Rejected


From the beginning of brokenness, the Father and the Prince made a plan. The Prince would enter the world. He would rescue it, by offering himself up. And part of that plan was telling people about what was coming. Through centuries the Prince whispered that he would come. That he would crush the head of the serpent. That he would be crushed for our iniquities. Through prophets he spoke, so that the people would be ready. And some… they listened. They valued the message. They held on to it. They held it close. And they waited. They ached to see the Prince come and keep all his promises. But when he finally came… he was rejected.

The Fall of Christ, Chapter Two: Rejected.

The man named Caiaphas awaits in the Sanhedrin chambers.

The Sanhedrin: The ruling council of the Jews, made up of seventy-one elders. And this is where they ruled. This is the chamber that his father-in-law, Annas, had made great. And though Annas’s term was up, he still controlled much power through Caiaphas. But he and his father-in-law had a glorious goal: Preach the Law that God had given them. Wait for the one that was promised, wait for the one who would bring them freedom, and teach the Law.

The oil lamps have been lit, and their flickering light fills the open-air gathering place. Caiaphas prowls the chamber, waiting for the soldiers to return. They were supposed to go and arrest Jesus.

It was time to end this. (more…)

Not About

A Great Light

Christmas worship should be epic.

Wednesday I watched a concert livestreamed. The main artist was Andrew Peterson, singing his Behold the Lamb of God album. I highly recommend it. During the first half of the concert, he debuted a new song. It’ll be on the album Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 coming out at Easter. I wish I could link you to the song. It is… powerful. It asks some very difficult questions:

Do you feel the world is broken?”

We do.”

Do you feel the shadows deepen?”

We do.”

But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from shining through?”

We do.”

Do you wish you could see it all made new?”

We do.”

Those are the opening lines of this incredible song. And as Andrew leaned into the song, speaking about how Jesus answers these longings, how he is worthy of praise and glory and honor… he begins to weep.

He is responding to my Jesus. (more…)

Meditation on Sermon Writing

God’s Word is amazing. Have you ever just sat back and absorbed it? Just opened it up and read? Just a sentence. Just two. And just… just reveled?

Has the weight of the Law ever just pressed down on you? It’s so simple. It seems so easy. And then you look at that Law, and that single statement begins a pushing down on your chest, because you see how very, very heavy it is. You see how far you have fallen from what God demands. You see how good, how very good his command is, and how good this world would be if we just did it, but I can’t do it, no I can’t, I have failed, and so it is my fault, so much my fault.

And the Law, oh, it is so good, and I am not. And as that sentence grows in my heart, I see it in so many ways. It blossoms there, this flower of such beauty that I weep that I cannot even touch its petals, I cannot even pretend to care for a bloom of such excellence, that my black thumb slays not the Law but myself. (more…)

To Celebrate Pentecost



Do you know what it is to have to lie to your son… because you’re afraid to let him see who you really are?

We went to Jerusalem for Passover. You should have seen it. Sarah kept telling me to calm down. But I couldn’t help it. It was the first time going since she gave birth to Levi. Our son. He was only a few months old. I know, I know, we didn’t have to take him yet. She kept telling me he was too little. “Benjamin, calm down!” But I didn’t listen. This was my son, and I got to show him Passover! I insisted on carrying him most of the way. My arms would carry my son to Jerusalem! We got to Jerusalem and visited my uncle’s home, where we’d be staying. Uncle David.

I took little Levi out to pick out the lamb. The one we’d sacrifice and remember the first Passover. So we’d remember the lamb that was sacrificed so that our ancestors could live. The lamb that died instead of them. And little Levi… you should have seen his smiles. He loved all those lambs. The priests frowned that I brought a son so young, but I was so excited. I held Levi and took his little hand and placed it on the lamb’s head.

And Passover night – the first Passover, you know, those of us from the country celebrated a few days before everyone in the city just so there was room for everyone! – we ate the meal, just like my father did, and his father. And now I got to teach my son. Sarah told me he wouldn’t understand, but I didn’t care. And just like always, we opened the door to see if Elijah was there. We opened the door to find out if this year, if maybe this year, the one God promised was here, if the Christ was here to free us from slavery again. And that Passover night… it was golden.

But the next day. The next day… there was some sort of uproar in the city. I left Levi with Sarah and went with David to find out what was going on. My arms felt empty without him. I found myself outside the Roman governor’s palace. He presented a man – a man already badly beaten – and shouted. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the crowd. But a man next to me – a priest – he told me what was going on. This beaten man was Jesus from Nazareth. I’d heard of him, of course – who hadn’t? They said he did miracles, like Elijah did long ago. But then my neighbor said: “He says he’s equal with God.” (more…)

What Gospel Predominance?

Only the Gospel converts. Only the good news that Jesus loves sinners, of whom I am the worst – only that good news creates faith and strengthens faith. And on a night like Christmas Eve when we have more visitors and occasional members, that message must right forth. That doesn’t mean the Law shouldn’t be preached – we need to hear why the Gospel is so amazing, after all – but the Gospel must take center stage.

And really, isn’t that the center of Christmas? That baby is God! Here he is, stepped into his own creation, to this dirty, broken place, to be broken in our place. This Child will be stricken, smitten and afflicted. We will esteem him not. And yet, by his wounds are we healed!

So tell me this: For a preacher who revels in the Gospel, who marvels at the love of God for a broken sinner like me, why is it that my drafts for sermons on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are so law-heavy?

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. (more…)

Stupid Other Preacher

“Thank you for holding good prepared services and not just reading off of a paper”

That was the text waiting for me after I wrapped up Bible study this morning. It came from a teen who was visiting family several hours from here. She had visited a local church.

And what a compliment she paid! I’m very thankful for it. It shows that what I strive for gets accomplished, at least some weeks: A service that centers on a theme, as shown in the Bible lessons for that day. I make a point of announcing (in a one-sentence introduction) how each lesson and hymn fits that theme. She understands how a service is meant to communicate a particular truth from God’s Word each week in a very pointed way.

It also gladdens my heart that she appreciates the work I put into my sermons. In my years of ministry, I’ve only used notes for a sermon once – and that once happened to be the day after one of my children was born. I’ll give myself a pass for that day. Otherwise, the sermon is memorized. I have my Bible and use that to read the passages (usually paperclipped) – which means I’m usually making eye contact with the congregation the entire sermon. I’ve been told by other pastors I have talent for preaching God’s Word; I love communicating what Jesus has done for us.

You can see what she thought of that other church. (more…)

I Forgot

Sunday morning. I preach in two hours. People needing my attention arrive in one.

I haven’t memorized the sermon yet. I’m holding the manuscript, but since I printed it out Thursday, I haven’t even glanced at it. Haven’t had the chance.

I get to the sanctuary to memorize. I’ve gotten memorization down to about a half-hour; it’s not ideal, but I should be able to get this thing nailed down.

And then the cell rings. It’s the family of the baby I’m baptizing in two hours as part of the service. Baby’s sick. They’re not sure if they’ll be able to make it. No, not an emergency, no need for a visit, but might not be able to make it to church.

OK. No problem. If they don’t show, I’m going to have to switch the opening hymn. That means organizing with the organist and figuring out how to handle the projector if we switch. But the family doesn’t know, because it’ll depend how the baby’s doing at that moment.

Great. OK, set that aside. I need to memorize the sermon.

My grounds and facilities guy comes in as I’m about a paragraph in. Fairly normal. On an average Sunday, we’ll chat for a few minutes before I review the sermon. Today I don’t have the time.

Today he really wants to talk.

Ten minutes later, and I’ve got the room to myself again. I look at the manuscript. Do I at least have the outline firm in my head?

Wait. What was I thinking when I wrote this? I look at the passage from Scripture it’s based on. Did I totally miss the point, or am I just delusional at the moment from lack of sleep? The kids have not been sleeping well this week, and a number of late-night early-morning emergencies have addled me. Do I have time to even consider a rewrite?

My organist comes in the door early to practice a harder hymn. I’m out of time. “Oh!” she says. “Everything OK, pastor?”

Yeah, why?

“I don’t usually see you in your jeans on a Sunday morning.”

Really? I’m so tired I forgot to dress up? Good thing my house is attached to the church. I fill her in on the possible baptism switch and run home to change. And as I change, I look at the time – church should be starting right now. What happened? She’s playing the opening hymn! I can hear the congregation singing! Robe! I need to get my robe on! And…

…and I still haven’t figured out what’s going on with the sermon!

Heart pounding I throw my robe on over my jeans and step out to greet the congregation. I slip and fall. I’d taken off my shoes to change, never put any others on, and now I’m in my socks. (more…)

A Practical Trinity?

I push myself to demonstrate how God’s Word is practical in my sermons. I want to show how sin really shows up in the lives of the congregation – not just “out there.” I strive to show how God’s forgiveness really shocks us and comforts us. I endeavor to show how the Gospel then changes us to live lives that obey God – not because we have to, but really because, in the Gospel, it’s simply better to obey. We’ve been alerted to sin’s lies and we know that God’s love for us is way better.

Sometimes that’s easy.

I just finished a series on I Peter, which talks all about suffering, why Christians suffer, and how we should suffer. That made practical applications so easy.

“How do you react when you get punished for doing the right thing? When you stand up for truth and lose that promotion, that raise, that friend, that valued family member? Do you get angry? Do you act as if this is the most maddening thing that ever happened to you?

“Well, yeah, it’s more than frustrating… but it’s also normal. Peter warns us all about this. And he shows us how to respond. And what’s better, he shows us why to respond.”

In that series we talked about things like rejection and suffering for the truth. These are subjects that are real and immediate and needed. It hits the people here right where they live; the pain in this congregation is so near the surface. We don’t need to pretend we’re doing ok; we know we’re not.

Like I said, sometimes it’s easy to make that connection between what God says and where the people are living now.

And then we get to a Sunday like today. (more…)