sin

Ouch.

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:

Ouch.

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?”

Ouch.

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.

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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…)

To Love in Pain

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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”

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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…)

The Goal of Outreach: Kill the Congregation!

Maybe I just want my congregation to die after all.

We’re starting something new. The idea first came to me years ago, but it didn’t take then. I’ve let it wither. A few months ago at an evangelism workshop I attended with a few other members of the congregation, I shared it again. Suddenly, we had buy-in.

The basic idea is that people, in particular Millennials, get more out of conversation and back-and-forth than “sit down and shut up.” And let’s face it, most standard worship of the liturgical variety, when taken uncharitably, can be simply, “Sit down, shut up, say what I tell you to say.”

I want to be clear: I’m not attacking the liturgy here. We’re going through a Bible study on Sunday mornings that walks through why the liturgy is the way it is, and how valuable it is. There is great reason that we begin with an invocation, move immediately to a confession of sins, hear the announcement of forgiveness in the absolution, and burst into a song of praise. The progression is logical.

If you know the story. (more…)

Pastor looks to get something for service, shamed by congregation. More at eleven.

Well, I guess that reveals my rotten core, huh?

It started simply enough: with a compliment. Our alderman, whom I’ve had a few encounters with – never negative, mind you – sent me an email. “I know your congregation is trying to get out into the neighborhood. A few blocks from you, an elderly couple is under orders from the city to paint their house exterior. They can’t do it. Would your congregation be interested in helping?”

Well, I thought it was a fine idea – great publicity for the congregation, as well as just a great chance to serve together. Absolutely! I brought the idea forward after worship one week.

Within five minutes, we had about ten volunteers to paint, a man willing to purchase paint, a man willing to purchase all the equipment needed, and another willing to donate lunch. Well, I guess we were in! (more…)

Go to the Cross

Go to the cross. When stressed, go to the cross. When rejoicing, go to the cross. When despairing, go to the cross. There see your sins. There see your Savior. Go to the cross.

I visited him like I usually do. He’s in tears. He keeps swearing. He doesn’t want to do that anymore. “Why can’t I just control my mouth?”

We dig deeper. Why is he swearing?

“I’m angry a lot.”

Why is that?

“I can’t control my body the way I used to.”

And it eventually comes out… he feels like he’s not a man. He’s scared and ashamed. He feels he’s not acceptable anymore. And his anger covers that shame and fear.

Go to the cross. (more…)

Hijacked

It’s amazing the level of betrayal someone feels when you share God’s Word with them.

No, it’s really not. I understand all that intellectually. After all, the sinful nature is hostile to God, and it’s a clever sunnova. It’ll worm its way into a person’s heart – not difficult, since it lives there – and turn people away from God. And when someone calls back, when someone warns against sin, well, of course the sinful nature will hiss and spit. And it’s your fault, if you’re the one warning. And the other person will blame you for any problems – not their own sin, oh, no, it couldn’t be their own sin, even if they fess up to that sin.

There’s more than one person here in my congregation that has turned me into the enemy. When they see me, they back away, as if I’ve dealt them some sort of mortal blow. Some avoid me altogether. Others have accused me of trying to destroy their families.

And all this, because I shared the Word of God with them. All this, because I love them. Because, honestly, if I didn’t love them, I’d let them go on and damage their faith and reject Jesus and walk straight into hell.

But I do love them. So I warn them. With acid in my stomach at the thought of it, with prayers to God to remind me that yes, I really do love this person, and yes, this is the best thing, I warn them. And they, in turn, believe that I have betrayed them.

It’s been hard lately – stupid hard, and it really shouldn’t be. I know all this intellectually. I braced myself emotionally. But you know what?

I’m tired of it. You want to make me the enemy? Fine. I’m the bad guy. You want to walk into hell, despite my warnings? Fine. Go.

Which brings me to the Hunger Games.

Spoilers ahead for Mockingjay, the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy, if such things matter to you. (more…)

A Tale of Two Sinners

Last week I met two sinners.

One was a young woman who has been caught in the consequences of sin. She’s been avoiding me quite a bit, but she needed some paperwork for something else she’s involved in. She stopped by to pick up that paperwork, and as she was there, I asked her, “When can we get together? We need to talk, but I’m not going to do that now. I’m not going to ambush you, and I know you have other plans right now. When can we talk?”

She looked at me blankly. “What do we need to talk about?”

As she had a friend there that I didn’t want to involve in this discussion, I simply answered, “I think you know.”

Again, she answered, “What do we need to talk about?”

After weighing my answer just a moment, I responded, “Sin and grace.”

“I don’t think we need to talk about that.”

She walked away. (more…)