In the Valley

[28] And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” [29] And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
(Mark 9:28-29 ESV)

Mark 9:14-29; Jesus healing a boy with an unclean spirit, is the sermon text for this week. Last week I preached on the transfiguration of Jesus in verses 1 – 13; where Peter, James and John had an amazing mountain top experience; one that definitely tops anything I have ever had.

But following this mountain top experience, Jesus and the boys head back down the mountain; back to reality; into the valley, where life happens. Because lets face it, as awesome as mountain top experiences are, we aren’t meant to live on the mountain top.

The battle is in the valley and it’s into the valley that God sends you. So as I reflect on this reality and ponder this text there are three truths that are ruminating in my head and heart as I ponder preaching this text. So I share them with you here to ponder and reflect on:

(1) When Satan confronts you; turn to Jesus.
(2) When in “darkness”; turn to Jesus.
(3) When Satan is turned away; turn to Jesus.

It seems to me that the disciples were struggling with these while Jesus, Peter, James and John were on that mountain. Those disciple were confronted by Satan but tried to cast the demon out without their eyes on Jesus. The disciples were in the “dark valley” but they failed to look at Jesus. And earlier in this Gospel account, the disciples were successful in casting out demons but have now failed to turn back to Jesus.

As Christians, we are called to the valley, but don’t forget to turn to Jesus.

Dear Lord, you have called us to proclaim the Gospel, announce forgiveness and do battle with Satan and his forces. But as we confront that which we have no power to defeat, may we look to Jesus. May we have the faith the size of mustard seed that sends Satan running away as You, oh God, are glorified. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Dead fish and Salmon (Mark 8:34-38)

A fun “tip” my dad used to share when I was young:
“Only dead fish go with the flow all the time.”

And then you have the opposite:
Salmon struggle to swim up stream to find a place to spawn and lay their eggs.

[Now cue the theologizing of the Pastor as he works on the Sunday sermon]

Only dead fish (“Christians”) go with the flow (of culture) all the time.

Salmon (true Christ followers) struggle to swim up stream (deny themselves and pick up their cross and follow Jesus) to find a place to spawn and lay their eggs (share the Gospel and bring glory to God).

Hmmm…that could work.

Any thoughts on this?

The Pastor -|—

Good but short

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” [Mark 8:4]

Much like me, these disciples have good but short memories. In chapter 6 they witness the incredible miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 men (add in the women and children who were there and you have close to probably 10,000 people). But numbers aside, this was an awesome miracle and display of God’s power through Jesus in which the disciples were amazed, but I wonder if they were really paying attention.

Now they are back in the wilderness with Jesus and have been there for three days with 4,000 people on some kind of retreat, as it were. Apparently there was no food committee because at the end of three days the people were hungry. But being the compassionate person Jesus is, he wasn’t going to send them home hungry, lest they faint on their way.

What shall we do? [of course Jesus knows]

Jesus, how can one possibly feed these people in such a desolate place?

Really? Did they just ask that question? Did they just wonder if Jesus is able to provide for a group of people much smaller than the one he fed earlier? Do they not remember the feeding of the 5000 (and then some)?

But we shouldn’t come down too hard on these guys because really, we’re no different. I mean, think about it. Aren’t there times you wonder if God will actually forgive you? Don’t you ever wonder at times if God is actually with you? Don’t you have moments of fear and anxiety over a situation, wondering if God will provide? Do you ever worry or doubt?

Of course you do.

And this is nothing more than sinful people forgetting about this awesome God of ours. You see, sin has a way of shortening our memories of the Gospel and therefore leading us astray. When we forget about God we turn inward and become selfish. When we forget about God we disobey and wander. When we forget about God his awesomeness and holiness becomes nothing more than a theological concept.

So what does one do? More fish oil to improve your memory?

Not exactly.

Rather you spend time with God every single day.
~ Keep His Word in front of you.
~ Set your mind on the things that are above.
~ Surround yourself with other believers.
~ Make sure that the Gospel is being proclaimed to you on a regular basis.
~ Ask someone to listen to your confession and pronounce the Gospel of forgiveness to you.
~ And, of course, read your Bible and pray.

Do these things and more on a regular basis to help with short-term Gospel memory loss. But be careful and don’t lose the sense of wonder. The disciples may have forgotten about the feeding of the 5000 but they had a chance to be amazed all over again. Don’t let familiarity with the Gospel take away the wonder.

Be amazed that God, through Jesus Christ, would forgive a sinner like you.

May you bask in the glory of God. May you remember his love and compassion. May you always know the hope of the resurrection through faith in Jesus.

And may God bless your day 🙂

In Jesus name, Amen!

The Pastor -|—

Something out of nothing

One of the many joys for me as a pastor is seeing God create something out of nothing. No, I am not talking about anything magical here but rather the Holy Spirit bringing about a sermon when I had nothing.

Often times I enter Thursday not knowing where I am going with a sermon. I know the text, since I am preaching through the Gospel of Mark, but I don’t always know what the message is. And there are many times when I am anxious about this even though I know I shouldn’t be; even though I know I should trust God.

Today was such a day.

I did my reading and note taking before “relocating my office” to my favorite coffee shop down town. I do this every Thursday (for the most part) and at the same time. I set up my computer, ordered my lunch to be brought to me at 11 AM, got my coffee and scotcheroo and off to work I went. This is my routine.

As I started writing I noticed that my fingers started flowing across the keyboard faster and faster and with purpose. The message started to materialize in front of me like a Star Trek transporter. And as the message became clear I got more and more excited and felt more and more guilty. I was excited as the Spirit was working through me to create this message but guilty that I didn’t trust God enough to not be anxious about it. I have been a pastor for 10 1/2+ years and God has not let me down. Every Sunday I was scheduled to preached, I preached a sermon. Never once did I show up on a Sunday morning with nothing.

And God does this in other ways in our lives; creates something out of nothing:
~ Opportunities to share our faith
~ Opportunities to serve one another
~ Faith where there was no faith
~ Purpose where there was hopelessness
~ Life where there was death

If only I had the faith to see this more often.

Oh God, increase my faith and sharpen my eyes to see you at work in this world.

Praise be to God!

The Pastor -|—

 

My least favorite day

I love Christmas, but recently I heard a pastor say something that saddened me:

“The only thing I love as much as Christmas is the day after Christmas.”

I didn’t quite know what to say to that because I knew what they meant; they were looking forward to Christmas being over 😦

Christmas is indeed busy.  There’s lot’s of extra things to do on top of what we already need to do.  Yesterday morning, for example, I thought I had the Christmas Eve service all planned last week.  I gave the musicians the bulletin outline so they could practice the music, but then my secretary pointed out a mistake I made ~ I put a carol in there twice.  So I had to make some changes and contact the musicians.  And this is all while I am trying to get my newsletter article done, do sermon prep, make a delivery to the nursing home and run a couple other errands.  And then the phone was ringing and I had to try very hard to be patient with people (because it is not their fault that everything was piling up on me).

Christmas can cause a lot of headaches and stress and sleepless night for a pastor but you know something…

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

For me Christmas is a golden opportunity to preach the Gospel to people who normally don’t come to worship.  It’s my chance to slap people across the face with the Good News of the Christ-child being born for all people.  It’s the perfect time to tell people that Christmas is not a secular holiday but rather a celebration of perfect love coming down to us.  As one of my 4th grade girls said in release time just recently:

“If Jesus wasn’t born then he wouldn’t have died on the cross for our sins and therefore we wouldn’t go to heaven.”

Amen!  That’s the Good News of Christmas.

Next to Easter, Christmas is my favorite day of the year and my least favorite day is the day after Christmas because it means I have 364 days to wait to do this again.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

The pastor -|—

Sometimes…

Don’t judge me when you see me seemingly doing nothing:
~ Sometimes I just need to sit and reflect.
~ Sometimes I just need to savor the Word just read.
~ Sometimes I just need to talk to my Savior.
~ Sometimes I just need to slowly sip my coffee.
~ Sometimes I just need to daydream about the ministry before me.
~ Sometimes I just need to mull over a conversation.

Sometimes I look lazy, sometimes I look lost but whatever the case don’t judge me because it’s in those times I can be the most productive. Many people don’t understand how a pastor works because how a pastor works can be so different from how we saw our parents work. But a pastor’s work can be just as taxing thus the different kind of work we sometimes engage in.

Today I sat in the corner at my favorite coffee shop for an hour or so; holding my Google tablet, sipping coffee and nibbling on a cookie.

And that was work.

My finger nails didn’t get dirty and I don’t have sore muscles as you know them but the pastor does feel the effects of ministry thus my coffee shop work.

And as I walked back to my office; breathing in the cool winter air, I felt refreshed and ready to do some more “traditional” work; work that doesn’t draw the ire of some.

But now you may say, “Work? You’re writing a blog post. How is that work?” To answer that fully I would have to write another blog post but I’m not going to do that. So what I will say in response will have to suffice for now:

Sometimes I just have to write…

And that is work of a different kind; one that exercises the mind.  But now I’m off and ready to go; thankful for the “work” I did today.  May God be praised in all I do and say; and not just sometimes but always.

The pastor -|—

One purpose

5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
[James 3:5-10]

I published a post a couple days ago titled, “A big fat lie”. I am not going to rehash what I said there as a way to get you up to speed here (I trust you are able to look back and read for yourself).  But what I am going to say is something that is rolling around in my heart as I prepare to preach this sermon on the 8th Commandment ~ “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”

How are you using your words?  Are they blessing and praising the Lord or bringing others down; people who were created in the image of God?  Are you crafting words together with the intention to create, build and maintain faith or are your words cursing others through inappropriate displays of power through gossiping and backstabbing.  What we say says a lot about our faith and relationship with Jesus.  What we don’t say also says a lot about us.

So as James says, how can a mouth bless and praise the Lord one minute and curse others the next.

This ought not be so!

As a fresh water spring can not produce salt water the same goes with the tongue.  The tongue has one purpose and one purpose only ~ to BLESS and PRAISE the Lord.

Amen?

Amen!

The pastor -|—

A big fat lie

When I was growing up I was taught a big, fat, lie.  It was not from my parents or a teacher or some other trusted adult.  The lie came through friends who they themselves learned from someone else.  And the lie came in the form of a childhood rhyme that you probably know very well because you were taught the same big, fat, lie.  And it goes like this…

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”

I am not too sure why I bought into that lie.  I think maybe I used it as a make-shift shield against bullies trying to make me cry (and believe me ~ I had a few of those people in my life growing up).  Maybe it was because I knew that those bullies would never use sticks and stones to actually break my bones so you might as well stop with the names.  But all the while I was using this rhyme as a weak, invisible shield, I was being hurt more than any damage that sticks and stones could inflict.

Names and words do hurt.

I started thinking about this rhyme as I began my sermon prep this week on the 8th Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  And as I was remembering, all those names I was called as a child came rushing back.  I still remember the pain those names caused.  I still remember the laughter of those kids.  In a way, I wish they had broken some of my bones with stick and stones instead of using words to hurt me.

And today, the use of words continues to be a problem as many kids experience bullying online.  Even rough and tough football players are not immune to the power of words.  In the book of James, the author says that the tongue  is something that can not be tamed.  The same tongue we use to praise God is used to hurt our neighbor.  And I think the worst thing about this is that often times we don’t realize the pain we are causing because so many people try to hide their pain lest they look weak.

Maybe we spread a rumor about someone (true or not, it doesn’t matter).  Maybe we attack a person’s character without all the facts.  Maybe we participate in back stabbing.  Maybe we betray a person’s trust through sharing a secret.  Maybe we use words in a way that sounds comforting but really causes more hurt.  Whatever the form and context of our words, we need to be very mindful of what we are saying.  Luther’s Small Catechism has a great explanation of this commandment; one that we would do well to remember:

We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.

Romans 10 says that faith comes from hearing.  Since that is true then how do we proclaim the Gospel and build faith if we are using words in destructive ways?  May God be praised in all we SAY and do.

Dear Lord, grant me a kind tongue that seeks to speak well of others and gives you glory.  May my words not harm my neighbor but rather lift them up. In Jesus name, Amen.

The pastor -|—

Changes and adjustments

I must admit…this new daddy role has taken some getting used to but it is sinking in more and more with each passing day.  There are many things I knew would change and others I didn’t know exactly how they would change.  I guess that just goes with the territory.  I keep learning and keep adjusting.  Eventually I will develop the illusion that I know what I am doing 🙂

Anyway…

One of the big things I have been trying to get use to is working from home.  The congregation gave me the gift of working from home during the month of May so I could spend more time bonding with Mayah.  A couple days a week (when my wife is home) I do go into the office.

When this schedule first started I got a little frustrated because I didn’t anticipate how difficult this working from home would be.  I had big plans on how much I was going to get done while Mayah was sleeping.

Silly daddy…

The biggest problem was that I didn’t plan very well; so the first couple days at home not much work got done.  Now…I have planned my week out better and have set more realistic expectations for myself.  I have also adjusted my hours so I can get done everything that is expected of me by others and myself.

Wednesday was worship prep and sermon prep day from home.  I planned worship for Sunday and did some sermon prep reading and research.  Today (Thursday) I am home again but this time I will be fully ready to write the sermon while Mayah is sleeping…despite the fact I didn’t get much sleep last night.  Oh well…that’s what coffee is for.

So here we go…another day at home bonding with my little girl and doing ministry here in Jackson.  The best of both worlds.

The pastor/new daddy -|—

The most excellent way

Monday is the day I boot up my Logos Bible study program and print off the lectionary texts for the up coming Sunday.  I did that as usual this morning and read the second lesson text: 1 Corinthains 12:12-31.  I read this and my mind starting running like mad with thoughts and possible sermons directions.  thinkerHere’s a snippet of what my mind did:

~ A messed up church (the Corinthians…or any church today).
~ The gifts that are given vary from person to person.
~ Sometimes we get jealous of gifts we don’t have.
~ Sometimes we get arrogant about the gift we do have.
~ Believe it or not…sometimes we don’t get along.
~ Various gifts are needed and important for the Church.
~ God knows what He is doing.
~ There is a more excellent way (indeed there is but that is for another sermon).

And that is where I got.  So much to preach on but I am liking the cliff hanger idea.  I wonder if that will fly very well.  And “no”…I am not going to say anything more about the cliff hanger idea in case any Salem and/or Belmont people are reading this.  You will have to wait until next week to read about what I did.

[Hey…I just incorporated a cliff hanger.  What do you know :)]

Anyway…that is it.  Nothing too deep and theological today just some random sermon prep thoughts but maybe that gets you thinking.  It has me thinking.

Have a good one 🙂

The pastor -|—