I’m pretty sure this is bad soil.

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Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

How much of ministry is throwing seed onto bad soil? I know that sounds like a strange question. But it came to mind the other night after I spent some time with a couple I really hoped would listen, learn and get their lives together as we started premarital counseling. But I doubt this will happen. I have this sinking feeling that the seed isn’t going to grow.

OK, just bear with me. Keep your sermons to yourself. These are just my thoughts. I know nothing is impossible for God. I know all things are possible for God. I know that his word always accomplishes what he intends. I know we’ve all got issues. But I also know that three of the four soils in Jesus’ parable won’t yield a crop no matter how good the seed or the sower is.

You remember the story. A guy is planting seed. More like throwing it everywhere. Some seed falls on the path. Nothing grows. Birds eat the seed. Other seeds falls on rocky soil. No deep roots. Withers and dies in the heat. Still other seed falls among the weeds. Gets choked out by the faster growing weeds. Finally some falls on good soil and grows.

So does this mean that seventy-five percent of the time, preaching and teaching the word won’t yield much result? Does this mean that preaching and teaching only sinks in one out of every four people?

I’ve been reading a lot of Jeremiah lately. I’m glad I didn’t get that call. His call documents laid out the harsh reality that his congregation wouldn’t listen to him and would eventually die or go into exile. Nice. After some of his sermons they beat him up and put him into stocks.

OK, I don’t have it that bad, so stop complaining, right? Plus, what do I know about farming? That is, what makes me so sure I can size up a person and know they are a rocky road or a weed field?

Or — and I don’t like this possibility — maybe I’m doing this because I’m the one who needs to listen and learn from this. Maybe I need to step in a big pile to understand what some folks deal with every day. Perhaps I need to just chill, suck it up, and do my job.

OK, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Gone. Just gone.

tegan-mierle-259584Jesus tells the story of a shepherd that leaves a flock of 99 to go in search of one sheep who wandered, who went missing, who didn’t show up for role call. The point is, God cares deeply about the lost. But does a real, live, genuine shepherd do that? Does that one sheep matter that much?

I’m thinking probably not. I’m thinking that he might not even notice losing one out of one hundred. A 1% loss n our investment? We wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

But I find that I do fret, lose sleep, and puzzle over one family that suddenly vanishes from church life. For the purpose of these thoughts, it is a person who held several leadership positions in the church. It wasn’t a gradual disappearance. It was a sudden here today, gone tomorrow event. In the span of just one week — gone.

Yes, of course, I tried to find out what was going on. I called. I texted. I emailed. I wrote two letters, put them in envelopes, affixed a stamp to each one and mailed them at the post office. I had a face-to-face conversation with the person, and never found out why they no longer came to worship, carried our their responsibilities, participated in church life or even responded to my attempts to reach out to them. Other folks from the church reached out to them. Phone calls. Emails. Conversations. The response? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nil.

OK, so when people began to stop following Jesus, he didn’t overreact. He simply asked his disciples, “Are guys leaving, too?” I guess he knew it would happen. He knew that everyone would abandon him. He knew that he wouldn’t win the popular vote or a popularity contest.

So why does it bug me so much? Is it because of all the time and energy I put into that family? Is it because of my own ego and wanting to see the church grow because that makes me look like a good pastor? Is it because I overestimated their commitment? Is it because of something else entirely unrelated to me?

IDK. I have no idea. I guess the only thing I know is that in good or in bad, it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. He is the one I should pursue, think about, and talk about. He’s the boss.

I can’t remember where I read it, but it is a good reminder of what this is all about. Jesus wasn’t a cowboy, driving his herd into heaven. He was a shepherd, leading his flock.

That’s all I’m trying to do.

Keep your stuff. Please.

0006294200035_00It must have been the creaking sound that got my attention. What is that noise? It seemed to be coming from the freezer in the church kitchen. Freezers don’t usually make a lot of noise. Unless someone is trapped in there. Overly cautious, I slowly opened the door and peeked inside.

Perched on the top shelf is a three-gallon bucket of maple walnut ice cream with no lid. It was surrounded by several bags of ice that had been permanently joined together in a moment of melting. Their combined weight strained the top shelf like a bar on the back of a weightlifter squatting who-knows-how-many pounds.squat

But that’s not all. On the shelves beneath were ancient hot dog buns, vintage popsicles, and something orange left over from what I am sure was a fabulous supper. Nice. By the grace of God, it was all disposed of before the health department caught wind of the situation.

There is, as everyone knows, an unwritten rule that anything you don’t want or need — animal, vegetable or mineral — may be dropped off at the church. Common items include books (including many, many bibles), old computers, printers and monitors (working or non-working), TVs, walkers, crutches and commodes, out-dated food, pianos and electric keyboards, broken toys and dried up pens and markers.

To this collection we add other items unintentionally left at church: umbrellas, jewelry, keys (how did you drive home?), clothing (did you go home naked?), water bottles, sweaters and sweatshirts, and every imaginable variety of Tupperware.

I appreciate you thinking of us. But I need to tell you: we just reduced the size of our dumpster. So we don’t have the same disposal capacity we used to. I apologize for the inconvenience, but you might just have to put your stuff out on the curb yourself.

 

You might have all the answers, but you don’t hold the office.

talkingYesterday, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at an awards ceremony for a long time friend and member of the congregation. After the formal part of the ceremony, the other guests and I gathered for a meal. I had a chance to sit with the other guest speaker for the occasion, the mayor or our city. I looked forward to talking with her and hearing about her first year in office.

However the gentleman sitting to the other side of her hijacked the conversation. I listened carefully as he held forth on many of his own experiences and opinions on the future of our city. I was impressed with the mayor’s capacity to sit and patiently listen to his expertise in economics, civics, politics, and local government. As I sat there, I realized that her job and mine aren’t much different in that respect. We both attract volumes of advice from those who have all the answers, but don’t hold the office.

It is no different from fans who know exactly what the coach and quarterback should be doing, but aren’t on the field. Or those who have much to say about managers and pitchers, but they aren’t on the roster. Or for that matter, those who complain about their doctors and nurses, but have not studied and have never practiced medicine.

I am not immune to this nor am I above this. I need to be careful before I jump all over someone who works a physically demanding fifty to sixty hours a week and doesn’t make it to church. I need to remember the challenges of raising a bunch of kids, any one of whom may be sick on a given weekend. I don’t really now what it’s like to be a deputy walking up to knock on someone’s door, not knowing who or what is on the other side. And I certainly don’t know what it’s like to have the responsibility of governing a local community or in our nation’s capital.

Similarly, you may know exactly what the church (or the pastor) needs to do. And you may be one hundred percent correct. But keep in mind that you don’t hold the office. You’re not the one keeping watch over a flock. You’re not the one who knows too well the dark underside of those who seem just fine on a Sunday morning. You’re not the one they call when they’re hungry, dying or scared.

I am more than happy to listen to your suggestions and solutions. But they may not rise to the top of my to do list. They may not be feasible. They may not even be possible. Don’t take it personally. I’m just doing my best.

 

Eight ways to get me to unfollow you.

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Photo by iorni on Unsplash

  • Post something from a website with an expletive that shows up on my feed, including “wtf”. <Unfollow>
  • Use an expletive in a comment that shows up on my feed, even if it has lots of ********’s. <Unfollow>
  • Post so often that you dominate my FB feed. <Unfollow>
  • Write long, long, oh so long posts ranting about things no one really cares about. <Unfollow>
  • Post way too many selfies of yourself with duck lips or big hips. <Unfollow>
  • Post generic “Happy Birthday” to no one in particular. <Unfollow>
  • Post comments that pointedly insult members of my family. <Unfollow>
  • Annoy me. <Unfollow>

The red sofa

IMG-7566OK, it’s really a love seat. But it is really red. And I see it every time I leave my house or come back home. Because it sits, faithfully, on my neighbor’s lawn.

If you ask me, it shouldn’t have a place in someone’s yard. It shouldn’t have a place in someone’s house, either. Three weeks ago my neighbor put it out on the curb, assuming that the garbage men would pick it up. Nope. They didn’t want it either. It has now been soaked by the rains, ignored on bulk pick up days, and endured the intense heat of the October Florida sun. Passing dogs have baptized it, bugs have taken up residence in it, and mold has begun to thrive in it.

It doesn’t seem to bother my neighbor at all. He cuts the lawn around it. He stacks weekly trash against it. It has joined his unsightly array of halloween, occult and just plain ugly lawn ornaments.

I suppose there are times in life when you need a red sofa. Like when you’re going to murder someone in your living room. Or you’re bleeding from some orifice. Maybe you’re addicted to ketchup. Think about it. Someone actually made this love seat. Someone actually bought it. And yes, now someone has set it out in the yard for all to enjoy.

Just wait — I’m going to come up with a story to go with it.

 

 

 

The end is near!

bergens.jpgThe other night I sat with two year old grandson Elijah and watched the movie Trolls for the who-knows-how-many-th time. And we heard Branch warn everyone, “The Bergens are coming!” “Ahhh!”

Guess what? It’s that time again. The end of the world is coming. September 23. OMG in just a few days the planet Nibiru will collide with earth and it will all be over, according to David Meade!

Here are a few things to do in preparation:

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28 ESV).

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes”(Matthew 24:45,46 ESV).

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:8,9 ESV).

You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:11,12,14). 

The end is near? I say, “Finally. Come Lord Jesus! Bring it!” But I know it’s not the end. Just a few birth pangs. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

It’s time for confirmation classes!

ringing-alarm-clock-28496894It’s that time of year again. There must be some sort of internal alarm that goes off in the minds of parents who have children entering 7th grade. It’s not a bell or a chime, but a voice which insists, “You better get your child to confirmation class!”

Parents who were somewhat raised in the church, who attended classes leading up to their confirmation, may not have been especially faithful in bringing their own children to church or Sunday School. But come hell or high water, “You are going to confirmation class.”

So here is what I’ve been wondering. What does it do to a young person’s faith when Mom and Dad suddenly make you go to confirmation class? Or youth group. My youth leaders started off their year by asking those who came to the first meeting, “So why did you come tonight.” Some youth answered, “My mom made me come.” What will be their memories of youth group?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to face a room full of middle school youth whose faces broadcast, “I would rather be anywhere but here”? I have to get and keep their attention, earn and keep their trust, and build a pastoral relationship from scratch.

So basically, parents brought their kids to be baptized, stopped in from time to time to worship at Christmas and Easter, and now hope that I will be able to prepare their children to confess their faith and commit to being faithful unto death. That is a daunting task. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I’m up to it.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth follow when I tell them they need to do sermon reports. Which means you have to come to church and listen to a sermon. Suddenly mom and dad have to get up and come for worship, too. Ouch. And there is memory work to do. What? Are you serious? Yes, I am.

This is when I am humbled and discover exactly where I rate in this world. If the coach says, “You have to be there,” you are there. If the band director says, “You have to be there,” you are there. If the scoutmaster say, “You have to be there,” you find a way to get there. If the dance teacher says, “You must be there,” you go. If the pastor says, “You must be there,” you say, “Well, the [coach, director, scoutmaster, teacher] said I have to go [to practice, to rehearsal, to class]. Sorry, I can’t come this week.”

Sigh. You have spent eleven years teaching your children by example that your faith is not really all that important to you. I thank you for your confidence in me. But I am also sorry; there is little I can do to undo that.

OK, this is not always the case. In fact, this year my three second-year students come from families who have been faithful in worship for years. I have known these young people since they were very young, and it is a joy to teach them, encourage them and learn from them as they boldly confess and live out their faith.

It’s not a perfect process, but I am so blessed to be a part of it!

 

“We don’t have any shakes.”

McDonald's Same Store Sales Up 7.1 Percent In JanuaryA few weeks ago I went to visit one of our members (and my friend) David, who has been homebound for a while dealing with aches and pains and cancer and some tough decisions. Before I headed out the door, someone said, “Take him a milkshake.” He hadn’t been eating well, liked shakes and could use the calories. Works for me. I like shakes, too!

There was a McDonald’s on the way to David’s house. Perfect. The drive-thru lines looked short, so I pulled in. One car ahead of me. Five minutes passed. No movement. One car. Patience is a virtue, I’m not in a hurry, no problem. Finally they move ahead and I pull up to the speaker. Continue reading