Posted in Life

What’s in store for 2010?

This has been a very eventful year for my family and I. My oldest, Adam, graduated from Florida State University. My youngest, Olivia, started high school. My oldest daughter, Katie, had an awesome internship this summer at an amazing Christian music venue. My wife Lisa and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Alaska.

What’s in store for 2010? Another college graduation, lots of high school events, some travel I’m sure (like to St. Louis, where my son attends seminary). Most of what we’ll experience will be a surprise. We really don’t know what’s coming.

I don’t have many resolutions to make. I already exercise, read my bible each day and pray, watch what I eat, and don’t smoke. Maybe I’ll make some reverse resolutions and exercise less, eat more, and get out of shape. I could start smoking. Then I would have some positive resolutions I could make for 2011.

I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, though

Posted in Ministry

Who goes to church the Sunday after Christmas?

Apparently quite a few people. Many of my clergy friends in town (mostly Bsptist) sat it’s their worst attended Sunday of the year. Several even cancelled their services. For us though, it was about the same as the rest of December.

Over the years, I’ve had many baptisms on this Sunday, since many families can be here. One year I baptized five little ones at once, which is a record for me. I even had pretty good Bible class attendance. Go figure. Actually, I can’t. It’s one of those unpredictable things.

After preaching five services in four days, I welcome a “routine” week, and a little lighter schedule.

Posted in Ministry

The day after

The day after Christmas. Finally a good day to rest and relax after a busy Christmas season.

There is always a day after. A day when life gets back to normal. Like the day after Noah and his family finally got off the ark with the animals. Or the day after Goliath goes down. Or the day after the temple is dedicated. Or Monday after the resurrection. We’ve been changed forever by the events that have just happened, but now we settle into a routine once again. We will prepare and celebrate again in the future, but that day is as much as a year in the future.

When Christmas is at the end of the week, Sunday comes again very quickly (like tomorrow!). After saying so much about our Lord, suddenly it’s time to preach again. It won’t be a routine day, though, for we will have a baptism. And we will have many guests with us again. And we will pray much about the new year to come.

Posted in Ministry

Who goes to church on Christmas Day?

Yesterday, I wrote  about those who attend on Christmas Eve. Now I’m pondering church attendance on Christmas Day. I grew up in a household where we went to church every Christmas Eve and Day. Every year. Without exception.

However, when I began serving in my first parish, I discovered that virtually no one else had that experience. Christmas Eve is the big event. Christmas Day passes by and no one hardly notices. Most churches around me do not have a Christmas Day service. Some even cancel services for the Sunday after Christmas.

But I’ve discovered that worship on Christmas Day serves our members and guests who do not drive at night and cannot attend a Christmas Eve service. So we generally have a whole different group of people.  There are some overlaps, but not too many. It’s a smaller service, with a chance for more conversation and prayer, unlike the packed sanctuary of Christmas Eve. I find Christmas Day worship very meaningful.

Posted in Ministry

Who goes to church on Christmas Eve?

Christmas Eve is one of the biggest attended worship services of the year for us. Easter Sunday is the other. Why is that? Who goes to church on Christmas Eve?

  • If they’re in town, most of our regular attenders will be there.
  • If they’re in town, a good number of members who rarely attend (once or twice a year, at Christmas or Easter) will be there.
  • Visiting relatives will be there.
  • Some first time worshipers will be there, too.

That last group is the one that really interests me. How did they find us? Why did they choose us? What are they looking for? Chances are they will slip in and slip out without meeting me, so I don’t often get answers to these questions.

The Christmas Eve culture is an interesting one. So many spend so much time and money on the commercial and consumer dimension of the celebration. So why all of a sudden devote time to worship? I am sure they like the music. Or they’ve been told “we’re going to church.” Or it’s something they’ve always done. I think it’s awesome when you see a whole family sitting together.

I used to feel a lot of pressure to communicate the gospel clearly to those whom I will only see on this night. That’s important, but I don’t feel that pressure anymore. I like to tell the story because I like to hear the story of my Savior coming to save me. And I think everyone else likes to hear that story, too.

Posted in Ministry

Christmas sermons

My Christmas Eve and Day sermons are just about done for this year. Writing a sermon for a celebration like Christmas is different than weekly Sunday sermon preparation. The story is so familiar that it seems there’s nothing left to say. The story is so real, that it’s hard to add anything to it. At the same time, the incarnation is big. It must be preached.

Here’s how I approach my message for one of the best attended (Christmas Eve) and worst attended (Christmas Day) worship services.

First, I read through the Matthew and Luke texts of Christ’s birth a number of times, until something jumps out at me or a question occurs to me. (Why did God announce the Savior’s birth to shepherds? Wasn’t it risky for the life of the Messiah to be entrusted to the care of two first-time human parents? Why was the Savior born at this time in the history of the world?)

Next, I link that thought or question to some aspect of our celebration of Christmas. (Who’s hearing the message of the Savior’s birth for the first time this year? Into what culture would the Savior be born in our world?)

Third, I take the idea and run with it, making some applications and offering some challenges. (Where do we need to take the message of the Savior? Why have we been entrusted with this good news? Who will we go and tell?)

This year for Christmas Eve, my “angle” is the birth itself in Luke 2:7. When a child is born, many look to see if he or she has his mother’s eyes or her father’s nose. What did Jesus look like? He’s just like us in every way, yet he’s so much different: sinless, obedient, holy. He looks most like us on the cross, for there he takes our sin and is punished as if he were us. So his birth makes our birth special, too, for we become holy, blameless children of God with a mission.

Christmas Day I’ll talk about expectations. For Christmas, we don’t get what we expect, we don’t get God’s punishment. We get a Savior, and God’s forgiveness. So a Christmas that doesn’t live up to your expectations is a very good Christmas.

Posted in Rant

Would you send a secular Christmas card to your pastor?

Do you send out secular Christmas cards?

Would you send a secular Christmas card to your pastor? You know, a card that has snowmen rather than shepherds, a winter scene rather than a nativity, or winter birds in the snow rather than angels in the sky?

I get a number of secular cards each year from the members of my church.

Now before I get too preachy, let’s ask, “What are some legitimate reasons for sending a non-religious Christmas card to you pastor?”

  • It’s possible  that some people cut expenses by buying something on sale. Let’s face it, some of the card boxes sold in religious bookstores are pricey. So I can understand that.
  • Or, perhaps most of their friends aren’t Christian, so I get the same as everyone else. I guess I can see that, too.
  • How about this: “He knows what Christmas is all about, so I don’t need to send him a message about the real meaning of Christmas.”

I’m not sounding very convincing. None of those thoughts really impress me as a good reason to send your pastor a “Happy Holidays” card with a cardinal (the bird) or Santa by a palm tree on the front. I spend weeks and months and years preaching Christ and this is what you get. Either I’m not communicating clearly or the seed is hitting some pretty bad soil, which Jesus said would happen. In some ways, I’d rather get a Hanukkah card — at least it’s got a connection to the Light of the World.

Posted in Ministry

Good News Clubs

Today, I was asked to lead some Christmas carols at the Good News Clubs our church sponsors. So I printed out a few song sheets, tuned up my guitar, and led kindergarteners through 5th graders through “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and a few other classic Christmas carols. Some of them knew some of them. But they didn’t sing anywhere as good as they did for “Jingle Bells.”

For those of you unfamiliar, Good New Clubs are Christian Bible clubs that meet in public school after hours one day a week. That’s right, we teach the gospel on public school grounds, with the blessing of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. About 60 young people attend each week this year (last year’s attendance was higher).

I felt like a superstar. Most of them loved to sing. They all wanted me to hang with their group. They all tuned in to the real story of Christmas. What a great afternoon. I have volunteer credentials for the public schools. But I’ve dragged my feet  getting into the Good News Clubs. I am wary of taking on another commitment. But this was way too much fun. I want to come back. I want to be a part of this.

Posted in Ministry

Christmas letters

I just got done writing my Christmas letter to send out with some of our cards. I’ve been receiving some, too. Here’s what I think makes a good Christmas letter:

  • Share the good stuff. It’s OK to mention a problem or struggle here and there, but mostly report on how you’ve been blessed. Hit the highlights of your year, including accomplishments, trips, joys and milestones.
  • Give me just enough information. I don’t need to know about every yucky illnesses you’ve had this year. At least not in a letter like this.
  • Get to the point. More than one page and I probably won’t read the whole thing.
  • Use a normal font. I probably won’t try to read that decorative font or that 6 point font you used to fit it all on one page.
  • Use prose. A poem is nice and I appreciate the effort, but it’s hard to get the news that way. Include a poem, but mostly use prose.

As I was writing the letter this year, my wife asked if it was really necessary. After all, just about everyone we send it to is in one of our social networks (like Facebook). They know what we did last year. And they’ve seen lots of pictures. Good point. Are the days numbered for Christmas letters?