What does a pastor do on a Saturday?

I had a colleague who had a very hard time sleeping on Saturday nights. He always lay awake, worrying about Sunday. So he decided to not even try. Sleeping, that is. He would stay up all night from Saturday into Sunday preparing his sermon, and then preach the following morning.

Good for him. I could never do that. I’d be dozing off during my own sermon! That never goes over well. I’ve got my sermon mostly done by Wednesday and go over it a few times sometime on Saturday. Some pastors have a Saturday night service. For me, that would be a drag. My Saturdays could involve any number of things.

Today I worked in the yard, visited a family mourning a death, ran a few errands and got a few chores done around the house. Other Saturdays I have gone to a movie with my wife, performed a funeral, painted a room in my house, played with grandchildren, had some extended family over for supper and built a play fort in the back yard.

My day off is Friday. If you suggest, “How about Friday?” I will typically answer, “No, that doesn’t work for me.” Saturdays however are flexible. Sometimes I had nothing going on. Sometimes my plate is full.

The one thing I never do is discuss the question, “Do you want to go to church tomorrow?” That’s pretty funny. With retirement on the horizon, maybe we’ll have that discussion. But for now, Saturday means I set my alarm for 4:30. Sunday’s coming!

Mr. Nice Guy?

As I read Psalm 92 the other day from An American Translation of the bible, I paused at verse 2, where the psalmist mentions God’s faithfulness and kindness. The ESV uses the term “steadfast love.” The lexicon uses the longer term “lovingkindness.” God is also described as “kind” when Paul writes, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4 ESV). So I started thinking, “What does it mean that God is kind?”

In my mind, a kind person is nice. Not mean, rude, abrasive or irritable. In my mind God isn’t like that either. But it just doesn’t seem right to simply describe the Almighty as a nice guy. When you head down that path, you end up with everyone in heaven, because after all, God is kind. There’s got to be more to it than that.

Other New Testament passages (Eph. 2:7 and Titus 3:4) link God’s kindness with Jesus and his saving work. That makes God actively kind, similar to activity associated with agape love. His kindness is an aspect of his grace. When you don’t get what you deserve and your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, you’re experiencing God’s kindness. It’s a kindness meant to lead you to repent and get your act together.

I wonder if Israel camped at the base of cloud-covered Mt. Sinai, the ground trembling beneath their feet, thought of God as kind. Powerful? Yes. Holy? Check. Frightening? Yep. Nice? Not to their enemies, that’s for sure. But for the moment God was providing and protecting them. That’s pretty nice of him. And I wouldn’t ever want to take that for granted!

Furniture in heaven?

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Today I was reading Psalm 99 and came across verse 5

Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!

It’s not unusual for my mind to wander to some interesting places in the predawn hours of the day. That verse first made me exclaim, “God has an ottoman?” Actually, that sounds really cool. Creation is finished. God’s ready to put his feet up and rest. Why not? Then I wondered, “Does God have any other furniture? Jesus spoke of his father’s house and its many rooms. Is it furnished? If so, how?

I know it’s not important, but just off the top of my head I recall some heavenly furniture mentioned in scripture: a throne, a banquet table, lampstands (floor lamps?). That might be it. And that’s OK with me.

Update: A friend of mine told me her parents always said not to be afraid of thunder. It was just God rearranging his furniture!

More prepositions

I get to spend a few hours watching two of my one-year old grandchildren each week. They are both at the age where they notice, investigate and taste everything. They spend all their time discovering new skills, flavors and sounds. They constantly learn new ways of moving, communicating and manipulating. Their lives are best characterized by prepositions: in, out, up, down, over and under.

An hour of watching my granddaughter do that instilled in me a new desire to do the same. Much of my day is familiar, routine and habitual. But it doesn’t have to be. I am certain there are many tastes and smells, motions and skills, sounds and places yet to be discovered. I just need to add a few more prepositions to my day!

Order something different to put in my mouth. Put on some headphones and listen to a different kind of music. Climb up on the roof and see what’s going on around my neighborhood. Get down on the ground and see the world from a toddler’s perspective. Go out of my way to talk to someone I don’t know.

I can’t remember where I saw it, but I clearly remember the sign: “Don’t grow up. It’s a trap!” How true. I’m a little jealous of those who get to be full-time little ones. I’ll have to work hard to let my inner kid out more often. More prepositions. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What makes a sermon "good?"

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The other day I was pondering the question, “What makes a sermon good?” What makes it effective, memorable, inspiring, applicable and edifying? Can it even be all of those things at the same time? I know that some sermons are none of those things. Every preacher has a dud or two somewhere in their files. But if someone comments, “Boy, that was great!” what moved them to say that? Was it short, funny, convicting or reassuring?

I’ve come to believe that a sermon that touches my own heart will connect with others, too. Perhaps that’s the best quality for a sermon to have. It connects an ancient scripture with contemporary life. It moves from a page in the bible to a place in your mind. It connects the Creator with his creatures. It allows the thoughts and feelings of a prophet or a king or a fisherman to resonate with a parent, a waitress, a student or a welder.

The moment of truth comes when somewhere in my preparation, a word, a phrase, an image or an event suddenly strikes a nerve. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when it happens. It might be a moment of conviction, relief, surprise or joy. But at that moment, I know I have something to say.

For example, I’m preaching on the transfiguration of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel this Sunday (Matthew 17:1-9). The disciples get to see a side of Jesus they’ve never seen before and never get to see again. All kinds of glory wrapped up in a very plain human package. There it is. Great things like computers or gifts are wrapped and shipped and arrive at my house in very plain packages. Church and ministry might seem boring and unexciting, but don’t ever forget all that glory wrapped up in “the body of Christ.”

That’s the thought process that got me to Tuesday. Now I have something to say. I’m still putting it all together for Sunday. But I’ve made a connection. I pray that my hearers will, too.

Getting my chops in shape

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With Easter around eight weeks away, I wanted to be in shape to play trumpet that Sunday, so I’ve been working hard to get my chops in shape by playing as many days each week as I can. From experience, I know it will take consistent practice over the next few months to play my best for hymns and special music that day.

One does not simply pick up a horn and play after months of inactivity, or since the previous Easter. It takes a while to restore muscle tone, breath support and endurance. It also takes some self-discipline to work this into my already busy days. But you know how it is: you make time for what is important to you. Not only is this important to me, but it is still something I love to do.

Today I took my horn to work with me and played through the Epiphany and Lent sections of the hymnal. It is miraculous to me that I can fill an empty, expansive sanctuary with sound from a single horn. The moment I do, something unique comes to life in me as sounds, overtones and melodies fill a room. I played everything up a step. You can never practice transposition too often.

The physicality of playing a brass instrument is addictive. You send a stream of air through the horn from deep within your lungs. The feel of your lips buzzing in the mouthpiece turns into a tone by the time it reaches the bell. In an instant a dot on a staff is transformed into a sound that not only fills a room, but lingers in the air after you stop blowing. But I don’t stop blowing. I need more. I inhale, breathe out and ride the wave of sound that carries out over the rows of seats in front of me, towards the massive cross window behind the altar and rising through the cupola into the heavens. It is a magnificent and glorious experience that words can barely describe.

Once I start playing again, I can never remember why I let myself get out of shape. I enjoy it so much! But life happens, family and work commitments suck up time and music is relegated to the back burner. Without a band to play with, it’s hard to keep practicing. Today it was definitely worth it, though.

Cash

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My errands for the day included a trip to the farmer’s market for strawberries and the barber for a haircut. For both I would need cash, so my first stop of the day was the ATM.

Cash? Oh, yeah, I remember cash. Paper money, green ones, fives, tens and twenties. I have a place for them in my wallet, but rarely is that place filled. I hardly ever have cash. And neither do many of you, I’ll bet.

I pay for everything with a credit card that I pay off each week. Gas for the car, food at the grocery store, restaurants, dog food, big box home improvements, coffee shop, prescriptions, car repairs. I give to my church online, pay all my bills online, and do most of my shopping online. Why carry cash? For strawberries and a haircut, and a few boxes of girl scout cookies.

When I have cash in my hand, the money feels real, the transaction feels real, the expense feels real, the product feels real. Electronic banking, giving, buying, investing, paychecks, and bill pay seem surreal. Like it’s not even happening. So much of what we give and pay for, by and receive is virtual, a service, and not even tangible. It’s a strange world, isn’t it?

Cash is for babysitters, tree trimmers, churches I visit, Christmas and birthday presents, a roadside fruit stand, a football team fundraiser, and a kid’s roadside lemonade stand. For all the things that are real.

"I want to talk to a person"

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A few days ago, before I took the long drive to visit one of my members at home, I stopped to pick up some lunch to take to them. Earlier that morning, I ordered a few subs online and indicated when I wanted to pick them up. When I got to the store, I spotted them in the bin with my name on them, paid at the register and I was on my way.

After I arrived at their home, we sat down for lunch and I casually explained how easy it was to pick up the food. I’ve done it often. Another family member there said, “When I order food, I want to talk to a person!” Fair enough. Technology isn’t for everyone. But it got me thinking, when do we want to speak to a living being, and when do we avoid it?

We’ve all been through the frustration of calling to inquire about an account, only to be greeted by layer after layer of automated responses and numbers to press. It would be so much easier if we could just speak to a person.

On the other hand, how often do we text or email or message someone rather than calling or talking to them face to face? It’s so easy to zip off a message and be done with it. They’ll get back to us when they can. In that case we save a lot of time by not talking to a person.

Look at how much you can buy without interacting with a human. Practically everything. And since online shopping grows and grows and grows, obviously we like that method.

Ever been in a store where someone shadows you, waiting for you to pause before an item for a moment, so they can ounce and try to sell it to you? I hate that. Sometimes I just want to look without being sold to. On the other hand, have you ever been in a store and need help finding anything, only to discover that every sales associate has disappeared. That moment when you need assistance, every aisle is deserted like you are in a ghost town.

I’ve learned that talking to a person face to face is always preferable. A phone call is second. Texts, messages and emails come third. I use digital means often, but it’s too easy to miscommunicate or misunderstand. Phone calls, including video, help span the distances you can travel. But nothing beats talking to a person. You can accomplish so much in five minutes when you speak in person!

Why do you think God showed up in person?

Is that a sharp or a natural?

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I have been thoroughly enjoying my new lens implants following eye surgery to remove my cataracts. My distance vision in my left eye is crystal clear. My reading distance vision in my right eye is perfect.

And then I sat down to practice my trumpet. My music stand isn’t far away and it isn’t close up either. It’s about one arm’s length from my eyes, and it’s not in focus! I just can’t see all the ledger lines below or about the staff. Is that note in a space or on a line? Is that a sharp or a natural? I can’t move the music closer because I’ve got a horn in front of me. I can’t stand further back, either, cause the notes will be too small.

Hmm. I did not foresee this dilemma. I had to come up with a solution. I need to get my lip in shape for Easter. So I came up with a solution. I purchased a pair of cheap reading glasses, popped out the right lens, and wore them with just the left lens in place. Voila! Every note is in focus. Pretty slick. I’ll just keep them in my trumpet case, next to the valve oil.

My followup appointment with my eye doctor is this week. I’ll mention it, but I can’t imagine there are any cheaper or easier solutions. I only spend a little time each day playing trumpet, so I can’t see investing a lot of money in glasses for that purpose.