Posted in Devotions, Lent, Ministry

2020 Lenten devotion #6 – Water into blood (part 1)

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

“If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exodus 4:9)

So Moses has to convince an entire nation, all of Israel, that he is to be their leader who will bring them out of slavery. Not an easy task.

No problem. God will give you a few tools, a few impressive feats to convince them. A staff that turns into a serpent. A hand that becomes leprous and then whole again. And water from the Nile that turns into blood. You got this Moses!

You had me at “staff into serpent.” You have that kind of power at your disposal? I’m all ears. When do we leave? What should I pack?

Well, maybe. How did he do that? Is this for real? In a world of lies, fake news and scams, who do you believe? Who’s telling the truth? Who should you listen to? We’ve got scripture, history and eyewitnesses to shape our faith. Israel had ancient legends, bedtime stories and desperate prayers. We still have our doubts. So did they.

One way or the other, God was going to deliver his people. It didn’t matter whether or not they believed. It didn’t matter if Moses had to pull out all of the tricks God gave him. These folks were not going to stay in Egypt. They were going home. And they would know that it was God who made all the travel arrangements.

Drops of blood on the ground where Jesus was flogged and where he was crucified testified to the power of God to save us. Travel arrangements, right? Because of that blood, we’ll get to go home, too.

Chances are you’ll pour out some water today and it will turn into coffee, tea, lemonade or soup. We take those things for granted, but it’s really amazing when you think about it. Maybe one of those things will remind you to recall the powerful things God has done and the travel arrangements he’s made for you for eternity!

Thanks for the tickets to go home, Lord. Amen.

Posted in Ministry

Another shrine in the neighborhood

Yesterday’s shrine in the woods was nothing compared to this front yard Samson and I saw on our walk today. I first saw St. Francis, but then noticed Mary and her son Jesus, plus a few angels.

So I couldn’t help but wonder, who would decorate their front yard in this way? Shrubs, flowers and trees all seem to make sense. Statues and figurines just aren’t my style. I love the Madonna (and Jesus), just not on my front porch. I love angels, but prefer the real ones that no one sees. St. Francis was a wonderful servant of God, but no more so than many other unnoticed “saints” who fill our churches each week for worship and live out their faith in the world.

Statues just don’t do it for me. Give me the living, breathing people of God any day.

Posted in Devotions, Lent, Ministry

2020 Lenten devotion #4: Goat blood instead of Joseph’s

“And Reuben said to [his brothers], ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. “(Genesis 37:22)

“Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?’” (Genesis 37:26)

“Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.” (Genesis 37:31)

Joseph’s eleven brothers are ready to kill him, throw him in a pit and tell everyone that a wild animal had eaten him (Genesis 37:18-20). They are so jealous and so tired of hearing about Joseph’s grandiose dreams that they are ready to murder him! And you thought your family was dysfunctional!

Reuben, the oldest and supposedly responsible, begs them not to shed any blood. He wanted to come back and rescue him later. Judah has second thoughts, too. Would it really do them any good to kill Joseph? Instead they stage his death, sell their brother to a passing caravan, and soak his robe in the blood of a goat. This would explain his disappearance to their father. 
A little blood is all it takes to solve their problems. They’ve gotten rid of Joseph and gotten away with his disappearance. Would they be able to sleep at night? Well, that’s a different story. 

A little goat’s blood will also save their skin a few years down the road. When they desperately show up in Egypt, Joseph will save his family by selling them some food. Good thing he was still alive!

You never know when that person you don’t like, can’t stand or even hate will be someone who will help you out someday. God has a way of using folks to provide, protect and preserve our lives. They despised and rejected Jesus, didn’t they? And he’s the very one who saved their lives!

Thank you for all the people who help me out Lord, especially your son, Jesus. Amen. 

Posted in death, Ministry

Soon

Photo by Tim Evans on Unsplash

A few days ago, I visited a member who had just been admitted to a hospice house. She was alone, comfortable and talkative when I stopped by. We had a great visit.

Early in the conversation, though, she said, “I have a question for you. I told God a long time ago I was ready to die. What’s taking him so long?”

Great question. Way above my pay grade. So I said, “I don’t know.” But then I said, “Do you remember when you were a child and your parents were driving somewhere for the day or for vacation? How many times did you ask them, ‘How much longer? When are we going to get there? Are we there yet?’ I’ll bet your mom or dad said, ‘We’ll be there soon.’ That’s our heavenly Father’s answer for us, too. Soon.”

As a dad that’s what I always said to my kids when they asked, “Are we almost there?” Whether we had fifteen minutes or a few hours to go, I always said, “Yes!” I answered the question and got a few miles or minutes of peace.

The last words our Lord says in scripture are, “I am coming soon.” What does that mean? Who knows? Time can fly or drag. But the word “soon” gives me hope and peace for the next few minutes or miles of life.

Posted in friends, Ministry

A great friend from the past

Photo by Nina Conte on Unsplash

I had the most pleasant surprise yesterday. After the noon Ash Wednesday worship service, I was hanging around talking to my organist when I caught sight of a man I didn’t recognize walking through the narthex. Nothing out of the ordinary. People wander in all the time. I walked up and introduced myself, and as he shook my hand he said, “Jim Werner.”

Wait a minute. This name is familiar. This name is in the mental database. OMG, Jim Werner. I shared a house with him thirty-eight years ago in Neptune, NJ. Are you kidding? No way? That’s a name from like three lifetimes ago. Yep, it was Jim. He was on his way to Jacksonville, looked me up, stopped by and by the grace of God found me.

Suddenly, a flood of memories from my past overwhelmed me. In 1980, with a whole year of experience of work at Bell Labs under my belt, Jim asked if I would like to share a house with him. Apartment life wasn’t working out very well for me, so I jumped at the opportunity. Jim was a fellow tenor in the choir with me. His family was an influential part of the church Less rent for me. A more affordable home for him. A win-win.

That opportunity was a life-changer in many ways. I could get my first dog, a yellow lab named Gabriel who got along famously with Jim’s Irish setter named Shannon. Jim worked nights, I worked days, so we rarely saw each other during the week. His bright idea to buy a wood burning stove to heat the house afforded me the opportunity to learn how to operate a chain saw and cut and split firewood. I absolutely loved doing that.

I was running 70-80-90 miles a week in preparation for marathons while he had family and friends over to party. His supper would often be no more than a few slices of toast, while I ate a variety of vegetables. Both of us slept on mattresses on the floor because neither one of us had a bed frame. Hey, it was comfortable.

Jim’s family (mom and dad plus three sisters) became my surrogate family as I learned how to live on my own. We were very different from each other, but were also very good for each other.

You never know who God is going to put in your life to help shape your future. But somehow, he always knows who you’ll need.

Posted in Ministry

2020 Lenten devotion #1: Garments of skin

A quick concordance search shows the word blood appearing nearly four hundred times in scripture. Blood is part of life and death in God’s creation. It is part of God’s covenants. It is spilled, sprinkled, poured out, and consumed. It justifies, redeems, reconciles, purifies and conquers. This year’s Lenten devotions focus on the drops of blood we find on the pages of our bibles, leading us to the cross of Christ and beyond. 

Photo by Adrian Ordonez on Unsplash

When “the eyes of [the man and the woman] were opened…they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). “And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). 

While the word blood does not appear in these verses, God is the first to take the life of some animal to use the skins to cover up the naked first couple. That’s right, God draws first blood. 

Adam and his wife have listened to the serpent, have responded to their own desires and have eaten from the tree forbidden to them. Now they must try and cover up their nakedness, shame and guilt with a few leaves. Mercifully, God provides a better covering, but it will require the shedding of blood. It is the first hint of many that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). It is the first indication that we will hear much about blood in the story of God’s people about to unfold in the ages to come. 

Why do we wear clothes? Sometimes for protection from the elements. To stay warm or cool. They may be a uniform that identifies our profession or company. We may wear them because we like to look good and impress others. Or to fit in with the people around us. 

Whatever the reason, clothes serve as a reminder of our sin and shame and also our Savior. As hard as we try, we can’t cover up all our faults. But our Savior’s love, sacrifice and blood can. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). 

Gracious Lord, thank your for covering my sin with the holy precious blood of Christ. Amen. 

Posted in church, Lent, Ministry

It’s time for purple

In liturgical churches like ours, the altar will look different this week. As the season of Lent begins on Wednesday, the paraments will be purple.

Purple was an expensive dye at the time of Jesus. It was made from the secretions of a certain snail. Thousands of those snails were needed even for a small amount of the dye. Only the rich, which usually meant royalty, could afford purple garments.

Jesus wore a purple robe just once, along with a crown of thorns, as soldiers mocked him for being a king (Mark 15:17). This color is a powerful reminder of that Jesus was despised and rejected, a path of suffering that culminated with his crucifixion.

Reminded of the sacrifice he made for us, we enter the season of Lent with repentance. Turning from our sin to our Savior, we will find forgiveness from our king, who came to suffer and die for us.

Posted in Ministry, pastor

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!

Posted in communication, Ministry, preaching

What makes a sermon “good?”

Photo by Brandable Box on Unsplash

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.