Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

I do

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for March 11, 2022. Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash

 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)

Pretty bold, huh?

At our church, when young people are confirmed or we receive new members, I ask, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

And you know what? Everyone responds, “I do, by the grace of God.”

Just like Peter, I doubt that we understand what we are promising. Kind of like looking in the eyes of our spouse at the altar and repeating the vow, “Til death parts us.” I believe we are sincere. I believe we believe we can do this. I also believe we have no idea what’s coming.

Peter might have been ready for prison and death. But he wasn’t  ready for a servant girl’s simple statement, “This man was with Jesus” (Luke 22:56-57). He had no clue how hard it would be to remain faithful.

I confess, I’ve become cynical. Too many people have said, “I do,” and never come to worship with us (or anyone else) again. Too many have come back and asked me to perform their second or third marriage. Many, dissatisfied with their church, went to another. Were they threatened with prison or death? No. They simply ran up against the challenge of being faithful.

Rarely do we understand the commitments we make. “I’m going to get up and exercise every day.” But then on day two you are too sore to move and you’re done. “I’m going to learn how to play the guitar.” But you had to work overtime and the dog got sick and there was no time to practice. “If we get a dog, I promise I’ll feed and walk him every day.” But it’s raining. And there was a meeting after school. And I forgot. Thirty-six payments in and you’re wondering, “Isn’t this car paid off yet?”

Peter, you’re not ready. Neither are we, really. And so we fail, and we fall hard on the grace of God. Those who haven’t missed a Sunday in years confess that we have failed to love God and love our neighbor. Those who have been married for fifty years or more confess that they have sinned and need God’s forgiveness. Those who preach and teach stand at a distance and say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

The foundation of our faith is never our intention or our strength. It’s him. He’s our rock, our refuge, and our fortress.

There is no other.

I do – by your grace alone, Lord. Amen.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

For you

“Mirror of the Passion” for March 7, 2022. Photo by Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash

“[Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

Someone returns from shopping, hands you a bag and says, “I got something for you.” Or they look at the name on the gift under the Christmas tree and say, “This one’s for you.” After paying for a meal, you hand a little extra cash to the server and say, “This is for you.”

There is something about the words “for you” that gets me every time. My heart skips a beat. I blush, just a little. “For me? What is it? Oh, wow, thank you. Hey, look what I got!” Other times I feel guilty. “You didn’t have to get me anything. I didn’t get anything for you.”

We look into this mirror a lot. We hear these words every time we kneel for holy communion.

This is for you – even if you’re a traitor, a coward, a thief, doubtful, or a deserter. (Like the disciples)

This is for you – when you worked hard, did a great job, and feel really good about yourself. (We all have good days.)

This is for you – even if you broke your promise, were caught red-handed, and then lied about it. Again. (We all have days like that, too.)

This is for you – even if you don’t know who you’ve disappointed, ignored, or hurt. (We can be oblivious.)

This is for you – even if you’re feeling disappointed, ignored, and hurt. (We know how it feels.)

This is for you – even though it didn’t make a bit of difference last time.

This is for you – even if it changed everything last time.

The words “for you” bring God’s amazing grace home to us. Grace means no conditions. No strings attached. Expecting nothing in return. Jesus’ body was broken for us. His blood was poured out for us. While we were sinners.

Listen for those words. Let the “for you” of the sacrament shock, surprise, and reassure you each and every time.

Lord, you shouldn’t have. But I am so glad you did it all for me. Amen.

Posted in Grace

“You’re mic is on!”

Photo by Lee Soo hyun on Unsplash

It’s four minutes before I walk towards the altar, the prelude comes to a close and worship begins. More than a few times, someone has come up to me and said, “Your mic’s on!”

Well, of course it is. I fully trust the person at the sound board to pot me up at the appropriate times in the service. If the whole congregation can hear my small talk with those arriving for worship, those I’ve spotted who are with us for the first time, and those who have last minute questions for me, it’s not my fault!

I usually think, “I hope it wasn’t on when I was just in the bathroom.” Or expressing frustration under my breath about someone or something. Or speaking having a confidential conversation.

Actually, most of the time, it’s not true. My voice tends to carry. That’s a polite way of saying I’m just plain loud. I’ve heard it many times from my wife when guests are sleeping on the other side of the house or my comments are of a personal nature. I don’t even realize how much volume I can generate. It must come from all those years of playing the trumpet and sending air through the horn.

Can you imagine what it would be like if people could hear what you were thinking? So many thoughts resonate in my head that fortunately never make it to my vocal chords. About someone’s appearance, behavior, language, priorities, commitment, faith, choices or lifestyle. If that mic were ever left on I would be in a lot of trouble!

It’s troubling to sit here and write about thoughts I am glad no one knows I have. Obviously I am not proud of them, nor do I share them very often. Such thoughts reveal a level of sinfulness I shudder to admit. My thoughts aren’t always nice, constructive, merciful, forgiving and gracious. They are too often judgmental, condescending, cruel, hateful and evil.

No one knows. Except for God. And when I stop to ponder that, I am ashamed and humbled. But he still sent Jesus to atone for those thoughts. Amazing.

Posted in retirement

I am prepared to be humbled.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Since I am retiring from full-time pastoral ministry at the end of this coming July, a call committee at our church has begun the process of preparing to call the next pastor for our congregation. That process includes asking each member of the congregation what abilities, skills, strengths, experience and priorities they would like to see in their next pastor.

I am prepared to be humbled.

Why? First of all, because I’m human, a sinner, and nowhere close to being perfect. I know that either blatantly or subtly, my weaknesses will be highlighted in the responses to this survey. The members of the congregation will frankly tell the call committee what they would never say to my face. Their wishes for the next pastor will expose my weaknesses, failures and negligence.

I’m ready for that.

Trust me, I know my weaknesses. I am very aware of all the things I should have done over the past twenty-four years at this church. My insufficiencies haunt me daily. I did not study, pray, visit, administrate, evangelize, discipline, preach, teach, counsel, participate and celebrate like I should have or could have. I angered, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, insulted, ignored, and drove away many. I did it for the money, the notoriety and my ego.

I do not deny any of that.

When this church called me to be their pastor, they called a sinner. A sinner that deserves temporal and eternal punishment, a sinner redeemed by Christ, a sinner who squeaks into heaven by the grace of God. What did you expect? A saint? A super-hero? Someone you could look up to?

I never wanted you to look up to me. I wanted you to look to Christ. He’s the one who was obedient, he’s the one who was crucified and he’s the one who rose. He’s the one who will meet your hopes, expectations and dreams.

Me? I’m just me. And I am grateful I got to be your pastor for these last twenty-three or four years. What a gift.

Posted in Grace

Just take a walk

I don’t get to see many fall colors on trees in Florida, so this one just kind of jumped out at me when I was walking Sam. The palm trees and the pine trees keep their green year round. But this tree’s a trifecta. I’ve never seen a tree like this one with three vivid colors simultaneously on display. I wish I knew what this was. I’d get one for my yard!

It is so easy to miss the creative work of God that frames my walks around the neighborhood. I stroll through a museum of his handiwork many times each week. Green lawns, flowering shrubs, towering trees, familiar neighbors walking their dogs, storm clouds off in the distance, the vivid clouds of the sunset, the first few stars in the evening sky – all testimonies of the God who created heaven and earth – and me.

So grace can look like a tree covered in color, making me stop and look and take a picture. You want to catch a glimpse of grace? Just go for a walk.

Posted in Grace

“What is grace?”

Busted. A student in my confirmation gently raised her hand and asked, “What’s grace?”

I toss that word around like it were obvious to everyone. Guess what? It’s not.

  • “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
  • “Stephen, full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8).
  • “We are justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24).
  • “Grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
  • “You are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
  • “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Cor. 16:23).
  • “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor., 12:9).
  • “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5).

I could go on and on and on. All those verses roll off my tongue like lyrics for a top forty song. My point is, if you’re a Christian and you like to toss around the word “grace,” you better have your elevator definition ready for anyone who asks you, “What is grace?”

My simple answer: when you get what you don’t deserve. A good grade when you really didn’t study all that hard. A close parking spot on a busy shopping day. Another chance to get it right. Forgiveness. Oh, yes, especially forgiveness. No one deserves that. But someone paid dearly so you could have it.

Posted in Grace, pastor

How about some grace?

So, if I weren’t a pastor and I went to a church somewhere, what would I expect of the pastor?

I think that’s a heck of a question, one worth asking from time to time when I wonder where my time went. Am I doing more than I need to do? If so, then why? How much time am I spending on unimportant tasks? Why am I doing that?

OK, here is my list. Yours may be different, but that’s OK.

I would expect the pastor to proclaim God’s Word to me. Preach the word. What is God saying to us through his word right now? I expect that the pastor has studied and prepared some good news for the congregation from scripture.

I would want the pastor to be a regular person. Wife, kids, hobbies, joys and frustrations. If I stop by his house, it’s not perfectly kept. If he comes to my house, he’s right at home.

I would want the pastor to baptize, marry, and bury those whom I love. In those very special, emotional moments, please remind me that God is a part of those moments, too.

I would want the pastor to project grace. I don’t need someone to tell me what to do or how to do it. I already have plenty of people in my life who do that. But grace is hard to find. Maybe the pastor can bring it.

That doesn’t sound too tough, does it? Yet, when you are the pastor, you feel like everyone expects a whole lot more from you. You feel like everyone is expecting you to

  • make the church grow
  • keep the kids engaged
  • attend any and every meeting
  • bless things (crocheted prayer shawls, bibles, necklaces, urns, bricks, cross necklaces…whatever)
  • keep the church sanctuary at a comfortable temperature
  • go after those people who don’t even want to be a part of the church
  • make people behave better
  • tell people how they ought to vote at election time
  • visit people in the hospital who didn’t tell you they were in the hospital because they thought somehow you knew
  • perform a funeral for someone who never came to church but was a pretty good person most of the time
  • conduct a wedding for a couple from out of town who wanted to be married on the beach because you live at the beach
  • remember who can’t drink wine, eat gluten, or likes to drink from the common cup

I don’t know if everyone really expects those things. It’s just that I think people expect those things. We should be able to reach a compromise here. If you expect grace and I expect grace then I can let go of many expectations and simply give you the best gift of all. Grace!

Posted in Ministry


alejandro-salinas-189861A few years ago I wrote this in one of my journals, a prayer prompt of sorts: “So, where are we going today, Jesus?”

I had been musing about following Jesus as his disciples did. Following meant you would go where he went, see what he saw, get yours hands dirty in the reality of life, and be blown away by what he could do.

In a way, it’s like shadowing Jesus on your first day as a waiter. He’s the waiter, the one who serves, so you tag along and learn what the job entails. You quickly learn that some people are very nice, while others are just nasty. Some are very demanding and hard to please. A few will leave little or no tips. Others will care and be very generous. But no matter what, you do your best to serve, to listen, to smile, and to forgive. You encounter the very best and the very worst of the people in this world.

Or it’s like riding shotgun with Jesus. But not only will you get to watch and listen, but you’ll get your hands dirty, bloody and scarred, You’ll experience first hand just how creation had fallen and how far God goes to redeem it. You’ll be delighted when you find faith and dismayed when you don’t. It might take you by surprise, but for the Messiah, it’s just another day at the office.

If you want to see Jesus at his best, you need to be where the world is at its worst. You need to tag along or ride shotgun into those places where grace is needed and grace is often found. Want to pray a powerful prayer? Just begin by asking, “So, where are we going today, Jesus?”

Posted in sermon

Paths of grace: Gratitude

(Transcription of Sunday, August 27, 2017 sermon.)

August 27 cover picSo here we are talking about gratitude and it’s not even Thanksgiving!

Maybe you think I’m pushing things a little too fast, but I think this is good. By the time November comes you’re going to be so occupied thinking about travel, celebrations, food, family gatherings and all the things Thanksgiving involves that it’s really hard to focus. Everyone is telling you how much you’ve been blessed and how you should donate to people who don’t have as much. So much gets lost in all of that. But now here at the end of August we’re not worried about any of that. We can take a good close look at the path of grace our Lord leads us down today, that path of gratitude.

Using the word of the week, I want to ask you this question: “What is that eclipses gratitude in your life?” What is it that casts a shadow over your thankfulness? You wouldn’t think we would have to ask this question. We have so much. We have so much wealth, so much food so many clothes, we have nice homes to live in. There are so many things to be thankful for.

But you know how it works. You only need to see one person who has something that you don’t have or one person who you thinks looks better than you do or one person who seems to be having a better time than you are, and you are a little bit jealous. And now you’re not content. You wish you had what they have or you could do what they can do or you look like they did. Suddenly, that blocks the things that we should we should be thankful for. Just like the moon blocks out the sun and all of a sudden you can see very clearly the corona around the edge. Things like jealousy, greed and covetousness get in the way and suddenly we see what we’re really like. We’re not nearly as thankful as we probably should be.

And I know that bothers you. I know that grates against you. It really bugs you when somebody is not thankful. When they don’t seem to be grateful for the things they have or the things you’ve done for them.

I love the story of grandparents who loved to send gift to their grandkids for birthdays and holidays. But they never got an acknowledgement that the gift had been received. No phone call, no text, no thank you, nothing. Finally they decided we’re not sending anything else until they get some kind of feedback. You’ve been there. There are people you know you want to grab by the scruff of the neck and say, “Why you ungrateful little…” (You can finish that sentence as you please.)

So we know this is a problem. It’s very interesting that the path of gratitude our Lord reveals and leads us down doesn’t take us past pantries filled with food or garages filled with cars or homes filled with things. No it takes us in a whole different direction. The path we’re going to follow today is a very interesting story from the Old Testament that has to do with the ark of the covenant.

You can read more about this in 1 Chronicles chapters 14-16. The ark of the covenant was that very special chest that God had commanded Moses to build. It was fairly big, covered with gold, gold angels on top, with poles in it so the priests could carry it everywhere they went. Inside was the tablets of the law, a jar of manna, the staff of Aaron (he was to be the high priest for God’s people.) And so they carried that chest with them. It was a reminder that God had come to be with his people.

He was living in the midst of them. When they arrived where they were going to stay they set up the tabernacle around it, the ark was in the holy of holies, the presence of God filled that place and they knew that God was going to take care of them, provide for them and lead them, a very real powerful reminder.

So we’re going to jump into the story at a time after God’s people have come into the promised land after the time of the judges but before they have a king. During this time, Israel as Israel tended to do was always fighting battles with the Philistines. That’s their classic enemy. All kinds of skirmishes all kinds of battles. They could never quite get the best of them.

One day they had this great idea. We’re going to take the ark of the covenant into battle with us. We’re going to take the presence of God with our armies and then we can’t lose. We’re going to have God right there to win the battle for us. It didn’t quite go as they planned. In fact, they lost that battle and they lost the ark of the covenant. The Philistines actually took it, captured it and took it back home.

What a great trophy to bring back home! So they take the ark home and they put it their temple of their god, Dagon. So now they have this statue of their pagan God and they have the ark of the covenant right next to it.

That didn’t work out they way they thought. Every day their priests went into the temple and the statute of Dagon had toppled over. It happens often enough that pieces start breaking off. The hands break off and the head breaks off and around the place where the ark is everyone is getting sick. Everybody’s got these tumors growing on their body. The Philistines finally said we can’t take this anymore. We’ve got to get rid of this thing. It’s killing us. Nobody wants it because they know it’s bad news. They decide they are just going to send it back to Israel.

They put it on a cart, hitch up a couple cows, crack the whip and it’s on the way down the road. Imagine that you are one of the tribes of Israel, working in the field and here’s a cart with the ark of the covenant just walking it’s way back to Israel. They didn’t know what to do with it. So they put it in someone’s house, in a place called Kiriath-Jearim. It’s there for a while.

In the meantime, God’s people insist on having a king. You’ve got King Saul and then King David. David has consolidated the nation of Israel and they have a capital city of Jerusalem. David says, “We’ve got to bring the ark to Israel. The ark of the covenant has to be in Jerusalem.” They send for the ark of the covenant. They put it on a cart, hitch up some oxen and they are going down the road. Now their roads aren’t as nice as our roads. Lots of potholes, rocks, it’s pretty rough going. The oxen are slipping, the cart is rocking back and forth, and the ark starts to fall off the cart.

A man named Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark, and drops over dead. You don’t touch the things of God. You don’t get near the mountain where God is. You don’t get near the ark, unless you are one of the priests. You just don’t mess around with a holy God. Understandably, David is afraid and angry. He leaves the ark right there, in a guy’s house. His name of Obed-Edom.

While the ark is in his house, he is blessed. His flocks are growing, his fields are abundant, everything is good for him.

David goes off, and he is still waging war agains the Philistines. But David does it differently. Everytime David goes to battle, he first talks to God. He inquires of the Lord. “Should we go into battle?” “How should we fight them?” “Is this the right time?” God would say, “Yes, go into battle, you’ll win the victory.” David does. So he learns over the next few months that he can trust God. That God is going to protect them. That God is with them in a very real way. He has learned that he needs to deal with God on God’s terms, not his own.

So we’re going to get the ark and we’re going to bring it to Jerusalem, but we’re going to do it the right way this time. We’re going to have a better cart, and we’re going to fix the road and there’s going to be priests involved who are supposed to handle these things. And they get it back to Jerusalem. It’s a marvelous celebration. It’s an amazing day. There’s music, there’s a parade. David is dancing for all he’s worth as they bring it into Jerusalem.

And that is when David appoints thanksgiving to be sung in the Old Testament lesson today. He orders the people in charge of the music

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered (1 Chronicles 16:8-12).

David is commanding that thanksgiving be given to God because of his wonderful presence and power and protection among the people.

In the Psalm today we hear a similar command for thanksgiving.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (Psalm 30:4-5, 11-12)

Listen to that. The motivation for gratitude has nothing to do with clothes, food, possessions, houses where they lived, anything that they had or didn’t have. Their entire motivation was God who showed up and turned their lives around, so that they enjoyed his gracious favor. He turned their sadness into gladness. And that is what led them down that path of gratitude.

Now for us, it’s not all about the ark. Now it’s about Jesus, who is the ark of God’s presence and power and everything that God is for us. You could say that it was the ark who typified who Jesus would be. In Jesus all the law is fulfilled. In Jesus we have a great high priest who goes on our behalf to God. We have Jesus who is the bread of life. Everything that was in that ark is in Jesus.

And Jesus takes the anger of God on the cross for just a moment, that one short time, so that we might have God’s favor and forgiveness for a lifetime. There was mourning when they wrapped up Jesus and put him in the tomb. But in the morning, there was joy, when they discovered that he was alive. Suddenly we realize that Jesus has come to turn everything around. There’s going to be struggles. There’s going to be sadness. There’s going to be pain. But he’s the one who brings the dancing, the gladness, and the praise and everything for which we give him thanks.

In fact, Jesus himself is the one who leads us down that path of gratitude. When he fed the 5,000 with just a few loaves and bread and fish or when he fed the 4,000 in the gospel today in Gentile territory with just a little bit of food. Or when Jesus sat around the last supper with his disciples with a little bread and wine. He gave thanks. Not because there was a whole bunch of food there. But because the presence of God was there to save his people. And he was it. He was the one who was there to save.

And that’s what motivates us to be grateful and to give God thanks. That’s something that never changes. Everything else in life changes but that never does. Our Lord comes, he comes to us, so that our lives are filled with gratitude. That’s why we stand for the holy gospel. Our Lord is talking to us. We kneel at the altar. This is our Lord coming to us to save us. That’s why we pause at the font and we remember the new life we have in our baptism, and the new clothes he gives us, clothing us with gladness.

That’s what the path of gratitude is all about. Jesus took that path to come to us, so that we too can follow him down that path of gratitude.

My children’s sermon, with a scale model of the ark of the covenant.