Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Sermons’

Releasing the Knot

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

My poor little daughter, Bis, slept in a wierd fashion on Dec. 23.  The next morning she had a stiff neck and couldn’t turn it.  Even if I gave it a little massage it wouldn’t get any better.  Poor little thing.  When she’d turn to look at something her whole upper body would have to turn – breaks your heart to see it.

Then, in the middle of the night her little voice would cut through the night.  She couldn’t move and needed help.  We didn’t sleep well on the 24th, 25th, 26th.  And in the middle of the night on what would technically would be the 27th I decided a trip to the doctor was in order…we needed to get this knot out…and…I knew what I would preach on for New Years Day.  God spoke to me.

This little girl slept between mom and dad, knotted up neck that kept her from being herself – kept her from exerting all her energies, all her power, all her joy, all of what makes her our Bis.  And in the glow of my alarm clock God made it clear that I am the same way.  I have a knot that has been keeping me from everything that God has made me to be, and it was time to get the knot out.

So I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon after having written two letters addressed to different parts of the United States.  As I wrote them I found that my knot began to smooth out.  I released over 1,000 days of anger and resentment and rage and hurt that I’ve been harboring against a couple of people.  They will be surprised to receive a letter apologizing for sending three years of evil thoughts in their direction, I’m sure, but I felt I needed to say I was sorry.  No blame.  None of the words I dreamed up for them over the years – just one paragraph letting them know that I am now moving toward wishing them well.

Bis has been to the doctor a couple of times.  She’s turning her head both ways and starting to jump around the house and jump on the couch when she thinks I’m not looking.  She’s coming back.  I can already feel the same is true of me.

I’m hoping for some good sleep tonight.

The Import of Story

I recently told you about a great a superlative book I read recently called The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (pick up a copy here) (It’s the third in the Wingfeather Saga).  I thought I would let you know about how it helped me in a sermon and in a hospital visit.  As I was preaching on Sunday it came to me – a quote from the book.  I held up my finger (indicating that everyone should wait a moment) walked over to the piano and picked up a pen and wrote a note to myself in my notes…where I could use this quote.  I was preaching on the story of Joseph.  Actually, I’m trying to preach a spring/summer series on the larger story we’re a part of.  We started with Adam and Eve, hit Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this week was Joseph.  Kind of hard to do.

You have to tell a long story and then land on one particular scripture passage in the middle or at the end and draw out of it what God has to say.  Anyway, it was Joseph this week.  I told his long up and down story: Up – Dad’s favorite, Down – Brothers sell him into slavery, Up – become slave-owner’s favorite, Down – thrown in jail for not sleeping with someone, Up – become head prisoner/warden, Down – have to tell someone that their dream means they’re going to die soon, Up – Become lord of all Egypt.

After telling the story we read the part where he was reunited with his brothers and says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8).  And in the middle of the story I remember this line from The Monster in the Hollows, “Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” ~Artham Wingfeather.  Dang! I wish I could write like that.  It fit well into the sermon, but then, on a hospital call it worked well, too.

The 6th floor of the hospital has a wing for mental health.  I was on the 6th floor of the hospital on the last day of May visiting a friend.  She asked me why all this was happening to her, and why God would put all this hardship in her life.  What possible good could come out of it all?  As is the case in many situations like that, I don’t have a good answer.  Not sure there is a good answer – at least not a good one that can come from people.  God’s got a lot of explaining to do in my opinion. 

With Joseph and Artham fresh on my mind we talked about the Bible story – one she had never heard.  Sometimes story is the only thing to tell in the middle of hardship.  Sometimes explaining things away only makes everything worse.  Take Job’s friends for instance: they did everything right until they opened their mouth.  So it was story for us on the 6th floor, and I let Joseph’s tale just hang there.

Thank God for story.  And thank God for storytellers.  And thank God for the larger story we get to participate in.

Clarity with a Twist

I’ve mentioned before that I like to go to the chiropractor early on in the week because it gives me a few moments of quiet on the hydrolic stretchy table to think about next week’s sermon.  This week, however, what became clear to me was the sermon I had just finished preaching.

The doctor and I were talking about the passage I’d just finished on Sunday: Genesis 22 and the binding of Isaac – not my favorite story about God.  I told him we had come to the conclusion that sometimes God wants us to be willing to give him that which is close to us – even if God won’t take it…just willing.

We finish discussing it and he starts to work on my neck.  I’m laying on my back and he’s cradling my head in his hands.  He gently turns my head to the right and puts it at an odd angle.  Now, I’m not a fan of this particular chiropractic practice.  There’s something very unnatural feeling about having someone quickly turn your head like in the movies.  People die that way, man.

So, there I am, laying on the table with my head in his hands with visions of Jean Claude Van Dam running through my mind and obviously I’m tensed up about the whole thing.  I love my chiropractor.  He’s great (as good as Dr. Daron DeJong of Orange City – which is saying something).  And…I trust him.

He can feel the tension and resistance my neck muscles are giving him and in a gentle voice he says…almost under his breath, “Let me have it.”  And I do.  I relax.  And just as I do my head gets put in place with a quick, nonviolent twist.  Totally unnatural.  Totally worth it.  My headache is gone in an instant.

And in that instant the sermon makes sense to me…albeit after I preached it.  God cradles our heads in his hands and asks us to trust him.  He says, “Let me have it.”  And if we do, if we are willing to hand it over, if we can trust him with things we are…well…attached to, then everything gets put into place.

Categories: Kingdom of God Tags: ,

Preaching a God you do not like

May 10, 2011 1 comment

I suppose if I did the math (and I did do the math) a person who is my age has had 1,836 Sundays.  I was a camp counselor for 6 summers: that’s about 300 campfire times.  I’ve also had chapels at both college and seminary.  That’s 7 years of chapels making roughly 910 chapel services.  Then there are all the worship services after that which break down to probably 750 where I’ve preached or participated in leading worship.  A rough total of about 3,800 corporate worship services.  I’m not trying to brag.  I know my heart, and I could have used twice that for sure.  But I want to make a point with the number.

I have never once heard a preacher, including myself, say the thing I want to say this week.  “I don’t like the God I see in this passage.”

Why is that?  Well, it’s either because the person preaching does like the God they see in the passage, or they’re afraid of admitting what they feel, or it’s just taboo to be honest in that way from behind the pulpit, or church politics would usher them out the door afterwards, or they are stuck on the idea that a worshiper must be in a perpetual state of praise.  I understand all that.  I do.  But the fact of the matter is that this week I’m preaching on Genesis 22.

It’s where God asks Abraham to take his son, his only son, Isaac, the one he loves and sacrifice him on an altar.  What kind of a person does that?  What kind of a God does that?  This is the son God promised an old barren couple.  This is the son who is to be the beginning of a world-wide blessing.  This is Abraham’s flesh and blood.  What kind of misuse of power is this by God?  Why test someone like that?  I don’t like the God I see here.  I would not want to go out to lunch with this God.  This kind of God should not expect my love and gratitude and worship.

You might be thinking, “Yah, but God supplies a ram before Abraham can go through with it.”  So?  The boy was bound, laying on a pile of wood, and the knife was on its descent toward his lifeblood and it’s supposed to make it OK that God stopped him at that point?  Not for me.  I don’t like it, and in this story…I don’t like God.

I have to be able to say that.  I have to be able to say it in church on Sunday because of the kind of faith community we want to be.  We desire to be a place of authenticity – where you can be yourself and honestly engage scripture and the living God who breathed life into both the words and into us.

Pastors are given a big responsibility – be honest with God’s word and with God’s people.  And while I have great love and respect for Bill Wayland, my boyhood pastor, camp chaplains, college chaplains, seminary speakers, Perry DeGroot and others who have preached God’s word to me in the past, I’m hoping to break the cycle in a healthy way.  I don’t think any of them ever lied to me, but they protected me, and I’m not sure that’s a service to the hearer.

I’m no homeletics professor, but I know this: preachers are not only teaching God’s word, they also are teaching how to honestly engage God.  And in a church plant I’m surrounded by people who can sniff a half-truth better than most.  And if I ease past something like this, I’ve lost them…and I really shouldn’t be surprised if they never came back.  People are looking for a lot of things: comfort? yes. inspiration? yes. But they also look for truth – and not the “we can stand in the face of the world holding this truth to their noses” kind of truth.  Sometimes just a little “I don’t like the God I see in this passage” kind of truth goes a long way.  It’s permission, basically.  Permission to feel what they feel – or maybe just what I feel.

This story may not show a God I like, but it’s the God I have, and…the God I dearly love.  I think I may need to end there both today and on Sunday.

Osama Response

May 2, 2011 13 comments

10 hours after hearing about the death of Osama Bin Laden my response is rather confused.

I see the television scenes of crowds gathering in significant settings (Ground Zero, White House, Etc.).  They are jubilant and full of joyful celebration over something.  I think the confused part of my response comes from the question: “What are they jubilant about?”  Is it the death of a mass murderer?  Is it the completion of a national goal?  Is it the adrenaline rush of revenge?  Is it the breaking of an emotional dam?

Laying in my bed, watching the initial report last night, I heard the news and had an instant response of adrenaline and was confused by it.  You see I recently preached through the book of Esther.  Toward the end of that story the bad guy, Haman, gets trapped and is hung on his own gallows while the man he built the gallows for watches.  In that particular sermon we explored the feeling of joy we have in the execution of justice.  I felt odd about it then, too.  Why am I happy about the death of another human?  Deserving?  I can’t deny it.

I don’t begrudge anyone who is excited and feeling happy today in light of the completion of one of our nation’s longest manhunts.  I can’t imagine the relief that must be felt by those who have lost a loved one in one of this man’s terrorist attacks.  And I DO feel like some justice has been meted out.

I guess it comes down to this: I think I’m sad.  Sad that it has all come to this.  Sad that men turn to bloodshed over words.  Sad that humanity has strayed so far from our original purpose.  Sad that I feel some happiness over someone’s demise.  Sad that I can’t jump up and down with the throng.  Sad that I’m of two minds instead of clear-headed and unidirectional in my emotions.  I think I’m sad that my initial response is to picture Osama on a brimstone elevator heading downward.  Sad that I don’t hope mercy upon him.  But I don’t.  I’m conflicted.  And in the middle of all the sad there is one happy note:

I’m happy that I’m not in charge of justice.  I’m happy that I’m not the judge.  I can pass that buck up the ladder to the One who is clear-headed over the whole matter.  I feel relief that I can trust this whole matter (and the matter of what happens to me at my end) to the One who is an incomprehensible combination of Justice and Mercy.

Double

April 24, 2011 4 comments

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

That’s how it started this morning.  We had two services today (Easter Sunday), and they were both pretty packed.  If I were pushed to give you numbers I would say there were 80 people in each service.  Here are the types of people we had:

Most all of our normal regular Embody types.  Then we had grandparents, siblings, and visiting cousins – these are the ones we won’t see again until they come to visit again in 3-6 months.  Which is cool.  But we also had the people who got our mailer and decided this was the week.  We had a single mom and her daughter who entered the front door and made it pretty clear that she was out of her comfort zone (she and her daughter had a great time).  We had a mom and grandma who lost a husband two days ago and didn’t want to be around her normal church friends because it was all so tender, and a little anonymity is helpful right now for her.  We had a good number of Chicago folks who make their summer weekend homes in a little community just down the street (think Dirty Dancing without the “dirty”).

God knows why they all came, and if they’ll come back.  Some of them left their info, and know I’ll contact them.  A few checked the box that reads “I want to be left alone”, and I will. 

We also had a choir.  Funny – for rehearsal we had about 7, but somehow when we stood up there this morning there were about 15 of us.  I don’t know.  Worked out.  There were also donuts the size of watermelons, an easter egg hunt that did two things: gave great photo ops and gave adults an easy way to talk and enjoy relaxing company together.  There was me, looking at the clock when everything was over and realizing I’d miscalculated how long things would go (better short than too long).  There was also a large-sh offering, a new “front” with a new platform so a short guy can be seen while preaching.  Oh, and there was Kathy who drew some really great artwork during each service (both were snatched up for some undisclosed donation after the service.)

Mostly, we heard the story – the love story with creation, broken relationships, God’s plan to fix it, a hero who arises, His death and resurrection, and our part in being the hands and feet of Christ to continue reconciling the world to God – oh, and the most important part…hope.

It was a win.  I feel good right now.  Tired, but really good.  Thanks to those of you who may have prayed for us.  Winner of a day.  Now, if you’re the type who likes to pray, you can pray that some of those people return to become part of our family of faith – and faith seekers.

Sermon Notes

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Pastor Dan from First Church and I swapped pulpits today.  I told Alex that I wanted to know what Dan preached about, so I was asking him to take notes during the sermon.  The passage was John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine.  Following are the notes he took, separated by commas:

old scripture, dan doesn’t understand it, cind of a part of a puzzle, Angels talking about what Jesus might do, wedding in Gallale, Jesus, Deciples invited, talking about wine the best is Jesus blood, smart guy named rodney – studies gods and goddisis, jurny found 1 temple with 100,000 skulls, sacrifice them to the gods, mean guys thats wat people in the olden days were like, they came to Isreal to do bad stuff, wedding whole comuniys there, wine gone, weddings usaly 7 days of food, wine dude screws up, peple laugh at them, its not there foult, there misreble, Jesus comes up with a plan, they have no more wine, Jesus: I’m no longer just belong to you, I belong to the world., saves them, first mericle, turns water into wine, happiest day of his and there life, take big stuff to him, take little stuff too he cares about everything, what matters to you matters to God, this scripture takes along time to understand

Those are the notes he took.  Not bad.  Kind of proud of the little guy for paying such good attention.  I can see that kids of that age are definitely able to pay attention and get a lot out of a sermon.  I should never discount their presence and their ability.  Perhaps we should start expecting a little more out of children in worship and in life.

At what age do we start allowing children to lead us in one way or another?  At what age do we allow children to make important decisions alongside the adults?  I have a bit of a grip with the church, and it’s this: I hear complaints from pastors all the time about the missing generation (people from 18-28).  Seems we lose our children for about 10 years after graduation and only get them back (maybe) when they have children of their own and remember the importance of raising your children in the company of other believers.

I don’t have the answers to this challenge, but I propose this: why not treat them like part of the church before they’re 28?  Why separate them all the time?  Why not incorporate them in important decisions, ask them their opinions, take their point of view into council?  Why not have a teenager on every important task force or ministry team?  Help them prepare for being an adult in the church by taking them seriously.

Maybe, just maybe their involvement will give them enough ownership in their own faith and faith community that they’ll know how to act as an adult believer when they come of “age” … whatever that means.  Perhaps we should be taking a few sermon notes from them, huh?