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10 Classes You Won’t Take in Seminary

Have you ever had that dream where all of the sudden someone from school calls and says that you missed that one class and you have to go back to school? It’s a serial nightmare for me–usually after a Sunday of preaching. Still, if you feel called to pastor the average church (if there is such a thing), be advised that you really did miss a few courses. You missed them because they aren’t found in any syllabus. They are only learned in the Seminary of Hard Knocks. Here are a few classes I’ve audited from that fine institution over the years.

#1: How to Make the Church Smell Good after the Septic Pump Quits on Saturday Night
stinker

You walk down the hall and you’re greeted by a slightly malodorous sensation. “This hall stinks,” you say to yourself on Sunday morning at 7:38am. You go to the Welcome Center. “The Welcome Center… stinks too!” And then your head begins to spin with a harsh, whiff of reality. “THIS WHOLE CHURCH STINKS!” Trust me. You can clear the disinfectant spray shelves of every Dollar Store in a ten-mile radius and you aren’t getting rid of that stench before the first-time guests arrive.

#2. Avoiding Debates Inside the Church over Calvinism, Drum Volume, and the Fellowship Hall Table-Lending Policy

Church is a sensitive subject and there will always, always be a controversy. Your job as pastor is not to ease the tension but to manage it. In fact, we see in the ministry of Christ that the gospel should sometimes provoke the tension. But it’s not fun. It’s demoralizing. It can wipe you out. But you can leverage it to your advantage. You’ll provide perspective and vision when you find the conflict is brewing. But beware. Those little foxes will tear up the vineyard in millisecond if you aren’t careful.

Side note: I hate conflict. But it’s like the watermelon patch in North Louisiana. Give it time and those green monsters will surface.

#3. Five Casseroles to Stay Away from During Covered Dish Supper6a00e54f9787cc8833010536556a3e970c-450wi

 

I’ll save you some tuition and just tell you what they are according to my 52 years of church homecomings, small groups and funeral wakes.

  • Broccoli Velveeta Asparagus Mush
  • Green Been and Carrot Gelatin Delight
  • Spicy Frito Tamale Surprise
  • Gooey Crock Pot Pizza
  • Baked Tater Tot Pasta

I, like most pastors, often have an inherent sympathy for cooks and casseroles that haven’t been touched at a church get-together. The rule of thumb is simple: If your stomach turns, even slightly, at the eclectic medley of ingredients in a culinary creation which hasn’t been touched in a line of 500 parishioners, DO NOT pick up the serving spoon. This will not end well for you.

#4. How to Time the Filling of the Baptistery

Although Baptisteries vary from church to church, here’s a basic rule of thumb: 15 minutes before the football game of your choice, go to the church and start the faucet. Around the middle of the third quarter, just to be safe, go check the progress. In most cases it will be filled adequately. However one caveat: If there are several injury time-outs or replay reviews you might want to bring a mop and a wet vac. Obviously this formula doesn’t work for bowl games with extended half time festivities. One side note: Do not drain the Baptistery on a Saturday night. (See #1 Septic Pump Seminar )

*Important- This method doesn’t work if you are ADD. Delegate.

#5. Surviving Three Funeral Weeks

One of the tensions most pastors face is the unpredictable nature of the ministry. Most critical moments and mandatory ministries occur with less than 48 hours notice. No-brainer: Nobody dies on schedule and they don’t spread the funerals out evenly over the course of a year. There will be those three funeral weeks and you’ll be expected to be awesome at everything else that week as well. Funerals can be amazingly powerful experiences but they always end the same way. Every person’s funeral that I’ve conducted is still, to this day…resting in peace. So you aren’t Jesus, but you can offer his comfort to families in their most intense and desperate moments.

#6. Discerning the Will of God VS Your Sudden Urge to Resign on a Sunday Morning, Drop the Mic, and Scream “Free at Last!”

0Every pastor has a moment where he fantasizes saying all those things he’d love to say at his weakest moment. Every time I have a passing moment where stupidity looks attractive I say to myself, I don’t want to be like that guy.  Dropping the mic is rarely a good thing to do. Unless you are like… the Son of God. The best thing to do of course is pray. Pray without ceasing, especially when you’re angry, desperate, frustrated and thinking about a job change. Remember those who suffered and are suffering through so much more than you are now. There’s always someone who has it worst than a couple of people rubbing your name in the dirt at Starbucks.  And just to be honest- if you’re a pastor, somebody is always doing that. You just got wind of it.

#7 How to distract your congregation from the screaming baby.

Let’s face it guys. You may be an amazing communicator but you no match for the colic baby on the 5th row. You could be revealing the Ark of the Covenant’s exact location and upwards of 50% of the attenders are contemplating whether it’s a wet diaper, gas, or teething. Give it up. Share that thing you’ve never told anybody and you’re fine. They won’t hear it.

#8 Verses Appropriate to Cease Church Softball Altercations

dcc8a18f734ea42588955601396ee9a1This comes with a story. Many, many years ago Christians, seeking missional
opportunities to connect with the unchurched through sports, decided that rather than risking the dangers of going into the heathen city leagues to develop relationships, they would simply create our own petri dish of dysfunctional, overly dramatic competition. Seriously though, sports offers a great way for us to build community with the unchurched but I have known a few Brother Rodmans.

#9 How to be Biblical, Relevant, Contemporary, Traditional, Conservative, Merciful, Decisive, Prudent, Articulate, and Meek all at the Same Time

I am one of those guys who walks through the scripture verse-by-verse John McArthur-style, providing spot-on contemporary illustrations, while parsing Hebrew, quoting poetry, helping split the metaphorical babies of contemporary living, counseling addicts, healing 1.3 marriages a week, involved in camping, sports, coffee shops, and 30 parachurch organizations, waxing Cloud-and-Townsend on tough love while having the grace of Brennan Manning, the relevance of Craig Groeschel, and the humor of Andy Stanley with several movie ideas that would rival Spielberg. That’s the kind of guy I am… for 5 minutes a day… in the shower… Then I brush my teeth, put on my Dockers and just try to figure out who God intended me to be. Somewhere underneath the bold, impregnable, phantasmagoric fascist architecture of my superego is an ordinary guy who loves God and is desperately trying to shut up the delusional guy in the shower.

#10  How to forget the insulting innuendo of a Loose Cannon. 

The insanity of insecurity is that a pastor could go through a Sunday, see God use him in ways that boggle his mind, and then one person could throw a lighthearted verbal sucker punch in the church office suite and every extraordinary epiphany is immediately frozen in a Mac spinning wheel of death. I’ve compared notes with a number of other pastors and they all say the same thing. We constantly have to battle our own leadership insecurities. It is a learned skill. I’m still learning.

These are only a few of the timeless lessons offered at St. Paul’s Seminary of Hard Knocks at the corner of Arminian Drive and Calvin’s Cove. Every pastor goes there and every pastor learns.

 

Five Survival Sayings (Read, Believe, Repeat… Constantly)

Theological elitists, keep moving along. There’s nothing that will interest you here.

Jacked-up sinners, like me, pay careful attention.

We all need a few easy-to-remember axioms that get us through the day. As a man of habit who has struggled with self- condemnation through the years, I’ve white-knuckled these truths in the middle of my own messiness. You may have heard them before but they are worth reviewing:

The depth of God’s love for me has nothing to do with my performance.

It has never been about earning His love. There’s nothing I could do that will make God love me more than He already does. (nothing) God is love, love, love all the time, regardless of my behavior.

 

Jesus came for messy people (like me).

He walked into my personal hurt locker. The last few days of Jesus earthly ministry are a statement: “I can be hurt just like you.” He didn’t run away from the pain. He walked into it with purpose. He didn’t create the struggle bus. He doesn’t drive the struggle bus. He’s on the struggle bus and He’s sitting right there with you. If you grieve because you don’t have it all together, remember this: Everybody– even (insert name of the holiest person you know) struggles.

The Gospel means Good News.

Jesus came to save, not to condemn. If you are feeling the weight of overwhelming condemnation, know that this is not from Jesus. Jesus was never into condemnation, except when it came to name-calling, angry, judgmental professional religionists.

I can never out-grace God.

He doesn’t create torture. That is not in His nature. The stubborn nature of humanity is to figure out how to justify one’s self in two ways: revealing our righteousness or someone else’s unrighteousness. This is not what Christianity is all about.

We pay good money and attention to radio hosts, bloggers, TV pundits, and investigative reporters to root out the scandals around us. Something inside us draws us in to listen and to analyze it with friends. Perhaps we do this so that we can hear that whispering voice within us saying, “I’m better that that guy. Right God?” While the truth is this: Uh… no. Jesus loves the ones caught in the act of adultery, idolatry, and addiction. It is the beautiful scandalous truth of Jesus’ nature.

Love is the theme.

Ultimately, it all deconstructs into one simple gigantic word: love. It’s not about how much money I give, how many good deeds I perform, how many verses I know, how many awards I garner. Love is the ultimate tester. It is about love and it always will be about love.

Important:

If the church you go to doesn’t sound like this, you might want to reconsider what keeps you there. Because the message of Christianity is so often hijacked by legalism,
perfectionism,
authoritarianism,
politics,
elitism,
showmanship,
personality worship,
serial guilt-mongering,
racism,
behavior-modification idolatry,
brow-beating,
shame-casting,
theological hairsplitting,
apoplectic apologetics,
righteous sarcasm,
appearance management,
and a thousand other slings and arrows disguising themselves as orthodoxy.

Orthodox Christianity says, “Come, weary one. Find rest.” If you’ve been wounded by the church and find yourself disconnected, I want to challenge you to find a community of grace. Reengage with the truth of Jesus. You need it like I need it. Because when it comes right down to it, without that kind of love, grace and connection the world is a dark and lonely place.

A Word of Advice from Jesus’ Mother

There are many universal sayings that all mothers end up reciting at least once if not a thousand times.

Wash your hands before eating.
Play fair.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Be yourself.
Trust me.
Get some rest.
Pull those weeds in the back or they’ll kill the tulips!
Listen to your father.
Don’t go out with a guy just because he asks.
Stop whining.
Don’t cross your eyes. They may stick.
No throwing frisbee in the house.
No snacking before supper.
Don’t wear that much make-up.
Show respect.
Don’t do that!  You might poke your eye out.
You might get worms. You don’t know where that’s been!
Give it your best.

But perhaps the greatest advice from a mother is recorded as a side-note tucked away in the Gospel of John. It came from the mouth of the mother of our Lord. It was at a party.

It wasn’t a life or death situation. The words had very little to do, at first glance, with eternal destinies or climactic discoveries. Just a simple statement in the midst of uncertain, perplexing, awkward circumstances.

When the celebration of a marriage hit a stump, and the pitchers of refreshment were depleted. Mary, the mother of Jesus, turned to the servants and simply said, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” She knew exactly who her Son was. She could have expounded upon the majesty of her Son, the royal blood that ran through His veins, His very nature as Creator and Master of the universe.

She was well aware of the glory of Jesus. But instead, she simply pointed to Jesus and with determination and authority in her voice, she said, “Do whatever He tells you to do!”

Jesus turned, furrowed His brow, and then, He honored her despite the whole timing issue of when the Messianic works was to begin.

“Fill the pots,” He told them.

“But you don’t understand, Jesus. Those clay pots are for the ceremonial washing of hands and feet!”

Mary looked on, perhaps assertively, with her arms crossed. Her attitude was unchanged by Jesus words. She said it again. “I said – do whatever He tells you to do.”

“It is glorified bath-water,” one servant said, as he gritted his teeth.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary replied, this time politely with more grace. Mothers have a way of overseeing the details.

They filled the pots.

Then Jesus said, “Now, draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

“You’re joking, right?” a cynical servant asked with a coy smile.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary repeated.

And at that moment bath water became the toast of the town. And if you listen closely, perhaps you can hear the words of that proud and courageous mother. Her words still apply.

Do whatever He tells you to do.

Minister to the homeless. Do whatever He tells you to do! Follow Him to a foreign land. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you budget your time and resources. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you proclaim the Good News in your school. Do whatever He tells you to do!

The mother’s advice through years of weddings, funerals, challenges, and crises, in the big things, in the little things, in the plans for today and the dreams of tomorrow – it’s really some very good advice.

Do whatever He tells you to do!

It may seem like something strange. It might go against your natural instincts. It won’t be the first time. He’d startled his people before with his plan:

Reach in the mouth of that fish and pull out a coin.

Here’s some mud for your eyes.

Sell everything and follow me.

Drop those nets.

Lay off 80% of the army and give the rest lamps and horns. That ought to do it!

Avoid becoming a salt lick. Don’t look behind you.

Five loaves and two fish will do. Let’s pray and start passing it out to them.

Hit it with your stick. There’s water in the rock.

Five smooth stones. That’ll teach him.

March around the wall.

Roll that stone away. He’s not dead. He’s just a sound sleeping miracle waiting to happen. Let’s wake him up.

Rise and walk.

Don’t bring anything with you.

Go and teach all nations!

Do whatever He asks you to do!

So what crazy thing is He telling you to do?

Has he called you to start a homeless shelter? Has He called you to memorize the Gospel of John? Has He called you to minister in the nursing homes, bars, the halfway house, the merchant marines, in India, China, Alaska, Greenwich Village or Congress? Has He called you to give up your stereo, your car, your cable? Has He called you to paint your neighbor’s house or scrub toilets? Has He called you to start a church? Has He called you to try to reconnect with that kid who beat you up and stole your milk money in the third grade?

Do whatever He asks you to do!

Why? It’s a no-brainer. Whenever Jesus tells you to do something, glory happens. He is worthy and when you close the book on your life, you will not have a hint of regret. When you dive into God’s plan, you will discover that He is more powerful, more trustworthy, more intelligent, and more intuitive than you could ever think of being.

So take a deep breath and dive in. You’ll be glad you listened to Mary’s advice.

Four Foolish Filter Fails in Bible Study

I was having coffee with a friend the other day. He’s one of my favorite people in the universe and I love his take on the Bible and church. Our church models are very different. Still, we marveled that even though our churches are about as different as Switchfoot and Lecrae, we’ve both experienced the same awkward moment when our fellow leaders and group members take the Bible completely out of context. Context is key if we want to disciple and lead believers into an authentic faith. All this started me thinking about all the cringe-moments I’ve experienced through the years. I’d categorize these as “filter fails.” They are fails because the Bible requires at least a moderate amount of contextualization. (I’ll call them filters, because contextualization reminds me of my AP English class my parent made me take in the 9th grade. The scars are there, trust me.) At best, a lack of appropriate filters has twisted a minor phrase into a cross-stitch verse that was never intended to be hung above a fireplace or sewed on a doily. At worst, they have lead cults, crusades and Bentley owning, name-it-claim-it, TV preachers.

So let’s take a look at 5 of the most frequent filter fails on teaching the Bible.

1.Failing to understand what’s really going on the story.

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of this. I use Bible Gateway™ key word search to look for that perfect verse to summarize a Biblical truth. One verse that I absolutely loved was Habakkuk.

The Lord replied,

“Look around at the nations;

   look and be amazed!

For I am doing something in your own day,

   something you wouldn’t believe

   even if someone told you about it.

 

Now if that’s not a verse destined for the wall art section of a LifeWay Store, I don’t know what is. Right?

 

Well… Let’s look at the context. It’s not hard. Just read a couple of verses after that, where we learn about God’s ultimate threat of destruction of the people with whom this promise is speaking. God is sending the dreaded Chaldeans to wreak havoc on the people of God. So although Habakkuk 1:5 sounds like a great life-verse, certainly in its context, it’s not exactly the kind of amazement you’d ever really want.

 

2. Ignoring the Voice

If you’re knee-deep into church culture you have heard it in songs, cheers, sermons and in pregame interviews of famous Christian athletes.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:19

It’s often referred to in contemporary circles like this: I can solve this promise, score this touchdown, win that award, and (I’m sorry but it’s true…) marry that girl. But often, the person referring to the verse forgets the voice of the writer.

Paul was in prison. In earthly terms, like girls, football, acclaim, financial success, Paul would seem like a loser. Paul is writing a letter from prison about being able to endure not achieve. He’s enduring a loss of freedom, loneliness, uncertainty and pain. Speaking in modern terms, this is not a Joel Osteen kind of verse. It’s a Martin Luther King Jr. kind of verse.

Now, you don’t have to agree with me 100%, but I want to submit that Paul’s voice, his circumstance, and the entirety of the book of Philippians is not well served by a trite, fist-bumping take on it. Watch your toes. I’m dropping the mic.

 

3. Evangelical Cherry-Picking to Drive a Point Home.

This is the main reason expository Bible study is so effective. In expository Bible study you aren’t simply going on a fishing expedition to string together related verses on a subject. You are going through the narrative to understand what God is up to in the passage, while also realizing that you have to understand and ask some really important questions:

  • What is the culture?
  • When was it written?
  • What’s going on around the writer?
  • What has God revealed so far to the people in the book?

 

Expository Bible study is much like practicing legitimate journalism. – Who, What, When, Why Where and How. This is elemental to understanding and teaching scripture with integrity. History is important. What was going on the culture when the passage was written? Progressive revelation is important. It goes without saying that Peter, even though he was a knucklehead every now and then, had more revelation than amazing Isaiah. He got to see more revelation by the simple fact that he was born later and happened to be a disciple of the Son of God Himself! Therefore, we can’t look at the annihilation of the enemies of Israel in the Old Testament as a proof text to carpet bomb towns. Otherwise you’re going to have to throw out a lot of Jesus teachings.

4. Jumping the Gun

I saved the worst for last: You head off alone. Bible study and Bible teaching will be cold, ineffective, and futile if you don’t have Someone working with you. (You see what I did there with the capitalization, don’t you?) The Holy Spirit must guide you as you study scripture or prepare to teach. Scripture comes alive when we have a dialogue with the Source of all knowledge. This is what makes reading the Bible so incredibly transforming. There’s something going on between the reader and the text. So prayer is a vital link to understanding the text. Prayer makes the Bible a dialogue.

There are other fails out there, but these are four that you surely want to avoid.

Letting God Out of the Box

I’m always amazed how the church as a whole
is so quick to throw rocks at the sheep in the fold.
We question each other’s theology,
spar over worship philosophy.
We’ve got more fusses than one tongue can tell
while outside the world is going to hell.
We are driven by creeds, and motions, and clocks,
haven’t we learned not to put God in a box?
Would Jesus approve of our political labels
or would He come in and start busting up tables?
Does He tire of us telling Him what He should do,
what gender must teach, what strategy’s true?
Is the Bible the life source or inflexible judge?
Is the church a haven for sinners or a group with a grudge?
Do we think we can settle for boycotts and strife
instead of seeking the lost and giving dead people life?
What were we thinking when in front of the press?
we majored on minors choosing to curse and not bless.
I have to tell you from my point of view
I keep wondering what in the world Jesus would do.
Would He have us disputing which method is best,
or making transformation be our holy quest?
After all that’s what this journey’s about,
not who has more sheep or who has more clout.
I despise the reports of our ugly catfights.
I’m appalled by the task of reading sinners their rights.
When you preach condemnation, consider this fact,
they don’t know Jesus. How’d you expect them to act?
And please understand, I’m not where I should be.
When i’m pointing at you, I’m pointing at me.
There are times when i haven’t lived up to His Name,
when i’ve only the man in the mirror to blame.
But now is the time to reject the mask,
to heed the call, and get back to the task,
to burn the political, decaying façade
for an all out pursuit of our passionate God.
Let’s spend our time living meaningful lives
giving mercy to sinners not dangerous lies.
Let’s bear the cross and drop the rocks,
proclaim the good news and let God out of the box.

 

7 Things that Happen When We Worship Together

You and I came to the game late but we are invited to stay for eternity and as we worship God begins to teach us new concepts, new subtleties, new songs… What is God teaching you as you worship.? Here are a few things He’s been teaching me.

  • When we worship, life becomes a festival rather than a contest. Not a show… Never a show…
  • When we worship, it spills over into our lifestyle and our family budget. We begin to appreciate simplicity over the complexity of accumulation. It wasn’t ours in the first place, so we don’t have to fight to own it. It’s best given away. And once we do, life becomes less difficult. Fewer locks. Fewer statements. Less paperwork. Less maintenance. We can whittle life down to important things and we see that the best things in life are not found in malls.
  • When we worship, God invites us to take a step closer to him today. Worship one minute more, give one more thing away, encourage one more person. We do this not out of our desire for approval or blessing but because life will make more sense and because we need to experience Him one step closer.
  • When we worship we see more clearly. When the Church worships, His presence is palpable and mysteriously real. When silence is found in our worship, We sense can apprehend the mystery of incarnation. It grabs us and we want it more.
  • When we worship, we see that we are all in recovery. We are all broken, even the most beautiful, well-read, popular, intelligent, successful achievers are struggling today.
  • When we worship, we intentionally surround ourselves with hurting, needy people. 
The recovering drug addict, the guy who had an awful marriage and worked to make it functional, the kid who grew up in a dysfunctional family, the person who has a chronic disease, the woman who experienced sexual abuse, the guy who was unemployed for three months, the kid with Down syndrome, the family whose house was robbed while they were on vacation, the former stripper, the couple that faced infertility, the guy who went for help for his addiction to porn, the blind guy, the man who lost his wife,
the grandmother who lost connection with her grandchildren,
the child of alcoholic parents, the parents of an autistic child, 
the falsely accused. I believe everybody–even atheists, need to be around real, authentic, passionate worshipers because it’s the very best community anyone could ever imagine. And our worshippers so welcome atheists with open arms because we’ve all started out disconnected from God.
  • I look forward to Sundays. It is the highlight of my week. I’m reminded of the grace of Jesus and the worship never ends.

10 New Names and 1 Idea!

In the eighties, church job titles were pretty simple. We even had decision cards that you could fill out if you felt “called” to “special service.”

You might feel called to be a

_____ Pastor
_____ Music Minister
_____ Youth Minister
_____ Minister of Education
_____ Foreign Missionary

(Check one.)

That’s it. Check the nature of your particular call to ministry and we’ll tell you about the closest Christian College where you can go to get a testimony.

But sometime around ’89 a trusted denominational leader went to a business conference and the wave of new ministry vocations began to trickle down to your typical Baptist Church. These names, I suppose, were to clarify the positions and to give people a better understanding of what they actually do.

1. Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Pastor of Spiritual Formation which is … well.. they kind of form… no… they shape the uh… spirituality of the deacon and leaders? I give up. I imagine he’s like the Minister of Assimilation – whatever that is.

2. Magnification Pastor

Then there is the Magnification Pastor. (This is a real position in several churches. Several big, successful churches, so I can’t be critical. It’s working.) Logic would tell me that the Magnification Pastor would be the Senior Adult minister. He’d do his weekly column in extra-large print. This title of Magnification Pastor is not for every minister. If the Pastor was a grumpy, stick-in-the-mud, youth-minister-firing, church-split-waiting-to- happen guy, would you really want to magnify him. In truth the magnification pastor is someone who preaches or leads worship on Sunday.

Some Sundays.

When he’s not at Catalyst.

3. Executive Pastor

Executive Pastor is the Minister of Education. We call him Executive Pastor to get rid of the stigma that the Ministers of Education have carried for years- that he’s the guy who gives the announcements and knows where the overhead projectors are stored.

4. Children’s Pastor

The Children’s Pastor is simple enough. It means that they minister to the needs of children and their parents. The Children’s Director is even more specific. The Children’s Director does everything the Children’s Pastor would do but this person is a woman.

5. Administrative Assistant

The Administrative Assistant to the Pastor of course is the same as the old Pastor’s Secretary but the Administrative Assistant actually controls the Pastor, knows CPR and how to use anti-virus software.

6. The Minister of Technology

This is the guy (or gal) who knows how to use the anti-virus software but also adds presentation software, feedback, mic chords and automated thermostats to his sphere of responsibility (or blame).

7. Minister of Ecclesia

Talk about seeker sensitive! You say Minister of Eccelsia and the average Joe knows exactly how you spend your time.

8. The Minister of Connections

I visited a church in Maryland where every staff member’s name and email address was listed with one exception. The pastor’s email address was intentionally omitted. Under his name was his administrative assistant and her email address. But she was called the Director of Connections. So one would assume, if you want to contact the pastor, you’ve gotta have connections.

9. Creative Pastor

Here’s another: The Creative Pastor. I can’t help but wonder how makes the other pastors feel? And should we actually use adjectives in a job title. “If the Creative Pastor doesn’t know, go ask the Intellegent Pastor or the Attractive Director. If all else fails you might just have to ask the Monotonous Pastor. He’ll know. He always knows.”

10. Executive Pastor of Operations

I visited a church website recently that had an Executive Pastor of Operations. I had to call about this title. It kept me up at night. What is a Pastor of Operations? Is this legal? Does he do hernias? I learned that the Pastor of Operations is what we used to call the Facilities Manager. This man supervises the janitorial staff as well as the mantanence and repair of the church. That’s his vocation and ministry. My first thought was, “Wow! They must have an incredible middle school program!”

11 ????

Personally I think I’d be a great Minister of Apology. Every day I could get a list from all the other staff members in my mega-church. You know, the Minister of Technology, the Student Pastor, the Director of Childhood Ministries, the Pastor of Operations, and the Magnification Pastor. They could give me this list of people that I should, on behalf of the church, extend a deep and meaningful apology. But the Minister of Apology just doesn’t sound as hip and postmodern as the other members of the staff. Perhaps they could call me the Minister of Apologetics. But then again Apologetics means never having to say you’re wrong.

On top of that, if I became the Minister of Apology I would be doing the work of the most powerful person of the staff: The Receptionist.

I Am in a Hurry

I have more days behind me than I do in front of me so I am in a hurry.
I can’t afford to be cynical, satisfied or slow.
I don’t want to do anything halfway for You.

I don’t want to be pulled away by self interest, pride, or opposition.
I don’t have the time to live on the treadmills of accomplishment and notoriety  while the world around me starves from lack of grace, drifting away from the mystery of the Divine.

Commandeer my life for Your glory.

Open my hands, sharpen my focus and steady my aim.
Make short work of the claptrap meanderings of my own voice. I am weary of it.

I say, “Away with the litter of self-serving endeavors that I valued and held close to my heart.”
I am not satisfied with teaspoon-sized, halfhearted, unbroken, lifeless worship.
I will not sing anything that I am not willing to live.
I refuse to accept meaningless prayers for temporal things in my conversations with You.
I refuse to look at others and judge what they are doing or how I am doing.
I refuse to hold back anything from You no matter what the cost is.
There’s no way to do anything but love with even the slightest and most fleeting glimpse of the cross.
So, I want to run as fast as I can, pray with the constancy of angels and love everyone I encounter, even if it means pain. And I will make the most of this day in all of its paradoxical, mysterious glory.

There’s just not enough time to do anything else.

 

 

~

It’s Saturday

It’s Saturday.
The tomb is sealed.
The guards are in position.
The sheep are scattered.
The light is gone.

There is nothing more than silence on the other end. These are the times when we look back and replay all our errors and missed opportunities. The words we should have said… The swords we should or should not have drawn. The flood of memories that we created. The feasts we should have savored at the time but were consumed by petty thoughts and motives that, on Saturday, seem so obtuse.

On Saturday we don’t have answers. On Saturday we feel lost and duped. On Saturday we wonder if the loaves and fish were some sort of slight of hand and that lepers were not lepers after all.

But most of all, on Saturday, we just miss him. We wish we could see him laughing, telling stories, loving us unconditionally. On Saturday we pull out his clothes just for a last scent of the Divine.

On Saturday, we don’t want to be around people that remind us of Him. On Saturday we long for one more embrace, one more story, even one more rebuke. Saturday– the day of emptiness, anger, and questions.

It’s Saturday.

 

~

It is Friday

Jesus remains on the cross, suffering unimaginable traumas. He is deserted by fearful disciples, surrounded by tormentors, thieves, murderers, and religious provocateurs. Soldiers gaming over the final scant possessions of the Master of creation, ignore the darkening sky.

Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

On this holy day, God’s beloved Son embodies rage, infidelity, holocaust, slander, incest, pride, lust, greed, murder, abortion, hypocrisy, deceit, pornography, blasphemy, treachery, apathy, gossip, bribery, falsehood, child molestation, betrayal, false accusations, assault, vanity, witchcraft, bitterness, manipulation, drug abuse, seduction, false testimony, violence, threats, broken relationships, and a million other curses of man’s folly.

And during this bloody sacrifice, a Holy God turns His back.

“He who knew no sin has become sin.”

Jesus receives enough sour wine to moisten his tongue so that He could make one grand and final announcement. In the darkness of a cruel hill, Jesus shouts:

IT IS FINISHED!

This declaration is not a cry of defeat, despair and death. It is a glorious shout of victory! The masterpiece of redemption receives its final brushstroke. This is the pinnacle moment of grace that crushed the head of a conniving has-been and opened wide the passageway to salvation. The cross- once a vulgar, despicable symbol of shame, will soon top the roofs of churches and cathedrals. It will be displayed in homes and hospitals, bejeweled on necklaces and depicted in the greatest works of art and literature. And the three words Jesus shouted would now be the pronouncement of God’s greatest transaction.

IT IS FINISHED.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace.”
There is peace once again in midst of the exchange.
It is dark.
It is unspeakable.
It is mysterious.
It is ENOUGH.
It is Friday.

 

~