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7 Pastor Traps on Mother’s Day

Beware of the trap game. In sports, the trap game is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result, a person or team may not prepare as they are looking ahead to next Sunday.

For pastors, Mother’s Days are often trap Sundays. But there are a few traps we can avoid on this very important and highly attended Sunday.

Trap #1: Publicly honoring the youngest mother. What is the distinctive achievement here?

I’m young. I had a baby.

After 52 years on this earth, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a goal implied in Scripture. Go figure. It says be fruitful and multiply but it doesn’t tell you to begin before you’re 17. All mothers should be honored and singling out the youngest mother feels bad in so many ways. And it could be mortifying for some in your church, including the youngest mother.

Trap #2: Forgetting that there are women in your church that wish they were mothers. Imagine going through the hardest struggle you’ve ever experienced in your life and watching all your dreams vanish. Then imagine that someone creates a Sunday where they place of your greatest pain is the theme of a worship service. Of course you’ll want to honor mothers. Just honor them with a keen sensitivity toward infertility and the wounds of others.

Trap #3: Stretching, squeezing, twisting and prodding a scripture or a sermon series to make it fit Mother’s Day.

Especially if you are going through a series on the 7 deadly sins, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or The Bad Girls of the Bible.

Your people don’t need you to gracefully pirouette across the hermeneutical landscape and seamlessly land on the perfectly deft Mother’s Day sermon text at the just the right time. You’ll be more impressed than they will, Rev. Fancypants.

Trap #4: Honoring Mothers in contrast with those Nutty Dads. Notice the two most used, most implied topics of these 2 traditional days.

  • Mother’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Mothers, you are honored and cherished.
  • Father’s Day Sermon Thesis Statement: Fathers, get with the program.

Trap #5: The “Mother Worship” Trap. When planning your worship service, make sure the songs are about the Trinity not the quatrinity. (I know… Not a word.) The point is this: Our mothers, no matter how awesome they are, (and they are awesome) didn’t die for our sins. Worship every Sunday must be about God.

Trap #6: Not mentioning that it’s Mother’s Day. There are some that are so “non-seasonal” they decide to not even mention it. By doing that you are only magnifying the oversight in people’s minds. You have to do or say something whether you are making it the primary context of your message or you’re simply wishing mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. Not mentioning it is like asking people to not think of pink elephants. And now, please understand. Pink Elephants have nothing whatsoever to do with mothers. It is merely a common analogy that people use. Mothers and pink elephants have NOTHING to do with anything about each other. Am I clear on this point? Thank you.

Trap #7: This final trap is the most important one for pastors. Don’t forget to call your mother.

 

4 Prayers I Wish I Didn’t Hear in Worship

Public prayer is an awkward experience in most churches. It’s really a strange set of circumstances. Someone comes up to the microphone and is speaking to God and we are praying along. Hopefully. Sometimes, if you think about it, it would sound a little weird from God’s perspective. Prayer should be the ultimate spiritual communion between God and man, but like most things we have a tendency to make the sacred things seem rather human. So I submit to you these lower forms of public prayers along with their scientific classifications.

  • The Sidebar Info-Prayer: Someone forgets to make an announcement but suddenly discovers that if they announce it to God in prayer everybody will overhear it. (Check that puppy off the list!)

“Dear God, we pray that many will come to the church bake sale where there will be an innumerable array of baked goods- all selling for under ten dollars in the Activity Center at 5 PM tonight. And I pray that we will all remember that the proceeds are going to the YouthMania Super Spiritual Conference in Panama City.”

  • The Intercessory Argumentative Indignation Prayer: A person prays in worship while simultaneously commenting his or her own opinion.

“Lord, thank you for the gift of music. We pray that our leaders will do more Hymns and less songs about Oceans and the like. We long to worship with the inspiration of the hymns from the hymn books that we donated so long ago and pray that the drums that are placed on our stage will not damage the ears of the listeners.”

  • The Ditto Prayer: The ditto prayer can only be recognized after hearing someone pray more than three times in a worship service. It’s basically the prayer that the speaker prays every time he is called on to pray. It can usually be said in one breath and by now I think God has gotten the message.

“Dear Lord, thank you for this day. We pray that you will take this offering, bless the gift and the giver, use it for thy glory. Go with us now as we seek to do thy will, and forgive us of our many sins.”

(This is the Baptist “Hail Mary”.)

  • The Prayer of Our Lady of Too Much Information: We think it’s important to pray for everything but there are some prayers that we need to trust that God knows the details already.

“And help Laura who is struggling with whether to get a divorce or not because they are just so incompatible in their communication skills. And we pray for Frank who has a cyst right behind his ear and the fluid is…” (I will go no further.)

When I hear people praying these prayers to God, I sometimes fantasize about being Episcopalian but the form and theology is foreign to me and I don’t want to have to wear a robe. Also, I like our music. The modern songs and the hymns… And my son plays the drums. So there’s that.

 

I am Constantly Amazed

I am constantly amazed by the faithful love of Jesus. He champions the threshold of my beginnings and endings. He initiated the relationship and never lets go. I am still overwhelmed, surprised, consumed by His love. He is trustworthy, when I am sick. When I struggle with sin, he refuses to write me off. He is the friend of sinners.

He is faithfully consistent. Truly there is no shifting shadow in the deep love of Jesus. When I cast my gaze across the horizon… the October breeze that refreshes the land after the long summer, I know that every falling leaf, every blade of grass, every bird and cloud is a reminder of His creative hand. They all were conceived first in the imagination of the Artisan of the cosmos. 

And as I reflect on the life I’ve lived here, mostly fearful of everything, I realize that I never, EVER had anything to fear. He has been and always will be, relentlessly faithful, continuously sufficient, and absolutely available. I am still captivated by this lowly carpenter and faithful redeemer- I’m still struggling awkwardly to construct the right syntax and composition of words to describe the One who is truly indescribable. I will continue to try until the book is closed and my time comes.

King Jesus, your presence is palpable and your depth is dependable.

April Fools Day

I was thinking this morning, (April Fools’ Day) how wonderful this day would be if Donald Trump held a press conference and said two words: “April Fools’!”

Wow, Donald. You really got us. You got us good! We actually thought you were going to desire and win the office of President. You so funny.

But alas the day has passed and I guess he’s really serious.

I was also hoping that those fearful, angry evangelicals would also join the chorus and say, “April Fools’!”

But they didn’t either. This is really happening. The emperor has no clothes. Fear and anger have replaced love and mercy. We are divided and we will get what we are asking for: lots of countries mad at us, no character, angry shaming, name calling, bad interpretations of the Bible, sucker-punches, twitter wars, and childish rants that promote torture, revenge, pride, and excess. (All that stuff Jesus warned the church against.)

So onward we go.

(This would be a great time to pray for our country and the Church.)

He was 5′ 135″

My grandfather was 5 feet & 135 inches tall. Actually he was well under 6 feet but he was a giant, legendary figure. I grew up during my preschool days in Los Angeles. As a knee-high kid, my brother and I would fly for a number of weeks to live in Dry Prong Louisiana. Dry Prong is near Tioga. Don’t know Tioga? Let’s just say that Dry Prong built the boondocks located in Tioga. Dry Prong couldn’t afford boondocks. Talk about culture shock! We loved our time out in the sticks learning about possums, grasshoppers, cow pies, mosquito nets, feather beds and fireflies.

We learned a new dialect. Far was pronounced fur. Cool Whip™ was “Cool Werp.” And “tar” could mean anything from, “I’ve got a flat tar” to “Doesn’t our town have a great looking water tar?”

We called my grandfather Goodbuddy. He had an 8th grade education and a small farm in the sticks of rural central Louisiana. I still have old reel-to-reel recordings he would mail to Mom and Dad during our longer visits. I love hearing him say my name on those tapes. “Matthew’s a good little boy. Got him trained to the outside and the hose.” Interpretation: He taught me that I didn’t need to come inside to use the bathroom or get a drink.

He was introverted but he had plenty of stories. Funny ones. Most involved the usual suspects: his oil field bunkhouse mates, my dad, my grandmother and the 10 or so dogs that he programed to hate raccoons with the fire of a thousand suns.

He was country but he hated country music or as he called it– “Honky-tonkin” music. He said it like he was cussing. In fact, I was around thirteen before that I realized you could say “honky-tonk” in public.

He wasn’t the best at formal, public prayer but he did pray. There are more than a few stories of him laying face-down in the middle of his pasture praying before the dawn. This made him taller than most.

He taught me how to eat sardines with saltine crackers, how and when to spit, how to shake a hand firmly, how to make a lady feel important, and how to keep my mouth shut when I didn’t know what I was talking about. And to have the temperament of a pit bull when it came to defending children.

He was the kind of man that loved everybody but grandkids were in a class by themselves. I don’t have grandkids. I’m praying I’ll get to have some in the future. I will be an awesome grandfather. I was trained by the best.

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 Sunday!

It’s Sunday.

And Jesus is with us!
His obituary is in the paper and, for goodness sakes alive, He is sitting at our breakfast table!
He is supposed to be behind a stone, flanked by Rome’s finest. Dead, dead, dead…
But instead He’s hungry and wants fish this morning!
And where has he been since the crack of dawn?
Did He go looking for better followers?
Did He go looking for a new set of men who would actually stick around in tough times?
No.
He went back to that ragtag bunch of deniers, doubters and deserters.
Think about that! The King of kings and Lord of lords is chasing after an unfaithful, deeply flawed family.
Jesus is with them. And He’s with us too.
I don’t know about tomorrow but I do know He’ll be there.
Today, He made short work of the whole “death is the end” theory.
The sting is gone.
Wonder is forever upon us.
May we live with an eye toward that wonder.
May we refuse to be cynical about life or people.
Instead, today, may we experience the newness of everything as if it were our first day.
From today forward may we walk, sing, eat, work, play and write as if it were our first chance to get to do any of them.
And may we do everything with deep gratitude, expectation and dumbfounded surprise.
Today we get to begin again… because Jesus is with us.

It’s Thursday

It’s Thursday evening. Darkness falls on a Middle Eastern city and a group of men gather around a table. Some men want answers, others want power, others conceal their furtive motives and plans, and still others resign to die.

Tonight is different. In the past, their times of feasting were filled with so much laughter and celebration that some had accused them of irreverence and drunkenness.

But not tonight.

The brutal events and encounters of a tumultuous week birthed weary hearts and uncertain minds. Even now the weight of man’s rebellion settles on the back of the Son. He broke the bread, poured the wine and washed the feet of these first believers. How were they to know the import of this table? How could these twelve conceive that they would be the first to partake of this new and strangely anomalous feast?

This is my body…

This is my blood…

Remember this moment.

One will betray me.

And in so many ways we all have.

The perimeter of conspiracy around these men grows smaller.

The unseen war of angels and demons is thick, visceral and taut.

This night and the day to come will amass the climax of redemption.

The fate of generations, hence and to come, hangs on every move.

As the meal ends, the disciples sing.

The last supper, the last song…

The labor of grace begins.

It’s Thursday evening.

I am a miser of my memories of you
And will not spend them.
~Witter Bynner

* * *

I remember You, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God.  I remember your constant longing for me to see You for who You really are. I remember the times when I had absolutely no one and You remained. You remained despite all the shameful wanderings that I created in the barrenness of my finite mind.

You remained, even though I failed to rise above the waves of discontent that made a restful place in my heart.

You remained, and the memories of every disappointing failure now are crushed under the weight of Your relentless love.

“Many of our psychological and emotional problems have to do with a lack of remembering the Lord’s death.”

Derrick Prince

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Fresh ideas energize a church. I’m no church historian but somewhere along the line someone said:

“Hey! Why don’t we meet on Wednesday night?”

“For what?”

“To kind of give ourselves a midweek shot in the arm.”

“We could pray for the sick, discuss church business and have youth worship with fog machines in the gym”

(Actually I don’t think the idea included youth worship and fog machines.)

But the Wednesday idea started and spread like wildfire or a nasty cold, depending on your experience with Wednesday night activities. In fact many church historians contend that they can date the beginning of the midweek prayer service to the pre-green bean casserole era.

Someone in a church meeting said, “How could we get people to bring their friends to the revival services?”

“Let’s have a contest. Assign everybody a pew and the person that gets the most people in their pew gets a Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible.”

“Wow! Great concept! And surely their were some people whom were coerced, manipulated and begged into coming to revivals and got saved! All for the love of that new Bible smell.”

And, lo, there were other good ideas. Ideas like bussing people to the Billy Graham Crusade, raising money for missions at Christmas, getting together to visit unchurched. explaining salvation using cubes, cloths, tracts (some even rolled into the truck stop restroom toilet rolls) easy-to-remember acronyms, drama, puppets, and card tricks. Some hokey, some ingenious, and many of them successful began as somebody’s Spirit-filled brain bomb that blew our minds. Some may call it foolishness but not the people who got the message and were saved.

I remember a men’s Bible study fellowship meeting that began with an awesome beans,cabbage, and Mexican cornbread supper followed immediately by a 90 minute Bible Study. It was a delicious meal on a very small budget for around fifty men but the digestive systems in the room weren’t accounted for and all we could say was, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

A few years back I was involved in a youth rally where we wanted to do something creative with he invitation. I asked the host church to give each student a rock when they came in for the worship service. I wanted to do creative invitation that I had seen at another event. I’d invite the students to let the rock they had represent something in their life that has weighed them down or caused them pain. I challenged them to place the rock at the front of the stage which was a high school gym stage. We had a tremendous crowd and the students were very responsive. OK. A little too responsive. the aisles were so filled with students that most of them couldn’t reach the stage to place the rock we gave them on the stage. After a few moments we heard the first of many whizzes as students who couldn’t get to the front started hurling the rocks onto the stage. As a large than average rock streaked by my ear, I remembered thinking, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The encouraging thing about ministry and bad ideas is that we all have had our moments of discouragement and setbacks.

The objectionable object lessons,
the stubborn mule and wardrobe malfunction in Easter pageants.
The telling statement from the five year old kid during the Children’s Sermons.
The mispronunciations and the failed worship experiments.
The interpretive movement worship segments that we delegated to the youth which became a break dance.
The attendance challenges that you made without thinking about how you’d look with a shaved head.

They remind us that no one can be right all of the time. (In fact while I’ve been writing this short confessional, Hall of Fame bound Brett Farve has thrown three interceptions! Sometimes I think in those awkward moments that God was winking at me and saying “You are My beloved child but you are still human.”

He revels is our creativity. He loves it where the shingels come off the roof to lower a lame man. He is moved when a sinner uses her hair and tears to annoit his feet. He gets the glory when we hand Him a Happy Meal to feed five thousand. And I truly believe he smiles when a believer says, “I have an idea!”

Let’s keep our divine perspective.

Our mission if we choose to accept it: Join God in the magnificent task of changing the world for eternity. Bigger than Congress, the U.N., Microsoft, and Mighty Mouse- we have the grandest, greatest and most exciting, eternal message ever to find it’s way into the ears of humans. No King is Greater. No Task is larger. No victory more secure.

Let’s remember to color outside the lines.

In days of frustration we’ve got to remember that all growth involves risk. If we fail to attempt new ideas we fail ourselves, we fail our friends and we fail God. This supernatural kindredship and adventure called the church is in many ways a grand and mysteries experimental adventure. We can celebrate that God is not marking every failure with divine and permanent demerits. He is the loving Abba Father who cheers us on and gives us strength to take what we have and feed the masses of this spiritually malnorished generation.

Some Candidates Remind Me of Church Members

This has been a difficult political season for America to say the least. Campaign presentations are louder, angrier and crazier than this country has ever experienced. However, I hear a faint whisper in my head that says “I’ve seen these people before.”

Most pastors have.

Who would these candidates resemble if they joined the church?

Donald would be that new believer who has taken over the men’s group that meets in the church parlor on Tuesday night. He is so new to the faith that he has not found his personal filter. He’s cusses while sharing his testimony (which is somewhat endearing but often embarrassing.) People respect him because he just tells it like it is. But DO NOT CROSS HIM. He still has the ability to get hot under the collar about things he doesn’t understand about the church. He’ll rally the deacons to build a building whether you need it or not and before you know it you’ve got a church architecture consultant in your office.

Hillary has the personality of a rogue Women’s Ministry leader. She has lots of leverage in the church and she’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with you at budget time. She is a stoic serious leader that is married to the life-of-the-party guy who you’ve been trying to disciple for years. He loves Jesus but subscribes to Showtime.

Bernie owns the church thermostat key and keeps a copy of the bi-laws in his back pocket. He is still upset that business meetings are held quarterly and would like to meet with you every day to discuss parking solutions. You love the guy, but you spend more time with him than anyone else.

Mitt is a member with an MDiv who earlier was vying to be the pastor of the church and critiques your leadership aptitude at church fellowships.

Ted is the charismatic staff member that seems to really punch up the numbers on events he organizes. Some of his numbers rival the numbers at Promise Keeper stadium rallies in the early 90’s. His spiritual gift is hyperbole and when you get in a conversation with him you always feel out-spiritualized.

Marco is the upward basketball coach that is on the property and grounds committee, the budget committee, the personnel committee and the committee on committees but he never attends the meetings. Still, he is AWESOME. He creates energy and has lots of cool axioms but he repeats them too often.

John is the quiet man who has amazing ideas for the church but because he is soft spoken, he never gets heard because, face it, Marco, Donald, and Ted are just so dominant in the Long Range Planning meeting. You are kind of afraid he’ll move his letter to Calvary because of all the chatter at your church.

Ben is an amazing guy that you truly love in your church. Kind, gentle, humble. But most of the verses he has memorized are from the Book of Revelations. But who in their right mind could not love Ben?

Take out the substantive issues and important battles our nation faces and these Americans might just remind you of someone you know too! You might even find yourself in one of these profiles. (There are some Marcoisms in my Modus Operandi.)  Remember that God uses the most unlikely candidates in your church to do supernatural things, I only pray that your church, filled with colorful, dynamic personalities will never have the kinds of debates we’ve seen in this election cycle, especially if the topic is carpet color or auditorium temperatures.

 

photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com