My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bold as a lion

"But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. (Jesus in Luke 21:12-15, NIV)

To me, it's just like this...
The last two days my personal Bible reading has been from Acts 7, the account of Stephen's bold stand before the Sanhedrin. There he stands, a Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms way before Martin's time, before the highest court in the land asked to answer to the trumped up charges against him. This group of religious thugs who personally handled the murder of Jesus of Nazareth and who attempted to silence the apostles through the threat of violence not too long before now sit in judgment against him. In my mind, he's like Kirk before the Klingon High Council in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, an innocent man framed for the death of Chancellor Gorkon. There is death in the air and despite a pretense of a fair hearing, it's all window-dressing for a lynch mob. But Stephen is not intimidated by their scowls, their flowing robes, their murderous eyes, their aura of infallibility. He is unbowed.

He was a man bold as a lion
Every preacher worth his salt wants to be like him in that moment – if that moment should come. Fearless. Undaunted. A reckless desire to be found faithful regardless of the outcome. Like William Travis drawing his famous line in the sand, I hope to be found just as stalwart, just as stubborn if stubbornness is called for. The longest of the Acts' speeches (there are several of them), while I have read it before it's never really done much for me. After all, it is a sermon spoken by a Jewish man to a group of Jewish men in a message that is highly contextualized. “The Most High does not live in houses made by men” (v. 48)? No duh, says a 21st Century evangelical in reply. But to those First Century guys who were the caretakers of the Temple and all it stood for these were fighting words. Living in a pluralistic society where my right to speak my mind is still defended by the powers that be, our circumstances could not be more different.

So why did Luke include it in his account at all? Why not just write, “Stephen boldly gave a defense of the gospel before the Sanhedrin which led to their finding him guilty of blasphemy”? I mean, he wasn't there. Maybe twenty years or more have gone by since Stephen's death and while it is significant to recall the particulars of the martyrdom of the first martyr of the Church of what benefit to us modern folks do we get from his final last words?

Here's a couple of things I get. First of all, if, in fact, a couple of decades have gone by since Stephen's death by the time Luke's hears the tale for the first time, the fact that there are still people around able to relate the gist of what he said that day is remarkable. Words last, (– well, at least some words do.) That speaks of an inspiration that comes from another Source than just the man himself. Secondly, he was no rube from the Diaspora despite the fact that's exactly how these angry men perceived him. He is eloquent, passionate, articulate – and his words are testimony to the fact that just as Jesus had promised they have reduced his accusers “to stammers and stutters” (Luke 21:15, Msg). In the end they strip off whatever legal veneer they had attempted to coat these proceedings with and do what they had purposed to do all along. Soon after, his life is taken but with the words of forgiveness for his persecutors on his lips as they attempt to silence him.

Of Stephen, Sri Lankan Ajith Fernando writes,
The ministry of Stephen helped blaze new trails for the gospel, which has earned him the title “radical.” He opened the door theologically for the world mission of the church. We do not know whether he himself realized this, but he freed Christianity from the temple and therefore from Judaism. A short time later the church concluded that one does not have to be Jewish first in order to be a Christian. Though Stephen ended his life an apparent failure, though he did not see the fruit of his theologizing, God revealed later that his ministry had borne great fruit. The trail he blazed was later followed by Paul – the one who approved of his death (8:1) and kept the clothes of those who stoned him (7:58), but who later became the apostle to the Gentiles. (Acts: The NIV Application Commentary, pp. 247-48)

Those are reasons enough to remember what he said that day. It's not likely I'll be in a similar situation anytime soon. But if that time should come, I'm comforted by the fact that the Spirit of God promises to give me what words and wisdom I'll need to be as bold as a lion as Stephen was. And in the mean time, may the same Spirit who filled him and caused others to regard him as a man “full of God's grace and power” (6:8) fill me.

Friday, May 10, 2013

It's all in how you look at things

Wings area an illusive fallacy. Some may possess them, but they are not very visible, and as for me, there isn't the least sign of a feather. Don't imagine that by crossing the sea and landing on a foreign shore and learning a foreign lingo you 'burst the bonds of outer sin and hatch yourself a cherubim.”
Amy Carmichael (as quoted in A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot)

Like a lot a people in ministry, I read A LOT. Biography, autobiography, theology, philosophy, history, devotional – you name it, I tend to have an appetite for it. This past year some of the best stuff I have read is by a guy who is neither published nor, as far as I know, has plans to publish at any time in the future. Kyle Ashcroft is a former over-the-road trucker who had an encounter with Jesus, and just as Peter and John left their nets, he and his wife, Laura, a member of the Mille Lacs band of the Ojibwe, left their life in rural northern Minnesota, moved to Seattle and enrolled at Seattle Bible College. Thinking God's plan was to eventually send them back to Laura's tribe and minister to her fellow Ojibwe, to their surprise following his graduation from SBC they felt the call of God direct them to take up work in far northern Uganda where they have been serving for several years now.

Laura (with a baby named Laura)
I met the Ashcrofts in 2008 when they were on furlough. They spoke at Refuge and I immediately warmed to them. Kyle is a self-described redneck who loves Jesus and enjoys serving him – most of the time. Out of courtesy at first I asked to be put on their email list but now I eagerly await his monthly installments of his journal. If Amy Carmichael was still with us, I think she'd say Kyle is her kind of people. I know he certainly is one of mine. Amy lived at a time where many missionary journals home contained lots of flowery accounts of service in the field. She would have none of that. When she was serving in Japan she once wrote, “Last night as we splashed into pools and knocked up against posts (wind and rain made carrying paper lanterns impossible) I laughed and thought of the Romance of Missions. Throw a love-halo round us, as shining as ever you like, but don't, if you wish to be true, adorn us with one more romantic” (as quoted in A Chance to Die). I don't know if Kyle has ever read any of Carmichael's works - or even heard of her – but his journal entries home are a fresh, sometimes raw, account of how things really are “in the bush.”

Kyle and Laura at Refuge
Here's a few entries from his April journal to prove the point:
Choda had hit something big with the lawn mower and bent the plate that holds the blades. He did not bring it to me right away and ran it with a terrible vibration until it would not go any longer. By now, besides the plate and blades being mangled, the bolts for the motor mounts had pulled through the frame and one of the carburetor mounting bolts had broken off. Fortunately I had a spare plate and blades. And was able to fix the other problems. Praise God!

Next we needed more sand so I hauled 2 trips from a neighbor. Pastor John went with which was fun. As we were finishing up loading the first trip one of the loaders started making fun of me. This is a very common problem for some reason here. However I do not like it and jack them up when they behave that way. After (seriously) straightening out this young man he apologized and all was well. John just chuckles in the background when I do this. I believe that the guys learned a valuable lesson. Be careful of who you fiddle with. The next one just might hurt you.

Finally I spent some time with Opio (one of our church members) about his plan to start a small business. That was really fun. Praise God!

The guard house builders cannot seem to get straight and plumb figured out. I show them, explain to them, but when I leave and come back the wall has to be taken apart again. I think that it is one of those "slowly by slowly" things.

I am still feeling run down and in a somewhat sizable spiritual battle. I tried to work on a message for our first speaking appointment in the States. But after struggling for some time gave up.

The guys are still quite crooked, but better. Praise God for that. The walls are now at least fixable instead of having to tear them down and start over.

John and I went to Katakwi for cement and some crates of soda for him. We had a good visit. I am really impresses at how far God has brought him since we first arrived. Praise God!

He told me that there has been a problem with one of his leaders who has left and taken some of the congregation with him. It is not good, but John has a very good handle on the situation and things are going to work out. There are many 'wolves' about and one must ever be wary. It is interesting that these 'wolves' do not go after the old, weak and poor, but the ones with strength and money.

The really bad thing the leader is one of our friends and we also know his family well. It hurts to see him bringing very big problems on himself and his family (his wife and children are still attending Usuk Worship Center). So it was a very productive visit. We also went over some of the usual operational issues that we have here.

Finally Peter came back for a visit and we had a very good time of discipleship. He is facing some very big challenges in his role in the local government. As a Christian he is trying to do right, but the whole institution is riddled with corruption, including his boss. So that turned out to be a vary productive meeting as well. This is something that I just love to do. Praise God! 

The mango tree church
We went out to Ayungabella today for church. This is the mango tree church. We were a little concerned as we have been getting a lot of rain lately. And sure enough we got stuck. But we were in sight of the church so it was no problem and we left it there. We were delighted to find a partially completed grass roofed building. Praise God! The roof was up, but not completed and the walls remain to be built. All 4 of our churches here now have their own buildings which they have built themselves. We are super happy.

The service was really fun and after we had a fellowship meal and a time of sharing. It was one of the better days in church in recent memory. Praise God!

Finally we dug the truck out and with a dozen pushers were on our way back home. We gained 1 passenger for the trip home, Wilbur the rooster (I name all the chickens we get). After reaching home Wilbur found a nice home (of course it will be a short stay) with Josephine.

What a good day.

I so enjoy reading these reports home. Though I've been to Uganda twice now, I've yet to get to Usuk. To say that it's off the beaten path would be an understatement. But how wonderful that God loves those people enough to send a couple from northern Minnesota to live, work, struggle, worship, teach, and pray among them. I always get the sense that regardless of the irritations of intermittent cell and internet service to say nothing of the daunting challenge of making disciples anywhere that life is good and that there are more “Praise God!”s in his vocabulary than the usual way God's name is evoked by many.

Milo and points of view
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is the witty tale of a bored little boy named Milo who one day comes home from school to discover that a tollbooth is sitting in his room as well as a small electric car. Getting in the car and dropping the complimentary token into the tollbooth he proceeds to have many adventures in the Lands Beyond. Along the way he is joined by the Humbug and Tock the Watchdog and at one spot in their journey they pull over to enjoy the view:
Remarkable view,” announced the Humbug, bouncing from the car as if he were responsible for the whole thing.
Isn't it beautiful?” gasped Milo.
Oh, I don't know,” answered a strange voice. “It's all in the way you look at things.”
I beg your pardon?” said Milo, for he didn't see who he had spoken.
I said it's all in how you look at things,” repeated the voice.
Milo turned around and found himself staring at two very neatly polished brown shoes, for standing directly in front of him (if you can use the word “standing” for anyone suspended in mid-air) was another boy just about his age, whose feet were easily three feet off the ground.
For instance,” continued the boy, “if you happened to like deserts, you might not think this was beautiful at all.”
That's true,” said the Humbug, who didn't like to contradict anyone whose feet were that far off the ground.
For instance,” said the boy again, “if Christmas trees were people and people were Christmas trees, we'd all be chopped down, put up in the living room, and covered with tinsel, while the trees opened our presents.”
What does that have to do with it?” asked Milo.
Nothing at all,” he answered, “but it's an interesting possibility, don't you think?”
(Alex Bings to Milo in “It's All In How You Look At Things”)

The strange boy (who grows closer to the ground the older he gets) is right. As we might say today, “attitude is everything.” During the last few years at Refuge we've experienced a handful of traumatic events: In 2011, we were robbed three times by the same individual; in 2012, not only did one of our core families experience loss when Steve was in a terrible motorcycle accident but also a water supply line to the men's room mysteriously came loose which led to the flooding of our basement; and in 2013, our insurance company dropped us like a hot rock on account of what happened in 2011 and '12. Though the police captured the thief and I have since met with him a few times before he left for prison and though we now have a new, wonderful lower level facility, still our deacons had to scramble to find a new insurance policy. And because of our recent claim activity we are now paying double of what we once did. Frankly, it's a little irritating. In fact, when Kyle says he had to “jack” some guy up recently, I've wanted to do the same to the kid who caused all the problems to begin with as well as everyone at our former insurance company for their rude and unprofessional dealings with us (seriously, when a customer service person tells you that she doesn't want to hear your complaint and offers to give you a web address instead, I was like Mr. Furious in Mystery Men wanting to yell at the lady, Don't mess with the volcano...'cause I will go Pompeii on your... butt.” I refrained from doing so – out loud). But, for all that, if I hold on tenaciously to the big picture I am reminded that every set back we experienced in '11 and '12 has turned into a ministry opportunity or two. In fact, ministry hasn't pulled back at all. If anything, it's increased. I gotta think that this recent slap in the face will turn out much the same way. 
I believe the line is, "This little sucker just saved your life!"
Until the kingdom comes in its fullness, there will always be difficult people to deal with, stuff will break down and the most importune moments and you'll just have days that, like Alexander in the Judith Viorst story, are horrible, terrible, no good and very bad. As she says, “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.” So though the truck may be buried up to its axles in mud, with the help of some good pushers, you can be back on your way and who knows, maybe with a rooster for your evening dinner. God is good even on the bad days - even the ones that are terribly bad – and is able to give each of us a fresh perspective on the place he has called us to.

...what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!”

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (Paul as quoted in 2 Corinthians 4:14-18, The Message)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Batting a thousand

I just like the picture
Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.” - Acts 5:12-16, The Message

As I read these words recently, a different vignette from the apostles' story came to mind - the time when immediately following the death of Jesus they were hunkering down behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19, NIV). At that time, even a young serving girl could provoke Peter into denying he knew the Lord. But no more. Not since the Holy Spirit had come and changed these men forever. By the time we get to Acts 5, I don't know how much time has elapsed since the Resurrection. Whether it's been a few months or a bit longer, those days of hiding are long gone. Now wherever they go people want a piece of them. Even Peter's shadow seems to have healing properties. From all over the city and the immediate surrounding area the sick and tormented are brought to them and in every case “all of them were healed” (v. 16). How exciting a season of ministry this must have been for them (there would be other seasons not so exciting that the Epistles seem to allude to) – to “bat a thousand” Every time they prayed, stuff happened, results were seen, people were blessed and “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number” (v. 14).

In Acts 5, the apostles bat like  Roy Hobbs at Wrigley
In my twenty-one and a half years as a pastor, I have not lived through such a season - yet. Certainly God has answered prayer. Certainly there have been seasons where I had the feeling that ala blind Barimaeus in Jericho (see Mark 10) “Jesus was passing by” but I have never batted a .1000 - ever. Having said this, as I imagine this scene I get the feeling that the apostles were just as surprised as everyone else. It wasn't that long ago when a man stood before Jesus with his demonized son and reported, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (Mark 9:18). Admittedly, that healing would have been a tall order for anyone. And while this occurred in pre-Pentecost days, I think these guys understood clearly enough that whatever power they were manifesting as they prayed over the multitude that were brought to them had come to them as a gift from heaven.

It was just like the "old" days
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” is the last thing Jesus said to his disciples prior to the Ascension (Matthew 28:20). I can't help but think on those days when people are getting healed left and right that they must have laughed together as it brought to mind the times when Jesus had been physically among them and had done the same (e.g., Luke 4:40). As good as his word, he was still among them by his Spirit and still working (see John 5:17). Just like he had said, he hadn't abandoned them like orphans; instead he was very much present and working wondrously through each of them. In fact, the best thing about this “red letter day” for the apostles was the certainty that just as Jesus was in the Father, they were in him and he, by faith, was in them (John 14:18-20).

A few posts ago, I shared about how during my recent ministry trip to Africa, Troy, one of the elders of our fellowship, and myself had prayed over about 45 ladies with HIV (see Ignorance really can be bliss). Recently I heard through our host that day that one of these women is now testifying of being healed. If that is the case, I'm happy for her and am honored to be a disciple who had placed his hand on her head and prayed the name of Jesus over her. I didn't prepare for that moment. I didn't engage in a long season of prayer and fasting. I wasn't feeling especially anointed or spiritual. I shared the Word and then gave an invitation for prayer. I really don't follow baseball, but as I figure it one “hit” out of 45 at-bats (AB) comes out to a .022% batting average (BA). Yeah, they don't give out awards for that. For the sake of those I pray for and for the glory of the Name, I wish I had a better batting average. But until then, I will continue to swing away 'cause you never know – today might be the day that I hit the long ball and some traumatized or severely ill individual bounces their way home like the beggar bounding into the Temple healed and set free (see Acts 3). Ultimately, though my results are a lot less spectacular than what happened through the apostles in the heady days of Acts 5, I concur with what John Wimber once said about these things: “Obedience to God’s word is the fundamental reason that I pray for the sick and receive prayer personally, even when I do not see healing as a result of those prayers. I decided long ago, that if one hundred people receive prayer and only one is healed, it is better than if none receive prayer and no one is healed.” But sure would be fun to hit a few more over the fence than I usually do. Sure God gets all the glory. I just need to be reminded from time to time that he is in me and I am in him (John 14:20). 
"Swing away, Charlie. Swing away."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Now I'm that guy

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15, KJV

This Sunday Refuge will be worshiping with the folks at Hispanic Wesleyan Church (HWC) in Rice Lake. In an earlier post (St. Patrick's Day South-of-the-Border-style) I shared of the sequence of events that led to us celebrating St. Patrick's Day south-of-the-border style with our new Spanish-speaking friends. Having come to our “house” to worship with us they returned the favor and invited us to join them some time and we agreed that Cinco de Mayo would be as good a day as any. So, we're going and since Dr. Ahling preached at our gathering they have asked me to preach at theirs.

Everyone is excited to hear him again
On Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Ahling called me on my cell and asked if I had the text and name of my message as yet and would I be bringing a power point with me to use. At that particular moment I happened to be driving a disabled lady to our local grocery store, having picked her up from the chiropractor just a few moments before. “Ah, no. I'm sorry, I don't,” I said. He was very gracious and told me not to worry about it. But that brief conversation stirred up a memory or two from foggy bottom about preaching and what good preaching is.

The man can PREACH
 In Bible college, I aspired to be a great preacher. Our homiletics professor was Rev. Harry Schmidt, an outstanding pulpiteer in his own right. He is the kind of guy who can make all his points alliterated (e.g., 3 G's, 5 T's, etc.) without forcing the matter and who would regularly astound us with his ability to pull out meaningful messages from obscure texts. It's been 31 years since my freshman year of Bible college but I can still remember his text that he used in chapel the first time I heard “Brother Schmidt” (as we knew him then) preach - “Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1.) I would be hard-pressed to remember my main text from a message I gave a month ago and yet I can remember the premise of his message as if he gave it last Sunday. That's impressive. In those days I looked askance at anyone who I thought “winged” it too much, who clearly hadn't done their homework and was light on substance and heavy on theatrics. As I would sit in our school library, from time to time I would thumb through the collections of sermons by Wesley, Spurgeon and other men of great renown wondering if some day in the future I would be able to compose stuff so good someone would want to collect and put into book form.

He was a preaching machine
When I finally became a pastor, and began preaching regularly my goal was to write out my messages and read them much as Edwards or Wesley read theirs. That probably would have been acceptable in say, a Lutheran or Methodist church but I was now the pastor of a Pentecostal fellowship and Pentecostals – or, at least the Pentecostals that made up our church back then – didn't go in for guys who read their sermons. They wanted “anointed” messages not “yesterday's manna” as one of the sainted ladies back then once compared my sermons to (ouch!) At 29 years of age, I didn't have a plethora of life experiences to draw upon nor a lot of humorous anecdotes about my children (Christine was 3 and Charlie, 1). So, I often would quote a lot of sources and admittedly they were long quotes at that. Most of the time I was frustrated with the final result and I don't have a lot of memories of people gushing over anything I said. It wasn't steak. It was mostly mac-and-cheese. I would spend a good part of Friday starting to work on the text and finish up Sunday morning with a very thorough outline (which was never alliterated) that ran 6 or 7 pages and would take about 45 minutes to deliver. Every now and again, we would have a guest pastor or missionary share on Sunday morning and it felt like everyone would get a reminder – myself included – of just what we were all missing out on. But when there is no back-up quarterback you have no alternative than to keep playing the one you got and so I kept practicing Sunday after Sunday aspiring to one day to reach an acceptable level of “anointing.”

He looks "anointed"
Admittedly, over the years my preaching style has changed. Oh, I still put together an outline every week but I am known to segue off course if so inspired and now 21 ½ years later have a lot more anecdotes and life experiences to draw upon that require no written notes to tell. But the thing that probably has had the greatest influence on my preaching style becoming more “free-er” is becoming a volunteer chaplain at the Justice Center. Since Day 1 I have “shot” from the hip, simply sharing what was “on my heart” at that particular moment. In an hour's time, I have to lead worship, pray and preach to a truly captive audience who rarely give me any body language whatsoever to know whether I'm hitting anything or not. But blaze away I do knowing that I'm going to hit something simply because the law of averages is on my side. (The regular doses of feedback I do receive either from follow-up 1-on-1's, letters from prison or simply guys stopping me at Wal-Mart or Kwik Trip tell me that I'm hitting more than I'm missing.) Frankly, it's a lot of fun. While now I have a partner in Troy at the JC, during all those years I was by myself I'd try and pray during the 20-minute drive to Barron but if the Packer game was on or I had something else on my mind, that usually would took precedence. But as soon as I'd strap on my guitar and strum a chord or two, a message would start percolating in my heart and I'd go with that. I've had experiences of “hearing” an angelic chorus or “seeing” a gold cloud hovering over the guys. On occasion I have spoke a prophetic word or two over an inmate.Like the old Virginia Slim commercial on TV, "I've come a long way, baby." 

Not really my style
There's an old preaching joke about a Presbyterian, a Baptist and a Pentecostal who one day over coffee were conversing about sermon-ating. The Presbyterian shared that he developed all his sermon outlines a year in advance. The Baptist was impressed with that seeing that he only worked six months ahead. The Pentecostal silently marveled at the skill of both men and then tentatively asked, “So..., what do you guys do during the song service?” The long and short of it is that all these years later I have come to this conclusion: You know the guy I used to look down on who didn't use any notes when he preached or who moved about like a caged lion pacing nervously in his pen? Yeah, now I'm that guy. I don't pace but I have been known to move around and become a bit animated if the moment calls for it. Some of the folks here may in fun accuse me of quoting Tolkien and Seuss as much as Jesus but there it is – the Word of God has become “flesh” through my individual and imperfect psyche and personality and God has spoken through me in spite of myself. 
I think he got it right
Chuck Westerman was a pastor and frequent contributor to the satirical Christian magazine, The Wittenburg Door. He wrote a book entitled, Pastor Karl's Rookie Year: Twelve Unexpected Truths About Church Life that I read in my personal early years of ministry here. On this matter of sermons being great works of literature he wrote something that I took to heart the first time I read it:

Sermons are not – and never have been – part of the “enduring literary heritage of Western culture.” (If they end up being this, it's by accident.) A sermon is not a coupon eternally redeemable for a True Fact from God; it has an expiration date, and is only good at participating outlets. A sermon is a perishable vessel for precipitates of the Spirit – not Waterford crystal to be put in a display case for the admiring ages, but a Dixie cup bearing living water to a thirsty people. (p. 107)

I needed to hear that and am grateful for his observation.

Except my mug is cooler
These days, most of my sermon-ating I do early Sunday morning. I get up at 4, get to Refuge shortly after, put the coffee on, get my journal out and then sit down with a fresh mug of Joe and begin to unload some thoughts. Whether they make it to the final outline or not is immaterial. This is just getting the creative process going. I pace and pray in the sanctuary for awhile (if I kneel, I get tired and sleepy; I think God knows my heart and is not too worried about me choosing a more kinetic way to wait on him). Before I start creating my outline, I will have checked my email, my facebook page and, um, played a game of Spider Solitaire (don't ask me how, but it helps me focus) But after these preliminaries are through, I open my Bible, open a new text page on my computer and begin to order my thoughts for the message. It usually is a 2 – 2 ½ hour process and admittedly not the best one (I think my conclusions tend to be weaker simply because I run out of time and “wing” the rest of it.) While I have been known to repeat myself, even though I have kept every outline of every message I have ever preached to the Sunday morning crowd at the fellowship I have been pleased to serve over 21 ½ years, I have never (yet) deliberately pulled one out of cold storage and preached it again. If I ever wake up on Sunday morning and have nothing to share I think I'll suggest we just worship more and get out early. I don't think anyone would complain.

I'm not there...yet
I have come to another conclusion: there are some guys who because of their wiring and temperament are excellent “cooks” with the Word. They excel at exegeses and if they gave medals out for that kind of thing would rack up a shirt load worth. But most of us are ham-and-egger guys: We do it because most Christian fellowships expect their pastor to preach and teach on a fairly regular basis. The “teaching pastor” title is only for those mega churches that have the luxury to hire a guy who is an ace behind the pulpit. But if you love and care for the people of the fellowship you are called to serve, they will put up with your (sometimes) dry and windy sermons because ultimately you are their pastor – a job that involves so much more than the 12 (Lutheran standard) – 45 minutes you talk at them on a weekly basis.

It's late Friday afternoon and I still don't know what I'm going to share come Sunday morning. Tomorrow I'll be in Eau Claire all day at Emma's state solo ensemble performances. Tomorrow night is our last Alpha gathering at the Watson's home. So, what am I gonna share at the joint worship gathering of Refuge and HWC come this Sunday? I don't know yet. But I trust by the end of the song service I will. 
Whatever I share hopefully I won't look like this