Worth It?

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

Pastor Dan.jpg

For all it’s challenges, I love pastoring a small church. We had such a wonderful and sweet Christmas eve service just gathering together with old friends, and new; seeing the kids have such a wonderful time as they acted out the nativity story, learning the real meaning of Christmas in the process while reminding and blessing the rest of us at the same time. All this on the heels of Sunday morning and having the kids, all ages together to make up a small chorus, to sing a few Christmas songs.

Props were handmade or came from the Goodwill store and special effects consisted of an illuminated star ornament hanging off the light fixture above the stage, and a halogen work light hidden under a chair to illuminate the angels.

A Hope Chapel family Christmas .jpg

But I can guarantee that everyone left  leave here last Sunday and Christmas eve with a heart full of joy and memories that a professional high budget mega church presentation could never replicate.

I know I was blessed. I’m still replaying the events of those two services over in my mind, it was just so rewarding in so many ways.

But you know, it’s a lot of work, and that’s what I was thinking about between Sunday afternoon and Christmas eve service. Pastoring a church while working full time besides, is a lot of work and takes a lot of discipline and commitment–and then you throw in an extra service?

Now I don’t do this alone, many are involved in making this church work, and we all have responsibilities and challenges, and that’s the point.

IMG_2152.JPG

Blow it off?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just say, the heck with it, I’m going to just pursue my own fortune, spend my time and money on myself, my own pleasure and just worry about me, me, me. Like all those other people. I don’t want to write another sermon, I just wrote one last week! (and every week before that) I don’t want to spend another Saturday alone at the church, I have a lot of better things I could be doing, camping, fishing, hunting, fixing up or even building myself a house.

Or I could just go home after putting in my time at work and just sleep in front of the TV with a beer or two while looking forward to a vacation in Vegas. ‘Been saving up all year, it’s going to be a blast!’ Or maybe something more noble like a trip to the Holy Land or my ancestral Scandinavian home lands.

I could at least try to get a job in a big church so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs and then I could travel to exotic places now and then and call it missions or at least earned sabbaticals.

Such are the dreams of the bi—vocational small town pastor.

Awaken light of mine.jpg

And just saying all that out loud makes me cringe because down in my heart I know—No, I wouldn’t rather do any of that. Because in the end, none of that matters. What matters is that I am serving my Lord, the bridegroom, in the manner and place he wants me to serve him. If it means standing in a dark place with my flickering lantern ready to be put to good use at a moment’s notice, so be it.

What matters is that you, are being fed, you are getting oil for your lamps. What matters is that those kids, my kids, your kids, are hearing about Jesus, that they know they are loved and that they are important to me, to you and to their heavenly Father.

Christmas girl.jpg

(One of my grand daughters, and a grandson in the background expressing his opinion of the music)

What matters is that I am ready for Jesus to come back at any moment and that I am not going to waste any time. I will keep doing what I can to prepare myself and others in the meantime.

And the joy I feel when I see the smiles of those kids, the treasures I have amassed in my heart at seeing those the Lord puts in my path have a little better day, a little more spark in their eyes and spring in their step and maybe a song of praise on their lips because we simply showed up here and did what the Lord called and gifted us to do, I wouldn’t miss any of that for all the gold in the world.

The world can have their gold, Gold won’t burn in a lamp or light the way to anything. It only weighs you down and adds to your burden. Only love will keep those lights on, those lamps burning. And I have a never ending source of that love, his name is Jesus.

foolish virgins

The NIV study bible suggests that those virgins were “perhaps bridesmaids charged with preparing the bride for the groom.” If that is the case, the church is the bride and I will do all I can to be a wise virgin so that the bride of Christ will be ready for her groom.

We need a lot more wise virgins I can tell you that. Because there are a lot of messed up brides out there who won’t even know who their groom is when he does show up. Because here’s the little secret about the oil—it has to come from the groom.

And once he is on the way, he’s not carrying his supply any more to give to those who ask, the time for preparation is over, the hour has come, it’s His wedding day.

Oil in the scriptures is often a representation for the Holy Spirit and perhaps that is what the oil in this story is. How do we get the Holy Spirit? How do we keep in tune with the Spirit?- live for the Spirit and not the flesh. We have to keep going to Jesus, and to the Father through Jesus. Spending time with him in prayer, in his word, in worship, meditating on his word, seeking wisdom, believing for miracles and intervention, trusting him for our needs while working with the hands and the gifts he gave us.

By seeking his Kingdom first and foremost and trusting that all else will be added unto us as we need, not as we desire.

oil for my lamp.jpg

It’s living for the groom, not for ourselves. Keeping our jars full at all times.

Broken

“That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.”– So are you!

A year or two ago our daughter Cally was over for our annual Christmas morning potato pancake breakfast. A tradition that started somewhat by accident as I enjoyed making breakfast for my girls when they were little and as I perfected the elusive perfect potato pancake. Enjoying a cup of coffee and the company of family gathered, she somehow chipped her coffee cup, the one with a real cool Currier and Ives type Christmas scene on it, that she was using. I heard the clink but didn’t see the damage and I said half-jokingly, “Oh don’t break that, that’s Mom’s favorite cup, she picked that up at the Christmas stroll.” A few minutes later, amidst the chaos of many little ones playing and adults visiting, she’s frantically searching the house for super glue—she wanted to fix the cup.

person holding a mug infront of a lighted christmas tree
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It wasn’t until later when she was explaining to her mom in tears that she had broken her cup that I realized the tragedy I had exacerbated. She felt horrible about it. And then I felt horrible because I had just made things worse with my off handed remark.

My wife, Donna, of course told her not to worry about it, she loved Cally more than any cup. Donna later fixed the broken cup.

Can you tell it was once broken? Yes, but it is more valuable now than it ever was because of the incredible love and emotion that was poured back and forth over that cup, because of the accident and the heartache it caused.

That cup now says to Donna, “My daughter loves me so much that she was broken over having chipped what she knew was something that I valued.” And that glued together cup also now says, “My mother loves me so much that she was more upset over my heartbreak than she was about her once beautiful but now broken cup.”

That cup in its state of scarred repair is more beautiful than it ever was.

Jesus tells several parables in his last days, many of them aimed at the religious hypocrisy of the Priests and Pharisees of his day. And the end of one such story he warns:

fall on the stone.jpg

Sounds dire, unless you know a little more about the nature of our God and the symbolism of his word built  in the scripture over time.

The way I see this, this business about falling on the stone and being broken? Being broken can be a good thing. And if you are going to be broken, the rock is the place to do it because the rock is where you can be rebuilt, it is after all a cornerstone, the chief corner stone.

The commentaries and study Bible notes will tell you that the reference here to falling on the stone and being broken means you’re done. That’s just not consistent with scripture. Being broken is always a prerequisite to being repaired, fixed—born again. God loves the broken. In fact, it is the only sacrifice he requires.

broken and mended .jpg

I think the more profound and certainly more encouraging message here, the secondary and more consequential meaning of this prophetic word first uttered by Isaiah and then claimed by Jesus, is that if you fall on the stone, purposely throw yourself on the stone, broken—broken down, brokenhearted, a broken soul who has realized just how empty, sinful, hopeless and lost you really are apart from the chief cornerstone, you will be rebuilt.

Repentance—repentance is the first step to becoming a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Powder?

believe and recieve Jesus

Now, rejecting the rock, Jesus, out of hand and in the end having to be crushed by it, is certainly a bad thing–something that’s ground to powder ceases to exist. But something that is broken can be fixed. God loves a broken spirit, God loves a broken heart, because it is usually a heart that is open for him to repair, to rebuild, to remake—better, more resilient and more committed to remaining strong and whole than ever before.

I believe that for you! Yours is now a heart that now knows that if it falls, it can get up and go on, that if it breaks it can be restored and it is now in a solid place where it can be rebuilt to withstand the storms. The rock is a place to build, it is not a place of destruction.

The Holy Spirit told me as I was starting to work on the larger part of this message for my church Sunday–and it didn’t make any sense to me at first in light of what the parable says:

“The rock is here and it is a place to stand, a place to be strong and a place to grow.”

a son is given

To us a Son is given, the rock has come. Claim your healing, claim your peace.

Barbarians in the kingdom

img_2941

Preacher Dan

Have a most blessed and merry Christmas everyone!

The Best Present

“It was a reminder of simpler days when we never had much but we always had love.”

best present.jpg

I love the Christmas season. Perhaps because I have rich memories of Christmas from when I was a child and of when our kids were young. The traditions that bring you together and the anticipation of that glorious day when you get to give the ones you love those special presents you have put so much thought into, or shopped so diligently to find.

You know, and it’s really not the money you spend, it’s more the love behind it. I remember one Christmas when our girls were little we didn’t have much money and the little we had to spend we spent on the girls. But I was determined that I had to get Donna something. So I went to K-Mart a day or two before Christmas and right there near the front entrance was the cutest little mouse figurine. I picked it up expecting it to be porcelain and expensive but it was actually a wax candle and it was only $1.00.

Perfect for my budget. I felt kind of bad only spending a dollar on my wife for Christmas but I literally only had about $2.00 in my pocket. Times were lean but life was good. I gave Donna that mouse on Christmas morning and she loved it. It sat on the window sill in the kitchen for years so she could see it as she washed dishes until it finally got totally bleached out by the sun. It was a reminder of simpler days when we never had much but we always had love.

Of course as a child it’s the receiving that’s so exciting, the anticipation. I remember it well, the magic of Christmas as a child as it seems the whole world is celebrating one great event together as it does at no other time.

And the presents! Just what is in those beautifully wrapped presents under the tree? Did I get what I asked for? Maybe something so wonderful I never even thought to ask? Oh the anticipation is almost too much to bear—I have to know the secret to what’s under the tree! But you know you have to wait, Christmas is coming, all the signs are there, the lights and the decorations, the special shows on TV, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, the Johnny Cash Christmas special, the Little Drummer Boy.

There’s driving around town seeing all the lit up houses and the lights on main street, the Santa Clause who shows up at your door just after dinner on Christmas eve who looks strangely like a friend of your parents, scares your baby sister half to death, and leaves with a cold Grain Belt beer in his hand.

man wearing santa claus costume
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

And then it’s bedtime and your parents tell you that tomorrow is Christmas morning so you had better get to sleep. But you lie awake for what seems like hours, too excited to sleep. Tomorrow is the day I get to find out the secret to what’s under the tree, to see what shows up in the stockings hung on the mantel with care. And then it’s time, the break of dawn, family gathered—finally, come on mom, we’ve been waiting forever!

I can remember almost everything I got when I was a kid. The 60’ and 70’s was the golden age of toys. Hot wheels and matchbox cars. Apollo moon mission astronaut action figures, GI Joes, Johnny West and his horse, Tonka toy trucks made of real steel, Rock ‘em Sock ’em Robots, Gumby, real Slinkys, not the plastic things they sell now, cap guns Etch a Sketches, Little Golden books and Scooby-Do lunch boxes, and the best toy of all, the Daisy BB Gun! Christmas’s were great!

BB Gun

As you get older, sadly, you lose some of that excitement, the Christmas spirit can be replaced by the stress of having to be the one to make that Christmas magical for the kids. But remember, it’s not so much the stuff they get, it’s what you make of the holiday for them. The joy and the love that is felt and shared, whether it’s a one dollar mouse or a Tonka Toy Bull Dozer big enough to dig a swimming pool in the back yard, don’t lose the joy, don’t lose the wonder.

Remember whom we celebrate.

Virgin with Child

If you have been born again you remember well the joy of discovering the secret of our salvation, of having the greatest gift of all revealed to us—that Jesus came to this earth from heaven as a baby, to grow up teaching us the mysteries of heaven and then opening the door for us to walk in by giving his life for us, and all we have to do is believe and receive.

John 1.12.jpg

God sent us the long ago and oft promised gift, we didn’t know exactly what it would be or how it would help us, but when it was revealed on the day we heard the gospel and it finally clicked, it was better than we could ever have imagined.

I am loved! I am forgiven! And I am part of a family–a family that get’s to celebrate everyday the life that he gives us and the life to come.

I remember well when I first realized what the answer was, the answer to my question; Is there really a God? Can I know him if there is? What’s this cross and resurrection business about anyway.

As I sat there as a teenager and read through the gospels something just clicked in my mind and spoke to my heart; ‘God is real, Jesus died for you and you are loved and going to heaven.’

It would be several more years before I fully opened the gift and embraced the Lordship of Jesus by heeding his Spirit and letting him free me of the self-destructive nature of the flesh, but that was another glorious day I will never forget, one full of joy and excitement; Look what I got! It’s the greatest gift ever! Even better than Rock’em Sock’em Robots!

rock'em sock'em.jpg

But then the stresses of life start creeping in and we start to lose that enthusiasm, the magic is gone and it just becomes one foot in front of the other. Don’t lose the wonder, don’t lose the excitement, you still have the gift and the gifts and it can be new every morning if you just keep looking to him, to the one who reveals the secret things to your heart.

You have so much more to learn, he has so much more to give—and for you to give others.

Your place is assured, keep looking to tomorrow and don’t let the cares of this world steal your joy, you belong to a higher kingdom. Keep shining.

Shine forth.jpg

You have life, you have Jesus. And that’s the best present of all!