I have a funeral to perform today. As a pastor I have done enough funerals that I’m used to them and have a fairly standard approach to them. Nevertheless, it is still a very exhausting day. Usually I don’t get anything else done after the service. Today the service is in the afternoon so I don’t know if that works to my advantage that I at least get the morning to work or if that extra work will end up hurting me by the end of the day.
A wise pastor gave me some good advice on funerals – present the gospel. It doesn’t matter if the person went to church all of their life or if they never set foot inside, there is comfort in the life and resurrection of Jesus. Of course I also don’t preach fluff. I won’t pretend that someone who had no relationship with God is looking down from heaven waiting for everyone else to join them. In such situations I don’t say anything about their destiny other than the choice I know they would make at that moment if they had it to do over again.
I’ve dealt with the death of a 22 year old killed in a car wreck, a 50 year old who drank himself to death, and a 80 something year old who died of old age. The first was a Christian, the second definitely wasn’t, and the third only God knows for sure. I’ve approached them all the same however. God is in control and we never know when our end may come. So we must be prepared at any moment. There is no eleventh hour when we have no clue when midnight is. Today is the day to repent because we have no clue what tomorrow holds.
When you deal with death so often in ministry there is a chance to grow callous to it. In some ways you have to however because if you become emotionally distraught over every illness and death you won’t be able to function and do all of the other necessary work. But some sicknesses and death definitely hit you harder than others. There are people who you become close to and things are more personal than just church related. Still, funerals are meant for the living, not for the dead. They are meant to give but also should aim to make sense out of life in a time when life might not make much sense. In times that life doesn’t make much sense, Christ makes a lot of sense and I aim to focus on Him.
I live in one of the unfortunate areas that has been pounded by snow in recent weeks. Strangely I moved two hours south and never experienced a winter up north quite like this one. Every time the crews get cleaned up from one storm, another one comes. Schools have been shut for two straight weeks. The last I heard, they might go today, ironically President’s Day when they were scheduled to have off.
To add more insult to injury, they’re calling for 1-3 more inches of snow today. It’s not much when compared to the 30 some inches that we’ve already received this month but it’s an annoyance as much as anything now.
As a pastor this is more than a mere annoyance. I had to close church two weeks in a row. This is in addition to closing the Sunday before Christmas this year. We finally had church yesterday. Attendance wasn’t bad but some of the elderly I don’t expect to see until spring at this point. I don’t blame them because if there’s anything to slip on, it would be disastrous for them. Of course offering was up yesterday, but not enough to make up for not having church two weeks in a row. Almost all of a church’s costs are fixed. Just because church isn’t open doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any bills for that week.
Of course even in the midst of all of this, God obviously has a purpose. It is frustrating but every so often we need to be slowed down and to focus on what really matters. We need to be taught patience and learn that God is in control no matter what. Even Paul had to learn this lesson. His heart was in the right place as he wanted to continue on his missionary journeys. But while Paul was locked in prison, he wrote a large part of the New Testament. Some of Paul’s most lasting contributions to the Christian church came during a time when he was inconvenienced and had to be slowed down.
So, I don’t really like the snow right now and if you’re a part of the 60% plus country that currently has snow cover, you might not be happy either. But God is still in control of the entire situation and there is good to come out of it.
In a new year I like to focus on God’s newness. The old has passed, the new has come. January first marks a time to put the old behind us. No matter how bad the previous year was, we can say that it was last year and we are in a new year with endless possibilities.
It’s for this reason that I am focusing January’s devotions on newness and things that God declares to make new in the Bible. Despite my liking of newness, I was very surprised at something new today.
I live on the east coast and got two feet of snow a week before Christmas. Currently the temperature has been dropping into the teens and single digits overnight and the high hasn’t made it out of the 20’s in several days.
All of this left me absolutely shocked to look out my office window in my basement and see four irises popping up out of the ground by about an inch. Even in the middle of winter (actually only two weeks into it!) I’m reminded that spring is coming. Soon blossoms will be out in full force and all of the oldness will be replaced by something new and beautiful.
Of course all of this serves as a reminder of how God makes us new as well. He takes something that it is cold and dead and not that pretty and makes something wonderful out of it. Praise God for His newness!
I love bulletin bloopers. They’re humorous and a safe topic to joke about in church. I actually have a collection of bulletin bloopers on another website. Yesterday my wife pointed out that I had made a pretty bulletin blooper myself. I’m so proud and hope that it means everyone will go Christmas caroling now: CHRISTMAS CAROLING: We will plan on going Christmas caroling on Monday December 21st. All those who are interesting should meet at the church at 6:30. I hope that gets everyone in the Christmas spirit with a good laugh.
Last week was a rather intense week for me. I spent more time studying the Bible than probably any time since I’ve been in school (and actually more than most of the time I was in school.) I ended up writing three in depth articles for the theology section of spreadinglight and wrote over 5,500 words.
When the weekend rolled around, I had the privilege of hosting my former pastor and mentor of 17 years at the church. He has retired and is teaching spring semesters at Jamaica Bible College. He came to my church to do a Bible study on the life of Peter and his teachings.
As a pastor, I don’t get to be taught very often any longer. Basically everything I learn now comes in preparation for teaching or preaching. So I have to say what a delight it was to simply learn for the sake of learning once again. It was a true blessing and I have felt a renewed energy all week even though a 10 hour Bible study over the weekend took a lot out of me mentally.
Some churches may have better success but I’ve discovered that maybe 20% of Christians are involved in some sort of Bible study program outside of regular weekly church services. There are many reasons why people are not and I’m certainly not going to point the finger at anyone and claim that they are bad Christians if they are not involved in one. But I would encourage as many people as possible to find a good Bible study to become involved in. I believe that it is absolutely worth the time and energy that a person will invest in one.
As I’ve been preparing devotions for the month of November, I’m working on the subject of thanksgiving. Something that has struck me is how my prayers often don’t reflect an attitude of thanksgiving that all Christians should have. So I’m going to practice what I preach. I suggested in the devotions to list one thing for every letter of the alphabet that we’re thankful for. It can be big or small, simple or great. I’m writing my own list and including it here so everyone can see what I’m thankful for and so that I can work through the exercise just as I suggested other people do.
- Fall leaves
- Ice cream
- New things
- Orange juice
- Yoga on Wii Fit
My church celebrated homecoming this week. This event is known by other names but in essence it is designed as a big church event to boost attendance numbers and/or raise money through offering for a special project.
I’m of two minds on these such events and waffle back and forth depending on what mood I am in. Some churches act as if these events are evangelism because people come that don’t normally attend their church. At least with the name homecoming, it is implied that it is more like a reunion for people who have moved away or attend other churches. The truth of homecoming (and most other special events) is that it generally adds attendance at the expense of other churches.
On the other hand, homecoming is always a good excuse to invite back people who used to attend the church but no longer do for any number of reasons. It is good to make an effort at winning people back who have stopped attending church regularly. If anybody returns to church because they attended homecoming, then it is a win not just for the church but for the kingdom of God.
So, at least for today I’ll say that homecoming is a good thing in the right context. We shouldn’t be out to get people from other churches but if we draw back anybody who had fallen away, then it is a good week. I suppose it all depends on the intent of what homecoming is about for the church.