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Nate Stratman

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“Prideful Guilt” A Lenten Lesson from Henri Nouwen

“There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-preoccupation.
Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt.  It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God.  It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride.
Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord.”
– Henri Nouwen
Continue reading ““Prideful Guilt” A Lenten Lesson from Henri Nouwen”

I Met A Leper.

I met a leper.

Really, I did. He said so.

I was talking to a friend who was asking me about the sermon I was about to preach. I told her I was preaching on Mark 1, a moving story of a leper who came to Jesus to be healed. As soon as I said the word leper, a voice from behind me said, “hey, I’m a leper.” I turned around to see five well dressed men sitting on a couch behind me. The spokesmen for the group said “I’m a leper and all these guys are as well”, pointing to his friends on the couches. “We are actually schizophrenics”, the man proclaimed boldly. “The bible refers to us as demon possessed and people today think we are whackos.” After the man made this statement, my heart began to hurt for him. I began to grasp what he was trying to tell me. He was begging me to understand that the leper in Mark 1 was viewed as a social corpse and he as a schizophrenic could identify. This man and his friends knew what it was like to be physically and socially outcast and misunderstood.

One thing I didn’t know is that I was talking to some famous, modern-day lepers. All of them had PhD’s and one of them was John Nash, the Nobel Peace Prize winning mathematician who was portrayed by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. These men and many others stayed where we live for a week as they were leading a symposium on schizophrenia and the flourishing life at my seminary.

So what did I do after this stirring encounter? First I went back to my room and cried for 30 minutes. I cried because these men represent multitudes of others who are viewed as “whats” and not as “whos.” The leper in Mark 1 was a “what”,  because we know nothing about him except “what” disease inflicted him. We know nothing about where he was from, what he was like or what brought him joy. We just know he had a disease. The men I talked to throughout last week made sure I knew they were so much more than “whats”; they were “whos.” You might be reading this and saying, “of course they are “whos!” My response would be, “then why are so many modern lepers still on the outside of the village, begging to come into our churches, homes and social circles?”

I think I took a step in conquering a fear I didn’t know I had. In my closing conversations I wanted to let these men know that they have helped shape they way I see life. One man asked me if he could quote me on that and I said, “yes.” He then said, “Can I quote you an every conversation we’ve had this week?” Remembering that I was talking to a bona fide genius, I said, “sure.”

Three Ingredients for Youth Ministry

I remember speaking to teenagers one time and I was using an illustration about a cookbook. I was explaining that we often treat God’s word as a recipe in a cookbook and if we don’t like an ingredient, we leave it out. I ask the group, “what happens if you leave out necessary ingredients when you are baking?”
The answer I was looking for was that the cake would be jacked up and not look or taste right. The answer I got from a 9th grade boy named Jason was “The cake will you burn and you will too!”  I’m not quite the hellfire and brimstone type of guy, but Jason got the attention of his peers that night.  read the rest here…..

I am now writing Youth Ministry articles for The Burner Blog, a great resource from Fuller Seminary currently featuring folks like Dallas Willard, Tony Jones and many more. Make sure and follow the Burner! I will probably have one post a week over at the Burner and will link it on my site as well.

Should Jokes Be Told From The Pulpit?

As I’m preparing to preach this Sunday I am trying to put together a puzzle of scriptures, stories, quotes and anecdotes. I love humor. I love to laugh. I started thinking about the role of humor in preaching and I was reminded of a quote from a favorite book of mine. In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner gives his thoughts on telling jokes in sermons, which caught me by surprise.
“There are 2 dangers in this (telling jokes in sermons).One is that if the joke is a good one, the chances are it will be the only part of the sermon that anybody remembers on Monday morning. The other is that when preachers tell jokes, it is often an unconscious way of telling both their congregations and themselves that the Gospel is all very well but in the last analysis not to be taken too seriously.

I think Beuchner has a valid point. Here is the rub, in most pulpits in our country we have competing values that are fueled by both actual and percieved expectations from congregations. We want both a scriptural message and a delivery that puts us at ease and makes us feel like our pastor is just like us. I admit, I am often one of these people. In my own speaking experience, if I try really hard to connect with a group primarily through humor, I run the risk of neutering the Message.

Is it possible to be both loyal to the scriptures and experience Godly emotions such as laughter and humor through a sermon? I hope so, but maybe not on every scripture. Have you noticed when you are watching a very dark and serious movie that somewhere towards the end of the film people will chuckle at sections that aren’t that funny? Why? We laugh because it is hard for many of us to handle a heavy emotion for two hours. The book/movie, Into the Wild is so painful to watch that I started giggling at the fact that the main charactar died from eating the wrong kind of plant. It really wasn’t appropriate to laugh, but I just couldn’t take the pain anymore! If I’m honest, I feel the same way about Lent leading up to Good Friday, which makes Easter so powerful.

Not saying laughter isn’t from God, but have you experienced humor as a scapegoat to aspects of the Gospel that are hard to hear?

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* Frederick Buechner “Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC

I’m Blatantly Going Against God’s Will!

I was complaining to my neighbor last year about my yard and how growing grass was the bane of my existence. My neighbor, who is a retired professor of Religion at Colorado College said “Nate, growing grass in your yard is not God’s will. We live in a desert.” (Sam is right. Southern Colorado is the desert and grass is not native here.)

Ok, knock it off with the faith stuff for a second Sam!!! Sure, it is not God’s will…but how do I get grass to grow!!
Sam smirked at me with one of those wise grins and went back to working in his yard.

It is grass season again here in the desert and I’m more frustrated than last year, but as you can see I am remembering the words of my neighbor. Here is my eureka moment, this has little to do with growing grass in the desert.

Psalm 107:11 (a celebration psalm for the Jews returning from exile, but verse 11 speaks to the rebellious ones.) ..for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. I know this verse isn’t about planting grass, but look at the following verse; So he subjected them to bitter labor. Ha! I am the fruitcake trying to plant grass in the desert and now I feel like I’m subjected to bitter labor and spending a bunch of money on GROWING GRASS IN A DESERT!!!!

I admit that there are many times on the Christian journey where the will of God seems murky, distant and unattainable. Yet if we are honest, we know that there are portions of God’s will that are very clear and we steamroll right through them. For example, God has made it pretty clear throughout the scriptures that we are to love Him with everything we have and to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Gulp. He also says quite a bit about how we steward our time, money and possessions. Double Gulp.

I am realizing through my pesky grass that God’s will is not as illusive as we may want it to be. Sure I have a list of questions that I need answered when I see the Lord face to face, but for now I know enough of His will to keep me busy.

P.S- Yes I know what Xeriscaping is! I’m praying about it.

Great Easter Sermon(really short): That’s My King by S.M Lockridge

For the most part I have been in whitebread churches and don’t get to hear sermons like this. As a little sidenote, the pastor’s initials S.M stand for Shadrach Meshach Lockridge. If we have a son, I will him after this man and call him Shad!

Did you notice that he kept saying “do ya’ know him?” and not “do ya’ know about him?”

Video: Tony Campolo explains “Its Friday but Sunday is comin'”

Campolo gives context to his most famous sermon “Sunday is Coming”. As I prepare my heart this Good Friday I realize that Sunday makes no sense without Friday and Friday makes no sense without Sunday. As I recognize the depth of my own sin, I simultaneously recognize the need for a Savior who is willing to meet me in that same sin.

This process is something that liturgical churches seem to grasp. Holy week, Lent and Good Friday services are stripped of “Hallelujahs”, bright lights and loud trumpets. Our depravity and sin are sobering. Then on Easter morning the loud music and Hallelujahs are belted out as Christ defeats death for the sake of His people. This is a rich process that many of our own stories often mirror.

Today is Friday, but Sunday is Coming!

Thoughts on Walking Away from Jesus

“When Christ calls a man,
he bids him come and die”

– Bonhoeffer

I remember several times in my roller coaster walk with Jesus, wanting to throw in the towel. Many times I attempted to walk away because the words of Bonhoeffer above and the words of Christ in Mark 8:34 asked too much of me. Jesus asks for all of me and that is more than I care to give sometimes.

There where other times when I just wanted to do my own thing, so I remember twisting scripture to justify drinking, drugs and sex. I really wanted God to be ok with my lifestyle so I didn’t have to feel bad about it. My friend Jim calls this practice of butchering the scriptures, “verse-itis”. My father would always gently remind me to “read on” when I stopped early in a verse just to prove my point.

Even though I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I once attempted to walk away because I couldn’t make sense of science and faith. I had so many questions and so few answers that ever made sense to me. I’ve also wanted to jump ship right after getting on the ship later in college. I experienced a raunchy type of legalism from a few people who threw me into a tailspin, but God provided some great folks who reached out and slathered me with authentic grace. They showed me that good kind of grace that Jesus showed the adulterous woman in John 8.

Over the years I have had several friends and students call it quits with Christ. Each time I grieve, I become a bit irrational and then I remember what it was like to be in their shoes. Here are a few thoughts about leaving Christ.

Distorted Views: One of the classic youth ministry lines is “tell me about this God you don’t believe in, because I probably don’t believe in him either.” A favorite book of mine called “Your God is Too Small” highlights several distorted views of God that tend to harden our hearts or send us packing. Another popular distortion is what I descrbe as being so enamored with the horizontal that we miss the vertical. This is when we are so baffled by the actions of Christians that we take our eyes of Christ. I remember talking to a lady from France at the Sundance Film Festival and she jumped all over me when she found out that I worked at a church. Her first comment was “how can you and the Pope keep condoms out of Africa, that is insane!!!” What? How did me being a youth minister turn to condoms in Africa? I kindly said, “the Pope puts on his underwear the same way you and I do.” This was a classic example of someone who was intrigued by Jesus yet offended by some of His followers.

Conversion: In the late 1800’s, Francis Thompson wrote a poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” The imagery is of God’s hound who keeps after us when we stray and he continually pursues us even when we have given up. This hound is the Holy Spirit. I’ve known students who have denounced their faith yet I know they have had a previous life altering experience with the living God. I actually find great hope in these situations because I know that we as humans are good at letting go and being flaky, but God is not in that business.
We also must remember that it is God who does the converting and who is the final Judge. I’m thankful I’m not the judge, so I”ll leave that up to someone who is more fair than I. To be honest, some students who are done with Jesus never really started. They have often bought into a dry, life-less religion, which I can’t blame them for wanting to leave.

Reason and Fear: Simply put, you cannot argue or fear someone into an abundant life with Christ. I had a conversation with a 75-year-old man named Ed one day about his nearly perfect church attendance. He told me that he could count on one hand the number of times that he missed church. Being the rebellious preacher’s kid that I am, I asked him “why didn’t you never skip Ed?” He responded by saying “I was afraid not to go.” My heart hurt for Ed that day because his faith had been oppressed by church attendance and making God out to be a cosmic statistician.

You might think this sounds like a Hallmark card, but we can only love people back to Christ, trusting in the Holy Spirit. It is crucial to empathize with a friend when they are frustrated with a God who hasn’t shown up. When the doubter has lost the ability to see the goodness of God, we become a new set of glasses for them to see God’s presence. I was reminded this past week that we don’t love people for what they do or don’t believe and we can’t speak truth into the lives of others if we don’t know truth for ourselves.

 

A Crucial Ministry Ingredient

Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind. –Proverbs 8:30-31

Many months ago our church hosted Mark DeVries to come and spend some time with our parents and youth ministry team. He made a quick remark that has become so vivid for me and many of our volunteers, it was an “Ah-hah” moment. Mark was talking about one of his own children who was in a difficult season during the teenage years and one particular youth worker knew the special ingredient, delight. In a stage where Mark and his wife were tired and worn out, an adult leader delighted in his daughter.

My  dear friend Nancy is one of my favorite youth workers because her delight for the Lord spills over onto everyone she knows, especially teenagers. This crazy woman calls everyone on their birthdays singing some crazy made up song, writes letters to the sick or those who have drifted away and best of all she greets students each time as if they had just won the lottery. Chap Clark says that every kid longs to have their names written in the sky and Nancy does that.

When is the last time that we found out that a student was in counseling or left our church because we delighted in them too much? Delight is a cousin of Joy, which is a fruit of God’s Spirit and scripture says “against such things there is no law.” – Gal. 5:23  So my translation is “slather on an extra spoonful of delight” when we have the opportunity to greet any student in our ministries.

Here is the caveat, there are those that are easier to delight in than others. I must always remember my personal story and how I wasn’t the easiest teenager to delight in, which made it shocking when adults actually loved my ugly and not just my infrequent, well-behaved side. We delight because HE first delighted in us.

I am convinced that young people will endure terrible Sunday school lessons, lame retreats and cheesy games for adults and friends who delight in them without restraint.

Thanks Mark, Nancy and the army of Saints who delighted in me.

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