Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Some Doubted

I remember one time as a kid I walked into a store with my mom and saw some mineral waters. For some reason, I tried to convince my mom to buy them. She tried to tell me I wouldn’t like it, but after enough “convincing,” she finally got me one. I thought it was horrible and promised never to have it again.

Hope, the woman who has watched Audrey in our home over the past year, likes mineral water. As a kind gesture, I started buying it to have around the house for her. One day, even though I thought it would never happen, I tried mineral water again for the first time since my childhood. This time I liked it.

I used to be a big believer that regular soda was okay but diet soda was bad; that diet soda created the desire in your body to drink more & more of it, where normal soda allowed you to stop. I was such a believer that I might even argue with you about it. The thought that there would ever come a day when I would replace soda didn’t even enter my mind. Over the last several years, there has been a growing trend to drink less soda and use mineral water as an alternative. Now that I’ve tried mineral water again, I’m finding this is slowly happening to me. I am drinking less and less soda and replacing it with mineral water, and I like it.

In the lesson for this week, I noticed something “different” for the first time. It was right before the great commission—that point in time when Jesus sends His people out to make disciples of all nations and baptize them. The Bible says, “they worshiped him, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17) It was the great commission! The resurrected Jesus was right there with them! There was every reason to believe… but some doubted. I know this culture can be frustrating. As a pastor I feel it every day. It takes time to build the relationships that help doubters to believe. Last weekend we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit. We know He will prepare us for those moments, with the right words to speak, to help those who don’t understand what we believe and why, especially regarding the Trinity.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Why does the devil always have to steal the good words?

A few nights ago we dove into the conversation about bad words with the kids. It all started with the word “sucks.” Don’t worry; we approached it at an 8-year-old level. I am a professional at these types of talks. While many of my other Seminary classmates were writing sermons every week or making visits to people who had been in faith for a long time, I was dealing with high school and middle school students and their unchurched questions. Many of those conversations are in locked boxes in my mind. Even the most open and honest conversations won’t unlock them. From them I learned to practice what I preach, never be shocked, and always be ready to give an answer for my faith. Yes, I even have an answer about bad words. What? You don’t think the devil is just as active in all the language that is out there. A word said in the wrong company can affect a person’s view of us. Oh trust me, this is a bigger deal than you can imagine.

Anyway, Mindy got stuck in this “bad word” conversation and called me to her rescue. I shared how we often don’t understand these words when we hear them, and if that is the case, we shouldn’t say them before we ask mom and dad what they really mean. This pulls us away from the whole “my friends use it” argument, and gives the instruction back to us. We explained many of these words try to destroy something God has made beautiful, which was followed by the question, “Why?” The answer, well, the devil is active trying to distort any of God’s beautiful gifts of life. Then I asked, “Did you ever say any of these words before you knew what they meant?”

My photo memory flipped back to my own experience on a hot, miserable Blue Springs summer day. I was probably around Jacob’s age. My mom had just put the air conditioning units in the house, but it was still super hot. Luke and I wanted bunk beds instead of individual beds, so my mom was busy changing all of that around for us. As we were standing there watching her, I was finding words that rhymed with the sounds I heard. The word “stuck” came to my mind as I listened to the metal hit the wood. I spiraled through a bunch of beginning sounds as you do when finding rhyming words, but of course the only one I said out loud was… well enough said. I had no clue what the word meant. After sharing this story with my kids, Jacob said, “I know what word you said” and he asked if grandma was mad. I said, “Of course.” He tried to grasp why she would be mad if I didn’t know what it meant. This is why we don’t say something until we know what it means.

Society, the world, and the devil are constantly stealing words and creating derogatory meanings for them and other nonsense words. We have to deal with X-mas and the dreaded “higher power” conversations. (I am not even sure why higher power is safer than God, other than it allows people not to have to say that they believe in God.) We could all get on soapboxes and yell at society, the world, or the devil for doing this. Yet we know that the victory is really won by Jesus. In the meantime, we have to deal with the devil’s acts, and the way we do that is with a Ghost. You heard me right—a Ghost. And the devil has even tried to distort that!

This weekend is exciting as we worship as one body in one service. This hasn’t happened in a long time, and what better timing than a weekend where we’ll talk about the Holy Ghost, aka the Holy Spirit. It was in a room packed full of Jesus’ disciples when the promise of a helper was fulfilled. Maybe the most shocking part was that this helper, this Ghost or Spirit, was invisible! That was a powerful moment! It was undeniable that a helper was there, based on what they saw, and regardless of what they didn’t see. But trust me, they didn’t understand it all. What words or circumstances has the world tried to steal, making it so we can’t explain, or even try and understand it? To understand Him? This morning we break the silence on one of the most powerful, but unexplainable, parts of our journey with Jesus.

I love Mondays!

I am not sure how any pastor takes off on Mondays. My Mondays get things rolling for the following weekend. I begin to study the next Sunday’s Bible readings and write the blog. But, there are many Mondays where those things get put off, depending on what came up over the weekend. It could be a hospital visit, a phone call, or just an unexpected drop in. Although interruptions to the routine may throw some people off, it honestly doesn’t frustrate me. Instead it reminds me that I’m in the world, and that Jesus allows me to speak to those having bad Mondays.

The world hates Mondays and makes many jokes about them. Why do they hate Mondays? I think it’s because they don’t see the problem. The problem is that the world is its own problem. It’s all the sinful ways of the world that make Monday’s bad. It could be the weekend behavior, or just habitual abuse, that brings shocking things on Monday morning.

As Christians, we know that whatever we were hiding from in the world over the weekend comes back on Monday. We still face the realities of our jobs, school, and weekly routines. We are bombarded with unexpected painful realities of this sinful world. Jesus knew this. He also knew that the world would never see themselves as their own worst enemy, so He sent you and me to speak understanding to those who are confused about how sin causes so much pain in this world. Jesus also wanted to guard us and protect us. He does that with His Word and sacraments. We get that great blessing in worship together, with other people who know there will be hard moments. But, thankfully, we have the forgiveness and love of our Savior.

Adopted, not Orphaned

Jacob was asking about the bills the other day and how we paid for them. After his typical rifling of questions, he came to the conclusion that being an adult is hard. At this point I got to say something I wish was said to me more often as a kid, “Enjoy being a kid.” I was always too anxious to grow up. Maybe I am a better adult than I was a kid, or I just feel more comfortable in an adult role. Regardless, I want my kids to enjoy their home and the blessing of parents that provide and care for them. Abby will tell us that she is never leaving home. She is not going to get married or leave our house. I know she is only 5, but there is a great sense of joy knowing my kids feel peace and security at home.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like if my parents just told me one day that in a little while they would be leaving—for good. What do you do when the ones who have taken care of you tell you that they are leaving?  The disciples were put in this position. When Jesus met the disciples they were teenagers, and they left their families to be with Him.  Now Jesus was telling them He is going to leave, but not to worry because He’ll send a helper. I have never been orphaned, so I can’t imagine how this felt, but they had to be scared. And since they had no clue what the Holy Spirit was going to be like, it had to be even scarier. This weekend we will dive into these words to see where the disciples were at and how they responded. We’ll also review the good news that Jesus did not leave us as orphans, but adopted us in spite of our sinful behaviors. His constant grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit are with us every day, and it is an awesome blessing!

Let the Expert be the Expert

As a young adult, I always went for the most economical haircut. The issue I had, however, was that the workers would always ask me how I wanted it cut, and I would try to relay whatever I thought was best, which meant the same way I had done it for the last 10 years. At some point my mom told me to just find someone professional to cut my hair. The first time I went to a professional for a haircut, he basically just started cutting. I gave him little instruction, and in turn, he showed me how he thought my hair should be cut. I still go to this guy today. Don’t get me wrong, occasionally I will tell him what annoys me about my hair and he does his best to answer my concern. I trust him because he has been cutting hair for 40 years, so now I don’t stress about it anymore.

A similar thing can happen with funeral or wedding planning. I sit down with the couple or family and ask what hymns or Bible verses they would like to use. Sometimes they have specifics, but many times they are not really sure what to pick or where to start looking for options. When that happens, I try to provide comfort saying,  “Don’t worry. I just wanted to know if you wanted something specific. If not, I will take care of it.” At this point they usually feel a sense of relief that they don’t need to display their Biblical knowledge in front of me, or lack of it. (Honestly, you will sometimes find me googling verses based upon the theme just to see what other verses may fit.)

Many times we want to be experts in everything, and we have concerns when we’re not. For example, I have hair on my head, but I get uncomfortable when I have no clue when trying to tell someone how to cut it. As a pastor, I want to help people through critical times in their lives. Not knowing Bible verses or hymns does not change my opinion of anyone. I love that Jesus allows me to serve them.

The disciples had a great task in front of them—tell the world about Jesus. I am sure there was pressure in their own minds to make sure that they knew every detail. Thus, they probably had a hard time sorting out the concepts that only God can understand and explain. For example, Jesus and the Father being one is one of the toughest to understand. Only God can truly understand a concept like this. The fact that Jesus is preparing enough rooms for everyone who believes in Him is another. This weekend we take time to step back and let Jesus be the expert in the matters we can’t understand. I pray it will bring clarity and relief to you, not having to figure out everything, and also encouragement to work together as the body of Christ. Jesus has surrounded us with gifted experts in many matters, and the more we work together, the more we see the uniqueness of God’s creation.

Provision and Protection

I remember a time as a kid when we had to pack up the car quickly to head to one of my great-grandparents funerals. In haste I remember putting my sister’s blanket in our shoe bag. We arrived at the hotel late and went quickly to the room to crash. In the morning we found out that our car had been broken into during the night. They took a couple of our bags, my bag and our shoe bag. My bag had video games and my school books in it, which was sad, but I was more impacted by the loss of the shoe bag because it had my sister’s blanket in it. I felt responsible since I was the one who put it in there. I didn’t like that feeling at all. It felt like someone had come and wrecked my sense of the protection and security that I felt when I was with my family. When we got back from the trip, we had to pay the school for my stolen books. I felt ashamed, and almost confused, walking the check into the office to pay for them. What had my family done to deserve those books being stolen from us?

Protection and provision are two tough topics, and certainly ones that plague our minds in different situations. We can worry about how Jesus will provide for whatever need is forthcoming. At times, we can feel unprotected, whether electronically or physically. When we feel like this our minds race and it can be hard to find peace. We look for our own sense of protection and provision based upon what the world teaches, but Jesus teaches us to look to Him.

This week we take time to look at a passage that was confusing to many listening to Jesus, John 10:1-10 – Jesus the Good Shepherd. The people may have understood what shepherds are and the role they played, but making the connection to how that fit with them was too hard, as it can be for us. Yet the message we hear is surprisingly simple—Jesus came to bring life to the fullest, but the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Even though this is a simple message, it doesn’t change how hard it is for our human minds to process in the midst of times when our protection and provision are being attacked. This Sunday we’ll learn more about God’s provision & protection.

Point of No Return

This phrase always stands out as one of those movies scenes where once you hit this point you can’t go back. It usually has a negative connotation, and creates a fear of reaching that point. I think it is a little different in life when we hit a point of no return; it is more that we can never look back and see things the same way again.

Every spring for the past nine years, two of my friends have come into town to attend a few things at the Seminary. It began when the three of us started teaching a class to help seminarians process what it means to receive a call. This year was the big finish. We taught our last class, which made it our last time to have a few days to hang out together. Our relationship has only grown over these last 8 years. Certainly when we look back years from now, there will be no doubt how these yearly trips impacted and grew that relationship. I don’t think any of us could see it differently. On that last night we took time to ask what we would change or do differently regarding our time at Seminary. After years of ministry, there are some parts of Seminary we see totally differently now. We can never again return to the students we once were, students with no view of ministry, and have that same view of Seminary. We can only step back on the campus and remember. We have hit that point of no return.

The road to Emmaus was where the disciples were exposed to that point of no return. The words out of the disciples’ mouths spoke of uncertainty of the resurrection, and wondering if and when the promise had been fulfilled. But then, as they broke bread with Jesus, their eyes were opened! They could never again return to that emotional state of wondering if He really was the Savior. Never again. It was such a powerful moment! I think there are times for all of us when Christ’s presence comes into our lives and we can never go back to where we once were. Most of the time we are happy about this, and it is hard to take our minds back to how we thought before. This weekend we take time to reflect on the points of no return and what they mean for us on our road.