Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving for Everyone!

As the 2015-16 church year ends, we enter Thanksgiving. This really becomes the first thing we do in the new church year. I heard an awesome story last Sunday. One of the kids from our congregation thought I said that it was the last Sunday of church, rather than the last Sunday of the church year.  (How ironic since we were just talking about missing words and how they can impact how we view things. Remember in last week’s blog when we talked about missing the word “love” in our Bible text and just seeing money as the root of evil, when the Bible really says it’s the love of money being the root of evil.) Anyway, this little kid was sad that we weren’t going to have church anymore, since it was the last Sunday. He was happy to hear the correct explanation of what I meant. (I remember as a kid asking if church was off for the summer just like school. I am glad this little guy has a better view of church.) I love that this kid was rejoicing that we were going to keep having church.

Our church year is full of ways to prepare us for the upcoming weeks and days. Wednesday night’s Thanksgiving service is just the beginning. We’ll spend time thanking God for this year. We thank God for the wonderful ways He provided, and as our little member reminded me, we thank God for another year of church. We thank God we can worship together. We thank God for a church that has people to reach. We thank God for servants ready to serve. Our little friend reminded us to be thankful for the little blessings in life. We thank Jesus for rescuing us, we thank Him for His great love, and we thank Him for coming in this season of Advent.

Advent is a season of preparation and waiting.  Kids count down the days until Christmas. Those   But really, Advent preparation began way back in Genesis after the fall. God’s people now had to wait and prepare for God to restore them. They had to wait many, many years, way longer than our kids, or grandkids, have to wait for their presents. Yet, everyday they prepared themselves for Jesus’ coming. Finally He came, but oddly enough, most weren’t prepared. They didn’t expect Jesus to show up like He did. They had let their human eyes guide their expectations.
30 or so days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, seem like forever to them.

What I love about the little kid from our congregation is that he celebrates every time Jesus shows up! He celebrates Jesus showing up each Sunday.  This season, I don’t want to be so busy preparing that I miss Jesus showing up. I don’t want to be so busy thinking about the next things on my list that I miss the chance to thank Him for the little blessings. I pray that, as believers, we are thankful and celebrate the way Jesus continually comes and blesses us. He shows up every time we hear His Word, and He shows up in our fellow believers with whom we gather. In the season of Advent, we take more time to come to services – Wednesdays and Sundays. We want to put ourselves in places where Jesus shows up, especially as we prepare for the Second Advent, the final day Jesus will come and take all believers in Him to heaven.

Starting with Thanksgiving Eve service, we will meet during the week and on Sunday. It is a time to prepare for Jesus to show up! He always does, just not how we always expect. Thanking God every day can put us in a mindset of preparation for a Savior that knows the needs we have even when we don’t know them. Advent is a wonderful season! The world will try and throw us off track, and get us to miss out on the gifts of God. I pray that we return to our Lord every morning, thanking Him for a new day, and praying that we can truly celebrate this wonderful season when He came to redeem us. May we be like little children just waiting for Sunday, and in this season, Wednesday also!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

You want me to manage what? My Money

Not only is it tough to talk about money in the church, but really in any situation. There is just something touchy about the subject in general. We all have guilt about some places where we spend money that others don’t. We all have places where we make cuts that others don’t. No one else truly knows our money situation. We make decisions regarding money everyday, but yet we know our financial position can change at any moment. Remember back to week one when we talked about the body? A sudden crazy disease could change our financial situation overnight, and every financial principal we have would be sacrificed to save our loved one. Just like with the body, there are ways the world has influenced us to think about money. This week we ask, “How does God want me to think about money?”

My parents set a good foundation for me about giving to God. I knew giving was important. Once I set it as a practice in my life, it became natural. I remember being excited after confirmation to get offering envelopes. I felt like I was truly an adult. Once the money went in the plate, it quickly moved out of my mind. I don’t even remember filling out most of the checks. Sure, I had questions about giving when it came to birthday money or graduation gifts. That was probably the biggest challenge for me to figure out. But then a new challenge came that I never anticipated. I knew growing up that the giving I was doing was helping to pay the pastor.  Well, now I was a pastor.

Somewhere along the way, giving had gotten more complex than it was when I was young. Everybody has bills, and everybody’s mind is getting slammed with excuses not to give. We all have stories, pastor or not, why someone else should give. You may think it is a no brainer that pastors give to their church, but as graduation and ordination day comes closer for Seminary guys, many are asking where should they give. This is a big question even for our fieldworkers (when they are brave enough to ask). In Seminary it is easy to claim to be a poor student, or that you have too much debt to pay down. But some guys raise the question, should I give to my fieldwork congregation or send it to my home congregation? On vicarage, students really don’t make that much, so then they ask if they should be giving it back to the same church that is paying them? As I entered my first couple churches as a youth pastor, where youth budgets are tight, it seemed to make sense to pay for youth expenses out of my own money, consider it offering, and just say I’ll figure it out at the end of the month. Yet, I always felt uneasy about this. During a conversation with some of my co-workers, they said something powerful, “I think you just pray about it, set your giving, and trust God.”

There are all kinds of fears in this world about running out of money. There are fears of how to prepare for retirement. There are fears about how to pay for weddings and college. There are pressures by commercials to live up to some American dream. This week our text is one of the most misquoted passages in all of Scripture. Yet Scripture is clear, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It isn’t money that is all kinds of evil, it is the love of money. This is an important distinction because it affects our mindset. If money is the root of all kinds of evil, but we still have to use money, we don’t know what to do or how to handle it. We can easily write it off saying, “I guess Scripture didn’t know we were going to need to use money.” But that’s not true, so having a clear distinction between money and the love of money is important.  Do you have a love of money? Can you part with it, or is it a passionate focus for you? This week we take time to ask what roadblocks are in our way when we talk about money and giving. We pray that God would lead us to be givers who trust Jesus will provide, and see the joy in giving.

You want me to manage what? My Family

“For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” 1 Timothy 3:5

Jacob had a buddy spend the night last Friday. We let them have some freedoms we wouldn’t normally give our children. Those two got to stay up and watch TV longer than the others. Then they were up at 2:30am talking, and again a few hours later playing video games. I was exhausted Saturday morning from dealing with the mayhem during the night. We had said that we would take the friend home at noon, but that still meant providing breakfast, so I drug my body to the kitchen to make waffles. Being a parent is never easy. There is always something else to handle, and a constant conviction on how to be a parent.

When we took the friend home, we could tell how tired Jacob was. We told him he was going to have to take a nap. He fought with us about it, but as lunch finished, he asked to head upstairs to lie down.  When I came upstairs and looked for him, he wasn’t in his bed. Instead I found him fast asleep in my bed. When Jacob woke up, we talked about what happened and why he was so tired. I said, “What lesson did you learn?” He said, “Don’t have friends spend the night!” I said, “That’s not it. What else?” He said, “Staying up is not good.” I said, “That’s not it, but you are getting closer.” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Sleep is important!”

I told Jacob the story of the first time I spent the night at a friend’s house and stayed up all night. I was probably in the fifth grade, and we had a skating party the next day. I didn’t get home until 4pm the next afternoon. When I got home I found the first room available at the top of the steps (which was my sister’s) and I fell sleep. I slept from 4pm to 7am the next day! Those lessons I learned as a kid help me be a father, but the important part is imparting the lessons to my kids.

Life is busy. With so many distractions, leading our households can be tough. That is why this passage is so powerful. Paul was not just talking to Timothy, or to the elders, but to so many of us as well. Our selfish side wants to check out after work. We feel the busyness of life and just want our homes to be a place to chill. But the truth is, so much is needed to lead a household.

A buddy of mine told me a story about a guy I think is a really great gift to ministry. He is a grandpa now. One day his son and grandchild were over, and the grandpa was on his iPad. The son finally looked at his dad and told him to get off his iPad while his grandson was there.  He had to remind his dad to take advantage of the opportunity to play with grandson and to build that relationship with him. Now, that may not be how your household works, but the point is simple—it can happen it anyone. Even a guy I respect in ministry is getting called out for being disengaged as a grandpa.

It is hard to lead our households. It is hard to be engaged as a parent, grandparent, or uncle/aunt. It shows us just how great our Father in heaven is, since He is willing to listen and engage with us at any minute. Jesus is very in tune with every need we have.

I love that Jacob fell asleep in my bed. It gives me a great picture of how we can be. Jacob got tired of managing in his own life. He didn’t even go to his bed, he went straight to my bed. It was his sweet surrender, like he was saying, “Dad, I am tired of managing my own life. Can I just lay in your bed for awhile.” Oh the number of times I have felt this as a human. I just need to lay in my Heavenly Father’s bed for awhile. I just need the weight of everything I thought I could manage to be taken away.

We hit close to home when we talk about managing family and being good stewards of it. It is something we do every day of our life, no matter the size or stage of our family. When we come home to God’s house, we see how God manages His family. It is a beautiful picture – the way He welcomes, loves and forgives. Today we reflect on the challenges in managing family, but also rejoice how God can rejuvenate and renovate us so that we are prepared to lead the family He has blessed us with.

You want me to manage what? My Body

I was with someone this weekend that was complaining about his health insurance. Shocking, right? This person was complaining that he is 26 years old and has to go off of his parents’ insurance plan. He talked about how he was healthy, but now he was personally paying for others who are sick. Let me just stop the story right there and say a few things. First, how do we know we are healthy? Second, how do we keep our bodies healthy so we don’t turn into sick people cranking up the insurance rates? And finally, what do we do when something new is on our plate to manage?

Now, before you think I am judging this person, let me just be clear. I find that all too often we think we know how to handle some of the most important aspects of life. I have mentioned before how almost every wedding couple that comes to me to get married thinks they know how to create a good marriage. And there are many people who think they know how to raise kids. We think we know how to manage our health. We think we know how to manage our finances.  How many of us study any of this in school or college? (All the finance managers out there – before you think that you’ve got the finances down, remember we are talking about personal finances.) Our churches have started putting out materials and giving classes on finances because we realize that if our members aren’t healthy financially, they won’t be giving to the church. But isn’t that true about the rest of the areas as well? If our members don’t have healthy marriages, families, and bodies, how can they be ready to serve when needed? If they are hurting, how can they serve their community, and help others see why they need Jesus?

We quickly get nervous when the church starts talking about stewardship, because we know they are eventually going to talk about money. And make no mistake, the church is going to talk about money when they talk about stewardship. But, isn’t if better if the church talks about all areas we manage in our lives? If so, why don’t they?

For me, preaching on money is not fun. Hopefully, this doesn’t come as a shock to you, but most pastors are in their profession because they love people. Yet talking about money has the potential to make the people they love mad. So to me the answer is simple – rip it off like a Band-aid; just do it and get it over with. As a youth pastor, I was so glad when someone else talked about money, but I also had to live with his decision. If he thought my youth program could raise $60,000, then I had to do it. This is the good and bad of someone else managing this area. Generally speaking, pastors don’t like dealing with this.

All throughout Scripture we see that God is constantly trying to lead His people into a deep understanding of the blessings they have, and to see them as blessings rather than burdens. The truth is, my friend who was complaining about managing his health insurance has a great point. Who really wants to do this? Sometimes I look into the life of my 7-month old and think, “Wow, she has got it good.” She is surrounded by people who love her. She cries and someone picks her up. She doesn’t have to worry about clothes, food, or bills. She has a charming life.  I realize not every baby has a charming life. If that baby’s parents are mismanaging their lives, the baby’s life could be pretty rough, simply because the parents don’t see the blessing God has given them.

This series is called, “You want me to manage what???” All of us can have that reaction when we think about the many things in life God has called us to manage. We will talk about how God has gifted us with blessings, yet those blessings still require responsibility and oversight. Our texts will come from the book of Timothy, a book where Paul was trying to help Timothy with instructions for the blessings he got to manage. We take those instructions and ask ourselves, “What is God telling me?” We begin today with health and ask how our bodies can be a blessing and not a burden.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What if Reformation Day never happened?

Waking up is one of the oddest feelings in the world. Our mind is still working while we are sleeping, but our state of consciousness is gone, so waking up is a re-acclimation with our current state of reality. This can be positive if the night and days leading up to that moment were positive, or negative if your days and hours have been full of challenging moments. I hardly pondered this when I was younger, but as an adult who has responsibilities to handle every day, it is a common thought. I wake up and first take inventory of my behaviors, problems, and most demanding jobs. Yet no matter my current state of affairs, I am relieved of all my burdens because of the Reformation and All Saints Day. I know, you’re probably thinking I’m a crazy pastor because I think of the church year with such importance, but hear me out.

As a church body, we have let the church year and its importance fall off the map because we quit explaining its relevance. In nine and a half years of being a pastor in a conservative denomination, I have come to this conclusion: I want to explain it more. I want to practically proclaim how the traditions of the church are relevant still today.

Let me take us back to the time of the Reformation, and let’s snatch Luther out of the picture to see how 2016 might look if the Reformation didn’t happen, and how that would affect All Saints Day. – Zap. Luther & the reformation never happened. — Now jump ahead to 2016 – I’m in my bed, waking up after a night of sleep. Getting my consciousness about me again, I take inventory of my behaviors, problems, and most demanding jobs, and I’m miserably disappointed. I have always been hard on myself, but now I have little or no relief. I begin my morning routine anxiously awaiting confession. I head to Mt. Calvary Catholic Church and I confess my sins and failures to another priest. I leave, paying my indulgences and praying that my family will make it out of purgatory and into heaven. I’m still unsettled, but I have to carry on.  Occasionally my thoughts drift, and I realize I’m trying to convince myself that I am a faithful man of God. But it’s easy to see that I’m just lying to myself, so I fall back into my prison of sin, saving every penny to buy indulgences and waiting for the opportunity to confess my sins again so I can feel a brief moment of release.

Now comes my “Back to the Future” moment, where Marty enters the reality of Biff taking the almanac and changing his entire world.  If you are not a “Back to the Future” person, it is like the United States without Independence Day. It is the United States without the freedoms we enjoy.  As you look back at the 2016 morning described above, you might think that it is far fetched. Surely the Reformation didn’t really change all of that? Yes it did!

The church had once stolen the freedom that Christ came to give. It had put people back in the bondage of sin, and the plague of never feeling forgiven. It changed how people see the saints; the faithfully departed were still in their sins even after death. If left that way, All Saints Day would not be a celebration, but another burden. We would be trying to free our ancestors from the consequences of what they had done. But, in our current reality, Reformation and All Saints Day speak of the freedom Christ came to give, and the promise of true freedom in heaven!

Now, because of the Reformation, I can wake up, inventory the previous days events and hear the Holy Spirit speak, “You are forgiven and you are mine!” With that assurance, I am able to quickly move to the vocations God would have me do with the gifts He has given. I quietly celebrate with those who have died, that they no longer take inventory of anything, and I wait upon the day when my consciousness will have no sin, pain, or sorrow.

So why don’t we talk about the Reformation and All Saints Day? Honestly, I think we have just assumed that our current generation could care less about church history, rather than speaking to its relevance in our current culture. In my personal mission statement, I debated long and hard about referring to Scripture as ancient words. My coach even challenged me on it. I think too often we think of celebrations like this weekend as ancient, and at times, we even think of Scripture that way too. But if we adopt that point of view, we miss the hope, promise and freedom they give to our current reality.

Reformation and All Saints Day are pinnacle celebrations in the church year. They speak of the freedom we have in Christ. They speak what Jesus has done for us, and they proclaim to our sin burdened lives that we are free because of the work of Jesus. They remind our burdened conscience that one day we will no longer wake up taking inventory of our sins, but rejoicing with all the Saints.

Discipleship Go: Pray 1

Friday night was lasagna night at my house. I am not a huge fan of making lasagna just because of the time it takes. I know some of you might be thinking, “But you like cooking?” Yes I do, but to me lasagna is basically spaghetti with cottage cheese. (Sorry ricotta lovers. I’m still old school, the way my mom made it.) You have the sauce, meat, and noodles, and then you bake it. It lengthens the process of a basic meal. It is not that I am opposed to lasagna, but rather the work involved to make something that I could do in less time. I make a baked spaghetti dish to use spaghetti leftovers, and it is basically the same thing. My kids have recently been watching Garfield, so they have been curious about lasagna. (Lasagna is Garfield’s favorite food.) They’ve had it before, but they just don’t remember. My mother-in-law usually makes it for us in the winter. One day Gavin said, “Dad, can we make lasagna?” to which I responded begrudgingly, “Yes.” Then came the plaguing question of when.  “Dad, are we going to do it today?” he would ask. I tried to explain the work involved, but it was still hard for him to understand.

Finally, this past Friday, we had lasagna night. I made my sauce as I usually do, giving it the two hours it needs to cook. I got the meat ready and added it to the sauce. I did cheat a little, though, by getting the ready-to-bake noodles. Since the kids were all interested in making it with me, I set up stations so that everyone could help. Abby and Gavin made little lasagnas, and Jacob and I worked on the big one. Gavin was so excited, but yet critical because his lasagna didn’t look exactly the same as the one in the show. I told him that it was partially because he made a little one. That just meant he wanted a piece of the big lasagna so that it looked the same.  

Gavin knows he can ask me for something, within reason, and I will try and fulfill it. I may even fulfill it in a better way than what he asked for, like by being able to make his own personal lasagna. If I were in the pattern of not fulfilling requests, there would be no need to ask, or annoy me about when it will happen. Gavin was confident I would fulfill his request, even if his pouty face or repetitious words weren’t displaying that message leading up to lasagna day. On lasagna day, my words were confirmed, and so was what he has come to know about his dad.

Jesus is even better than that. He fulfills exactly what He says and always takes care of His children. When Jesus opened the door up for prayer and constant communication with God, we got the chance to talk to Him at any moment. The more we learn about Jesus the more we know and see how He fulfills His promise in our lives. We pray with expectation and anticipation that God will provide. As God refines us through His Word, our expectations and anticipation are rarely disappointed. And if we are disappointed, perhaps we should take an honest look into our hearts, where we might find selfish and sinful desires.

Every day we wake up, we can start our day in dialogue with God. This is an awesome blessing! The world can be such a bleak place, but our dialogue with God reminds us of how Jesus fulfilled exactly what He said, and He will continue to do that in our lives. When we talk about Pray 1, we talk about not forgetting to talk to Jesus during our day. Communication with Jesus is a very important blessing that can easily fall to the wayside in the busyness of life. When we incorporate Pray 1 in our lives, we are able to refocus, and be reminded of Jesus’ deep love for us.

Discipleship Go: Read 1

I make sure I never read something twice. I am just kidding of course, but generally speaking, once I read a book I put it aside. There are always new books to read. There have been books that I didn’t want to end, but yet I hurried though them because of the excitement I felt when reading each page. I have my favorite authors and anxiously wait for their new books to come out. Yet, despite these exceptions, reading is a chore for me and not something I usually look forward to doing. So, in this series when we say Discipleship GO: Read 1, I know for me it means I have to set reading plans, find Christians books, and find a system to keep me on my Read 1 path.

This whole series has been about finding the passion and excitement of being a disciple. Yet, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that some of these are challenging to get passionate about. Sometimes Discipleship GO just means putting systems in place and taking steps to grow in these areas. One important step in Read 1 is setting a standard from an early age. My family is by no means perfect, but we try to read the Bible with the kids before we say bedtime prayers. We read from an age-appropriate Bible. We started with a simple, short one, and now have progressed to a newer Bible that has questions for the kids. Yes, there are days when I am tired and we skip the Bible and just do prayers, but we try and keep this in our routine.

This year Jacob is in second grade and has to read for 15 minutes every day. At first this was annoying. He would sit next to me and ask about every other word. Honestly, I was struggling with how to do this with him when I felt like there was always something else I could be taking care of in my house. Those 15 minutes seemed like a long time. But since the beginning of the year, Jacob has come into his own. He sits down and reads by himself now, keeping track of what he reads on his reading log. At least 3 times a week he seems to read the Bible. I bet his teacher is thinking to herself, “Of course, the pastor’s kid is reading the Bible for his reading log.” The truth is, he chooses to do it – on his own. He just quickly grabs the Bible and starts reading, no prompting from me. I’m thrilled he chooses to do this on his own. This is where & why the steps of Read 1 are important to me. Taking time to intentionally think about how to incorporate this into our daily lives means it is now something our kids, or those who are close to us, find as normal and perhaps they’ll start doing on their own too.

This weekend we continue our discipleship series talking about taking steps to put God’s Word in our life every day.  That is what Read 1 is all about. We want to regain the passion in our discipleship walk, so how can this be done when we read and reflect on God’s Word? Also, what is unique about God’s Word as compared to other books?  For starters, it is powerful, unlike any other, and one we’ll want to read again and again.