Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Minutes


Sunday night I put my kids to bed after the Easter egg hunt at church. They were asking questions about the week ahead. I knew Palm Sunday was just the beginning of a long journey and an important week. The sun wasn’t down yet and there was still light coming in their room. I reflected back to the many Easters I would fall asleep in my bed excited for the next day. Back then it seemed as if the hours and days couldn’t move fast enough. Now I feel like time moves so quickly. I begin my days asking the Lord to guide me through the day. I pray that the Holy Spirit would give me the words I will need, and that I would treasure every minute I have.

Jesus had such a short timeline. Can you imagine 33 years of life or 3 years of ministry?  What if someone told me I only had three years to teach my kids everything? What if someone told me I only had 3 years to love my wife and let her know that she is God’s unique creation? What if someone told me I only had 3 years to love a congregation? Three years is so short, and yet this was the amount of time Jesus was given to prepare the disciples for a huge ministry. He was preparing them to bring the world back to its true purpose. He was preparing them to help this broken world to know that healing could only come through Him.

Sometimes I find myself in an alternate cloud as I look around at this world. I get into this fog where I just look at people as God’s creation. I look and think God created that person in their uniqueness. They are all living their own stories, making the best or the worst of every minute they have. Quickly, I can get overwhelmed thinking about the time that is wasted by those who have no idea about what Holy Week is or the true purpose of life. And I realize every minute counts.

Don’t miss the moments this week to come to worship Jesus and hear about that powerful Maundy Thursday where Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. There is a reason we do the Seder every year. We are looking again into the story of Jesus in this incredible week. Don’t miss Good Friday and the reflections of the deep scars Jesus has because of you and me. Don’t miss Easter Sunday as we celebrate the gift of Jesus’ resurrection and ask what if Jesus wasn’t on silent (like when we have our telephone ringer turned off). Life can get busy, and before we know it our time is full of who knows what. Jesus sent out His disciples to help people recapture the intended meaning of life’s minutes, and now you and I have that same opportunity. It all starts with this week we call Holy Week. Come and worship, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct every minute of your life to be Easter minutes—minutes that speak that Jesus is your Savior.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Humanly Impossible


Recently my friends from Wisconsin were in town. We had a blast hanging out with them at their hotel pool during spring break. Our kids had fun playing together. A friendship that started with similarities during times of dating, engagement, and weddings, has now progressed to similar stages of raising kids. Most of our time together wasn’t one-on-one conversation; rather we were just parenting in the same room and trying to sneak in a conversation here or there. There is something that feels good about being with an old friend in a similar life stage. The most profound thing that came out of their visit was that my buddy introduced me to a show called The Carbonaro Effect. In this show, Michael Carbonaro, a magician, does amazing tricks that shock people and catches it all on hidden camera. One trick that stood out to me was called H2O To Go. He mixed two packets of dust together, one he called hydrogen and the other he called oxygen, and it made water. The people were so shocked.  The looks on their faces were unbelievable. For the most part, they bought into the trick and believed him. I mean, how could they not when he did it right before their eyes?

Moments like this stick out in life; when someone does something we never thought was possible. Sometimes the situation is just our lack of knowledge or understanding, for whatever reason we were unaware this could happen. But when the situation is miraculous, meaning it is outside of the way our world naturally works, it is life changing. These situations happen few and far between, but when they do, they stand out.

In this week’s lesson from John, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. There are so many significant things to point out in this reading. We see the faith of Martha and how she understands who Jesus is and what He can do. We see the human side of Jesus, as he gets emotional at the loss of His friend. We see the actual event of Lazarus’ resurrection. The most powerful reality showcased in this event is that Jesus is God; it is undeniable. Our world often tries to undermine Jesus and dispute the fact that He is God, but in this passage it is undeniable, as only God can raise someone from the dead. Many of these points might make their way into our conversations with others about life and faith, therefore we take time to look at how this passage can help shape our future conversations.

Bad Days, Sin, Suffering, and Healings

My dad had a strong faith. During the last five years of his life he was very intentional in how he approached his relationships, creating opportunities to share his faith. Since much of my step-family was unchurched (my dad’s wife’s family), they became his personal mission field. My step-uncle was dating a lady whose son was very sick. My dad poured hours of his time into this young man, which meant that us kids spent hours at the hospital. Since I was only at his house every other weekend, for me to remember the hours spent there meant that I am only scratching the surface of how much time they actually gave this family.

I was in high school at this time and knew that I wanted to be a pastor, but I was still a regular kid who loved playing basketball and wanted to have a girlfriend. Instead, I was sitting in waiting rooms playing games with my brothers and sisters. There were no cell phones so we were forced to come up with our own methods of entertainment. While my dad and stepmom poured into this young man and prayed for him, we waited and observed.

I also remember that the day finally came when he was no longer sick. My family experienced such joy! Through this my dad hoped that this family would come to faith. I don’t think much came of their faith, but I will never really know for sure. I can’t tell you why this boy was healed. I also can’t tell you why this story is one I still remember since my dad has been gone for 15 years. I do know this, in this experience I observed bad days, sin, suffering, and healing.

I can’t tell you why one person suffers versus another, and I don’t try to figure it out. All the theological training in the world will never fully make sense of these situations. Rather than try to understand it, I merely hold onto the truths that come from the Bible: there are bad days and suffering because of sin, but Jesus is the ultimate healer. God created our bodies in the first place, who better to heal them? I know to trust Jesus. He walked a path of suffering so that one day I won’t have to suffer anymore, neither will you.

One important lesson in this week’s reading is that the leaders of the time wanted to figure out why and how Jesus could do the miracles He was doing. They wanted to trap Him in their rules. In the end, they found themselves caught in their own sin – thinking they had all the answers. We will never have all the answers for bad days, sin, suffering, or healing. But, we can learn so much by watching Jesus walk the path of suffering for us this Lenten season.

How badly do you need a drink?

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Sometimes we can have a wilderness season on an annual basis. You know, that season where you are just walking around looking for a drink of water and a minute to catch your breath. I think the Lenten season can often be that way for my family. It is in the middle of the school year, so Mindy can get worn down from teaching and taking care of our kids. My kids can be restless wondering how much longer until summer break. I am in the middle of Lent and feeling the pressure of two sermons a week and thinking about how to make Holy Week great. We are just trying to make it through. Sometimes complaining is easier than embracing the reality of what we are going through.

Lately I find more and more people who begin their discussion of Scripture by criticizing the character(s) in the story. By no means do I think the people in these stories are sinless, but I think our first reaction is to judge them too quickly. If God wrote down my story in book to be used as an example, and someone read those stories over and over again, I would not like it. I am flawed, giving the readers plenty of mistakes to pick at with a fine-tooth comb.  Are we forgetting that the life stories of people in the Bible are written to help us as we walk through similar situations?
Learning from their examples, and recognizing that the wilderness is something we can face, is a blessing.

A few weeks ago we talked about how Jesus addressed the downfalls of the Israelites when he faced the devil and his temptations in the wilderness. This weekend we will break from following the Gospel to look at the Israelites in the wilderness and their grumbling during this tough season. Their hard lessons are a blessing to us. As we grow in our faith, reflecting on the wilderness seasons in our own lives, we see time and time again how Jesus is right there in the midst of it with us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

You cannot see the Kingdom of God


For each of us there are things in life we don’t want to miss out on. When that thing comes up, whether it be an event or a gathering or something else, we do whatever it takes to go. If you have to miss it, sometimes the only way to stop yourself from being bummed out is to not think about it or distract yourself with something else. For those of you who are giving up something during Lent, this may be the tactic you use. If you remove yourself from the thing you are trying to avoid, you handle the loss better. By now, most of you know my opinion on giving something up for Lent—I’d rather see you start a new habit rather than give up something. But regardless, if your avoidance of a specific item helps you focus on Jesus, then praise be to Jesus!

I love live music. Sometimes I forget how much I love live music until I see it again and realize how much I’ve missed it. At times the Grammy’s or the iHeart Music Awards are enough to remind me how much I love it. Yet usually I get focused on the many other things I have to do in life and forget all about it again. Recently, John Mayer had tickets go on sale for his new tour. Sadly, the tour was not coming through St. Louis, and the closest stops were Chicago and Kansas City. I tried to forget about ticket sales starting and just remove the whole thing from my mind, but that didn’t work. Instead I found myself texting a friend who lives in Chicago to see if he wanted to go.  It wasn’t going to work for him because his baby is due close to the concert date. Next I texted my brother to see if he wanted to go to the show in Kansas City, but he is going to a concert the night before, so it wouldn’t work for him either. The day the tickets went on sale I still attempted to get tickets even though I didn’t have anyone to go with yet. I got pretty good seats on my first try, but gave them up thinking I could get better ones. When I tried again, just in that short time, the available seats were quite high in the venue, so I gave up and thought I can just buy the cheap seats later if I decide to go. You can imagine my disappointment when the concert sold out! John Mayer released another stop on the tour and I thought I had second chance, but still no St. Louis dates. I tried to convince myself that I am older now, and with kids around I can’t see him every time he has a tour, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit how bummed I am that I will be missing out.

Why do I tell you all of this? Most of you probably don’t care about missing out on John Mayer’s tour, but you care about missing out on something, and you know that feeling when you really want to do something but just can’t. It bothers you. And while you might try to ignore it, you find yourself looking for ways to justify going, or trying to tell yourself that you don’t care, when deep down you know you really do.

This weekend in our text Nicodemus meets Jesus.  During my reading and preparation, the Holy Spirit helped these words of Jesus jump out at me, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was a man who knew God, and he knew he did not want to miss out on the kingdom of God. It mattered to him. It would be like missing out on a John Mayer concert. Ok, it is way bigger than that, but you get my point.

Here’s the sad part, in an unchurched culture, there are many people who just don’t care about missing out on seeing the kingdom of God, or they have convinced themselves that they will see heaven because they are “good enough.” If Jesus were to say these same words (the ones above) to them, they would just say who cares, or there isn’t a heaven anyway. We can’t even get to the point of talking to them about baptism or anything else because they don’t think they are missing out on anything. Nicodemus had a strong motivation not to miss out on the kingdom of heaven. Here Jesus was talking to a person of faith, and therefore he had something to build on. What stood out to me is that we may read passages and have great enthusiasm to tell our friends and neighbors, but all that might be lost on them if they are not in a place to know they are missing out.

So now what? How do we help get them there? Unfortunately, I think if their families did not lay a faith foundation, then they have to hit a rock bottom moment to get there. Since we are born into sin we think we can handle things on our own, and when we think that, we don’t see a need for God. There has to be a rock bottom moment for us to get to the place to realize we need Jesus. And the only way we can help them is to be there when they hit that rock bottom moment. For our relationship, it means we have to be intentionally in their lives, so they know they can count on us when those rock bottom moments happen. This Lenten season I pray that you discover the people who you are talking with that may not be worried about missing out on heaven, as well as look for ways to introduce conversations of faith in your intentional relationships.

This weekend is CCLS Sunday. Christian day school provides another avenue to help families “get there” because the Christian faith is introduced at school. Since CCLS continues to strive for excellence, it attracts Christian and non-Christian families alike. This allows the children to see why not entering the kingdom of God would be so sad, and therefore starts conversations with families who may have never cared about this before. This is just one of the reasons our partnership with CCLS is so important and why we take time to celebrate it.

Tempting


Sometimes there are conversations and posts on social media where I really, really want to leave a comment and give someone another perspective that they can’t see for whatever reason. There are times I want to help people understand why they shouldn’t post this or that. I recently had someone inquire of me about how to respond to people who were posting a lot of negative stuff about Scripture. I have to admit, it is so tempting to publicly challenge these people, but quickly I am drawn back to Matthew 18 where Jesus clarifies that it is best to start one-on-one if we have an issue with a brother. Thankfully God’s Word brings me back in line. As I think about the times I get so frustrated at humanity and just want to write a bunch of responses to posts, I can truly understand why people get off Facebook altogether.

This is temptation 101, and Jesus laid the foundation for us on how to handle it. There is something specific about the temptations Jesus faced…they were specific to Him. They were designed to knock Him off track, and they were right in His weak spot. Now, with Jesus there is no weak spot, so the easiest way to show this is to show the human issue of hunger. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus would have been hungry, and we can all understand that. The other temptations are big boy stuff – the devil and Jesus are debating about protection and ownership of the world. Those are specific issues Jesus was facing.

It is hard to translate some of this into our context since most of us probably don’t fast, and I have no temptation to throw myself off a building and challenge God, nor am I tempted to start devil worshiping anytime soon. Yet, I am tempted to respond to those who write things on Facebook. Pastors are not immune to temptations. Some of my pastor Facebook friends are writing things about one another. At times I even feel the devil whispering in my ear to write a specific comment or line, but then Matthew 18 draws me back. (I use the term Facebook friends lightly, as there are lot of people who I am connected with via Facebook who may not truly be my friends.)

My memorization is image based. I have images of paragraphs and stories in my head as I am preparing for a sermon I am going to give. I memorize Scripture in the same way. I memorize the book and chapter, sometimes the verse numbers, but the actual wording is conceptual for me. I know Matthew 18 talks about going to your brother one-on-one, then bringing together two or three, and then including the larger body like the church. If I publicly react out of frustration to a Facebook post, I have just skipped the first two parts of Matthew 18 and jumped right into the last part about the larger body.

In this Lenten season my prayer is that we each take our habits, as they are linked to our personal discipleship, to a new level. The temptation of Jesus is a reminder that the devil is going to attack our weakest areas all the time, and those attacks are specific for each person. Our awareness of this allows the Holy Spirit to do the work He is trying to do in us also – to refine us. In our discipleship model, Read 1 – reading God’s Word daily – helps us grow and see Jesus in the midst of our lives. The Holy Spirit then can prompt us back to a Scripture passage in the midst of that temptation. Jesus laid the perfect example for us on how this happens as we read about His temptation. This is an ideal way to begin this season of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross as we reflect on His example for us to follow in our lives.

Knowledge of God vs. Knowledge of Man


Audrey is in that new phase of investigating absolutely everything. Early on as a parent this phase annoyed me because I was constantly redirecting Jacob or Gavin not to get into something. But with Audrey, I am acknowledging how her mind is growing and changing every day, and it is intriguing to me the things she finds intriguing. Audrey is fascinated with the shower. You cannot leave the shower door open, even for a minute, or she will join you in the shower. Maybe it isn’t that shocking because who doesn’t love a warm shower, but the girl is drawn to it. Even after the water is off she will hang out in there for a few minutes before she crawls back out. Audrey is also fascinated with the dishwasher. I take this as a good sign because hopefully she will be the child most ready to help with chores. My question though is why, in her little mind, does she want to be in the middle of these specific things?

God begins us all as infants, with the same lack of knowledge that grows as we grow. Our world realizes knowledge is power, and has built a very profitable schooling system based on that premise. Maybe too profitable, since young people are accumulating so much student debt. Nevertheless we know knowledge is important. You can always learn more, but you can only learn so much so quickly. I was reading something the other day that said successful people keep reading and learning every day. There is always something more to learn, and the older I get I treasure those eye-opening, learning moments. When you learn something new, it changes your perspective on life.

One of the hardest things for me to understand is how an atheist thinks that they have gained enough knowledge in life to be sure that there isn’t a God. Many different people have tried to set out to disprove God, but the more knowledge they gained the harder it was to deny. But like anything in life, we can stop learning and choose to believe what we want to believe. There is just something that draws us to the idea of “a complete knowledge,” however if humans begin like Audrey, then who can know it all? At a recent conference I attended, it was said that when asked this question, “If you could have lunch with any person (past or present) who would it be?” that the majority of people would answer Jesus. This answer is from Christians and non-Christians alike. The speaker continued to say, “Who else would you say? Mother Theresa? Well, she is connected to Jesus. Gandhi? Well, he had ties to Jesus in some ways too.” So, imagine if you were the lucky one able to walk with Jesus and gain knowledge from Him. Now imagine the impact of walking with Jesus would have on a teenage boy.

The Mount of Transfiguration is a key moment where Jesus allows His disciples to grasp a piece of the knowledge of God. They are looking at Moses and Elijah and are just beginning to understand how big their God is. For those young men, their knowledge is expanding in ways they never thought possible. Our sinful nature will make us think, like Adam and Eve, that we can understand the knowledge of God, but the Mount of Transfiguration shows us the reality – that we can only have a glimpse of what God sees and knows. This weekend we will spend time looking at how this moment in history exemplifies how great Jesus is, and how our knowledge and God’s knowledge is so much different.