Thursday, June 28, 2012

Burning for Home Life

We used to go visit my cousin in Chicago.  I thought my cousin Josh was super cool, and I still do.  I have so many fond memories of him.  We spent hours together playing sports, video games, or hanging with our families.

We were there for one Fourth of July.  We headed to the park to watch the fireworks.  The wind was pretty terrible that day, and it blew firework pieces on us.  I remember feeling the burn of the fireworks.  I was not thrilled with this.  I looked at my aunt and told her how I felt, but she kind of passed on it.  I was like, “Hey, I am getting burned here.” Ok, I never said it out loud.  My polite boy side would not allow that.  That was one of the few times at their house I could have run for home.

Home is different for each of us.  There are so many things that help us feel comfortable and at home.  Some of those things are found in our family homes, in our church, or in some other thing that brings us comfort.

What is home?  Is it true that “Home is where the heart is?”  In a week where we reflect upon our country and everything God has given us, what makes us feel at home?  What would be the one thing, if it were missing, just would not be right?

When my mom married my step-dad, Rod, she married a younger man.  Shhh, don’t mention that I said that.  It’s because she is so young at heart, that’s why!  (Love you, Mom).  Regardless, as a result, I got a lot of cousins that were younger--a lot younger.  I was fifteen years older than Austin.  So I was this high schooler who loved to play with my little cousins, but didn’t think I had made such an impression on Austin.  Every year my brother and I would take our summer money and put on a fireworks show for our family.  It was a blast--some of the greatest memories of my life!  I didn’t know what an impact that had on Austin.

I moved on to college and was gone a lot, but managed to be home for most 4th of July holidays, so once again, my brother and I put on a great fireworks display. When I was at the seminary my Grandma told me that every year Austin was sad if I was not there to do the fireworks. Who knew that kid’s feeling of home was our fireworks show!  Weird, I thought.  How did that event become something he found so necessary?  But as I thought about it, we created a lasting tradition that he counted on and enjoyed.

Jairus, in the Gospel reading from Mark for this Sunday, was a powerful man.  He probably had control over a lot of things in his life.  But one thing he didn’t have control over was the life and death of his daughter.  When his daughter died, his world and his home were rocked!  He was in shambles, and he ran to Jesus for help.

What is your home?  Do you feel peace this Independence Day, or is your home in shambles?  What does Jesus want for your home?

This week at Mt. Calvary we will talk about home.  A reading from the Old Testament will help us really understand home and what Jesus wants for us.

God’s Peace

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lyrical Captivation

Some of you may wonder why is it that my blog has this man playing the guitar on top of it.  The hard copy this week had a newer picture of him to help you understand what I am talking about.

That man became one of my favorite artists back in college.  His guitar music and unique lyrics drew me to some deeper thinking in life and about myself.  John Mayer still does that for me today. I find the expression of a person’s heart in music, art or words to be unique.  I am specifically intrigued by music.  It has played so much into passionate moments in my life.  We handed out a CD at our wedding as our favor.  When our first son, Jacob, was born I made a CD for his arrival.  Most recently the song heard at installation, sung by the young man from my previous youth ministry, was one that touched the hearts of Mindy and me as we prepared to give Abby so much, but knew that only Jesus could give her everything.

I have always wanted a soundtrack for my personal life. You know--God playing all the right songs at all the right moments. Last Sunday’s beginning would have been a very creative and exciting song anticipating the future.  But this week’s song really falls into the category of one of my favorite hymns.  I told Kristen Schade, our organist, that we could not play my very favorite hymn at my installation and she asked, “Why?” I said,    Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted was not installation appropriate.”

This week I gave Kristen free reign to pick whatever songs she wanted. You should have seen her eyes.  It was like seeing Carlos Beltran watch a ball coming right over the plate; or a reporter who caught a killer story first; or a pastor with an hour to give a sermon.  Anyway, I found it appropriate to give a musical good-bye with some awesome hymns to a family that has blessed this congregation so much.  I thought what better time to talk about how God blesses and grows us in our faith with unique tools.  Music has always been a tool with which God has blessed His people.

It is shocking to me to think of a church reformer like John Calvin who was anti-music. I wonder how he could not envision the wonderful way music touches the hearts of men and women. Martin Luther, on the other hand, took bar songs or common tunes and used them for hymns. Ray Charles did the reverse when he took common Gospel tunes and changed them into pop hits.

A song immediately can take me back to where I was when I first heard it:

Let Her Cry, by Hootie and the Blowfish takes me back to playing Madden football on our Sega Genesis at my house with all my buddies.

Love Song for No One, by John Mayer takes me back to my best friend’s dorm room, as Adam Lucky came in to show me this new artist.

Build Me Up Buttercup, by the Foundations takes me back to the wedding of one of my friends from Seminary, where he wore his bow tie and danced with his brother.  Two good southern boys dressed up and dancing with a graceful lack of rhythm.

Finally, Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, takes me back to my home church at the 7 p.m. Lenten service.  It was just dark enough in the sanctuary to feel the gloom and sadness.  Only the choir lamps in the balcony were on, and for a minute I could feel the darkness that the people of Israel must have felt crucifying our Lord.

This week we talk about how God uses music, with the words of Scripture to bless, nourish, and encourage us in our daily journey with Him.  You will hear how the hymns and a few current songs take the words of Scripture and put them in a format with emotion and feeling.  How has God blessed you with music in your life?  How has it made you think about stuff in your own life?  How does music affect your memories?  How can music help us to communicate the wonderful message of Jesus to people that need to hear it?

God’s Peace

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Patiently waiting for God to take us on our new journey!

As a young boy, I sat in the pews of my home church, closely observing my pastor as he faithfully and diligently proclaimed the Good News of God’s saving love and grace. I can remember watching and learning from him. I thought his family was so cool, and I could see how lovingly he treated them. I knew then that I wanted to become a pastor, and I wondered what it would be like. I was getting ready for my time now.

Through the years I have watched my pastor transition from being senior pastor to being retired; and yet he is still helping in ministry. His sermons often involved deep, challenging messages, as well as reflections on God’s goodness to him during his ministry.  Both of these styles impacted my life.

While his transition was going, on my wife and I were becoming the team and family for which I had prayed.  In 2007 I became a pastor, and for the past five years I have devoted much time to youth work.  It was a challenging calling because youth continually moved in and out of the ministry, but God was at work.  

My wife, Mindy and I have spent the last five years learning how to love one another through the ins and outs of life and ministry.  At the same time we learned how to be parents to our three wonderful children.  God was at work.

When I received the Call to Mount Calvary, the person I had to talk to was the much respected and well liked Pastor Z. [I have to admit I was nervous for our meeting.] I just randomly called him up and asked him to meet with me to talk about my newest Call.  Pastor Z shared a wonderful story about his last five years at Mt. Calvary.  He explained that during that time, he saw the passion in the hearts of the members as they shared the love of Jesus with others.  He said God has worked on them to shape Mount Calvary for new things and new journeys.  God was at work.

And suddenly…

There we were—our family spending time in Branson the week before I was installed at Mount Calvary.  It was our first family vacation without extended family there in some form or fashion.  We had a great time at the wax museum, taking pictures of our children with all those famous wax statues.  Mindy got a birthday present at the outlet; Jacob swam with a chipmunk that had gotten knocked into the baby pool; Gavin showed us how to play mini golf by dragging the club; and Abby stole the hearts of many with her hair bows and dresses. I sat back, feeling overjoyed as a father and husband while experiencing a wonderful vacation with my deeply loved family.

And suddenly God has brought us to this moment!

I drove into the parking lot, soaking up every moment as my car rolled up the drive.  This is the church to which God has called me.  It seemed unreal; the interview, the call papers, and now today.  That moment I had dreamed of as a boy was here!  My work with youth had been a constant process—learning how to connect with youth, and how to care for them.  God did so much teaching in the past five years, and suddenly when he was finished teaching me about our youth culture, he brought me to this moment. 

Pastor Z shared another story of a lady who was struggling with the fact that he was leaving Mount Calvary.  She implored, “But Pastor Z, how can you leave us--you brought us to this moment--like through the wilderness?”

Pastor Z replied, “I may have brought you through the wilderness, but now you finish the story.”

As I heard this, I thought about Mount Calvary’s journey.  It was an overwhelming feeling to know that I was called to serve the wonderful people of Mount Calvary.

And suddenly…

God brought Mindy and me and all of Mount Calvary to this moment.

Pastor Vern and Pastor Kyle have led you on an amazing journey as you prepared for the next pastor.  They have taught you, loved you, cared for you and shared the wonderful words of Jesus with you.

And suddenly . . .

God used all of that to bring us to Sunday.  It was a joyous moment celebrating the work God has done in each of us over the last five years.  I wish each of you could have been at the front of the church with me as I watched those “Hanke Hankies” being waved!  I was overjoyed, and felt your joy as well!

It is that joy that will bring us here to celebrate God’s wonderful Word and Sacraments.  Together we will share in the joyous moments, as well as in the difficult moments.  We will share in God’s forgiveness and in reconciliation.  We will share in inviting and welcoming new people into our church family.

And suddenly . . .

God’s work will be done by His grace and mercy.  I look forward to many years of growing in faith with you, and in sharing our faith with this wonderful community that surrounds Mount Calvary.

God’s peace,

Pastor Will