Thursday, August 23, 2012

Marriage Material

Mindy and I will be married for five years on September 1st. Every year I like to make a list describing what has happened to us in five years. It would look something like this.

In five years we have been called to five churches between teaching and preaching; we have lived in two apartments and one house in two states; we have lived with our parents three separate times; we have had three cars, and we have three wonderful kids.

The reason I love to do this is because it reminds me of what God has done in our lives in the past five years. There is no way I would have expected to see such a list just five years after we were married. I am asking for Him to slow things down, but beyond all this external stuff is the internal stuff. God has done so much to change Mindy and me from where we started.

During my history of dating, I was addicted to love. I was going to make sure divorce never happened to me. I had fallen hopelessly in love several times--every time believing that particular girl was the one, only to get my heart broken time and time again. I look back to the time when people had to listen to my complaints about being heart broken and hoping for the arrival of the right girl. Regardless, there was something about that feeling that was overwhelming--when you fall in love and just want to be with that person every moment.

To some of you who have celebrated many anniversaries, it may seem like a long time ago--so much stuff happens in life that separates you from the first time you met your spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Mindy and I were set up on a blind date that I really expected to tank.  I even had a back-up plan of eating ice cream with old college friends. That moment God brought the love of my life into my life.

Mindy loves to watch those bride shows on TV. You know--vote on the cooler wedding. Seriously I love the memories of our own wedding, and don’t want to watch a show every weekend with brides critiquing each other while trying to win a honeymoon. But now and then she begs me to watch with her, and sometimes I submit. Oh, the part of marriage we never talk about! Movies and TV illustrate all the great stuff that you will fall in love forever, but they never credit God for His plan of bringing two broken people together and the challenges in that.

Deja vu

Oh, all right, before I headed to my sister’s wedding on July 8th, I talked about the same text and had something to say about marriage. But I really didn’t get to preach on the hard knocks involved in the submission of love. This week in the church year calendar,  that Ephesians text comes up.  With the majority of people celebrating anniversaries during the summer, it seemed like a good topic before the end of the summer season.
Plus it is not too far off from following Jesus. When we first see Jesus, we become aware of all of His wonderful gifts. We see how He offers forgiveness for the sin that plagues our lives. We see the peace He gives us. We see how He is love.

But then…

We realize what it means to submit to Jesus and follow Him. It means we are often criticized by others when we make mistakes (or what they perceive to be mistakes). We hear the hurtful words of those who don’t share our beliefs. We feel the pressure to follow God’s commandments, and often beat ourselves up when we make mistakes. We look at an imperfect world with all the things we must avoid.  We become aware of all the places where we could share the message of Christ’s deep love for us, His submission to death.  This message creates a desire to follow Him, but sin makes it so hard. God never quits refining us. No one is done.

But it is….

All worth it!! Come hear about it this weekend. We will talk about marriage, but even more, about the deep love of Jesus and how it is something we can never get enough of, and how it compels us to respond and share this wonderful message.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The value of those in school!!

It is school time, and we see back packs on the corners of all the streets. Rock Hill Road was finished just in time for the buses to get through the back roads. It’s the only time of year you can’t find a pen or pencil on the shelves of your favorite store. You have to be careful of all those school zone signs or you might just end up with a ticket. Yes, school is back in session in August. Hard to believe but it is here!

To some parents it is a relief that they no longer have to receive calls at work from their children about how bored they are; or have to figure out what to do today for their daily outing during summer.  I remember as a kid asking, “Mom, do we still go to church in the summer?” Kids are out of rhythm in the summer.

School brings routine and getting back to the rhythm of our lives.  That rhythm is so important and something we love, but sometimes we crave our routines so much that we don’t stop to look at what is happening in the world around us.

I was at opening chapel at Christ Community Lutheran School.  It was like being home in a way. I have always been at churches with large schools, and I remember the opening chapels. They were always so full of energy!  The CCLS experience was rather surreal because in this congregation was a whole group of new parents in a church I attended when I was at the seminary, but yet I have done chapels like this during my whole ministry. I think the school leadership forgot for a second that I had been a youth pastor for five years, until I had the 8th graders scream that they ruled CCLS.  Don’t worry!  The Executive Director, Mr. Rob Cooksey, called me out, but I don’t embarrass easily. (too many youth messing with me through the years.)  One of my favorite tricks was when I was staying with my in-laws after we moved from California. The Youth Group followed me home one night, and later took pictures of my in-laws’ house. They held onto those pictures until we sang Big House one night and slowly the power point presentation revealed all the pictures from my in-laws’ house, including my car parked outside of it. I laughed as I recognized my in-laws house, right before I gave the message at that youth event. Their creative minds are unique and have been the highlight of my life.  As I was teaching them at CCLS about being one in Jesus, I began to wonder what relationships with youth will develop.

I have encouraged the Church to constantly realize the value of our young people. I want people to see how much they can help the Church right now before they are even considered adults. I have written articles on how we must include them right now, and how we can all benefit from their passion and heart for the Church.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has a very strong desire to help us see that youth and children are the future of the Church. Through infant baptism our children begin their journey as God’s dear children, and members of His family, the Church. This week we will celebrate with long time members as they watch their grand-daughter being baptized. It is an exciting moment for our church community to welcome the newest member of the next generation.

Soon Mt. Calvary’s Center for Early Childhood Education will open its doors, and we will have tons of families with their little guys entering our facility. It is a prime time to talk about God’s very calling to our children. Jesus rebuked the disciples when they did not acknowledge that the little children were worth His time. This week we will focus our attention on this exact point. We are all children of light. God has provided each of us, young and old, with various talents to use in His kingdom.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Teach them how to serve

Jacob, my four year old, will ask for “Bunny”. People who hear him ask for this often look at him like, “What are you saying?”  Then we explain that on the Nesquik container, there is a bunny, and ever since Jacob has been little, he calls it that. “Oh,” they will say. Now Gavin, my soon-to-be two-year-old, has started to call it the same thing.  Funny what our kids perceive, and how these perceptions are imitated by others in the family.

I was fourteen, and it felt like we went down there every Saturday.  We headed to a place we called the mission.  It was on one of the dangerous streets in Kansas City.  Dad would load us up in the red van and we would be on our way to help.  Sometimes it would seem like hours had passed, and we would still be there. Sometimes my dad would lead the service, sometimes he would help stock the shelves; other times he just did any other needed task.  I would meet some of the most unique people.

One of my scariest experiences happened when I was talking to this guy, and he kept asking me to give him a high five.  I was trying to be respectful and just kept doing it.  Finally he said he wanted to show me the streets.  I followed him, and then Booker grabbed me.  Booker was a guy who had been at the mission for a long time.  He knew the streets and had gotten caught up in some crazy stuff.  Booker saved my life.

When I came home from college there was always chocolate milk in the fridge.  Mom knew I loved it.  It was one of the ways she reminded me how much she loved me by buying a gallon for me when I came home.  This was not shocking to me because my mom was always willing to help with Sunday School, VBS, or serving food at church.  I would watch her spend hours in the kitchen for a church event.  There were many nights when I just wanted to go home, but she was finishing up at church.  My mom always had this heart to help people.  Rod, my step dad always says, “It is her goal to feed the world.”

I heard that Booker died.  It made me so sad because I believe that God used him to save my life.  The mission impacted my life; my mom’s heart of service impacted my life.  My parents could have told me a million times to serve other people, but it would not have influenced me as much as their actions.  Without a doubt, my parents set an example that made a lasting impression.  I am the man I am today because of their actions and how they showed me what Christ meant when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We were cleaning up at Mt. Calvary after VBS.  Mindy, my wife, had gone home to put our little ones down for naps, but Jacob, stayed to help afterwards.  I was carrying chairs and thinking about how hot it was.  I may be a pastor, but I am a whiner sometimes.  I hate being hot--ask my wife.  On the outside I was happy, but inside I was feeling the heat, and was thrilled for the relief of entering the building.  Jacob was helping Tracy, our Children’s Ministry Director, inside.  You always wonder how you are doing as a parent.  I pray that I set an example for my kids, and have my days when I feel like I get frustrated too easily.  Jacob said to Tracy, “I want to be a helper like my daddy.” At that moment I knew it was happening-- in spite of all of my weaknesses, he was imitating the example I had hoped to set for him.

You are that example for your kids.  It may have taken my dad fourteen years but he provided an example that impacted my life.  Servant Sunday is all about patiently setting the example for your kids and for the people in our community.  We may do things a little differently this Sunday, but it is for a reason: to impact Brentwood.  God sent us to love Brentwood.  It is Mt. Calvary’s calling to love Brentwood--even if our neighbors are sometimes crabby; even if people think we should take better care of our property; even if people don’t care about any church.  This Sunday we come together to do exactly that.  At 9 am we will have a short service with a different style of music; a time to reflect; and then we will head out to serve and love Brentwood.  We will celebrate as the Body of Christ in Lutheran tradition—with a potluck.  So wear shorts and a T-shirt; bring a side dish and an open mind, and let’s set a lasting impression on our families and Brentwood.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just Give Me a Minute

The other day our whole family left the house to run to an appointment for my wife, Mindy.  I knew we would be waiting on her for a little bit at the appointment. We rushed around the house dressing our kids, brushing their teeth and putting on their shoes. We packed the three kids up in the car; checked to make sure we had all their gear, and assured ourselves that they were safely locked in. We confirmed that the appliances and lights were turned off and made sure that everything was locked up and good to go. We got in the car. I had my water; Mindy had her famous diet orange soda. We were all the way to the end of the street when I realized something was missing. Oh, this could not be, please don’t let it be, but it was absolutely true….my cell phone was on the counter at home.

I said, “Mindy I forgot my phone.”

She said, “You will only be gone for an hour. You won’t need it.”

My head started spinning with every possible justification: but what if someone calls me? Someone from church may have an emergency. I mean someone could really need me. Then anger reared its ugly head. We were all going to this appointment for her anyway. I am being the nice guy--coming along. And now she tells me I can’t go get my phone. Then I realized that I just wanted it so I could check email, mess with my fantasy baseball team, or just find some kind of distraction to make the waiting time of the appointment go faster. So I did the only thing I could. I just sighed and moved on.

Let me tell you at the beginning of our marriage, I would have blown my top. I would have used all that justification, and then anger to prove my point. I never would have allowed myself to admit the real reasons why I wanted my phone.

The reading this week in Ephesians 4 is big, it is really big! My four year old would say, “Dad, you really want me to take three big bites?” The word this week is asking us to take three big bites.

Humility, Gentleness, and Patience.

I mean, come on, one is enough, but all three? How do we make this work? Every part of our sinful flesh fights against these three attributes. Our flesh is selfish and these particular three things represent just the opposite of selfishness.

But these are the three keys to loving the Body of Christ. If these three things are in our relationships, they flourish the way God intended them. But the minute we slide in these areas, huge fights happen and relationships go through hardship.

Every church, every family, and every person struggles with this.

This week at Mt. Calvary, these three things will be our topic.  We will dive into why they are so difficult, and how God transforms us into humble, gentle, and patient people.