Sunday, December 30, 2012


Years ago Mindy and I joined a gym in California. It was called LA Fitness. We still have some great memories of going to the gym and then coming home, making dinner and hanging out. We joined with some high level commitment and cost. We had to pay an opening fee, go through some rigorous explanation of the gym, and then agree to a continual ongoing fee that was pulled out of our account. Once our baby arrived, we decided to save money, stop going to the gym, and just use the equipment at our apartment. We had to put a freeze on our account so we could get right back in without having to re-enroll and pay all the start up fees. Crazy right? That was our culture only five years ago.
            Planet Fitness is my favorite gym right now. They just believe in getting people into the gym for regular workouts. They started out with a $10 a month fee. Then you just come and join with no real hassle. They have a pizza night where they serve pizza. They sponsor a bagel day. This may not be the gym for being the fit body builder; it is for regular people who just want to work out.
            Our culture has moved further and further away from being a membership culture. We are not joiners or members too much anymore. Ask anyone who is a part of any club that previously had tons of members. We are fast paced and much of our membership involves signing up and being connected to only the services we want. When I joined my most recent gym I did this. I signed up at Club Fitness, and wanted to be able to get in and work out when I needed to. I even passed over my free session with a trainer.
            One of the things you may have noticed is that we have an opportunity each month at Mt. Calvary to take a look at what’s going on, as well as an opportunity for new visitors to see who we are. This is a part of our ever-changing culture. We want to provide a way to change with culture, and help people see what it means to be a part of this community. We want to offer the opportunity to hear about God’s story, the LCMS story, and our story, along with hearing about the things we do in this place.
            Yet, covenant should not be lost. Membership may be taking a back seat in people’s minds, but the covenant is the important part. Jesus came into the covenant of God’s people. He was brought into that by Simeon.  Covenant is all about the promise to stay faithful. In our new discipleship model we are bringing people into that covenant to follow Jesus. What does it mean to be His disciple and to follow Him? This weekend as we prepare to begin a new year, we will talk about just that. We will talk about the Old Testament version of a covenant, and how that impacts us today. We will discuss how baptism is our new connection to that covenant. Our culture can change with its version of membership, but as people, commitment is still important. We all know that. As Christians we see that even on a deeper level as we watch how God is committed to us. We see how He kept His covenant with us, and this weekend we will learn how to respond and keep a covenant with Him.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Surprises that are Merry!

The other day someone told me they felt called to be a grandparent. I thought in my head that’s the easy work. You let the kids break things, spoil them, and send them home. Trust me, I am only quoting what my kids’ grandmas have said before. Not to mention, they look at the parents with tired eyes and say, “That’s why God gives you kids when you are young and you can handle it.” Maybe that is true but it isn’t always easy. My least favorite time is when the boys try to wake me up at 5 a.m. Mindy loves when I try and get Gavin back down at 5 a.m. by saying, “Look! Mr. Sun is still sleeping.” I am clinging to my last hour of sleep.

No matter where I am, I notice parents struggling with kids. Everyone is trying to put the best perspective on it, but it is just hard.  The days sometimes seem long, and you can’t wait for that break at the end of the day. This is the job of training young, sinful people. They still have their selfish desires, and are learning how to be responsible.

This week may seem like a weird time to talk about parenting or little kids, but the weight of the responsibility you bear caring for another person can be difficult. It doesn’t matter if it is your kid, nephew, niece, grandchild, your parents or someone else entrusted to you by God. The weight of your responsibilities, coupled with theirs, can sometimes be overwhelming.

Mary had to be feeling this as she felt the weight of everything she was experiencing. A child out of wedlock was even worse back then, than it is today.  She had a fear of her husband leaving her. She was carrying this child and felt all the responsibility. Plus, it was the child her people had waited for all these years! She had all this on her mind, along with all of the normal pregnancy feelings.

Life can be like this--all that heaviness of everything we carry, even in this season. On the outside we may be showing a happy face, but internally we are going through major struggles in our minds and in our hearts. We can’t help but feel that with the tragedies that occurred in Connecticut Friday. It was the time to hug your kids and make sure everyone was ok, no matter what shape your relationship or frustration was at the time. There are just days that are harder than others.

So how did Mary stay Merry?

It was simple. She was carrying Christ. The weight of the world was on her shoulders.  As a new mother, even with all her responsibilities, she knew inside of her was Jesus. The Savior the world was waiting for was on His way, and God gave Mary the chance to bring Him into this world. No matter the stress that existed for her, to know that Christ was in her, gave her and all the people who waited for Him a great sense of peace.

The surprises that came on us in 2012 may be immense. Add the predictions about the end of the world again, a shooting, and tax changes, plus all the things you were feeling and worrying about, and it seems too much to bear this season. But there is a reason to be Merry. God put Jesus inside you and me. We come to celebrate:  eat,
drink and be Merry because we know Jesus lives inside of us.  As you celebrate Christmas, I encourage you to reflect on what is inside of you. There may be tons of worries this year, but Jesus came as a baby and completely altered this world.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Time for a Drink!

My small group of guys is studying a book called “Nudge,” by Leonard Sweet. If you don’t know Leonard he is one of those guys who pushes your thinking and makes you stop and say, “ I never thought of it like that.”  He has a whole chapter on eating and drinking and why God intended it. It certainly pushes the limit, but without a doubt, it comes from the beginning of time--food and drinks have built the community. Good or bad we see this throughout Scripture and in our world today. Even the first sin involved a meal, well sort of.  Regardless, food brings us together in all sorts of ways. In the Bible there are a ton of references. Think of the Passover meal, when all the Israelites were around their tables eating before the final plague. Think of Jesus and his disciples eating the Last Supper together. .Eating around a table together was something they had probably done a million times, but this night was different.  It had deep meaning.  And, of course, the times that Jesus ate with sinners and how he was ridiculed for that.

We are great at eating with our friends but throw a stranger in the mix and it can throw off our vibe and even frustrate us at times. I am absolutely an extrovert to the T. I recharge by being around people. I love people and growing in relationships with them. Pretty much I could be around people 24/7 and it would never bother me, unless I can sense that they are stressed, and that they are ready for me or us to go. This awareness changes around new people; maybe it is because I am trying to figure them out. I am often an observer for a while until I feel I get to know them. As much as I love people these are the most challenging situations for me. This is an odd thing I observe about myself. According to Strength Finders 2.0 my number one strength is Includer; with that being the case, it would seem this would be easier for me. Yet, I find in a familiar environment, I watch that strength flourish, but in a new group it is not so present.

We are people who thrive in being comfortable. Situations that push our comfort zone are sometimes avoided. Yet, without challenging this comfort level, we would never go to school, get married, get a new job, or anything else on that list that involves meeting new people. With every relationship I learn something new and watch how God uses those relationships in my life. Through time we get more practiced at it, but still, deep down, find that draw to our personal comfort and space.

God’s timing to bring His Son into the world was amazing. You watch the details align and see how He perfectly fit into time. You learned how Jesus challenged the church and its leaders. In some of the ways they were comfortable with the way they felt the church should go or who was allowed to be included in their church. Jesus came to alter that by eating and drinking with the SINNERS! I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have Jesus sitting with me and getting a drink and to have a church leader say, “Hey, don’t talk to that guy, he is a sinner.” I probably would look over my shoulder and say, “Hey listen here buddy, (church leaders love it when you call them buddy) you’re a sinner too.”

What a crazy cycle as Jesus comes into the world and sits with us in our comfortable sinful lives; and calls us to love and repentance.  Then as soon as we make our new comfort level with our church friends, Jesus challenges us again to go do what he did: grab a drink with a sinner.

Don’t miss your chance this season to grab a drink or eat with unfamiliar sinners. They may be shocked that you said yes to their party, dinner or whatever the event is. But it will position you to tell them about God’s timing in how He sent Jesus. Sure, it may start with work conversations, national affairs, sports, clothes, music, family, or something else, but God in His perfect timing uses us to be His voice box. Why? Because when we have a drink with Him we remember how much we need Him, at His altar we hear His voice that we are forgiven. We know that there is no way we could go through this life without Him. And He knows when we meet with someone who doesn’t know that, who thinks they will just die and not exist anymore, there is a peace we can share with them because we experience it. But that all starts with a drink!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Eat those Details

I wanted to start this blog by saying I do not like details, but that is not entirely true. Some details I love. I love finding some things that just fit perfectly.  A few months ago I dog sat for my friend Joe. I love how my friend and his wife have all the details arranged in the house. The perfect measuring cup was labeled and included in the container of dog food; every kitchen utensil had a neat storage place; towels were set out for me-–every detail was put in place. They left directions for the electronics. It was the easiest dog sitting I have ever done. I was jealous, and also thinking and loving it that everything had its proper place and spot. I appreciate it when similar details are in place at my house. I can hardly go to bed without leaving a straightened living room and kitchen.

By the same token, there are details I do not like dealing with. There are things that I’m planning when I get so involved with the creative part that I miss certain details. Sometimes as a youth pastor I got used to winging those details and running to get the tape or whatever at the last second. Luckily, during my ministry, God has surrounded me with detail people, and through the years I have learned from them. I learned to eat the details I didn’t like the most, first. I would knock out items that needed to be done that I didn’t want to do, or draw out specifics of details I might forget. It is weird that I could remember sermon after sermon, but I would forget the ping-pong balls that we needed for youth night.

This week we will center our discussion on two very different but important things in Advent: the preparation of Christmas eating and details. You may ask, “Is there anything else?” Christmas is full of making the right meals and getting every detail straight.

Yet, we see the distractions that these two things present in our preparation for Christmas, called Advent. They take away from the very emphasis on the details God created to send Jesus, His Son, into the world. We become so focused on the right meal, or on making sure everything is in place, that we lose sight of the very details God assembled to prepare us for the greatest miracle ever. This week, we will concentrate on the culminating events that prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. Some of these episodes are shocking: John the Baptist leaping in the womb, and angels that prepared people for things before they happened. Remembering these events in the story of God’s rescue of His people, will help us care less about whether the Christmas lights are in the right place, thinking about what food we are making for Christmas day, and what presents are left to purchase or make. It will redirect our focus, and remind us that the details we want to focus on first are the ones that remind us what a blessing this season is; that without Jesus, the details of Christmas preparation wouldn’t be necessary, or even mean anything.