Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Edition

I remember falling asleep with the sun shinning through my window on Easter Eve.  Five a.m. always came so early because of the sunrise service.  I would come downstairs to find my suit lying on the couch.  We always dressed nicely, but on Easter Sunday we wore suits.  My sisters wore white dresses and pretty gloves.  We got to church, sat in the courtyard and heard trumpets as the sun came up.  
Christmas was always a special day, but Easter was something that our family knew was a big deal; however, we noticed that some kids at school weren’t always as excited about Easter as we were.  To us, Easter was exciting--a day we treasured.  Sure, we may have loved the biscuits and gravy, the new clothes, and the Easter baskets waiting to be found, but we knew Mom was saying: This is a very important day.
            As a pastor, Easter has taken on different forms for me.  Each church God has called me to has celebrated in various ways.  I have been in the woods for sunrise services; I have seen rock out bands, and choirs that are amazing, but Easter still never changes.  Easter is the foundation of our Church.  It is the time we celebrate what God promised--that He would rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  Easter is the end result of that work and the gift of Eternity.  Lent is a time we reflect upon the life of our God, our Savior.  Easter is the day that tops it off as we celebrate the gift of Eternal life.  In each of the churches that I have served, the celebration might have been different, but the message is the same.  It is the proclamation of the power of Christ, the forgiveness that we have in Him, and how we rejoice in that!
            This Easter Season, don’t let anything or anyone take that away from you.  Don’t let the devil keep you bogged down in the emotion of Good Friday.  Don’t let the possibility of snow or bad weather keep you from attending this celebration.  Don’t let your financial situation stop you from celebrating Easter.  Don’t let any administration prevent you from celebrating what you know is true.  Don’t let any sin hold you back from coming to receive forgiveness at the Table of Jesus in an Easter Feast.  Don’t let any person or relationship remove the joy of Easter morning from you.
            This Easter--Wake up!  Dress up!  Get ready for a celebration!  We will have ways of helping you do that with songs you know and love, along with brass instruments, bells and choir.  But most importantly, we will receive the Word of God in its true dimension as we experience the depth of God’s Word being fulfilled in His Son, our Savior and Redeemer, the true and Resurrected Jesus!  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Entering Holy Week

 Entrances usually mean nothing in this day and age.  The closest thing we have to an entrance, is watching Seinfeld star, Kramer, enter a room.  For the most part we just come and go when we want.  We try not to make a scene when we make an appearance.  I remember when we all wore jeans, and showed up thirty minutes late for my dearly loved uncle’s wedding.  It was one of those embarrassing moments for me.  We were late and under dressed, and while jeans can fly in all sorts of situations now, it was not that way back then.
            I guess entrances for celebrities matter to some people.  Red carpet entrances are spotlighted, with fancy cars and limos dropping off those who want to be seen.  And yes, even our president arrives with much fanfare on Air Force One or    other cool means of transportation.  My favorite entrances are from Batman, with all his cool cars and gear.  This shows the reality I live in; and, well, maybe some of you too.  We would enjoy making a splash with those cool cars.
            Entrances meant more back in biblical times.   Since there were fewer options then, making a unique appearance was more noticeable.   In those days, everyone in the town walked everywhere, so when someone made an entrance on an animal or with a cool chariot, it made a difference.  Kings were known to ride into a city and receive the attention of many.  Usually they were seated on something that proclaimed their power, and they wanted to make sure everyone knew how powerful they were.  But riding on a donkey was different.  It spoke of humility--not something associated with kings.  Yet, Jesus was different-- still following the practice of the culture--riding in as a king, but doing it in a humble way.
            We all have things we look forward to in life, and usually they aren’t sad things.  We experience all kinds of feelings during Holy Week.   We focus on an important night and a powerful sacrament, go into deep sadness over the cost of our sin, and yet come back to celebrating Jesus‘ resurrection.  It may not be a week we always look forward to entering, but it is a powerful week.  It is a week devoted to the very essence and core of our faith.
            One thing we know about entrances is that when we come unprepared, entrances are tough.  This week we prepare to enter Holy Week focused on Jesus and who He is in our lives.  We take time to B1:  a disciple of Christ by Worship 1, Love 1, Read 1 and Pray 1.  We worship, love others, read God’s Word, and pray to Jesus as we enter a week focused on the powerful story of our Savior and how He rescued us!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Capstone Visitors

At our mid-week Lenten service last Wednesday, we talked about what it meant to pass our faith along.  Passing Faith is a term that can have a double meaning.  In this case, I love double meanings because they invite us to investigate God.  What does it mean to pass faith, and is our faith passing in our culture?  The last three words are key.  Because we know the Word of God is what we stand on in this world full of changes.  It is the key to our faith, and the key to the only real hope we can have in this life.  Yet, how does the passing of faith work today?  Leaders throughout our synod are puzzled by this.  In hindsight we look back and wonder if we did something wrong.  Did we pass faith improperly?  Is the faith we know passing to our new culture?

I was talking to one of my friends the other day about his new church.  He told me how attendance had increased and how some great things have happened.  And yet he was baffled by our culture--people who say they believe in Jesus but don’t attend church.  The misconnection has happened.  We are trying to recover, but we are not desperate. Why not?  Well, simply because Jesus is still the Capstone of His Church.

This week we examine a parable loaded with thoughts on those who came before us to share the faith with the people.  We dig deeper into how they were treated and learn from this.  We also firmly believe that God never gives up on His people.  And for us today, that is the truth we hold onto.  We know and believe God’s Word can impact our culture.  His Word is timeless and living and powerful.

Yet, we stand ready to ask how to prepare for our capstone visitors.  How do we prepare for people who come to our building?  But more importantly, how do we make sure they see the true capstone in Jesus?  Often, it’s all kinds of unique things that will draw people in.

Three kids have changed my life, and some of the moments I used to have are gone. But the other night I found time to catch up with my brother-in-law and some of his buddies at a Kirkwood area restaurant.  They started asking me questions about Mt. Calvary and what was going on here.  I described some of the things that were happening in our youth service, and that I believe our culture needs to connect relationally.  I went on to say that our youth were doing that in small groups.  Our server interrupted our conversation and said, I hate to do this but do you know we have a church that meets here.  We heard her tell her story, and then she said the key words:  But I don’t go.  I asked her why.  She explained, Well, I don’t really know any of them.  Then she added the line that I was fearful of hearing:  I know I should . . . Oh, man, I always wish that line would be, I want to, but . . . Regardless, she went on to explain that one of her opinions was that churches sometimes turned into dating arenas.   In spite of her viewpoint, I was able to invite her to our church.  As we left that conversation one of my brother-in-law’s roommates said something unique:  It was fun to watch that.

The Gospel is fun, because in its true essence with the real capstone it works.  It isn’t because of a building, and occasionally we have been accused of other things like becoming dating arenas, being boring, and any other lie the enemy has told us to keep people away.  But what happens when we have a shot to make a capstone visitor come back to the real understanding of who Jesus is?  That is what Lent is all about:  re-discovering real sacrifice and our real Savior.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

We regard no one from a worldly point of view!

Sometimes the first line gets you.  And these days it does even more. Everybody is trying to get our attention with one line.  Sometimes one line in an article is all we need to notice a story we want to read.  But does the story live up to what we wanted it to be?  In many instances we rarely find that the content was as intriguing as the headline.  Yet, Scripture brings us into a place where one line can grab our interest, and after deeper consideration we find a truth we had not considered for awhile--or ever.
            This week was like that for me.  The line from our Epistle is “we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”  We regard no one…not a single person from a worldly point of view.  Why is this hard?  Because the world has a way of influencing and tempering how we view people.  It is hard to break free from it.  It is so ingrained in our heads that it is almost impossible to change.
            Let me give you an example.  Think about a potato.  I grew up watching every baked potato being carefully washed and wrapped in foil. In my first experiences with cooking, I, too. found myself wrapping my baked potato in foil and putting it in the oven.  After my love of cooking grew I noticed that not a single chef ever advised covering a potato in foil.  I was so confused.  Why would you not wrap it in foil?  Won’t it get too dry and not provide the soft inside you are looking for?  But lo and behold, oil and a good dose of salt does just fine, and the skin of the potato provides a natural protection from the heat of the oven. The skin also gets crispy and great to eat instead of soggy in the foil.  It was like a mind-blowing concept that I did not need to cover my potato in foil.  Yet, the new truth grew on me and I began to ask the opposite question.  Why would you cover your potato with foil?
            The same can be true of this passage.  If God created us all uniquely, why would we look at each other with judging eyes?  Why would we not appreciate all of God’s creation?  Lent is a time to focus again on the new creation God makes us because of Jesus.  Jesus wanted all of us to have that.  Jesus was not exclusive.  He wanted all people to know who He was, and that He came to rescue them from that worldly view.  This week we dive into that.  How can we, as faithful men and women of God, look at people as ones created by Christ?  It may be like taking the foil off our potato.  It may seem different from how we always have done it, but in the end I believe we will be saying the same thing--why would we look at people with a worldly, judging point of view?  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Figs B1

The first time I went to Florida, I discovered banana trees. It was an odd thing to see bananas growing on trees.  I had eaten bananas my whole life, and finally realized where they came from.  We would just walk out to my grandma’s backyard and pick bananas off the trees.  We also had lime trees, and would make fresh limeades.  When you grow up in cold weather places your whole life, fruit trees like this just don’t make sense.  What do you mean your trees never die?  Are you kidding me?

Anything foreign to our culture is a challenge to understand.  It just doesn’t make sense to have trees that produce fruit all the time.  Sometimes we read God’s Word, and try and understand how and why this story or idea impacted the people at that time so much.  It can be confusing to truly understand the disciples as ordinary men doing God’s work.  Why?  Well, simply, because to us they are people like us; they are God’s chosen vessels to carry the Gospel forward.  Even this week someone came to me to ask about Judas.  How could God’s chosen vessel be a betrayer?  No amount of money makes sense as to why he would think it was a good idea to betray the Son of God.  What was his motivation and how was he affected culturally to feel pressure, and want so desperately to betray him?

This week we talk about the Parable of the Fig Tree.  Parables have to be some of the most confusing parts of Scripture to us.  Why? Simply because although Jesus’ words are timeless throughout Scripture, when we look at these stories meant to connect with the culture of that day, that culture is foreign to us.  Fig trees produce fruit throughout the year, an odd concept to people who just faced snow days and inches of snow. Ironically, fig trees are also hard to pollinate.  Then there is the challenge of who the Pharisees were, and the references to heaping manure on the trees.  At least that reference we can get, understanding how the ground becomes fertile again.

This weekend we continue on in Lent by taking a look at a parable Jesus told about trees producing fruit.  As Christians in our world today, we discover a deeper understanding of how to become disciples of Jesus.  Jesus was constantly teaching people how to accomplish this.  He was challenging them because they felt like they had it all figured out, and He does the same for us today.  We take time this week to reflect on that, and how we can become like fig trees, and what in the world that has to do with us.

Violent Love: Evil

On Monday I will do a funeral for a young woman who died in a car wreck at the age of 24.   Like most 24 year olds she had her whole life ahead of her.  She had a boyfriend whom she loved.  She had a sister she lived with and treasured.  All of that came to a crashing halt when her sister, who was in the front seat of the car, had to watch her sister, the driver, die.  Many questions are asked when a story like this plays out.  We want to look for someone to blame, and the whole situation becomes a great struggle for the survivors.

It is much easier to blame the guy who was arrested in Sandy Hook, CT, and describe him as evil.  It is much simpler to look at the guy who killed all those helpless people in the Batman movie and call him evil.  When we have someone and something to blame, it is easier.  It is simpler to evaluate a situation when we can explain why it happened.

On Wednesday we talked about temptation –about coming to grips with who and what we are.  Acknowledging that in a lot of ways we see a shadow of who God created us to be.  It is one thing to agree that we have things to work on, and another to acknowledge evil in tragedies.

The truth is, we fight the battle of evil every day and in every person.  We examine our own selfish desires.  We observe a world where selfish desires run rampant, creating an abundant amount of evil.  This requires us to continue to do battle with it.  This weekend we begin to consider the answers.  What should we do?  What can we do?  How do we respond in love?  What does it mean to speak love to a world where we could encounter evil at any moment?