Thursday, April 25, 2013

In a little while

Parenting has taken on a new thinking, so it seems.  I am not an expert on parenting, but I am aware that the American culture takes on a great new focus on the topic of expert parenting.  We seem to have more information on what to feed our kids, how to educate, and how to discipline them.  That discipline has been transformed from the soap my grandma stuck into my mouth to timeouts, and now to a reward based scenario for honoring what you say as a parent.  I find that Mindy and I bring our historic views of parenting, and blend them into the new way.  Recently, the bedtime routine has been rough.  Some of you know that my kids call chocolate milk, ‘Bunny’.  They are allowed one cup at bedtime.  Yes, the dentists in my life do not agree with me, but trust me, it used to be much worse.  We got it to one cup!  Just a reminder that pastors are not perfect--they need God’s forgiveness also.  Anyway, as the bedtime routine has been a challenge, I have started to make Jacob and Gavin wait for their one cup of ‘Bunny’.  Some days this goes over well with the desired effect.  At other times it goes over with crying fits and all kinds of other craziness.  Jacob started asking after we read our books, the Bible, and say our prayers, “Do I have to earn ‘Bunny’ tonight?”  Then he would say, “How many minutes do I have to wait?”  The other night he told Mindy, “I am waiting so patiently, but Dad has not brought me ‘Bunny’.”  Now, of course, there is a debate on what he considers waiting patiently; but regardless, I see something funny in those moments.  I see his adult language emerge, but I also see how we as humans revert back to being kids.
            Do you ever feel like you are asking God a similar question?  “God I am waiting so patiently for . . ..” (You fill in the blank.)  “How many minutes do I have to wait on God for . . .?”  This weekend the readings in our worship speak about when the waiting is over.  They discuss what it will be like to be restored by Jesus.  They offer us a glimpse of our journey to heaven.  They begin with this unique line, “In a little while . . ..”  In our fast paced culture “In a little while . . .” doesn’t sit well.  The disciples who were walking with Jesus everyday heard, “In a little while . . .” and it was confusing to them.  They began asking Jesus what this phrase meant.
            For years Christians have looked at this life and also wondered what Jesus meant by “In a little while . . ..”  What does waiting patiently for His kingdom to be restored mean?  How long do we watch the tragedies of this world and wait?  How many more minutes?
            This weekend we take a deeper look into the words, “In a little while . . ..”  As the disciples were waiting and listening to what Jesus was saying, and then heard him explain, “In a little while you will see me no longer.”  What did that do to them? How hard was it?  What does that mean for us today?  How is “In a little while . . .” a good thing?  We take time to look into that, as we continue to celebrate Easter.  With the tragedies of life and the challenges of sin still among us, we focus on the celebration of what is to come and what we can do while we wait.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013


In high school I was so skinny that my basketball coach kept telling me to bulk up.  So I began lifting, but I refused to use any muscle gainers.  I remember one day I asked a teacher to spot me.  I put the weight I thought I could lift up on the bar. He came to spot me, and as I lifted, the bar slammed into my chest.  The problem was that this teacher was almost as skinny as me.  I was in throbbing pain, but I didn’t want him to think I couldn’t do it so I kept lifting.  I finished the set and put the bar on the rack.  He asked if I wanted to do another set, and I, in pain answered, “No, I am good.”  He asked if I lifted this weight before and I was like, “Yeah, all the time.”  I wanted to be strong, and I had every intention of getting stronger, but I was just thin.
            This word strong is used in our culture often.  Live Strong became something so well known in our culture by yellow bracelets.  I thought this idea of Strong might die after Lance Armstrong, who was the main spokesmen for it, admitted he had used enhancement drugs to make him strong.  Yet, this word seems to be a culturally vogue way of talking about how to make it through tough times.  It was originally coined after Lance made it through cancer.  Now this focus on Strong comes into play when we face tragedy.
            This week, Boston Strong was used by many baseball players and other people to talk about how the city fought through their most recent tragedy with the bombings that occurred during the Boston Marathon.  Every tragedy brings people together and strengthens relationships.  As people not living in Boston, it brought many of us together to thank God for our relationships and family.  But it struck me that while these people are still strong and getting stronger, they still hurt.  The dad who lost the son who was watching him race is pained.  I also thought about runners who were about to complete 26 miles with fully abled bodies, now might never run again.  Tragedy strikes and it hurts.  We want to respond and find out who is responsible, but it brings about a feeling of uneasiness about the safety of our country.  No matter how strong we are, we need to be stronger to handle days like that.  And honestly, it seems that nobody has answers or understands why these tragedies happen.  In a moment when a city celebrated a holiday and hosted a marathon, it became a moment when America felt its safety and enjoyment was stolen.
            This weekend our two scripture passages, Acts 20:17-35 and John 10:22-30, talk about this.  They focus on the true foundation of strength that can be found in Jesus--that no one can snatch us from His hands.  In Acts we learn about days similar to the Boston Marathon; that, as then, others will come and try to steal us away.  But no one can steal us from the hands of Jesus, our God and King.  As the world mourned on Monday, I thought about the opportunities for people trying to be strong, and how we could share the message of true strength found in our Savior.  I thought about how our Savior endured the great tragedy of taking on all the sin in our world.  Days like Monday are tough, but remind us of the great strength of Jesus our King!  We will talk about that this weekend and pray for the people in Boston. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CCLS Sunday - One Teacher

When I switched to Lutheran High I wondered what God had in store for me. All I knew was that I wanted to play basketball and this gave me a shot.  I also knew that since I was headed in the direction to become a pastor, this gave me a good base to study God’s Word in school.  I brought my 4.0 into a school with much more challenging teachers.  I quickly learned that my usual techniques for getting good grades weren’t going to work here.  One particular teacher gave me C’s in his class.  I hated getting C’s, so to remedy this, I took a ton of notes in his class in order to better prep for tests, but it was still extremely hard.
            My relationship with him took a new dimension when I started playing basketball.  Having him as my coach made this my favorite year.  I played JV and was one of our main shooters.  He knew he could count on me to shoot the ball for him.  Even though I felt that I was a mediocre student in his class, I believed that I excelled for him on the basketball court.  It was a unique balance of Law and Gospel.  I never felt like he looked down on me, and at the end of high school, I knew that my grades did not separate me from who I was as a Christian.
            He always walked around the classroom with chalk in his pocket.  He would take it out and shake it in his hand.  He’d sometimes pull up his pants and we could see his penny loafers and his white socks.  He almost always wore khakis, not dress pants.  He taught history and religion, and was one of the most challenging teachers I have ever had.   After I got to college I told him that I never felt like I made good enough grades in his class.  But I let him know that he had prepared me well for college, which made many of my student days easier.  I’m not sure if he knew how to take that, but for me it was one of the highest compliments I could pay him.  School was challenging for me at times, but his tough requirements made higher education a lot easier.
The biggest lesson I learned from him was never in any classroom or on any basketball court.  The biggest lesson I learned from him was how he acted as a Christian man.  His sons went to college with me, and during that period of time, his wife left him.  I won’t discuss the particulars because they don’t matter.  We are all flawed people, and whenever two broken people marry (and we are all broken people), there are always sins to be dealt with.  I heard story after story about how he was struggling; I heard him confess his flaws, but most of all, I heard that he loved his wife and wanted her back.  He waited years for her to return.  He never ever wanted to get a divorce.  He fought the battle to keep her.  You see, he became not just a teacher of history, or religion; he taught me a life lesson about how to be a Christian man.  He taught me that Christian men repent because we are all sinners; that Christian men stay faithful to their wives even in the most intense and extreme situations; that Christian men honor their promises and commitments made at the altar.
            I know my teacher learned all of this from the greatest teacher of all, Jesus. This weekend we take time to celebrate our association school, and be thankful to God that He has blessed us with faithful Christian teachers who share their God-given gifts with us.  These teachers can make a lifetime impact, because they are not just teaching subjects in a class; they are teaching the living words of Jesus.  They are also setting examples that our kids need, because this world is full of people who teach us all kinds of other things, like giving up on marriage, or lying, or whatever else.  But Christian teachers set examples that will stick with our kids forever.  I pray that we celebrate that this Sunday.  But most importantly, we will celebrate the greatest teacher who ever lived, and that is our Risen Jesus.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013


This was one of my favorite Sundays as a kid.   Now, I ask you, Who loves the Sunday after Easter?  Only weird kids who think they are going to be pastors one day, and write blogs about this stuff.  No, for real, I loved this Sunday.  And it was all 100% selfish.  See, I was always thrilled when Jesus called out Thomas and yet the indication is that I am blessed.  It’s probably because I am always super-critical of myself and words of encouragement are the essence of my love language.  So when Jesus rebuked Thomas and then said, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe”, I would sit in church and think I was a good believer and disciple of Christ because I believed without seeing.  Then this thought occurred to me, Wow those disciples had Jesus walking by their side every day and they still doubted.  I have never seen Jesus, but, for the most part, I try to walk faithfully.
            Today as I reflect upon what this really means, I ask myself if I truly do believe without seeing?  Do you?  I guess in some ways we do, but are there any times we respond like Thomas did?  Sure, we don’t see Jesus in His human flesh, but do we see Him in other ways?  There are times when we ask God for something that we need right now!  There are even times when we, in the quiet of our hearts, put God to the test by demanding, If you show up now I will know you are real.  When life is rough we experience doubt.  Some of the lines I love in this John 20 text are at the end of the reading:  “Jesus did many other miraculous things in the presence of His disciples which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
            This passage emphasizes two things.   First it helps us to acknowledge that Jesus performed many other miracles.  He did these things to help strengthen the faith of the believers, which is what miracles do.  The verse goes on to say they are written so that we will believe.  Because I focus on the law, I grasp that we need to make sure the Gospel is prominently heard.  I don’t want you to miss the blessing of believing.  Secondly, God has put His Spirit inside of you; and this, along with hearing His Word creates the belief we have today.
            Yet, the moments when we act like Thomas are evident when we are dependent upon God’s presence in the places where we demand it.  This is a heart check--no one can know your heart--only you, or an accountability partner.  When you ask God for things, no one can see what your heart is really saying.  It is challenging, and much easier to talk about obvious sin.  But unseen doubt that remains in our hearts is tough.  We realize that there are times when we are like Thomas and say, I need to see you now, I need to feel your hands, and your side.  Lord, I need to know this world is yours and that you hold my future in your hands.  Sometimes that indicates a truly genuine plea to our Abba, our Father, and sometimes it is because too many bad things are happening, and we just want to make sure God knows what He is doing.
            The wonderful gift of the Gospel is, that in spite of our sin, Jesus still comes to rescue us.  He still comes to stand in our midst.  Those disciples had all gone in many directions, but after the resurrection God revealed Himself to them.  He came to be in the midst of Peter who denied Him, and Thomas who doubted Him.  This is awesome because we can see the powerful Jesus coming into our lives, even if we have different motives.  We’ve seen Him arrive in the midst of our lives, and bless us when we don’t deserve blessing.  Easter continues with the power of the resurrection and Jesus’ restoration in our lives.  The Thomas moment is a heart check; but it is also a wonderful reminder of Jesus’ work in our lives, and the way the Gospel changes our lives.  Thomas, Peter, and all the disciples, who were also sinners, were restored because of the resurrection.  The celebration did not just end with one day, but went on for weeks.  We continue that celebration this week and honor the work Jesus accomplishes in our lives.  While we do believe in Jesus without seeing Him, we also thank Him for the blessings He gives each of us personally.  These blessings remind us of His victory and strengthen our belief.