Friday, May 31, 2013

A Creative Moment

Last week I was listening to my iPod when a familiar song came on. I remember I first heard it while chilling after a Lenten dinner at my first church. The song reminded me of one of the youth. He called me over to listen to a new song he just wrote. This was one of those good- looking kids who seemed to always be in trouble at school. He struggled with grades and couldn’t keep his hands busy enough, but put him in worship on Sunday nights and he not only was in his place, but he was bringing life to a worship service that had been dying. The same thing happened at my next church with a similar story of a kid who got into trouble, but by the time he was a junior in high school he was a thriving part of our worship band.          
Early on in my ministry it became a challenge to learn how a younger generation, in a world full of media was overwhelmed. It became important to look for creative moments. Creative moments are moments when you have an opening. Sometimes it was a new song on the radio, sometimes it was a connection with a TV show, sometimes a sports connection, sometimes a relationship connection, and sometimes it was an “old school problem” like dealing with parents. Whatever it was I used it as an opening to take God’s word and apply it to whatever the youth or adult was going through. Looking for creative moments keeps me on my toes ready for what God has next.
            This week is a creative moment. We wanted to meet our goal to get the parking lot done on time. The goal was met and therefore we had a limited amount of time to prepare for this Sunday and we will not have worship in our sanctuary. It appears to be a creative moment. This creative moment can be used to prepare us for what we will do in the future. With our new parking lot and the pieces we have worked together on this year, it is a time to look at our worship and dream of pieces and changes we can add, take away, or revamp in preparation for guests coming into our church home. It is a chance to move us out of our comfort zone, and into an extraordinary servant zone ready to not just welcome our guests, but bring them into our worship so they feel loved, and allowing them the opportunities to worship with us and truly be a part of our community. These are the moments that transform ordinary troubled kids, to extra ordinary musicians and ordinary people into extra ordinary servants using their talents for God’s Kingdom.
            The first young man I mentioned is currently in a band, and playing in the House of Blues with other guys who all started on a stage at worship. While I can’t tell you where his faith life is I can tell you this: He seems to be focused on his band, which is a constant reminder that his beginning was found in church leading a community worship of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  
            As we prepare for June 2 and attend other worship places, God is giving us a creative moment to watch how other Christian families use His Word to communicate. This year I was able to spend time on my personal mission statement, “Standing firm on ancient words and creating new ways for all people to grasp the message of real hope.” It is my heart as pastor to take these creative moments and discover more ways for people to grasp the message you and I treasure in worship every week. I am not sure what that means for us. I have no idea what you will return with. How you will experience worship differently. What I am sure of is God will show us His plan for our church family allowing us to ask the question how can we use God’s Word for a creative moment both in our lives, and in the lives of people who walk into Mt. Calvary.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trinity over Tragedy

It seems like it only takes a couple of weeks before we face another tragedy. Many questions lay on our hearts:  Why is this happening?  Sure, the tragedies are different from bombings and shootings, to abortions, and natural disasters.  Yet, one cannot help ask the question, Why not me?  What makes St. Louis safer than Oklahoma?  The answers and motives for any of these events are hard to find.  Yet, with unanswered motives from the humans, it leaves us to wonder how God plays a part in all of this.  Why does He allow things to happen in one place but not another?
            In this week’s Gospel reading the Jews are questioning Jesus, asking Him who His Father is.  Jesus explains that those who know His Father would know who He is.  The Jews go on to claim they are children of Abraham.  Jesus responds that if they were children of Abraham they would believe in His Word like Abraham did.  The Jews proceed to call Jesus an illegitimate child.  It goes without being said that this is not a nice thing.  Jesus proceeds by telling them if they loved God they would love Him.   If not, they are children of the devil.
            It seems like a harsh exchange, but reality lies in the fact that sin is constantly in this world.  Whether it is people who reject Jesus, or just the pain of sin of this life.  Every time we face a tragedy it is a great reminder to put our trust in the Trinity.  Jesus is the only one who could redeem this world.  So often people, like the Jews, want to blame God, but in a moment when we encounter mortality we are reminded of the One who gave us immortality.  The pain of death is not always an easy one to swallow, but especially when it is connected to tragedy.  We take a minute to not let the father of lies, the devil, be the focus in tragedy.  Instead, it is a great moment to share with people the deep love Jesus has for them--that He would suffer the greatest tragedy for us.
            Over the past six months God has brought us back to Restore Mt. Calvary. Years ago Mt. Calvary members marched down the street to find what they believed to be a mission field in Brentwood.  People questioned those early members, and doubted the wisdom of buying a restaurant with all this land.  God gave us a blessing at that time.  Now throughout the years we have faced some difficulties and tragedies: whether it is holes in our roof, some foundation issues, a broken up parking lot, or neighbors who sometimes present us with unreasonable complaints.  While these events may not compare to Oklahoma, every tragedy, whether a car accident in St. Louis, or one of the greatest tornadoes the United States has ever seen, it is hard to face the pains of sin in this life.  Yet, through the restoration of Jesus, He continues to give us the Great Commission to uplift the Trinity and to trust in our God’s restoring power.
            God has brought us as a family to restore this wonderful blessing.  He has allowed us to put some of the natural tragedies to this building behind us.  Now it is time to get prepared for the future.  As we seek to carry out the Gospel, in light of a Sunday without our worship facility open, we had choices.  Some choices are easier than others, but with every tragedy or challenge comes a moment to grasp opportunity.  The opportunity is that as a worshiping community, we often don’t get to observe other churches with a specific task in mind.  On Sunday June 2nd, through approval of the Board of Directors, and input from the Ministry Council, we will be taking that Sunday to visit other churches in our community.  There will be a specific list of questions to give you an idea of things to look for as you visit another church.  I recently had a newer young adult member of our church tell me Mt. Calvary was almost too welcoming, and she felt overwhelmed and almost quit worshiping with us.  While I remind you that I feel our biggest strength is our welcoming nature, this evaluation will give you the opportunity to observe welcoming procedures in another church.  Having specific guidelines will help you share your opinion in a constructive way.  If we believe restoring our building was important, then we also have a great opportunity to restore the same spirit of mission that inspired men and women of Mt. Calvary to walk down the street to this property.   These evaluations can provide us with new ways to share the Great Commission with the Brentwood community and to all the people that enter our doors. This weekend you will have a chance to pick up an evaluation form. At the bottom you will find suggestions of some churches you might try, or feel free to pick another one. But be prepared to share your experience with us. I will compile all the feedback and share it with you. This will prepare us to be Extraordinary Servants to the people who come in our doors.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It is amazing to me that now you can watch the step-by-step journey of a package that is sent to you.  It doesn’t matter if it is Fed Ex or UPS or USPS-- they all feature this option.  Distribution has changed in the last several years.  Our delivery expectations have increased, and therefore the services have responded.  But recently the USPS was considering eliminating Saturdays from its current mail delivery schedule.  This would go along with the trend that email and other technology has eliminated some of the need for continuous mail delivery.
            Our world has an interesting way of things constantly changing.  Stable things in our world soon become obsolete or passing trends.  Distribution is one of those things.  We went from the pony express to email, texting, and Skype.  As a human culture we declare what we find important to be distributed.  Years ago people would have been skeptical if typed messages on a phone would be something that caught on.  People also would have questioned whether the idea of broadcasting family information and happenings in an open forum like Facebook would have been a good thing.  Yet, we as a culture define what is necessary to be distributed.
            I heard a joke once from a comedian who said, “I love when people hand me flyers; it is like them telling me, ‘Hey man throw this away for me.’”  We can be like that with something we term junk mail--a definition that comes from what we find to be junk and not useful.  
            I found it interesting in this week’s reading from Acts 2:1-21, that one of the translations for that reading is that the tongues of fire, implying the Holy Spirit, were distributed.  I rarely think of the Holy Spirit as being distributed.  While we use distribution to describe the Lord’s Supper, for us to distribute the Holy Spirit seems weird at first, but once I wrapped my mind around it, I loved it.
            What if we were looking at the Holy Spirit like it was something we wanted to make sure everyone had?  What if we perceived it to be necessary mail that we would send out to promote our company?  What if we took the time to track how the Holy Spirit was passed on?  Sure, we can never really know, but what if we were able to observe how people came to faith?  I think we would find it would come a lot more from the people, rather than from pastors.
            This weekend we celebrate Pentecost.  We mark the event when Jesus left us, but also sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, and walk with us in our discipleship with God.  It is the moment He distributed the Holy Spirit on the disciples, and then sent the disciples to distribute it to all of God’s people.  This weekend God gives us the same charge.  He sends us out with the passion of understanding just what a blessing the Holy Spirit is; how God has distributed it to you and me; and then sends us out to distribute the Holy Spirit through the power of Baptism and the Word of God that changes lives.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day

Speaking of Bunny (chocolate powder for milk), one of my favorite mom stories ever, is hearing how my mom was in the kitchen, but stepped away for a minute only to find a chocolate-powder-covered kitchen.  Every mom knows what that feels like.  Wait!  Every parent knows what that feels like.  Wait!  Anyone who has ever watched any kid knows what that feels like.
            Some people are afraid to talk about Mother’s Day because of the offense it could cause with those who don’t have kids, or those who have never been married. We like to make Mother’s Day out to be this beautiful pastel day where we give our mothers really great gifts.
            I remember Mother’s Day involving last minute shopping, and a day when my mom didn’t cook.  This meant we ate at a restaurant, or had food delivered because my dad was trying to give my mom a break.  This resulted in disheveled looking kids, who were encouraged to leave mom alone on this special day.  But I also remember different Mother’s Days when all of my brothers and sisters showed how much they loved my mom by the true depth of their intentions and actions.  One thing that Mother’s Day permits is that it allows us to recognize the scope of the work involved by the people who took care of us. 
            Every person was once a baby:  Barack Obama, David Freese, Harrison Ford, and even the oldest members of our church.  God created us as babies who grew into little children, and from the very beginning, with every step of life, we needed someone to guide and direct us.
            Mother’s Day is the celebration of the vocation, the job of caring for those who need our care.  God provides us with different gifts, and we all have different techniques for caring for others.  Today’s celebration is all about the unique gifts of caring for our loved ones.  As believers we stand, appreciating the depth of that commitment and responsibility.  God calls us into action to care for those He has given us.
            He also wants us to acknowledge and thank those who cared for us.  One of the ways God provides for us daily is that He allows those people to be in our lives.  It is always hard to believe that we go from needing someone to take care of our needs in the beginning of life, to often having that happen at the end of life.  It is one of the hardest things for people to accept.  As a pastor I see it all the time, but yet in the true understanding of the Body of Christ, it means that our roles change often. We go from needing someone to care for us, to caring for others, to going back to needing someone to care for us.  It is a wonderful thing that reminds us of the vocation or calling God gives us during certain seasons of life.  It also helps us recognize how much Jesus loves us; not only would He come to rescue us, but He also would provide people to continue that care in our lives.
            On Mother’s Day we explore the various levels of vocation, care, concern, and love for others.  We all can thank God for our mothers, and ask God how those experiences taught us about our care and concern for others.  And we pray that God would continue to guide us in our extraordinary servant love for those in our lives.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Write Your Life Story

In 1995 I stood with 51 other youth confirming my faith.  We had written faith papers to declare our faith.  I remember I wrote one with a key line in my head: If you are going to remember anything tonight remember this . . ..  I couldn’t tell you what I wrote after that, but I remember one thing--that line was crossed out by my pastor.  It was disappointing when it happened, but I was beginning to realize the humble, intense walk of a Christian.  But there is something to be said about boldness of faith.   Already at that age I was sure I was going to be a pastor, and I also felt like I wanted to share my faith with everyone.  I was prepared to sum up what they needed to know in one line.
            The world has changed, and unfortunately the majority of my confirmation classmates do not find themselves in pews today; and honestly, good portions of them were rarely seen again in our church after they were confirmed.  The Lutheran Church, as well as the Church at Large, is trying to address this problem.  How do we keep our kids in church?  How do we teach them why faith is important?  During my work as a youth pastor, I have seen an ongoing trend in this direction, and I continue to watch the Church address this.
            This weekend I stopped in to talk to our Confirmands during their class, which is led by two great guys who teach in our seminary throughout the week.  One of them pointed out how far they had gotten through the book.  This year we took a new approach.  We read this really cool action Bible for youth.  It is formatted like a comic, along with the words of Scripture.  As the Confirmands read the action Bible, they could connect how the catechism helps to interpret the theology which is found in Scripture.  This helps our kids to understand that we are not just memorizing this other book (the catechism), but this procedure allows us to see the depth and power of Scripture.  And standing in the Lutheran Church we confirm our faith and make this our confession.  I was thrilled during a time of questioning with our Confirmands to find their depth in understanding Scripture.  I think they both have a boldness of faith that is refreshing, and my prayer for them is to remain in that.
            As a five-year youth pastor, this question bothered me:  What is the one thing they need to hear?  Now I would say I am not sure there is only one thing to remember tonight.  Each story is different and each youth is different.  The important role of the Church is to help our youth see the power of the Scriptures, and that our theology helps us understand who and what Jesus came to do in our lives.  Each person in the Bible had a story.  When we look into the biblical narratives, we discover people like you and me working to understand how sin affected their lives and how Jesus (the promise) was the only answer and the cure.  I believe it is so important for our youth to realize that they are a key part of our Church.  They have a voice and a story that is important, and like them, the adults are writing their own stories.  We all are walking through life seeing the pains of sin in our lives, and praying for the forgiveness of God to guide and direct our stories.  Our youth may only be 14 and 15, but their lives are beginning to be defined.  And like Scripture, their narrative is unfolding. They may not be building an Ark, leading people out of Egypt, or sitting in prison writing letters about their faith, but in a world with all kinds of new technology they are the ones who are charged to carry out the Great Commission in their circles and in this world.
            Mt. Calvary comes together this weekend to celebrate with Sam and Angela as they confirm the very Sacrament that happened at their Baptism.  They want to follow Jesus and write their life story with Him in it.  As fellow believers we stand by as encouragers of the stories they are writing, and prayerfully we ask God to help them write their Life Story rooted in Jesus.