Thursday, July 25, 2013

Heaven is for Real!

This week we conclude our heaven is for real study.  The overachievers did it last week.  (Just kidding--their pastoral leader knew he was leaving for vacation.)  The 9:15am class will take a break as we head into the fall.   We will be regrouping and will have a new study for the fall.  My 8am class will continue our study on John.  But I felt like this week it was time to step back and reflect on our study over this summer.
            I am not quite sure, but I did expect the conversations to be as deep as they were.  I guess I just thought things would be debated, but there was some great discussion over these topics.  I was privileged to be in two of our classes. I  got the
8am class and spent time in youth.  Honestly, I think I would have liked to be a fly on the wall in all classes.  We talked about all kinds of things:  the image of Jesus, how angels work, and some much needed end times talk.  Such discussions help to combat other denominations from putting so much emphasis on them.  Yet, God provides a timely example of our study.
            Since coming to Mt. Calvary I have been faced with death more and more.  I think as a youth pastor I saw the funerals; sometimes participated; and did officiate at some; but I was more often faced with the reality of death here.  Wednesday I was hit with some shocking news:  the passing of our dear brother Russ Conrad.  Russ was such a quiet man.  As I began to learn names at Mt. Calvary he was one of the last.  Not on purpose--just because of his quiet demeanor, he avoided all my normal tactics to learn names.  I remember the day I said his name, he shook my hand and smiled.  Wednesday I was sad.  This was one of those deaths you didn’t expect.  Not that you ever expect death, but most times as a pastor you get a warning sign or two. I was told Russ experienced a great day full of family time, dinner, and then he went to bed and he passed.  We, in our worldly terms, call this peaceful; however, Scripture does teach us there is nothing peaceful about death, but we rejoice that there was no long suffering for Russ.  One thing I do know about peace is that Russ has it now, as he finds out that Heaven is for Real.  Russ was a faithful brother, giving, and caring for many in his quiet manner. I  will miss seeing him.  I am saddened that pastorally I had no closure, no moments at his bedside with prayer.  God has allowed that with almost all of our members who have passed since I have been here.  But I rejoice that my brother will be with me in heaven.  I am thankful for his giving heart.

Over the last several months we spent a lot of time on details of heaven, but now with our brother Russ we are reminded of the closure of this study and the point of our faith:  Heaven is for real!  And now Russ knows that.  And so do we.  So we press on doing exactly what Russ did; we faithfully worship our Lord and love our neighbor.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Love 1 Savior

The practical distinctions of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod may not seem that different from many other denominations.  Those distinctions become evident once you get past explaining why communion and baptism are different in our church; why confession and absolution stand as key elements of our service; and how Law and Gospel are necessary pieces.
            As people have moved farther from understanding membership, or have not seen the need for it, we have seen the Church driven in a different direction.  Some of this formulates itself in “prosperity Gospel,” meaning, believe in God and He will give you riches, wisdom, and so much more.  But it also comes in another format.  That format is “self-help Christian work.”  This has been the new preaching movement in churches, and yes, even some of our Lutheran friends have fallen into a practice more like this.
            The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is founded on three basics keys: Faith alone, Scripture alone and Grace alone.  Grace and faith bring us to today.  By the very grace of God and faith worked in us by the Holy Spirit, we hear the wonderful Word of God.  This weekend we talk about Mary and Martha.  Mary sat by the feet of Jesus while Martha complained that she was the servant.  So who was right?  It is such a simplistic story that brings out one of the deepest theological points--does love create service?  Or does service define your love?  Simple to answer?  Hardly!  That is because this is the product of our human nature and spiritual nature colliding.
            When we first developed our discipleship model a year ago there was much debate about the essential pieces.  What are the pieces that people need to know about being a discipleship of Christ?  Is this model self-help?  Well, that would be a great question.  But the key elements are founded on the very work of God and our response to Him, so it is not a self-help model.  It is a scriptural model.  First our Worship 1 is a moment to grow in that relationship.  Read 1 is growth in the very Word of God.  But the other two parts were much debated.  I first proposed Love 1 and Serve 1.  A couple people came to me saying that was the same thing.  I was stubborn at first, arguing its plausibility in any way possible.  But it surfaced time and time again.  I let my stubbornness chill and found the truth in their statement.  How can one serve without a Love 1, meaning loving others?  It made it clear there was a much other important piece of discipleship, which is prayer--often something that can be skipped over.  All of these pieces became elements when God sent His Son to redeem us, and out of that comes this response.
            But this brings us back to the Love 1 Serve 1 debate.  When we separate love from service we move into our own self-help ways of being a Christian.  We come back to the check marks that make us a “good” Christian.   Instead of who makes us good, and as a result of God’s making us good, comes the response and work to serve others.  Out of the depth of His love, and our response in love, come the very labors of our hands.  The Mary and Martha story illustrates this beautifully, and this weekend we talk about just that.  We find out who we want to be--Mary or Martha.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Playing by the Rules

 When I was a boy we spent some summers in Florida.  I loved the beaches and have fond memories of making sandcastles with an overly tan grandpa who spent hours in the sun.  During our vacation we would always play Bingo. It was one of my grandma’s favorite things to do.  She had all these prizes wrapped up and ready for when you called “Bingo.”  Everyone had to get a prize and fair was something that runs in my mother’s blood, (inherited from my grandma) so it was always a fair game.  You weren’t allowed to touch the prize table until you won a prize.  It was weird how I knew the rules and they are still ground into my head.  These rules never felt like bad rules.  They actually made the game more fun.
As a dad deciding what rules I make day-to-day is based on a particular action.  I am sure it is frustrating when I tell my little boys that blankets and pillows are not toys, but when they start bombing their sister with them I don’t appreciate it.
Often times it seems Leviticus is a big book of rules that God made up along the way. One time in a Bible study we read a book about a guy who said he was going to follow all the Levitical laws for a year.  There are some crazy stories about him-- not shaving his beard, eating certain foods and even getting his wife pregnant.  It was certainly an interesting topic and an odd take on Leviticus.  But it did bring back to the surface a book that is often overlooked.
Leviticus is criticized for its harsh and sometimes even weird laws.  So what was the point?  God is Love; this is what the Bible speaks about God.  He shows it by sending His Son to rescue us.  If God is Love, then all His laws are pointed to that.  This is easy to see with His commands:  Do not murder, do not steal and the like.  But what was the purpose of some of the other laws?  This weekend we dive into this.  We take a look at the depth of the laws of God and how they relate to His love for us.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fighting for Jesus

Those of you who read my blogs weekly may have a sense that I was a kid who followed all the rules as a young boy, and you would be correct.  I experienced a few crazy times in college, and believe it or not, at the seminary.  But I stayed as clean cut as I could, and with my over-active guilt complex, I was careful.  So get ready to be shocked.  I never got into a fight.  I know, crazy, right?  But there was this one time a group of guys got mad at my friends and me.  I can’t tell you why, or what we did.  It was a stage in my life where I had some groupies, and somehow we made the other group mad.  Think of it like suburban gangs--really not scary to anyone.  So they wanted to meet us to have a fight, but I was convinced we could turn it into a football game.  Another shocking thing--I spilled the beans to my mom before I ever got out the door.  My mom conferred with another mom after which we were never allowed to go to that field again.  That was probably a good thing, because you might now have a pastor missing some body part, because I would have lost.
            My best friend is a Marine.  I remember the day he went to Iraq and the day he returned safely home to us in St. Louis.  In between those times I got letters, emails, and a few music exchanges.  His stories are often hard to understand.  I have never been in his shoes.  He tells stories of some hidden mines that destroyed one of his friend’s legs.  His stories are a testament to the cost of my freedom.  Yet, most days I go on living happily.  I enjoy my house, my car, my kids, my wife, and the freedom to pray to Jesus whenever I want.  Yet, the cost is great.  This week we celebrate the gift of independence.  And while it often has been overshadowed by movies of aliens and fireworks, most of my Fourth of July memories are surrounded by firework shows we watched, put on, or risked our lives by doing our own stunts with fireworks.
            This weekend we leave behind the series of Red Bird Evangelism; hopefully you are still praying for the next person with whom God intends for you to share the message.  Yet, we don’t forget the cost that brought us to the place where we can know God personally.  We continue on and re-engage with last week’s Gospel reading where the disciples were ready to run out and use all the new powers God had given them.  Jesus had to calm them down, and remind them of the war they were about to fight, and what it meant to fight for this.  They were fighting for the freedom of the hearts of men and women that were entangled with sin and the devil.
            Sometimes we don’t think about what it would be like to live in this life without understanding the freedom Jesus has given us.  There are people with broken marriages, struggles with habitual sin, financial trouble, sick kids, and so much more, who don’t know the healing power of Jesus.  The war they fight is endless, with no relief in sight.  The disciples struggled with this and we do too.  Yet, God sends us, the Body of Christ, to share the message of freedom, which was won by Jesus.  This weekend we celebrate freedom--both the freedom of this country and the freedom of Jesus.