Thursday, September 26, 2013

Extraordinary Servant

In my house we pray almost every night before bedtime.  We say our regular evening prayer and then we ask who we want to pray for tonight.  We often pray for our grandmas; we pray for Jesus (I remind them we are thankful for Jesus); and then we pick random people.  Jacob, my oldest son, had a friend he loved very much from his previous school.  We met his family and they were great people.  We started hanging out with them more and more.  Jacob played soccer and basketball with his buddy.  I started playing softball with his dad, Rob.  I knew that some of the guys on the team, other than Rob, weren’t Christians.  I thought I could share the love of Jesus with them.  Here is the deal.  I played softball when I was at the seminary, and although the sem team was good, it was not like playing on a major league team.  However, when I got to the first game with Rob’s team, I thought I was going to lose it.  The other teams were good; our team was good; but I was not.  So I quit going, and never paid for the league fees.  I was thrilled in the beginning to be a part of it, but eventually I was just scared.  I was afraid the ball was going to take my head off.  It seemed like that was the downfall of our connection with Jacob’s buddy’s family.  And so at night, even six months later, Jacob would pray for his friend.  I would cringe every time, knowing it was my sin that made this happen and lose his connection.  I ultimately let my son down and didn’t know how to tell him.
            Over the past year God has brought me to new depths and new things.  I feel like a lot of things in my life seem to be going well and staying on track.  Yet, I knew I wanted to fix the mistake I made, so I asked Rob to lunch.  I didn’t tell him why I wanted to do lunch, I just said, “Let’s do lunch. “  I made sure I stopped by the ATM to get the money I owed him.  I pulled up, feeling a little nervous, but once and for all ready to put this situation to rest.  I went in the restaurant; we exchanged small talk; and finally I said, “I have to tell you something.  I am sorry I didn’t pay for softball.”  I explained a couple of the reasons why.  I had imagined all sorts of things that he probably thought about me; none of which were actually true.  He was totally cool and forgiving, and we cleared up a whole lot of the misunderstanding.  We ended up using the fee money I brought him to pay for lunch, and we moved on.  And best of all, our sons are going to play together again!
            This week we talk about the encounter Joseph had with his brothers.  When Joseph’s brothers saw him again, they didn’t know they were looking at Joseph.  Joseph felt all kinds of emotions as he wrestled through how to respond to them.  Scripture is specific in describing some of those emotional moments.
            The current series is called Nobody’s Left Out.  It isn’t just about the fact that none of us are left out in our abilities to serve.  It’s also about the opportunities we have as servants to make sure nobody’s left out from the love of God.  God calls us to speak forgiveness to people, to repent and repair relationships.  We all have relationships like my story.  There are people we need to talk to.  Those moments shape and form us to be Christ’s Extraordinary Servants.  This week we take time to watch how it formed Joseph, and how we can move forward to invite people to that extraordinary servant-hood together.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Vocational Order

There is a DJ/music talent named Avicii who just came out with a new song called, Wake Me Up. When he first introduced this song, shock came across peoples’ faces as they heard a folk song come from a Dj usually known for his dance music.  It still had a dance background mixed in, but it was a very unique genre for him.  This up and coming talent had critics questioning him until his song blew up the pop charts, and has taken off.   Avicii went from crazy to genius.  He went from critics saying, “Let’s keep this song locked up,” who later watched this song blow up.
There are moments in life when we are just going along minding our own business and doing our job (our vocation), when some critic comes along and challenges our very actions.   Of course, the worst part is, that for whatever reason in the order of things in life, opinion means something.  Look at the case of Avicii.  He was doing his job and creating new music with the new passion for folk that is becoming popular in our world, and he was criticized for it.  It was like he was put into a jail he never imagined.
 In our story this week, Joseph finds himself interpreting the dreams of two officers who have displeased Pharaoh.  Joseph is doing what he has learned to do; and that is using the gifts he has in the setting in which he finds himself.  So he continues to see God’s blessing.  Yet he waits for what God has next for him to do.  As the cupbearer returns to Pharaoh he forgot all about the promise he made to Joseph.  Therefore after following his vocation and doing what God wants him to do, Joseph is still stuck in prison, because the guy he helped forgot to tell Pharaoh about his ability to interpret dreams.
Sometimes as we begin to work on Vocational Order and the priorities God has planned for our lives, it gets messy and feels unfair.  We have the thankless task of being a parent, student, or employee, and it can feel like we are in jail.   We wait for the moment when life is going to change; whether it is our child going through  a new stage, advancing to a higher grade, getting a promotion, etc.   But sometimes it seems like those seasons last forever.  And we look to God and say, ”I don’t want to be an Extraordinary Servant in this way anymore.”   We may feel like Joseph and want to get out of the “prison” we are in.
Avicii’s new song, Wake Me Up has a line that says, “Wake me up when it’s all over when I’m wiser and I’m older.”  It is common in our human nature to want to just have some stages of life over, especially when they are tough.  But often it is through those tough moments that we see God’s grace even more.  It can help us realize how sin and struggle can impact our lives, and keep us coming back to Jesus for His grace and mercy.
A few weeks ago I challenged our youth to find one or two things in their school day that they liked. They had been complaining about how long and boring their days were.  Out of that challenge came some great comments about the satisfaction that came from studying for a test, and then achieving a good grade.  Another one talked about how she gets to help in the TV station at school, and put on a show everyday.  I talked about the joys I find in my day as husband, father, and pastor.  God gives us vocational order, and a chance to find the joys in life.  I spent too many years saying things like “Wake me up when it’s over, when I’m wiser and I’m older” but I am so glad that didn’t happen. There are too many joys in life I would have missed had that actually come to fruition.  God finds joy in our vocations.  This weekend we dive into that--what it meant for Joseph and what it means for us.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Faithful to point of sin

My first real job was working for Blimpie, a sub shop.  Some of my sandwich making abilities still stem from my days at Blimpie.  Just ask my kids about my sandwich art. Just one of my secrets to a fantastic roast beef American is garlic powder.  The background story on this sub shop involved my neighbor, Steve, who was a single dad.  He eventually married a lady with a lot of money.  He wanted something to do, so they purchased a Blimpie franchise.  He was willing to hire me at 15 ½ when I couldn’t get a job anywhere else.  The odd thing about Blimpie was that it was located on a corner where nobody saw us.  We had great sandwiches but we were a hidden secret.
I had three bosses and they all worked differently.  I usually worked for the owner, Steve.  He was a pretty normal boss.  He would make you work, but for the most part he sat back with the books and other paperwork.  Then you had Kathy, his wife.  She was the one who would make you do everything.  If we were slow, which we often were, she’d have us clean table legs that were already clean.  She would make us clean greasy bread racks that we put paper on before we ever put the bread down.  She found the craziest jobs, and the hardest jobs.  Then you had Kate.  I loved Kate, Steve’s sister.  Kate loved to smoke, so she took smoke breaks all the time.  She would allow us to eat our free sandwich with her at the table in the dining area.  She would always get a bag of chips to share with me.  We weren’t allowed to serve broken cookies, so Kate would break a cookie or two.  It was an easy pick.  Anytime I would see Kate’s name on the schedule, I’d be thrilled that I was working that shift.

Here’s the thing, though.  Kate was breaking all the rules; and honestly, I was getting paid to do things that were ultimately cheating my boss.  This weekend we talk about Potiphar and how his wife tried to cheat on him with Joseph.  In the context of my story God had me serving in an area that is key for all workers.  I tell teenagers it is important to embrace fast food joints.  They teach you when you work there that jobs are not always easy.  Fast food jobs help you realize that you want to work hard in school so you can qualify for a better job later.  I may have loved Kate, the manager, but I was cheating my boss.  This puts a whole new light on Joseph who did not cheat his boss.  Sure, adultery and being lazy at work have different consequences, but it is all about embracing the season God has given us to serve Him.  This weekend we look at Nobody’s Left Out, understanding that there are seasons of serving that we may not love, but there are also challenges that they provide.

Our series, Nobody’s Left Out was derived from multiple angles.  There are youth and kids who feel like there is no place where they can serve.  This has been my heart cry for most of my ministry.  But there are also people who feel like most of the servant opportunities don’t fit them, or they don’t know how to use their gifts.  There are also people who serve here for years and then they become shut-ins.  They no longer can regularly grace our doors, which then makes them go through a time of mourning at the loss of service to their church.

On Monday night I headed out to see Evelyn Coleman for the last time.   I got a moment to see her resting so peacefully as she heard a psalm, a prayer, and the final time she would hear the benediction on this earth.  On Tuesday morning Evelyn went home to Jesus.  Evelyn was faithful to the point of death, and now she is resting with Jesus.  She and George served Mt. Calvary for years, and left their mark.  But even further, they leave their mark as Extraordinary Servants who poured this idea into their kids and grandkids and taught them how to serve.  This is very evident through what I have seen in the work of Evelyn’s daughter and grand-daughter.  This is a reminder as we continue to look for ways God can use us as Extraordinary Servants.  Evelyn was able to come to Easy Access, but she was not able to make it here every Sunday.  Yet she was not left out; and her legacy of servanthood, taught to her by Jesus, lives on in her family.  While we mourn the loss of a congregant and a friend, we rejoice that she is resting peacefully, serving Jesus in extraordinary ways in Heaven.

In and Out

In grade school we had this kid in my class named Bobby.  Bobby had some accident as a baby or toddler, which left him with some sort of brain damage.  Because of that injury, Bobby couldn’t keep up with the rest of us, and he was naturally excluded.  Because Bobby was a little slower than the rest of us, it just seemed like he didn’t fit in.  He was the one to be excluded from kick ball.  He was the one who couldn’t play in our basketball games.  He was the one who was last on his tests.  When we played the “Light Up Color Simon Says” game in music class, he couldn’t do it.  Lots of kids made fun of Bobby.  Honestly, I think I felt bad for him, but I never chose to stand up for him.
 I remember one day Bobby got really sick, and had to leave school.  He was gone for several weeks.  We heard all kinds of stories about how sick he was.  It seemed like everybody in the class felt sad for him.  One day he showed up at music class wearing brand new Reebok Pumps.  Those shoes had just become the newest fad.  Everybody wanted them, and Bobby had them.  Bobby was the rock star.  Everybody wanted to pump his shoes up, and he let them.  Bobby was on top of the world that day, but he, himself, was the real focus.  See, the thing was that Bobby never looked at us like we looked at him.  Bobby looked at all people like they mattered.  When Bobby got the chance to show them they mattered, he let them pump up his shoes, because Bobby didn’t leave anybody out.
Throughout this series we will learn through the eyes of Joseph how God is with us during the ups and downs of life.  He never leaves us out.  The challenge is, that as human beings we take those up and downs, ins and outs, as a sign of God’s favor or lack of favor.  The reality is, that in each moment of our lives, God loves us, and provides us with many ways in which we can serve Him.  This series reminds us that in God’s house nobody’s left out.  In His house, nobody operates like my friends and I did in grade school.  God has given talents to each of us.  Over the next four weeks we will celebrate those talents, and look for ways in which we can be Extraordinary Servants in this world.  Like Joseph, we all have moments when we feel like we are tossed out and sold into slavery.  We find ourselves enslaved to those moments, those issues, those feelings of brokenness and loneliness.  Yet, Jesus comes to restore us.  He speaks life into us and finds many ways for us to serve Him, even when we feel like we have been beaten down too badly to be useful to anyone.   God doesn’t leave anybody out!