Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sometimes you just need Christmas, wait all the time!

In the next few days I will preach on an amazing silent night and God’s Word being in the flesh. Some years are better than others. Some years we get excited for Christmas, and some years we just need Christmas. Ok, we always need Christmas, but some years we feel the pain of sin in our world so badly that we keep wondering when and how will Jesus fix our mess.

Let me start by saying we are not alone. Sometimes we think this year is worse than the past. The honest truth is, ever since the Garden of Eden sin has been rampant and God has been dealing with it. Yet, we live in the present, and in the present, these challenges are real.  We need Christmas!

St. Louis needs Christmas this year. We need to go back to the things we are good at, like celebrating Cardinal victories and being the “Gateway to the West,” not the apocalypse of pain. We don’t want to be known as the city that started this massacre and then watched it run wild. Every news story reminds me of the night I sat there and watched it unfold on TV.

I need Christmas this year. I watch as my son gets older and he develops my characteristics, some good but also some bad. I spend nights praying that God would help me to see the ways I am impacting his life. As a parent, you want to take all of your sin and throw it out the window and not allow it to affect your kids.

I read an article recently regarding some of the areas that Christians mess up. The author stated that one such area is believing that faith is most important. He was making some ridiculous argument that Christians focus too much on faith and not enough on actions. It brought in James being the brother of Jesus and how James believed in works. I wish I could help people understand there are no works without faith! When you try saying that we should follow Jesus’ example, you are missing the point.  That is why Jesus came, because we couldn’t do it – we couldn’t follow His example. Trust me, I am not letting anyone off the hook, but sin is constantly wrecking the lives of people, and we need Jesus to forgive us, redeem us, and sanctify us.

That is just it – we need His sanctification. On the years when I need Christmas, I spend hours in my head praying for Jesus to teach me how to live. When someone comes to me broken, I spend hours praying for Jesus to help me see what they need. The cool thing is, hang out with Jesus long enough and it will happen. You will look back at your life and say, “Remember when I acted like that? Thank you, Jesus, that you brought Christmas again, because I needed you.”

I was not a fan of history in high school, but I love relational history. When people come to me challenged by the world and all that is in it, I like to take them back to where they started. We live and breathe the story of scripture – sinning, hearing restoration, then sinning again, and needing restoration again. History reminds us of where we have come and what God is doing in our lives to restore us. I love when the prophet Isaiah says, “out of the shoot of Jesse....” The people of Isaiah’s time couldn’t remember the good times with King David because they were so broken.  Isaiah had to remind them that God brought restoration through a peasant’s son. Years like this we can look at the world and get a little frustrated.  It’s then that we need to remember that God brings His Son to restore us. We need Jesus this year. Wait, I think we need Him every year. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mary - Ordinary Person, Extraordinary Servant

It’s the week we reflect upon Mary in a scriptural and funeral-type way. I rarely talk about Mary the mother of Jesus. I am sure that has something to do with my Catholic friends and not wanting to cause offense just for the sake of doing it. I will admit I had one deep conversation with several Catholic families that attended our pre-school. I tried to make sure the conversation ended peacefully despite the theological debate. No point in hurting someone based upon the theological differences. That really gets us nowhere in life. Yet, despite the conflict that surrounds Mary, there is something very important to understand about her role in the Christmas story. So often the image of her in the stable gets stuck in our head and that is the only image we see. Let me just pose this question – how often have you seen a pregnant Mary? As Mindy and I get closer to the due date of our fourth child, I am reminded again of the joy/awe of a “moving” baby. My unborn daughter is not just sitting in Mindy’s stomach, but she’s kicking, and punching, and moving like crazy! I am not sure why we don’t see images of Mary like this, but it reminds us that she was an ordinary girl who God transformed into His Extraordinary Servant.

Let’s reflect on the power of the angel Gabriel’s announcement, and how it would transform Mary forever. No longer was she going to know the life she had before.  Putting that in the context of my life, it would mean one of my girls would be transformed to serve God in a unique way early in her teen years. Whoa! I can’t imagine what Mary was thinking or how she processed it all. She knew that her people had been waiting for the Messiah for years. She also had to know that based upon society’s view, being pregnant without a husband was not good. Yet, amazingly, Mary is willing to be transformed and to serve as an Extraordinary Servant!  She willingly trusted God to lead and guide her. As time went on, she (and Joseph) certainly faced the challenges of Extraordinary Servanthood. Her journey is just the beginning of the many people Jesus would transform on earth. It all started with this little kicking, moving, baby, in the womb of a girl, whose life was transformed forever because of the life inside of her.

Over the last several weeks I got to spend time with one of our members who was close to her passing, Mary Evans. Mary has been a member at Mt. Calvary for many years. She was often quiet, but when the time was right, she made her voice heard. Mary used to come to the Easy Access service – the service we hold for our shut-ins once a month so they can come to Mt. Calvary with a little more ease. A few years ago we revamped the service, adding even more traditional elements that many of them grew up with. As time passed, Mary spoke up and asked why we didn’t ever sing the Doxology? Well, now we close every Easy Access service by singing the Doxology – praise God from whom all blessings flow. As I reflect on the life of Mary Evans, I see that extraordinary servant praising God from whom all blessings flow. In one of our closing conversations we talked about the people she loved in life, and I had the chance to ask her if she was at peace. She responded she was. Mary was having extra help to breathe at this point, and these closing statements were words of praising God for all the blessings He had given her. Like Mary from scripture, we cannot anticipate the many challenges we will face in life when we are transformed by Jesus into Extraordinary Servants. Yet, we know that this is the season to prepare again for the blessing of the life of Jesus, and how we are forever changed because of His grace and mercy.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Anointing

I went to a Christmas craft event with my brother and sister-in-law last week. He is studying at Covenant Seminary and this was an outreach event for them. The kids made Christmas crafts and heard the story of Jesus. It is always fun to be an observer versus running an event. This year they added new things to the event and it was better organized than last year. The pastor ended up talking to me at the end. During our conversation something odd happened. We were talking about how many services we have at Mt. Calvary, when all of the sudden he said, “Hey Will, we should get together. I would love to learn about what Lutherans do.” It totally caught me off guard, but it got me thinking. We, as Lutherans, are often an “exclusive culture” – meaning we keep to ourselves. We focus on the traditions of our families, friends, and church. Bringing people into that culture is a truly challenging endeavor. Even some newer individuals or families in the church have misunderstood its traditions and teachings of the past.

This weekend’s activity, the Trim-A-Tree Christmas Party, is a prime example. My first year we just said, “Come decorate the church,” and many of the people who had done it for years showed up. Why not new people?  Perhaps it was as simple as our younger families, or new families, didn’t realize this is the way the church ends up looking beautiful for Christmas. Maybe some just thought the pastor does that. Last year we tried something new – we made it a party. We intentionally told people what needed to be done and how they could help. We also added the key piece of fellowship – something that we love at Mt. Calvary. Last year’s decorating happened so fast that we had lots of time to fellowship. Mt. Calvary is not the only church that is challenged by this. All of my previous churches had volunteers decorate the church. Often it was like a secret. It was something members who had been there for years knew about, but not something everyone understood. If communication breaks down among members of a church, imagine how there can be a complete disconnect with people who are not familiar with the church.

The church is full of examples of communication breakdown. Everything from our language to our services can be challenging for anyone new to understand. That is why at Wednesday Advent services I try to remind us why we have this mid-week service.  It is for extra reflection and focus (not extra offering). Sure we can point back to November and talk about managing the treasures we have, and December allows us time to share those treasures with Jesus, but the purpose of the Wednesday night service is to keep us focused and prepared for the coming of Jesus. The world says we prepare with lights, gifts, and Christmas music. Even as I type this, I realize I haven’t put my Christmas music list on my iPhone to listen to yet. We are hit with so many things during this season that it is hard to keep it all straight. Yet we know our true preparations are for Jesus.

Have you taken time to ask anyone about their family traditions for the holiday?  Have you shared any of your own?  In Bible times a common tradition was anointing, putting oil on someone’s head to mark them for something special.  King Saul and King David were both anointed, as were many others.  In our culture today, anointing is not something we practice or typically talk about. So, imagine the jump it takes to understand that Jesus is the anointed one sent to save us. Not so easy. Our language, often misunderstood, could hold someone back from hearing the message of Jesus we want to convey. Part of our Advent preparation this year is to prepare for those moments and opportunities to explain what is often misunderstood. We ask ourselves questions like: “Am I prepared to talk about anointing? Do I know how to share what that means to me? Am I prepared to say why I would take time out to decorate a tree at my church? Am I prepared to define why my traditions are centered around Christ?” That may sound simple, but often it’s not. Maybe preparation for this kind of sharing is the key we’ve been missing. Perhaps it is time to stop and ask about someone else’s traditions, and look for those opportunities to share our own.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  Too soon?  One of our fellow members said that to me on Sunday, and they are absolutely right! It is a new year for the Church, not just Mt. Calvary, but the Church at large. The end of the church year was covered up by a late Thanksgiving and our focus on the treasures God gives us to manage. You could also say it ended with a bang, as so many things happened in our city reminding us of the struggles and pains of this earth. Though we didn’t specifically focus on the end of the church year, it happened, and now we are starting a new one. That put us in conflict with our other calendar – our 12-month calendar – which says the year is still finishing up. It is a tension we have to manage.

We all manage tensions in our lives. There are moments we wrestle with being a good mom and good wife at the same time. There are moments to wrestle with being a good employee and a good family man. There are moments to wrestle with how to be a good citizen and proclaim our views in a helpful and productive way. The tensions we have to manage never quit coming.  Life is full of tension.

This year I bought a shower holder that was supposed to go in our bath. It was one of those tension rod types. I worked on that thing for over an hour, wrestling with this side and the other trying to get the tension to work.  Finally I gave up and took the silly thing back. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I didn’t buy anything to replace it, so the kids continue with shampoos and soaps that sit on the edge of the tub. I never mentioned it to Mindy because I didn’t want to tell her I didn’t figure it out. Things that bring us tension are easy to give up on.

The season of Advent is full of tensions. There is the tension of celebrating the coming of Jesus that already happened and the one still to come. There is the tension of Jesus being 100 percent man and 100 percent God, and of course there is the tension of us being both sinner and saint. Don’t forget the whole calendar thing we talked about earlier. As we walk into this season, we also have to managing the preparations and things our world wants us to focus on, verses the focus that scripture is bringing us to – preparing for the coming of our Savior and the joys we have in knowing Jesus. This week I pray that God will help us manage the tensions in this season, and in our lives, with patience and grace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


For family, these are some of the greatest times and we look forward to them. It is funny to see how traditions develop within families. I have been cooking the turkey for my family for 6 years now (I think). It has been almost every year that I have been married to Mindy. This tradition “just happened” and has continued to develop with every year and holiday that we are around. In the midst of a season of the many things that can busy our lives, to find a safe haven where we are able to see the richness of God’s blessing is wonderful. Each of you have your traditions, and as you think of them, fond memories arise.  At the pancake breakfast recently, I was discussing green bean casserole with people. You may think I hate green bean casserole because I like to cook, but the truth is, I truly love it! Honestly! I have a constant supply of green bean cans in my pantry. Most of this is due to the fact that as a kid I grew up on them. Even while we were living with my mother-in-law we ate canned green beans.  She told me we didn’t have to; we could eat the veggies in the fridge.  My response was, “This goes well with the mac n’ cheese.” I truly love green bean casserole. (Yes, I have made Alton Brown’s homemade green bean casserole and it is good also.) There is something about the traditions and history of our lives that bring us comfort. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on those amazing blessings. We see the hands of God through the loving ways of others.

Over this week we will hear that theme of thanksgiving both at our Thanksgiving Eve service and also at our first Advent service. Specifically, on Sunday we will hear how Paul responds to the Corinthians. There are many challenges with the Corinthians – they certainly are in need of repentance. They have done things to put themselves in a less-than-thankful mindset. They challenge the very theology that Paul preaches. Paul knows it’s his job to rebuke the Corinthians, then guide and direct them. Yet he doesn’t start any of this until he expresses his love to and for them. Paul still wants them to know that he thanks God for them every time he prays. This is a true example of the love and thanksgiving Paul has for what God does in his own life. He is thankful even for the challenging relationships.

This is key for us as we walk into this season. Corinthians is a book about loving one – even the challenging ones. This is where the words of Jesus to love our enemies are tough. Paul wants these people who know Jesus to grow in their errors and love in new ways. Thanksgiving can be a great reminder of our past, but our past can also be painful. We think through the years of relationships that are not perfect, because no relationship ever is. Are we thankful for even the challenging relationships? God promises peace in heaven, but peace on earth, well…it’s a work in progress.  This week is a real reminder that peace is a work in progress. We see how big decisions are challenging, and as our community reacts, we are reminded to seek Jesus for peace. This week has been painful for St. Louis. As the nation watched us to see how we would react, we see that, like the Corinthians, there is so much of our sinful flesh in this world. The first Sunday in Advent reminds us we are waiting upon the Savior who would bring and teach that peace to this earth. As we embrace and prepare for the birth of our Savior we reflect on the many things we have to be thankful for. We look for the opportunities to celebrate even the relationships that bring challenges, and we wait upon the Lord’s answer for them.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Managment: Treasures

The youth and I watched a cool video a few weeks ago. It was a homeless guy standing on the street. Many people came up to him and said they had nothing to give to him. Some told him he couldn’t pan handle there. One guy even told him to get a job. Then you watched the people who gave to him. One person gave him some money, which he returned, and added a $20 bill! One by one, the homeless man gave back to the people who gave to him. One of my favorite moments was the guy who prayed with the homeless man.  He was given a $20 bill also. You should have seen the guy’s face. He was so thrilled. One of the key moments of the video was when two people, one who had been homeless previously and the other who was currently homeless, each received a $20 bill from the homeless guy.  It was as if they couldn’t believe their eyes. They had experienced the pains of life, and to have someone else bless them was amazing!
I saw a post recently on Facebook apologizing for not realizing the blessing of expendable income. It is commonly said that in America so many of us are very blessed. I am not naïve to think we have so much expendable income that we are like pop stars, movie stars, or athletes, but often times there is enough money for a little something for us daily. As we live in a world bombarded with messages of all the things we don’t have, how are we supposed to live and manage the treasures God gives us? At times, the church can feel just like the world, asking for money for something. It can be overwhelming. Trust me, this is not an easy topic – even for pastors. While we are preaching on managing the things God gives us, we are questioning ourselves on how we are managing our own treasures. Once while Mindy and I were visiting with another pastor couple, this topic came up. He commented that sometimes people think that when pastors give to the church, they are just giving to themselves. I listened to this friend of mine explain the same principle of managing treasures – that we are giving to God’s kingdom through the churches we lead, but yet to so many other expenses beyond just the pastor’s salary. This is often a conversation I have with our fieldworkers – How do I give to the church I am leading? It is funny, as lay people we knew to give to our church, but now being in ministry, we get confused.

This is a key time to reflect on Psalm 24. Finally, after three weeks, we get to the author of so many of the Psalms – David. In Psalm 24 we find David’s reflection on the treasures of God. Honestly, his understanding has nothing to do with technicalities or practicalities. It has to do with reality – knowing that everything in this world was created and given by God. Through David’s deep love for God and all of His treasures, he is revealing to us this solid truth, which then moves us into position to trust the creator and giver. It moves us to embrace God’s great gifts, and to look for opportunities to trust Him with the treasures we hold close, treasures that ultimately belong to Him.

Some may wonder why I share a story about the struggles pastors face with this topic. My answer is, I think it is good to know that all people wrestle with what to give God. When we are struggling financially, we feel pressured by all of the organizations and causes that we feel inclined to help. Keeping the mindset that everything we have belongs to God, and that He continues to give to us, it allows us to ask God, “How do you want me to manage the treasures you’ve given me?” This will be the focus of the weekend as we take a look at the many treasures we receive from God and how do we respond in managing them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Management: Talents

A few Saturdays ago, my brother-in-law called me to hang out with him. He wanted me to bring the boys over so we could shoot off rockets. We went, and later him and I taught the boys how to catch ground balls. Abby came along too. It was a trick making sure she didn’t get hit by the balls. (Don’t tell Mindy – that will freak her out!) Everyone was safe and the boys sure had fun. While we were there I asked Josh why he had a whole bucket of baseballs and a bat. I though maybe he played in a league. He said, “Mostly I have balls for things like this, but I did play in high school!” Josh is an actuary by day, so he spends a lot of time working with numbers. He is pretty successful, has his own condo, and has been working hard at the same company for a long time. The other day when we were over there, I discovered something about him I didn’t know – his deep love of baseball. He even wore a baseball costume to a Halloween party.

I can totally relate to Josh; I have things I wanted to do growing up as well. I absolutely love basketball. Still to this day I purchase basketball shorts for my workout clothes, and take my kids up to the park to play on the small hoop. When there are 5th and 6th graders at the park who want to play with us, and they steal the ball from my little boys, I throw down a mean dunk on them. They are usually impressed with my skills on the 8 foot rim, and for a moment I am stuck in a dream of what it would have been like to play for a big college team. Looking back, I wish I would have stayed on the JV team during my junior year of high school rather than playing varsity. I could have had more time playing the game I loved, rather than sitting on the bench. My final year of Seminary the Sem team was short on players, so a few people talked me into playing. There were others in my life who encouraged me not to play, knowing I had a busy year in front of me. That was before I met Mindy and my world got even busier. Regardless, I am glad I lived out that final year playing basketball. It was the last time I would be able to play it every day. I remember when the Preachers (the Seminary basketball team) headed up Columbia to play.  That team basically paid us to come up and play so they could cream us, and they did just that. This group of talented players had our number.  My teammates and I knew we were not headed for the NBA.  We were not dreaming of being basketball stars, like most of these guys we were playing against. We knew we were going to be real preachers in life, and that our fundamentals and understanding of the game were the only areas where we were on an even playing field with these young guys. At one point in the game I blocked someone out all the way to three-point line. One of the guys on our team (who actually played for Gonzaga) came up to me and said, “Will, did you see how far you blocked that guy out? That was awesome!” While that comment meant a lot to me, it did not change me. I left Seminary with some of the old jerseys, which you can still see me wearing occasionally, if you are lucky. Now I play basketball just one time a year with some buddies who come in town for a conference. Nevertheless, I know I still have talent.

These stories remind me of two things we learn about talents in life. You can gain all the knowledge of a particular skill set, but basically, we are born with the talents we have. Sure, sometimes we can develop them, but our strongest talents are the ones we are given. Those young guys in Columbia had basketball talent, but some of them were forgetting to nurture the talent God had given them by coupling it with knowledge. These are the greatest issues we face when using our talents. Sometimes we are so focused on nurturing talents we are not given, that we are not nurturing the talents we are given. When we find away to take our talent and use it for God’s glory, we find peace in managing our talents.

As a youth pastor I spent many hours planning large events, and looking for ways to bring more kids to our church. I spent days planning lessons for confirmation and organizing trips. As I reflect on my days as a youth pastor, there were a few parts of the job I really loved and felt like it just clicked. They all were focused on relationships. I passed along the many connections I made with people in the area, people that had a heart for youth. Some were in churches, and some were in the school district or other areas. I loved the trips when I got to learn about the different young men and women. Sometimes we even came back from our trips with nicknames. I had an older adult Bible study that I occasionally lead and poured my heart and soul into. I also led a group of youth leadership, who helped pull together many of our events. All that time I was fine-tuning my understanding of the talent that God had given me.  It wasn’t so much that my talents lie in youth, but in relationships.  Once I embraced this, I began to understand the challenges I faced in the ministry I was called to do.

Managing our talents is not easy. Sometimes we lead ourselves to the wrong ones. It can be a life long process (sometimes frustrating) trying to understand our talents and how we can use them to the glory of God. This week we spend time talking about those talents and use the Psalms to lead us in that discussion.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Management: Time

Daylight savings is always a great opportunity to think about “time”. So often we get focused on our daily routine and we forget about it, that is until it is “time” for the kids go to bed, or for us to go to bed, or until we’ve forgotten to do something. As we think about time as something we are managing, it puts a different spin on it. It may be easy to look at someone else, such as an employee, and make sure they are managing their time effectively, yet calling ourselves to accountability with how we spend our time is much harder. Of course, we have an advantage (or perhaps a disadvantage); we know everything we do in a day. We know about the days when we wasted time. We also know about the days when we set things up to help make our time more efficient, but found out it didn’t work. This can leave us feeling frustrated and questioning ourselves. Then what do we do?  A friend of mine used to say, “I guess I will start over and try to do better tomorrow.”

Time is always there; it’s a constant.  No matter whether we realize it or not, or even if we want to do it or not, time is something we are managing. It is staring us in the face every time we wake up. It keeps on going and going. There is never a break in the action, not even when we “gain an hour.”  I am pretty sure none of us would ever sign up to manage something 24/7 for the rest of our lives, but that is our situation with time. Yet we know that as humans, our time will come to a crashing halt at some point, we just don’t know when. So with the hours and minutes we do have, we keep on going and try and not beat ourselves up for the mismanagement of time.

That type of attitude toward time can make us not want to think about managing it at all. This is why it is very important to turn our time over to God. If we view time as a gift that God gave us to manage, we begin to move out of the pressure we put on ourselves to manage it perfectly. Also, when we trust that God forgives us for the mismanagement of time, it keeps us in the mind set to use it to the best of our ability.

Recently, I have been visiting someone who has had a lot of questions for the church. Generally speaking, this person has been reluctant to engage me, but my latest visit shocked me. All of the sudden, this person was ready to hear the Gospel message. The tears rolled down this person’s face when reflecting on all the lost time trying to avoid the church and God. I helped to move us quickly away from this mismanagement of time, to the blessing of time, and a new found joy was in this person’s heart as he/she came to church again. The attitude of this person was honestly amazing, and something others have been praying for.  Their prayers were answered, and they were so thankful for my visits.  All of this made me stop and think.  Am I finding the joy in the gift of time?

This weekend we focus on managing time, and we celebrate CCLS Sunday and connect with the school year theme of Ready, Set, Go. Over the years we have watched our association school grow and bless many. They have made disciples of Christ which are now in St. Louis, across the United States, and even in places like Uganda. God has certainly blessed this ministry, and He has allowed us to be a part of it! Now we get to celebrate how we see God’s hand through time, and how God blesses us by teaching us how to manage our time and share the love of Jesus with others. Today we move away from the fear of the lost time, and move into the gift of time that has been given to us.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween, All Saints Day, and Life!

After I submit my kids to “death by candy,” we turn around and celebrate All Saints Day. Last Sunday was Trunk or Treat.  It was a true blessing to see the joy of life in the kids. When they are all dressed up, we get a glimpse of who they are and who they want to be. One of the kids at Trunk or Treat was asked if he was a tree frog and he said, “NO! I am a poison dart frog!” It is clear that the young can be accurate about their hopes and dreams, and also about who they are pretending to be. Jacob was rather frustrated with Abby calling him an Avenger when he was really a G.I. Joe. The problem was that Jacob couldn’t remember who he was, so he had a hard time communicating who he was supposed to be back to his little sister. Call me crazy, but I love the season of Halloween. I love watching the joy in a child’s face. I like carving pumpkins and roasting pumpkin seeds, just like I did when I grew up. I like the season of fall, and I don’t mind a scare or two to keep me on my toes. Honestly, Halloween reminds us of something we easily forget – death and the devil are real and in this world.

Maybe it is fitting that “death by candy” leads us right into a celebration of All Saints Day. Our world gives us many reminders of the death we will face one day, and this week was no different. The passing of Oscar Taveras came as a shock to Cardinal nation, and to baseball fans everywhere. When a man who is only 22 years old passes away, it reminds us that death could come at any moment. I have to admit, while death is something I commonly deal with, I really had to process this one. Every time someone passes I reflect on my last memories with them. In this case, it was acknowledging that this wasn’t an injury, but he really passed away, and we will never see this Cardinal take the field again. It was saddening. Life can often feel too short as we process losing those we love. All too often I have sat with those who have lost those precious people.

This weekend we will celebrate All Saints Day. We take time to remember those in our congregation who passed this year. Many of us will reflect on the loved ones and friends who have passed.  As Pastor, I will do my best to bring God’s Word from one of the most challenging books in Scripture – Revelation. Revelation is one of those books pastors like to stay away from. It is challenging (even for us pastors) to understand all the significance. Yet, it is a reminder that while we will all face death as product of our sin, by trusting in Jesus, we will have His covering over our lives and receive the gift of eternity! To the world, All Saints Day might just look like a celebration of death and the lives that once lived, but as Christians, we celebrate the life to come and the celebration feast with our Savior!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Pray 1

We have a new fieldworker named Derek. He is married to my vicarage supervisor’s daughter. It has been along time since I was on vicarage (which is a year-long pastoral internship, for those not familiar with it). I’m not even sure I could call him my supervisor anymore. Now he is more of a friend. Relationships have always been important in my life. During vicarage, I was overly focused on whom I was going to marry. The people around me then had to hear girl story after girl story. I have no clue how they survived my preaching. Over the years, I have learned a lot from Scripture about my situation during those years. Since we are studying Jonah, I’ll share what I learned from him. 

Break-ups are a painful reality of any dating relationship, mine included. In each of my break-ups, the people around me watched me go into moments of deep sadness.  Sometimes I wondered if I could even go on. Certainly the conversations God and I had during these times were not great. I was impatient and expected Him to respond quickly.

While this may not be your story (because you aren’t crazy like me about overthinking the relationships in your life), there are things that are tough for each of us. One of the most challenging things is to see God’s grace for us when we feel like He is giving it away too freely to others. In the past, I would look at some of my friends who had made mistakes in their relationships and wonder why God let them marry the ones they loved, but not me. With jealous eyes, all I could see or think of was that they were not getting consequences fitting of their actions. These may not be the things we say out loud, but the thoughts in our head go to places like that; places that even cause us to contemplate not wanting to go on in life, or wanting to start all over.  In those times and places, our conversations with God are very important. This week we learn the whole reason Jonah ran from God was because He knew God would forgive Ninevah. He just knew God would do that. Jonah didn’t want to see that happen. Jonah wanted God’s grace for himself. In my sermon prep reading this week, one author said that people rarely psycho-analyze Biblical characters – assigning problems, thoughts and feelings that they may have dealt with.  In this case, there were deep thoughts and feelings behind Jonah’s wrestling. Some of it was just selfish, and some of it probably had to do with Jonah’s past.

The power of Jonah 4 is the way Jonah communicates with God. He is not afraid to say anything to God. He knows that God knows his deepest and darkest sins. Jonah communicates his frustration with God, and even shows Him silence. Jonah knows that open communication is important with God. Jonah even is willing to say that it is better that he die than live. You may be asking yourself, “Why is this good?” The answer is simple. It is all about the rights and wrongs of B1. I feel the greatest reason people struggle with praying out loud is because they are afraid to say something wrong. We have some feeling or idea that our loving God will be disappointed with our communication with Him. The answer is that He already knows our struggles! We’ve seen Jonah’s prayers.  What do we have to be afraid of? My heart as a pastor is to help the disciples of Christ, those extraordinary servants of Mt. Calvary, pray out loud trusting the Holy Spirit to guide their words.  That means you. Don’t let the devil put thoughts and fears of praying out loud in your head. Sure, there is a lot about Jonah that we could question, but there is something about Pray 1 to be taken as well. Jesus wants us to be able to communicate with Him always. Those moments we have to Pray 1 out loud with others are a great gift.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Read 1

When I was a young boy I showed evidence of struggles with reading. Whenever I would read, my eyes would skip to the next line. By the time they caught this and I got my reading glasses, I was already behind and reading at a lower grade level than the other kids. Somehow I was able to keep up in school and make all A’s, (typical first born behavior). I was finding a way to please my teachers in spite of my weakness. The school said they couldn’t do anything for me because I had figured out how to compensate. Compensate is exactly what I did; I spent the rest of my school days doing just that. I would find ways to try and speed up my reading to keep up with other students. The public school where I started as a freshman in high school wasn’t too bad, but Lutheran High KC was much tougher. Then came college and Seminary, and I wonder how I made it through with all the reading I had to do. Still today, the challenges that come along with reading are frustrating to me. I am not complaining; I know I have other things that come easier. I knew I had to keep facing these challenges and find ways to work with and around them, especially since reading plays a key role in growing in faith. Over time, I have found ways to read that work for me, and not all of it is flat out reading the Bible verse by verse.   I have Bible reading plans on my phone & other materials related to faith. I listen and talk to other pastors and professors as I’m prepping for sermons, blogs, and Bible studies. Before I was leading the young adult group, I was participating in a men’s Bible study, and Mindy and I participated in a small group for families.  Oh yeah, and I read the Beginner’s Bible to my kids most every night.
What is the point? This week is “Read 1”. We debated if one verse was enough for our discipleship model, but I knew that making it one chapter might be too much for some of our first time members. I really wanted our discipleship model to be thematic (maybe it’s the way I’m built or the influence of my youth).  It just fit better if all the key points were 1’s. Besides that, I didn’t want it to feel legalistic, like the model I grew up in. I wanted people to read the Word of God and the Gospels with great joy.  Thus, we kept it at Read 1: reading 1 verse each day.

Read 1 relates not just to the discipleship model, but also to Jonah. One of Jonah’s issues with Read 1 was not believing it would work. At that time, God’s Word was communicated orally.  Perhaps you could say that “Read 1” could also be called “Listening 1”. In Jonah’s day, the prophets were called to communicate the promise to the people, and Jonah was a prophet. His oral presentation was very important. Jonah had the idea that if he preached just half way, or half-heartedly, then there was no way the people of Ninevah would believe. Much to Jonah’s shock – they did! God’s Word worked despite Jonah’s meager attempt to share it. This is the amazing thing about God’s Word! It is living and cuts through the hearts of men! As a pastor, I wonder when and how this is going to happen, but then it does, and it’s amazing! As Jesus’ disciples, we get to keep listening to God, reading His Word, and preparing to share it. We trust He will do the work when we share His words with the Ninevah’s of this world.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Love 1

Sometimes the shocking thing about being a parent is watching how your love comes through to your kids. Most days as a parent, I think Mindy and I are just making it by. Sure, we are intentional about teaching them God’s love, but some days we wonder how it will translate. Gavin is our most temperamental kid.  When we discipline him, he will usually give us some kind of shocking face. Often, it seems like he wants to punish us for punishing him. He will run to his room, or even tell me I am a bad daddy. We never know what we are going to get with that kid. However, Gavin is also my most loving kid. He is the one that will give his mom back rubs, and come in at night to give me a kiss. A lot of his personality is far from my understanding. He functions, reacts, and responds differently than I do. My greatest challenge is to learn about Gavin and understand the middle child. My wife and my brother were middle children, and I watch how Gavin is similar to them. As his father, I seek out ways to love him. Lately, I have had the huge blessing of spending more time with him.  When Jacob started Kindergarten and began leaving for school with Mindy, I missed Jacob’s leadership and guidance at home showing the other kids what to do. Soon I realized that this gave me more time with Gav.  Rather than doing his own thing and letting me do mine, getting everyone’s stuff together to go, he wants to check in and help.  He wants to carry around his lunch box rather than keeping it on the counter where I have things gathered.  He wants to sit and watch Sportscenter with me instead of playing.  These first few months of preschool have allowed me to see unique pieces of his heart, and I am learning how to love him instead of expecting him to be like Jacob, or me. 
This may sound harsh, but it’s our “unique” personalities that God loves when He loves 1, or loves us. He embraces us the way we are and loves us, so that we can love others.
What does this have to do with Jonah? Well, we finally get to that big fish. As we talk about the big fish, we are really talking about God’s love for His prophet. The more you get into Jonah’s story, the more you wonder why God kept using this guy. Couldn’t He have found someone better than Jonah to go speak to these people? Maybe God knew, since He is omniscient and all, that only Jonah was going to break through to Ninevah. Here is something else to think about. God had a lot of prophets, and they were all very different. They each had some quirk that made them “unique”, and yet God used all of them.

The biggest piece for us this weekend is embracing the idea that “The Rights and Wrongs of Love 1” have more to do with letting God love us and shape how He uses us. Being human, we don’t want anyone to see our flaws, even though we know that every single person has them. God, who comes to forgive us, re-shapes our flaws, which then translates into uniqueness to work for His glory. God took stubborn, crazy Jonah, who was selfish on most days and even wanted to die, and used him to redeem a city. Not only that, God used the reference of Jonah inside the fish to relate to Jesus’ redemption for you and me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Worship 1

Every year in October we will go over the discipleship model. Yes, I said every year. I remember when Mindy and I had a conversation about this. She asked me if I was really going to preach on the discipleship model every year, and I responded yes.  It is not just a whim; I have spent time thinking through this decision and why this is important. I don’t know about you, but a million thoughts run through my head every day.  One moment I can be thinking about one of my friends, and then I’ll see something and my mind changes directions. If I don’t respond to that person or thought right away, it may be gone. Even a passionate feeling about a subject, thought, or conversation can be lost if I don’t act on it in that moment. Now, I know some things are good to sleep on. Sometimes we are so emotional that we need time to cool down and check our emotions at the door. Yet other times if something is not fresh on our minds, we forget it.
Having a good memory has always been one of my strengths.  Images I see and make are burned into my head forever. I rely on them for many things, from preaching, to blogs, and of course – conversations. Having said that, there are times when something slips my mind. If events, discussions, and details are not kept in the forefront of my mind, they can be lost. Advertising has always intrigued me because it is used to help us remember things they want us to know. They are the best at jingles, images, and statements that are forever stuck in our minds. McDonalds has brought back Monopoly over and over again. People never get tired of trying to win a million dollars. McDonalds just switches the menu items they put on their monopoly pieces so you try different things. Hardee’s has chosen to be the most sexually explicit of all the fast food chains, and they never tire of telling us how they make their biscuits from scratch every day. This is not just with fast food. One of my favorite commercials right now is Nationwide. I love when Peyton Manning is humming the jingle even while he eats his chicken parmesan sandwich.  Progressive never gets tired of showing you Flo and her latest idea, and the little Gecko from Geico reminds us of saving money in 15 minutes or less. What’s my point?
Why we are so concerned about going over something again, or in this case, year after year, in the church? Are we going to let the commercials win out over God’s message to stay connected to Him? This is why we take time to go through the discipleship model time and time again. October is a great time to do it as we are settling into our fall routines. Recently, one of the discussions in ministry council was how we tend to focus on the right and wrong way to Worship 1, Love 1, Read 1 and Pray 1. This gives us a great opportunity to learn from Jonah.  Jonah had to learn the rights and wrongs of discipleship as God called him to extraordinary servanthood. The next several weeks we will discuss the discipleship model and how it played out in Jonah’s life. He had very real struggles that are similar to our own battles with the discipleship model. This weekend we begin with Worship 1. Jonah certainly wanted to worship God in his own way. God spent time reforming Jonah to help him understand what he was missing in worship. I pray that we will see God’s deep connection with us in worship as well, despite our mistakes and failures.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Taking on the form of a servant

I have found that at different times in my life I have picked different people to emulate. There was something about each of them that I liked and I wanted to “take on their form”. For example, I love singer/song writer John Mayer and his way of talking about life in his lyrics. He speaks of having a quarter-life crisis (as opposed to a mid-life crisis), understanding the heart of life, of how fear is misunderstood, of stopping this train of life, and having to grow up. Because of my passion for life and relationships, I want to articulate words in that unique and special way too. Sure Mayer’s character has boldly shown his flaws like his lyrics boldly speak of life. But I wanted to “take on his form” of communication. At other times I wanted to “take on the form” of those that were athletically driven, those that were health conscience or financially wise, and the list could go on. These may all sound like models, and they are, but “taking on their form” is important for our discussion this week.
A form is the shape or configuration of something. Configured is usually a term we use for cars, video games, or our computer, but configuring ourselves means thinking through the things that define us and how we are made. This is why when we look at different “forms” of people we have a tendency to draw conclusions of what we like or don’t like about them. Since each of us have different interests, different forms are found in many different facets of life. That’s why when we talk about Jesus emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant, it is a challenging concept. It is challenging because most forms, models, or configurations are upgrades, but in this case, it seems to be more of a downgrade.
One of the greatest debates on the Philippians 2 passage for this week has been around the Greek word for “empty”. Some have questioned whether the section of verse 7 that says “…but emptied himself…” means that Jesus gave up His deity or lost His nature of God. Theologically, we know this is not correct. There are so many ways Jesus shows us He is still God while He was on earth, but this does bring up an important point in understanding this passage. He had to empty himself. He had to humble himself, to take on the human nature and the form of a servant. He came down, giving up His high status, to be in the form of a humble servant. These are powerful lines as we compare it to our nature and drive. Jesus’ form of a servant means a rescuing power for us. We are no longer bonded to our selfish nature to make ourselves better. We now can take on the form of becoming a servant to others. This weekend we’ll spend time talking about how that change in form, or change in configuration, takes place.  Jesus’ powerful work is now alive in us and His emptying is the filling that we needed.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Waging War

In college when I went back to work at Petco, it was easy to pass judgment (like we talked about last week). I had made the choice to work, but I realized that many of my co-workers didn’t have that choice. They had to work. Also, I had more education than most of them, and often worked harder. I was even commended for the way I turned the cans to show the label. All these things, and more, could have supported the thought that I deserved to be paid more than most of them.

In California on the way down to Laguna Beach, Mindy and I would see workers waiting at a certain spot to get picked up for work. Trucks would stop, pick up the number of workers they needed for the day, and head off to their job site. I am pretty sure none of them cared what the others got paid; they all just wanted to work. They were desperate to feed their families and to take care of their needs. When you are desperate you have less time to worry about what others are getting. They were all in the same boat and on an even playing field.

I think this is one of the most powerful pieces of the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard from Matthew 20. The disciples were asking Jesus about order and who gets what when Jesus tells this parable. I think they knew this concept – most people needing work are not worried about what others are getting paid, especially when they are desperate.  All you want is your need to be filled.

If you look far enough back in my Facebook pictures you will find me handing Bibles out to kids in Belize. I remember how desperate they were to hear the Gospel. They loved the knowledge of Jesus. They loved it because most of their worlds were full of parents who were promiscuous and often had little time for their kids. The parents often turned to substances to escape their life. Sadly, if you went just down from the village you would find beautiful condos built for tourists who certainly couldn’t understand that desperation.
The thing about sin is that we are all desperate.  When we finally come under the covering of God’s grace, it is a relief – a need fulfilled. Jesus needed to get His disciples back to that desperation. He needed to remind them of where they were when they started. He needed them to stop waging war about titles or wages, and move into the place of grace. This weekend I pray we all move into that place of grace.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Passing Judgment

Every day our world gets better and better at passing judgment. This week was a week when most football fans rejoiced that the NFL is back in full swing.  Yet it was also a week where a star player was faced with public ridicule. Of course the crime was horrible. It was painful to see the abuse Ray Rice’s fiancé suffered.  The interesting part was listening to the sports writers and regular news people talk about who is to blame. Some have asked the NFL commissioner to step down. I even heard it said that ESPN is to blame because it is like a gossip magazine for guys. Men get sucked into the drama and can’t wait to see what happens next. I have to admit I fall into this category as I watch the sports news. Right now the world waits to see what judgment is passed and to hear the reactions.
This happens every day of our life – people passing judgment on others. The truth is, most of us worry about it even when nobody is talking. We worry what others will think. How will that judgment affect my life? Ray Rice thought his judgment was already passed until the rest of his video came out. The reality is, if people had video of the ins and outs of our lives the headlines and news stories would not be so good either. They might not be as tragic as the Ray Rice video, but it would certainly show our struggles and sins.
In his wisdom, Paul begins to teach us about this in Romans. He helps people understand the judgment we pass and how often we find ourselves talking about others. Paul helps us see areas we need to work on and how we need to stay focused on our relationship with Jesus.
Here is the great thing. After seeing the video of our lives, Jesus could have come in and passed judgment. Instead, He passed on passing judgment and took our judgment on Himself for us. Amazing how a world caught up in this passing judgment thing is missing the solution! This weekend we focus on how God’s passing judgment is just what we need.