Friday, February 28, 2014

Wanna Get Away

These commercials by Southwest Airlines always amuse me.  Recently they had some odd commercials of people racecar driving and performing other events. The company moved from portraying vacation spots and awkward moments to unique experiences.  No matter what happens in life there are always moments from which we want to get away.  There are things in all of our lives that give us pain and struggles.  They are products of sin, and therefore moments from which we want to escape. 
            Just this week I was at Walmart, standing in line to pay, when Jacob reminded me that he had to go to the bathroom.  Because the bathroom was right in front of me, I said, “Just go!  I will be right here.”  As I finished paying, there was no sight of Jacob.  So I looked in the bathroom and could not see him.  I freaked out and left my cart to find him.  I did remember, even in panic mode, that sometimes he goes to the video games if I am in the checkout isle.  And he knows that I am usually able to see him from there.  Sure enough, that’s where I found him.  At that point, my mind eased, but then I started second-guessing that whole situation.  Should I allow him to do things like go to the bathroom on his own?  As we walked out of the store, I was talking to Mindy on the phone about our house when Gavin started running.  I yelled at him just in time to stop him before he was only a few feet away from being hit by a car.  By all means this was my worst trip to Walmart in a long time.  I just wanted to get away.  I thought through all the potential repercussions of both of those events.  Things for the most part seem to be going well in our lives, but I thought about how either of those circumstances could have completely impacted our family.
            On the Mount of Transfiguration, a few of the apostles caught a glimpse of the glory of God.  They immediately wanted to get away from this life, build tents, and stay up there.  It is amazing to realize the glory and forgiveness of God, which reminds us that there will be a final get away to Heaven.  This weekend we reflect on the Mount of Transfiguration and the Glory of God.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Questions and Answers

They asked my friend over and over again about words that rhyme.  They picked everything from dog and cat to root beer and shirt.  There was no real method to their madness.  But it soon became apparent that this was a never-ending game.  As cute as these moments can be, they eventually lose their luster, and at least in my mind, I contemplate when the boys will really understand how to rhyme.  This is not a criticism--more my relational side trying to figure out how we ever learn how to rhyme in the first place.  What part of our brain finally gets this?
The other day we were hanging out with one of my friends when the boys began the rhyming game.
            I wonder if it is this kind of logic that causes us to doubt whether we can ask questions as Christians.  I think at some point in our faith walk–just like in school--there is that fear that we are expected to just know certain things like rhyming, or other skills.  I will not deny any truth in that, but I think the thing about giving Christians questioning permission is that there will always be questions and they will always be ok to ask.
            One of my favorite parts of being a youth pastor was answering questions. For the most part, youth didn’t have this fear that they were expected to know things, so they felt free to ask questions.  It was fun to dig into the different pieces of Scripture.  I am always looking for the part of Scripture where I ponder why God said that. Those are the things that keep blogs and sermons coming with new themes.  All of this type of question and answer is a beautiful and amazing thing with God.  We will never really grasp Scripture in its entirety, or have a complete understanding of Jesus until we are in Heaven.  So until then, we continue to ask questions and seek the answers from our Lord and Savior.
            This weekend Dan Bodin, one of our fieldworkers, will help us think through some questions and answers on a parable.  Hopefully some of those questions will be the ones that we have wanted to ask.  But either way, it will remind us once again that just like two little boys playing the rhyming game, our Father in Heaven always wants us to ask questions and learn more.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tough Topics

One thing I was constantly stressing over while I was in youth ministry was having conversations on tough topics.  No matter the subject--sex, cussing, friends, drugs, or whatever--these are hard conversations to have.  Often people wanted the youth ministry silver bullet.  They were often disappointed when there wasn’t one.  These issues developed from the pains of sin in this life, and the only way to get through them was to have challenging talks about the growth of the Holy Spirit and God’s guidance.  The more these topics are in the air, the better they are more readily discussed.  Ready discussion is important because it means when the situation arises the person is willing to talk about it.  I realize it is much easier to set up rules, and ways to follow them, and hope they are never breeched.  But the truth is that one way or another a difficult subject will arise, and whether your kid, spouse, or friend is willing to talk to you is the question.  If we portray ourselves as flawless and put up a front, we find that those conversations won’t happen, and will only create a further struggle.
            A few weeks ago I was preparing for worship with help of a faithful extraordinary servant.  This person looked at me and asked what lesson I was going to teach this week.  The Gospel reading focused on murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths.  The question was asked, “Are you going to preach on those topics?”  I drew back for a second and thought about it.  “Yeah,” I said.  “Wow,” was the response.  It made me think for a minute and second guess myself.
            Growing up we had two ways of responding to many of these tough topics. My dad was “hard nosed and in my face.”  My mom was a “lead by example” person.  I am not sure either of these examples was great, but somehow they created a balance in my brother, sisters and me.  Of course we look to Jesus for the ultimate example—the one who is ready to talk about it, and obviously the one who is ready to lead by example.
            Someone once said to me, “If you set high goals, there is a greater chance that your kids will meet your expectations.”  At first I didn’t agree with that, because of the legalistic way my dad handled many of these tough topics.  But through time and being a father to my own kids, I understand the comment outside of my history.  My expectations are high for my kids, but I also attempt to set my love at a high standard.  What do I mean?   Mindy’s family is a big clan.   A couple times when we have been out to eat with our extended family, Abby has been all over the place and has a hard time sitting.  I realize that she is two, but I know what she is trained to do at home.  I expect her to sit.  The boys know my expectations and have learned to sit and talk with their cousins.  At home, if I find myself spending too much time preparing a meal and not enough time being engaged with my kids, I am critical of myself in the fact I need to make sure I am involved with them.  I say all this because Jesus knew that as we grew in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit would shape us to be His people.  And He was clear about what was and is expected of us.  At the same time, Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins.  His deep love is there to rescue us whenever we miss the mark.  Tough topics make us stronger, aware of our sin; and at the end of the day they draw us to the cross and to Jesus.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Backwards Growth

For whatever reason, Mindy had her shirt on backwards for a few months.  I looked at her and said, “Kris Kross will make you…” She had no clue what I was talking about.  At that point, I realized a key thing in our marriage: Mindy and I have some very opposite ways of thinking.  I love music, and constantly am enjoying the latest artist; curious to see where music will go next.  But you don’t forget an artist who wears his clothes backwards.  Backwards always stands out.  Chris Kelly from Kris Kross died this year.  I am not sure that you can call it backwards growth but he went from being famous at a young age to dying of a drug overdose.  It is odd to me that someone who has the presumed American dream can move in that direction.  I am pretty sure we would call this descent, not growth.
            As a kid wrestling with sin, I think I saw an end to it.  Sure, I knew the truth, but hopefully felt one day it would all be better.  I look at my life in the last six years, and see growth in my drive to be a better husband, father, and pastor.  I watch and listen to how people develop in growth, and I ask myself how I could improve.  I look at the discipline of athletes, friends, and many others to drive myself forward.  Yet, as good as I see what God is doing, there comes a point where I am faced with the same thing I faced as a kid.  I am hoping that one day I can alleviate all of my sinful nature.  Many say that I am constantly critical because I find myself critiquing all areas of my life.  I read this key line in my commentary by Gregory Lockwood, “Christian growth is, in contrast to all other growth, a growth downward in ever-increasing recognition of our own sin, our own guilt, our own death, our own condemnation.”
            Let’s put that in layman’s terms, and make it real.  One day my son Jacob will look at me and say, “Dad, why did you do this…?” He will point out one of my sins and ask me why I did that.  It is inevitable and unavoidable.  Trust me, I am not going to quit trying to not make it a reality, but it will happen.  No matter my hopes and dreams to avoid my parents’ mistakes and be different, I will leave the markings of my sin in this life, the life of my kids, my wife and even in the churches I serve. Before we focus on the sadness of this, the hope in this realization is the growth in clinging to the cross.
            It is here that we find that Jesus is the one who makes change happen in our lives.  And we look different because of the work that He and the Holy Spirit do by guiding us forward.  That is the fun part.  But it’s important to realize that we are going to see our sin, but there is an end to that realization which is called Heaven.  In eternity with Jesus we will no longer look at that sin. This weekend we will dive into the pieces Paul shares with the people of Corinth.  It blends into the Gospel reading of how the Pharisees were blinded by their belief that they could move their good works forward on their own.  Backwards Growth may sound funny at first, but it only brings us closer to understanding the intense need to have Jesus in our lives.