Wednesday, March 19, 2014

God's Peace

Back in Seminary my buddy Nate and I followed a common theme.  We always said ‘Peace!’ to one another.  Nate is a super cool pastor who lives in Florida.  One time, much to my mother’s dismay, we painted his Grandpa’s house.  His grandpa lived in Atlanta, and so after vicarage I headed to Atlanta to paint a house for a week.  My mom was not thrilled because it meant I was not coming home right away after being gone for a year.  You can imagine Atlanta in late July--it was blazing hot!  We would freeze drinks just to survive the heat.  The day always ended with a great meal and good conversations with his grandpa and grandma.  Sadly, his grandma just passed away, but the great news is that she is now living in God’s Peace.  One time I told Nate, “I get it, I know why you say ‘Peace.’  You are reminding me to go in God’s Peace.”  Nate was like, “No man, I say it because I am cool.”  Regardless, Nate is the whole reason I write God’s Peace at the end of my emails.  I didn’t want to write Blessings or Sincerely because I wanted something unique that showed that I actually cared what I sent to people.  Don’t read too much into that.  I want people to have blessings.  I am just not sure what blessings before my name means.  Am I saying I’ve got lots of blessings?  Am I making a statement that there are blessings out there so go get them?  Am I pronouncing blessings over you?  You catch my drift.
God’s Peace is something I am passionate about.  We don’t receive true peace anywhere else in the world.  There is nothing that can give us peace, but Jesus!  Some of my favorite moments in life are when I am reading Scripture, and I come across the deep understanding of God’s Peace.  We used to do a compline service at Concordia Chicago.  (It was Concordia River Forest in my day.)  During the service the lights were dimmed during the a cappella singing.   Then, in the still of the night, these words were said right before service ended, “My Peace I leave with you, My Peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27).  The power of Jesus’ words is always a reminder when I go searching for peace from the world. It’s plain to see, I am not going to find it.  I will find some false sense of peace in money, clothes, a job, a car, or something else, but it will never really give me peace forever.  The only place to find that kind of peace is with Jesus.  He came to restore us and give us His Peace.
Lent is a reflection on the deep cost of that peace.  Jesus had to fulfill the law and only through that fulfillment and His death and resurrection do we have peace.  So when my emails say God’s Peace, you know why.   The last thing I want to say to you that is more important than anything I wrote in my email is that I want you to have God’s Peace.  No matter what your situation in life is, God can make it peaceful.  Isn’t that crazy!  I am serious.  People look at me and say, “You have a five, a three, and a two year old?  Your house must be crazy!”  First off, I say, “It’s not that bad.  The boys are about to turn six and four.”  Then I get the eye rolls, along with such comments as, “That’s not that much better.”  But I wish those doubters could just see the picture of us reading the Bible before bed.  Abby comes and sits on my lap, and the boys sit on either side of me.  Most of the time there is peace.  They listen and point at the pictures and hear the story.  And if we get home late, and I decide to just pray with them they ask, “Why aren’t we reading the Bible tonight?”  We just started reading the Bible with Abby.  There was no way I was going to try and get a one year old to sit and listen to the Bible.  But she has been doing well with books lately, so we started.  It has changed the boys’ routine since Abby goes to bed before them, but they are getting used to it.  My point in all of this is that the one place where we can find peace after a crazy dinner, playtime, the fight with jammies, and all the questions, is in God’s Word.  We find peace at the end of the day with Jesus.  I want that for them for the rest of their lives.  And in my heart is the desire that the whole world would know that.  No matter the pain, heartbreak, illness, craziness, God gives peace.  He left His Peace for you so…God's Peace

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In Tune

By now, it is no hidden secret that I love music, but in a marriage, it is one of those things that you might forget to monitor with your spouse.  Let me explain.  In the old days, I was one of those people who made mix cds, and mix tapes, but now the current term is making playlists.  Either way, my romantic dating ways usually resulted in a mix of a variety of music.  I remember on one of my early dates with Mindy, we listened to mix CD while we talked.  Maybe at that time Mindy loved the love songs I liked.  Lately, there are the days when my constant music listening is an annoyance to her.  She will say, “Do you always have to listen to music?”  My answer is, “Yes!”  Test this theory out.  Many times, even on Sunday mornings, you can come into my office and still hear music playing, although I may already be in church or Bible study.  It is interesting to me that apparently I was not in tune with Mindy enough to ever think this would be an issue.  I thought, or maybe assumed, she loved music just as much as I did, but as time has gone on, I have realized that this is simply not the case.  Regardless, the soundtrack of my life goes on, and I try to be more in tune to when Mindy is getting annoyed and turn it off.
Jacob, who hears my music everyday of his life, has had more questions about it.  And Jacob and Gavin sometimes hear a song on repeat.  Often this works, and they love the song.  The other day I thought Gavin was saying something to me and I turned down my music and said, “What’s up buddy?” He said, “Turn it back up I was singing!”  But let’s not kid ourselves—there also have been times when they asked, “Dad can we listen to a new song?”  I believe that Jacob has become more in tune with me when he asked, “Why do you like music so much?”  This is an interesting question for a five year old to ask.  Apparently he is trying to understand what his dad is in tune with.  Funny how I missed the mark with my wife on figuring this out, but my five year old is seeking answers to this music connection in his dad.
This week Nicodemus, a man of the law who had all the answers, is coming to seek what this Messiah is in tune with.  What are the things that truly bring us to heaven?  When Jesus uses the metaphor that God’s Spirit is like the wind, it is a hard concept to grasp.  How can we ever be in tune with the wind?  The only way we know about wind is found by feeling it.  This is a much different explanation than what Nicodemus was getting from the men surrounding him.  They were teaching him to follow the Law, and that then they could know exactly where God’s Spirit was.  Jesus was teaching that such concepts as being born again, and God’s Spirit being like the wind, are difficult to grasp.  Instead, Jesus taught that His righteousness comes through in such a unique way, and that the Love of God is there by His example and by His fulfillment of giving righteousness to all men.  One of the most famous passages of Scripture is found in John 3:16, but how many times is this passage used in context?  How many times do we realize who is really seeking the answer from Jesus?  In this Lenten season we spend time learning to focus and grow in tune with our Lord and Savior.  And while some things will still be a mystery, the foundation of His love and promise are not a mystery at all.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Know How to Stop

As a teenager at my dad’s house, we used to pick at each other somewhat playfully.  I am sure no one had any bad intentions, but whenever one plays this game, there is usually some unpleasant truth in every joke.  We would hit my dad the hardest for his balding and for wearing jeans with holes in them.  I know this may seem odd to you because you have seen me wearing jeans with holes in them.  (This is where God’s foreknowledge is amazing, and I am sure He finds great humor in this.)  At some point this joke would go too far, and eventually hit home.  My most vulnerable area involved the fine motor skills in my hands.  My dominant right hand is the leader and my left hand will follow.  This is pretty obvious when I scratch.  If I don’t intentionally hold my left hand in place, it will follow the right hand’s lead.  Let’s just say I could never rub my head and pat my tummy at the same time.  It was more a rub pat that turned out to be a double rub pat.  Anyway, I think I took my hits with good humor because I knew I threw them out as well.  I was quick to use my creativity to find jokes that would get my dad.  So when it was my turn to get teased, I knew I deserved it.   
            A few years ago I was working with one of my youth leader friends who said, “Oh, Pastor Will, you and your hands.”  I kind of shrunk back and said, “I know it’s weird.”  They protested, “No, it’s totally you, and that’s unique.”  I realized the pains of my childhood were surfacing from a friend’s comment, even though he had no ill intentions for me.  This past week I went to a parenting session on how to help write a good story with your kids.  John was a lawyer and his session was very detailed and rule oriented, but he brought up some good points.  One of the rules in John’s house is, “Know how to stop!”  He explained further, “We teach our kids to stop horsing around before the other kids do, and then they won’t get in trouble.  They may miss out on 30 seconds of fun, but then they won’t face punishment.  We tell them if they know how to stop, they can enjoy life, but they need to know when to call it quits.”  Had my family observed this rule, some of the heartbreak of singling out our uniqueness could have been prevented.
            A common theme from the Bible is everything in moderation.  Most people have no clue where this comes from.  Philippians 4:5 is the verse; and, no, it does not say it exactly.  But this concept of enjoying things in life, but knowing when to stop, is the thinking behind a verse like this.  Temptation often catches us off guard; that’s how the devil likes to work.  Ben Rector, a singer/song writer once said, “Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus.”  His point was that something that God intended for enjoyment can easily be interpreted in a twisted way, or by our not knowing how to stop, or that we justify it in our own minds.
            This weekend we spend time hearing how Jesus handled temptation.  This is truly the theme of the Lenten season.  It is a great time to come back and examine our lives.  On Wednesday we said, “Return to the Lord.”  All too often we think we’ve achieved this, and start walking as Extraordinary Disciples who are following the discipleship model.  Lent brings us back to the moment when we need to discover the areas in which God is bringing us back to return to Him, and receive His grace once again.
            The weekends I spent with my dad were often enjoyable, and sometimes our teasing was great fun.  We laughed a lot and created a lot of great memories, but if only we had known how to stop, it could have been a lot better.  This week we stare into the face of temptation.  Is Jesus teaching us to learn how to stop?  Is He asking us to return to Him in any area of our lives?