Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moving Forward

Last year pitcher Jason Motte needed surgery.  It was a huge loss to watch our World Series closer take a back seat, and be put on the injured list.  Because of that situation, the Cardinals had no choice but to move forward.  Trevor Rosenthal stepped in and filled that huge need.  As it turned out, the loss of Motte didn’t seem like such a devastating loss because of Trevor’s remarkable ability.  I was thrilled to see a man, who grew up not far from where I lived as a boy, take over and bring us back to the World Series.  This year an interesting thing happened:  A healthy Jason Motte returned, and it was a very successful return as he went through two innings without missing a beat.  Now the Cardinals ultimately have two closers at their disposal!  This is a wonderful thing, and reminds us that we must always move forward.  Two years ago very few of us could have anticipated that Rosenthal would take Motte’s spot.  And that ‘s the funny thing.  Because if we just had a glimpse of the future--like Trevor becoming the closer--we wouldn’t have believed it without having the background knowledge that Motte would get injured.  The Cardinals had to move forward and so do we.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, the physical presence of the Savior of the world was eliminated.  It had to be difficult for the people to understand this new situation.  It was one of those moments when they knew their lives were forever changed.  They were going to have to move forward without Jesus, and after being with Him for three years, they were just getting comfortable having Him there all the time. Then it all changed.  We so often think what a powerful event the Ascension had to have been, but there also must have been much sadness along with the need to prepare for moving forward.

God gets us ready to move forward no matter the situation.  Whether it’s a pre-school director who has been with us for over 30 years, or Leslie’s familiar voice when she answers Mt. Calvary’s phone, God prepares us to move forward.  My prayer is that while we are embracing change over the next several months, God will also help us to make that forward move.  I know these times will be challenging, but I am confident that God will provide everything we need to move forward.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Embracing Change

When Mindy and I originally made our decision to put our house on the market, we wondered how to price it.  Mindy was so ready to move on from the house she lovingly refers to as the tic-tac.  We knew there were things that detracted from a house without a basement, so we began to question how well it would sell.  But then I began to think through the improvements we had made to the house, so I began to have good memories of it.  When we moved in, there was a huge tree between my neighbor’s house and ours.  In the beginning, our landscape amounted to little or nothing.  Our early furniture consisted of bad couches and pieced-together furniture.  Slowly through time, we acquired various items and furniture that looked more suitable for our house.  We inherited TV’s that progressively got newer, even though we hadn’t officially purchased one yet.  As we prepared our house to be sold by updating things, I began to really look at this house that held so many memories.  I got more sentimental about why we bought it in the first place.  And, as it would happen, our buyer had similar feelings about our house.  He was a first time buyer ready to find the perfect place, and he was not worried about the lack of extra space.  Currently our family is experiencing great excitement about finding a new place, but at the same time, we are mindful that it will involve change.  We had a huge yard for the kids to run and play in at our previous house.  We had neighbors with whom we had built relationships.  We lived close to family.  We were near our grocery store and pharmacy.  On many days we could walk to the store or our little park.  Costco, one of my favorite places to frequent, was less than a mile away.  By now you know I am systematic and those little things are important to me.  No matter how great a new house might be, we know we will have to readjust.  Things as simple as our mortgage payment, electricity, gas, and so on, will require budget changes.

Change is inevitable, but the question is how to respond to it.  When we think about things like new houses, we perceive that as good change.  When we talk about someone leaving us we see that as negative change.  We put a perspective on change.  The truth is, no matter what we change we will have to embrace what it means for the future.  As we are going through change, we are processing how it will be different and how it will feel.  We find comfort in things we can count on, and we rely on the things we know will remain the same.  This weekend we discuss how some of the people felt as they began to hear the teaching of Paul.  His change and how he presented it was unique.  The people responded to it with questions and confusion, but Paul tried to emphasize the positive part of change.  The only problem for us is that we can only realize that positive side of change when we see today for what it is, grieve the loss, and embrace the change.  Then we really are prepared to embrace change, which helps us to get ready for the next stages.

During my first call there was a guy who walked me through all kinds of stages of ministry.  He understood the culture of California, was a great support person, and did many things for me.  I grew close to his family, and we had great times together.  As time went on, it became clear that it was time for him to leave.  As he departed, I realized that even in such a short amount of time he provided a great foundation for me, but embracing that change was really hard.  This morning I was reflecting on where God took him.  Embracing that change meant knowing God would provide for both of us.  He would bring other support systems into my life, and He would also provide other people that my friend would serve.  No matter what change we experience, embracing it is difficult.  This week we process through embracing that change.  We take last week’s lesson and blend it with this week’s, because part of the change was the one that caused the people loss.  We talk through how embracing changes in life prepare us for God’s work in our lives.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Grieving Loss

Recently, I have taken a ride back into history.  Something that keeps coming across my computer screen highlights some historic foods.  The McD Lt was one of those iconic foods we can’t forget.  I recently asked my father-in-law if he remembered them, and he said, “Of course!”   If you don’t recall, it was the Mc Donald’s burger you fixed yourself.  There was a burger on one side and lettuce and tomato on the other to keep it cool.  I remember watching my parents eat it and wondering if I could get it also.  But when Styrofoam was determined to be bad for the environment, this tasty treat was taken off the market.  The other items on some of these lists were Pudding Pops, Ecto Cooler and Squeeze-Its.

Every Friday my grade school sold Pudding Pops, and I always tried to remember to bring money so I could buy one.  Those are certainly some things my generation will never forget.  With that in mind, it is also interesting to me that Squeeze-Its and Ecto Cooler couldn’t survive the next generation, which didn’t know or appreciate them.  Yet for those who do remember them, it is like a journey back in time to reminisce about those childhood memories.  These are just things my kids will never know or understand.

My point is that if we grieve over tiny things like a burger that ultimately you can still get, but just not in the same way; imagine how much we can grieve over other things.  Any loss of something connected to us creates pain.  The greater the connection, the deeper the pain; and potentially the longer the process becomes in order to deal with it.  There are grief support groups to help people dealing with the loss of loved ones, and there are even groups for people who have lost their jobs.  We can’t deny what loss does to us.  It is hard to embrace and accept that part of change.  Grief is a natural thing we can’t stop, but it also can be paralyzing if we hold onto it too long.

This weekend our congregation prepares to say goodbye to someone who has been with us for over 30 years.  Deb has been a key part of our mission, our vision and our church.  As we bid farewell to Deb, there is no doubt that we will feel loss.  This weekend we take step one as we prepare for her departure.

When God’s people lost Stephen, a man so highly regarded, it had to be difficult for them.  No doubt their loss and grief was immense.  The bond is even tighter when that person helps to guide and direct you in faith, like Deb and Stephen.  While we grieve we look to Jesus, our source of hope and peace, and are reminded of the way He constantly takes care of us.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Seeing Today for What it is

Every time I have faced change in my life, the first requirement has always been seeing today for what it is.  I am sure people could argue with me that I must first grieve.  But honestly, how can we grieve if we don’t truly see today for what it is?  We get stuck in a merry-go-round of grief if we don’t see today for what it is.

When I went to college I missed being home.  There was a bond I had with my mom because of our relationship, and what my family had been through.  There were days when I felt alone.  I had this feeling in my gut that things just didn’t feel right.  The problem was that I couldn’t get over it.  I would call home hoping that would fix it, but I found that didn’t help.  I would eat something that reminded me of home and discover that didn’t cure it.  Then I would cry, or mope and it still wouldn’t get any better.  All along I was missing the whole point.  I was looking for a solution when I hadn’t determined what the issue was.  I couldn’t see today for what it was.  I had dreamed of college.  I wanted this experience, but I couldn’t enjoy it because of this feeling in my gut.  I couldn’t find peace because I wasn’t willing to see today.  Being in college meant that my family and I were going to be apart, and that   the security, peace and comfort of my surroundings were gone.  Years later I experienced the same feeling again as I went on vicarage/internship.  I remember how I felt as Mom and Rod pulled away from my apartment in Chattanooga.  I did the same thing--I moped, and cried, and ate, and called.  It was like I had fallen into the same pattern.  And Rod, in his very fatherly voice, asked, “Why do you feel so alone?   You have the girlfriend that you always wanted, and you are doing ministry. What’s your problem?”

How could I have the same feelings with the settings, time, age, and stage in life all being different?  I missed the point--I wasn’t seeing today for what it was.  This was about me. This was about me understanding who God created me to be. This was about asking myself, “Where do I find comfort?”  I even remember after looking back after my college days, and thinking there was something I loved about those first weeks of independence.  I even valued the feelings of loneliness.  But looking back, I couldn’t even see that day for what it was.  If I did, I would have discovered what made me tick.  I would have seen what God created me to be.

Since we are living with my in-laws temporarily, my kids come in and watch TV in Mindy’s and my room while I get ready and then get them ready for the day. We eat breakfast first, pack lunches, and then head upstairs.  But they know Dad is going to make the bed before they can get up on it and watch TV.  My kids realize that this is the way Dad operates.  My systems have to be in place for me to feel peace.  What changed for me in college and on vicarage/internship?

When my college life developed into systems, I found peace.  That was true when my clothes were organized, my stereo in the right place, my church choice made, and I knew who I could talk with about life.  The same thing happened on vicarage, when I knew what I time I worked out everyday, what my work hours were, when I had my apartment organized, and who I called when I needed to talk, I felt comfortable.  I was missing the point both times.  I didn’t understand what was making me have that uneasy feeling in my gut.  I believed it was based upon a setting, place, or people.  But I missed how to see what was happening to me today and I misdiagnosed how to address it.
As we begin a series on change, I don’t want us to miss the fact that this happens to all of us in multiple contexts even if we resist it.  Life changes quickly, and understanding the way God made each of us helps to provide the peace we need to see today for what it is, and embrace the changes God has for us.  The disciples of Christ knew after three years with Jesus that His death and resurrection were turning points.   And while our text will lead us to believe that all was good with them, they were seeing today for what it was and preparing for the change ahead.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


I used to confirm about a hundred kids every year.  It involved a massive amount of detailed work to make it all come out right.  I remember the first year I was printing all those little slips of paper for the other pastors who were helping me.  I went from writing papers and practicing sermons to drinking from the fire hose of prepping youth for their faith life in Jesus.  Yet, from my own personal Confirmation Sunday to those in which I have officiated as pastor, all have been special.  There are certain kids who tell me that they still have their confirmation pictures in their rooms as we posed together on that special day.  Yet, the joy for me comes from those relationships, because l always wanted to be a pastor who could nurture these associations.  I often would get lost in the sea of kids while I tried to learn about their lives, and discover how to care for their individual needs.  Yet, every year there were certain kids whose stories were so clear in my head.

Some of the stories were painful as I reflected on the horrible relationships they had with their parents.  Others had caused their own painful stories by making poor choices.  Happily, those who had loving parents seemed to fit the model so well, and develop strong faith lives.  So often we can look at other faith stories and imagine how much better their story has been than our own.  I have often looked at my mentors and pastors whom I loved, and wondered if they handled things better than I have.  Yet, the truth is that every faith story is a journey, and every confirmation is another step on that journey.

As the Church, our goal is to love those confirming their faith; to encourage them for the work they have done; and to pray for them as they step into this challenging world.  No matter if the number of confirmands is 1 or 100, this day is something the Church needs to hold in high regard.  The work these youth put in to successfully arrive at this day is amazing.  And as a church, we stand by Emma this week as she shares her faith with us.

The beauty of this is that I know Emma’s story.  Over the last several weeks I have had a chance to talk with her about her experiences at Christian camps.  I’ve had the opportunity to discuss communion with her.  Unlike in the days when my grandpa was the confirming pastor, it doesn’t have to be scary to prove to me that you know your stuff.  In this day and age we look at the confirmand and say, “I am delighted that you have dedicated time and effort to do this.  I am glad you know your Savior and your faith.”  It presents a moment to look that young person in the eye and let them know you care.

Emma chose Hebrews 11:1 as her confirmation verse.  We read the whole section this week in our Epistle reading.  This account is all about those people of faith in earlier times, and how they shared their faith in the lives of others.  We are all Extraordinary Servants sharing our lives with the people we touch.  Now we send out Emma to do the same thing.  This week we are offered an opportunity to pass on the torch of faith, and describe how it has impacted our lives.  Our prayer is that it will impact Emma’s story in a similar but unique way.