Thursday, June 26, 2014

Titles, Fame, and the Like


 As a boy, and even as young man, I looked at people with titles as being powerful and unique in so many ways.  There is also intelligence, which gives someone a great basis for his or her particular field.  Of course there is also pure talent--people who are superbly gifted in certain ways.  Tony Gwynn, who passed last week said, “I knew I was given good eyes and quick hands . . .” Titles are awarded through work, talent, and intelligence.  And finally, there is fame, which has too many factors to list.  Regardless, all of these things add up to involve people we look up to at some point in our lives.  The truth is, of course, that we all possess some of these attributes. We all have talents, gifts, and intelligence.  The wild card of fame all depends on how you define it.  We sum it up by describing celebrities or people who enjoy some form of being in the spotlight.

I used to think that fame was some sort of escape.  It seemed like people who were famous or rich had some way of avoiding the tragedies of this life.  But now all I have to do is look at the magazines that invade my house to see that is not true. One famous person is in rehab; another is depressed; and new stories are published in magazines every week about some famous person’s problems.  One show that definitely gave me a fresh look on this was a show called, “Broke.”  “Broke” was all about how famous athletes go broke after their careers end.  One example of this is fairly well known to St. Louisans through the Matheny story.  People talk these athletes, who had tons of money, into business opportunities.  The problem is, that for most of them, their money needs to last them from the time they retire in their 30s throughout their entire lives.  That situation made me think about car depreciation ever since our purple car bit the dust.  The second that a car is driven off the lot, it depreciates immensely.  This means every athlete, or car collector like Jay Leno, could be involved in things that decrease in value.  I know it may seem odd, but I had a moment of concern for these people who might be caught up in the hype of being famous.  If they just knew how to live like us normal people, they would be so much better off.  But then again, someone could say that about you and me and our houses and cars--people who live with much less.

The point is not to make us feel guilty; rather, this discussion relates to what Matthew’s Gospel describes about faith in this week’s lesson.  Believe it or not, we do this in our faith communities also.  We look to people in high positions of faith and hold them up to a higher level.  We view their jobs as more important than our own.  We look at pastors, worship leaders, prophets, and others who lead people, and view their jobs as higher callings.  In this section of Scripture, Jesus sets this straight.  He brings us back to the simplicity of the Gospel.  The reward of a prophet and common people is the same in that what we all really need is salvation and forgiveness.  Matthew goes on to say one of my favorite lines in Scripture, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  Jesus’ powerful words remind us of what we are all called to do.  We are to show God’s love in every situation and action that our world might even consider trivial.  This week we celebrate the work of Peter and Paul.  We thank God for the wonderful gifts they gave to the Church in their ministries.  We acknowledge their work, knowing they were being faithful to the Holy Spirit’s direction in their lives.  While we know this is the most important work in the world, and because of that, we can give greater value to work being done by other believers.   In the same breath, we also know this work could not be done without the hand of Jesus.  Jesus is the reason we are rescued and prepared to do this kind of work.  And that inspires us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hair Security

I won Mr. Sarcastic as a high school student.  I know some of you may be shocked, but if you take my openness and creativity, and mix it with an uncensored high school tongue, you get Mr. Sarcastic of Lutheran High KC.  Like all of us, time, maturity, and growth tamed my tongue; yet the history of my sarcastic remarks lingers in my memories.  My dad took most of the hits when it came to hair.  The bald jokes just always seemed funny.  Often his trio of teenagers would team up to say some hurtful bald jokes.  My dad had most of his hair; he was just missing a section behind a small tuff of hair that sat just above his forehead.  It was kind of like the red sea of hair parted with this flying loose tuft, then the dry land, and the rest of his hair.  Even my recollection of our jokes, brings me back to providing sarcastic descriptions.  At some point I feared God would punish me, and therefore I would suffer the consequences with a balding head far worse than my dad ever had.   At that point I quit making fun of him and worked hard to steer clear of such jokes.

This wasn’t the only time in my life I worried that God would give me some earthly punishment for my sins.  Honestly, it happened a lot.  If I had a list of my sins in front of you, I could tell you my fear of what God might take away in this life.  As I have explained before, this is defined as the theology of glory, and it is a trap into which we all can easily fall.  The basic premise is that you believe God will do something based upon on a good or bad action of yours.  This goes a step further than the basics of consequences, and moves into things that are uncontrollable--like balding.  It does remind me that we often look for security in things like hair.  We define ourselves in terms of physical features, things, or relationships.  Those are the securities we want to have, and we worry that if we lose them we will be devastated.  This is exactly where the passage this week brings us.  This is a famous line in Scripture, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30.

This is one of those often-quoted Scripture passages.  The deep meaning found behind it is the intimate understanding Jesus has for each of us.  Balding or not, it is impossible to know the number of hairs on our own head, let alone on our spouses, kids and the like.  Some of our deepest and greatest relationships are left with unknown facts.  This is not so with our God.  He knows the amount of hair on our heads. This is the depth of our security in God, who would send His Son to rescue us.  Certainly, if He numbered all our hairs, He would want us to be secure in the relationship He has provided for us.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I have two stools that I think we registered for when we got married.  Those stools were used for about 18 months in my apartment in California.  They were under the kitchen wall opening in my first apartment.  In my second apartment they barely served any purpose.  Now as we prepare for a new house, the stools may have a new potential for service, rather than just being in storage.  There is a new joy in considering where they will go, and what their possible use might be.  Planning for a new house is like that, there is stuff you had that you couldn’t use because of where you were before.

One of my favorite parts of Scripture and sermon planning is rediscovering the stuff I forgot about.  I know it seems odd, but no matter how many times I read Scripture, I always find something that I forgot about or didn’t look at that closely in my previous readings.  This week it concerned footstools, and it reminded me of the stools and things I am pulling out of storage and putting into my new house. Something I had no purpose for in the past five years is now something that is going to come to good use.  I was so glad I kept them, and am thrilled to get to put them to good use again.  Stools are simple things, but they become very valuable when extra people come over, for daddy breakfast, or provide a place for good conversation while I am cooking in the kitchen.

This is one of those passages that at first you may pass over and later wonder what the connection was to footstools.  We know footstools offer us rest and relaxation, but what does it mean that our enemies will be like footstools?  This passage is clarifying a deep theological message--that Jesus came to defeat the devil, and therefore He will lift us up above our enemies.  He will win our greatest battles:  the greatest being sin, death, and the devil.  The comment about footstools is just a reminder that Jesus will lift us up through our greatest challenges in life.

We can say those words over and over to ourselves.  But the truth is when we are going through the tough moments in life we rarely think of them being like footstools that will lift us up.  Rather, when our enemies are in our face, we have much different thoughts.  But Peter was reminding the people that with the gift God has given, these enemies would be pulled out of the closets, and only used to lift us up.  This week we spend time talking about that and trusting that God will lift us up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dreaming of the Future

Sometimes having little kids is like being in college.  You get new roommates all the time.  And sometimes you even wake up with unexpected guests on your couch.  So often the rotation of which kid gets scared and who needs Mom and who needs Dad is a huge mix up.  You wake up in the morning half sleep-deprived, and try to gain clarity of which one you helped last night.  Monday morning I woke up and Gavin was sleeping with me.  Jacob said in his whisper voice, “I got to let him go.”  I said, “What?”  “Dad I got to let the butter go,” Jacob whispered.  I responded,
 “What are you saying?”  Jacob repeated, “I got to let the butterfly go.”  With my mind barely awake, I said, “Ok.”  Then I thought about stopping him and telling him to wait until everyone got up.  But I couldn’t get my body to move.  When I came downstairs I asked him,  “Jacob, was the caterpillar a butterfly in your box?”  He said, “No Dad, I just dreamt that.” I smiled and thought about how amazing he is dreaming about the future.  I then vividly imagined him in his dream seeing this beautiful butterfly in the cage that needed to be released, and he was going to rescue it.  Suddenly I was taken back to what it meant to be five, able to see the world like that, and not have your dreams plagued by what you have to do the next day.  I reflected on my own dreams that night.  I dreamt that I was in a store and Tom Koenig was calling me to have me sign papers.  He finally found me and told me everyone was looking for me, and that my cell phone didn’t work in that store.  In the dream, Tom asked me if I always hung out there.  I remembered the details as we were headed to the Cardinal game, but we had time to kill, so we stopped by some stores.  For some reason I was buying jeans, but all along I was worried about the time, wanting to get to the game early enough with the boys.

I share that last part because even the fun stuff in life often becomes a responsibility.  Sure, buying new houses, caring for people as pastor, and certainly loving my kids are all great things.  But there is something carefree and trusting in a dream like Jacob’s.  And the cool thing is that once he realized it was just a dream, he moved on and took it for what it was worth.  But the amazing thing is that this little boy was dreaming of a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.  Dreaming of the future when we are young seems so easy.  Just ask kids what they want to do when they grow up.  Their answers will certainly not involve adult-like constraints.  Kids look at the future and only see its possibilities.

Pentecost is all about possibilities and the empowerment to dream.  God was giving the disciples the Holy Spirit; sending them out to see the future--the future that for so many years was confirmed in Jesus Christ and His saving grace.  Now God was enabling them to dream about what this meant for them and for the Church.  It meant having the ability to speak in tongues; to perform miracles; and certainly to watch people change from Ordinary People into Extraordinary Servants of Christ.

Dreaming about the future is the fun part.  When I came to Mt. Calvary I began to dream of its future.  I never banked on putting in a new parking lot as our first endeavor, but let me tell you, I also never imagined all the compliments we would receive because we did the parking lot so well.  Yet, as pastor, I also didn’t want it to stifle the dream of all the plans I had for our church.  My dream was of a church in Brentwood reaching out to the community and to the young adults who live in the area.  Sometimes all of our adult worries seem to diminish what Jesus has for us to dream about--what His Word can do.  Sure, we need to be realistic and also understand our responsibilities, but at the end of the day what if we were like little children waking up with the dream of what beautiful butterfly God is going to release next?  This season is a time to dream again, and I am excited for us to do that dreaming together.