Thursday, August 28, 2014

Labor of Love

Watching Jacob start kindergarten reminds me of the days when I began kindergarten.  My memory is both a blessing and a curse.  In moments when I am preaching and illustrating stories and happenings, it is a blessing; but it is a curse when the visual of my kindergarten outfit and my clown bag that I took to school is engrained in my mind.  Yet, that was when I began my journey to see where life would take me.  Because I was young when I felt called to be a pastor, I did not know back then that I would do it for sure.  Recently Jacob asked Mindy and me, “How long do I have to do this?” (Meaning how long does he have to go to school.)  Wow! Hard to answer a 6 year old and say, “Oh, about 20-something years.  Take your life, triple it and add a couple years, and there is your answer.“  No, we didn’t do that to him, but it provides the beginning of understanding the labor of our lives.  We work on so many things, and life is exhausting.  Sometimes we can be like Jacob, and in the midst of it ask ourselves How much longer do I have to do this?
I find two keys that help me respond to this.  One is to always look back.  Often when we look back at life we see everything God has done in our lives.  It puts a new perspective on what is going on right now.  People that I counsel may not love this at first, but after we trace back a few years, they are able to see what God is doing and what He has done.  The second way is to help others.  When we take the benefit of our labor and see how it helps others, it is another reminder of how God is working. In some ways, my kindergarten days may not be fun to remember, but in other ways they remind me to walk that journey with my son.  I find that if I am constantly engaged in how God can use me, and take personal interest in watching how God works in the lives of others, it encourages me and takes the focus off my current state.  This is what our Romans passage is about this weekend--how we can labor with others.  Since it is the Labor Day weekend, it is the perfect time to talk about that.  Even Labor Day can be focused on the exhaustiveness of our labor, but this weekend we will talk about the labor of love that God performed for us, and how we can share that with others. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Living out the new Saturday

The morning show host I listen to on the way to work commented that he refused to talk about Ferguson for fear that it would be misconstrued.  He said, “If you are wondering why we haven’t discussed it, it is because we know that no matter what we say, someone could hear it the wrong way.”  This week Mindy participated in the ice bucket challenge for ALS, and now that my facebook is consumed with this topic, I became aware of a few things.  A couple of the people with whom I am connected started posting their criticism of this challenge.  Some of the quotes read, “Stop dumping ice on your heads and start donating.”  Another subject for discussion, which my sister-in-law would say is my favorite topic, is that people were criticizing Robin Williams for committing suicide.  So what does this all have to do with New Saturdays?
Everything is the answer.  I’ve got to admit that being thematic in my approach to ministry taints my view on this world.  I also wondered what ice buckets had to do with ALS.  My detailed teacher-wife explained on her first video, which got cut off because my iPhone is old and out of memory, that it is the same feeling that people with ALS experience in their bodies.  Then my skepticism of the theme faded, and I agreed that not only was this a brilliant way to raise awareness, but a great connection too.  Having studied marketing as a college student has made me aware that this type of promotion could catch on like wildfire.  But will new designers with new causes be able to do it with the same thematic connection that is necessary?  No!  Will people criticize?  Absolutely!  Now my wife has no clue who Peter Frates is, because she doesn’t watch ESPN, but she does understand the impact of the ice bucket challenge.

Living out the New Saturday will never be received well.  Becoming a disciple of Christ, and trying to make an impact on this world is challenging.  It is much easier to make our Saturday stories ones that are consumed with what movies we’ve watched, food we’ve eaten, and visits we’ve taken to the pillow.  Yet, believing that peace can happen in Ferguson; sharing that mental illness is a dangerous path that can lead to suicide; or connecting ice bucket challenges to a cause which results in a 400% gain for a charity, are totally worth it even if not everyone who does it is also donating.

We are not all Peter Frates.  I love his story.  He was an amazing baseball player who was living out his life.  Peter had a great girlfriend, was headed to a promising career, when at age 27 he was diagnosed with ALS.   He inspired his friends with the ice bucket challenge and then the madness began.  If you know the real story, I think it is hard to be critical.  I couldn’t plead the cause for a disease in my Saturday Story because I am not suffering from one.  But we each have areas in which we are gifted, and yet have struggles.  Our Saturday Stories include our gifts matched with passion, which then produce God’s way of fighting sin in this world.  Sure, the battle of sin is over because of Jesus, but there are still enough people out there who don’t know about Jesus.  Living as Extraordinary Servants involves finding those areas of our lives in which we are gifted, and have the passion to let people know that sin has been defeated by Jesus. I pray that Peter Frates knows about Jesus.  I pray that he believes that whether or not a cure for ALS is found, he can be healed by the saving blood of Jesus.  Living out the New Saturday involves trusting that God can use your unique gifts to be an Extraordinary Servant in this world.  It is different for each of us.  The world is likely to criticize it.  But the great news is that this is Sanctification.  We are being molded into servants of God, even though the world doesn’t get our New Saturdays.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reforming Saturday

This week began with some sad news from Hollywood.  Actor Robin Williams was found dead.  At 63 he falls into the age category with Mindy’s and my parents, which means we grew up with him.  We watched Mork and Mindy episodes, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, and a few side projects that I have in my personal collection. Robin Williams was so gifted in providing so many of us with joy and laughter.  Even young kids enjoyed his unique and iconic role of the Genie in Aladdin.  Yet, behind closed doors, Robin Williams had to confront many demons.  Many of his problems seem to have come from mental illness.  He battled various addictions and certainly struggled with them daily.  It’s difficult to believe that a man whose career consisted of making other people happy, had to fight an ongoing, daily sadness.  Robin Williams is exactly what this series is all about.  I don’t know where Robin’s faith life stood, but I do know that this reformation is key to growth.

Most of us normally move forward; yet, sometime we may be faced with a struggle that freezes us or puts us into a bad place.  We all have demons like Robin; we have sins that plague us and hold us back from using the gifts God gives us.  This is the drive of understanding this series.  Because in our weekly routine we cover up those things, and we pretend that they don’t exist.  In the quiet moments on Saturdays we cash in, and live in our sin.  It paralyzes us and holds us back from what God wants our stories to be.  And no one is exempt from this.  You look at the Noahs, Davids, and Goliaths of the Bible, and you see their demons.  It is through reforming their Saturdays that they are able to move out of their battles as they intentionally think about being disciples of Christ everyday.

The very foundation of our Church also went through this.  Mt. Calvary is part of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  A long time ago Martin Luther came to the Church to challenge some of its ways of handling things.  At that time, the Church was making people feel guilty instead of giving them the freedom to leave their lives of sin.  It was not shaping them to create Saturday Stories, but rather a life of constantly figuring out how to rid themselves of all their sins, and even the sins of their families.  It was in the reforming process that they began to see the truth, which resulted in the Church that knows grace today.  But it was painful.  People were challenged as they experienced change in the Church.  Even the people who were constantly struggling with their sins had a hard time embracing a new reality. They only knew it one way.

The same will be true for us in the next couple of weeks.  No matter what you uncover you will find that God has a new story for you.  He has places for you to live out your life, and gifts that may be hidden behind selfish desires, sins, or just a lack of intentional living.  It is through grace that we find freedom, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit we find that God will shape our Saturday story into a story we can’t wait to tell.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What do I want my Saturday to look like?

Last week we celebrated the life of a great friend and member at Mt. Calvary.  Wanda Wrice was one of those ladies in whom you were able to observe a quiet and yet defined faith.  To the outside world she looked like a perfect women of faith.  She was patient and loving to others.  She was thoughtful in her words.  She patiently stood by her family, praying they would stay in faith.  And when I met with her in the hospital her motivation to get better was so she could attend Bible study with me.  While that was flattering, that was how Wanda was motivated.  We know, of course, that Jesus was the only one who was perfect, and we all face sin and challenges.  But we also know that as we grow in faith and God’s Word, He shapes us spirituality by sanctification through the Holy Spirit.  At moments in our lives we are all seen by the outside world as perfect people of faith.  But we know that in our quiet moments we battle with sins, pains, and struggles.  So in this series we begin to ask ourselves tough questions.  The question is, If I had the perfect Saturday, the moment when no one was looking, what would I want it to look like?  How do I want to appear?
Let’s not fool ourselves.   All disciples of Christ go home at night and think through the days’ mistakes, and what they want Saturday or tomorrow to look like.  Every phase in life offers us a chance to grow in faith and trust in Jesus.  It also gives us an opportunity to see sin more violently in our lives.  This series opens up the books on our stories, and allows us to think more deeply about what our Saturdays look like.
When I was a teenager my Dad, who was out of work at the time, took three years to read the Bible.  While this was commendable, and he certainly grew in faith, this was confusing to a young man studying to become a pastor.  I have to admit I wondered if God ever would want me to do that?  And that is exactly why I bring it up.  We could go to the extreme and decide that on Saturdays I should read the Bible all day. But that would limit the potential pieces of the discipleship model, which encourage us to love others and grow in relationships.  This is not a simple question.  This  requires deep thought and focus.  My prayer over the next several weeks is that we open up our lives and ask those questions.  That is why this is a four week series and not a stand-alone Sunday topic.  Before we can ever begin to reshape our behavior, we must first look at the law and our sin.  It is in that clear mirror that we see the places where we are missing the mark.  And while there are days or hours or moments that we don’t want to examine; when we finally do, we find the areas where we need restoration, reform and love from Jesus. This week we ask the question, What do I want Saturday to look like?