Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween, All Saints Day, and Life!

After I submit my kids to “death by candy,” we turn around and celebrate All Saints Day. Last Sunday was Trunk or Treat.  It was a true blessing to see the joy of life in the kids. When they are all dressed up, we get a glimpse of who they are and who they want to be. One of the kids at Trunk or Treat was asked if he was a tree frog and he said, “NO! I am a poison dart frog!” It is clear that the young can be accurate about their hopes and dreams, and also about who they are pretending to be. Jacob was rather frustrated with Abby calling him an Avenger when he was really a G.I. Joe. The problem was that Jacob couldn’t remember who he was, so he had a hard time communicating who he was supposed to be back to his little sister. Call me crazy, but I love the season of Halloween. I love watching the joy in a child’s face. I like carving pumpkins and roasting pumpkin seeds, just like I did when I grew up. I like the season of fall, and I don’t mind a scare or two to keep me on my toes. Honestly, Halloween reminds us of something we easily forget – death and the devil are real and in this world.

Maybe it is fitting that “death by candy” leads us right into a celebration of All Saints Day. Our world gives us many reminders of the death we will face one day, and this week was no different. The passing of Oscar Taveras came as a shock to Cardinal nation, and to baseball fans everywhere. When a man who is only 22 years old passes away, it reminds us that death could come at any moment. I have to admit, while death is something I commonly deal with, I really had to process this one. Every time someone passes I reflect on my last memories with them. In this case, it was acknowledging that this wasn’t an injury, but he really passed away, and we will never see this Cardinal take the field again. It was saddening. Life can often feel too short as we process losing those we love. All too often I have sat with those who have lost those precious people.

This weekend we will celebrate All Saints Day. We take time to remember those in our congregation who passed this year. Many of us will reflect on the loved ones and friends who have passed.  As Pastor, I will do my best to bring God’s Word from one of the most challenging books in Scripture – Revelation. Revelation is one of those books pastors like to stay away from. It is challenging (even for us pastors) to understand all the significance. Yet, it is a reminder that while we will all face death as product of our sin, by trusting in Jesus, we will have His covering over our lives and receive the gift of eternity! To the world, All Saints Day might just look like a celebration of death and the lives that once lived, but as Christians, we celebrate the life to come and the celebration feast with our Savior!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Pray 1

We have a new fieldworker named Derek. He is married to my vicarage supervisor’s daughter. It has been along time since I was on vicarage (which is a year-long pastoral internship, for those not familiar with it). I’m not even sure I could call him my supervisor anymore. Now he is more of a friend. Relationships have always been important in my life. During vicarage, I was overly focused on whom I was going to marry. The people around me then had to hear girl story after girl story. I have no clue how they survived my preaching. Over the years, I have learned a lot from Scripture about my situation during those years. Since we are studying Jonah, I’ll share what I learned from him. 

Break-ups are a painful reality of any dating relationship, mine included. In each of my break-ups, the people around me watched me go into moments of deep sadness.  Sometimes I wondered if I could even go on. Certainly the conversations God and I had during these times were not great. I was impatient and expected Him to respond quickly.

While this may not be your story (because you aren’t crazy like me about overthinking the relationships in your life), there are things that are tough for each of us. One of the most challenging things is to see God’s grace for us when we feel like He is giving it away too freely to others. In the past, I would look at some of my friends who had made mistakes in their relationships and wonder why God let them marry the ones they loved, but not me. With jealous eyes, all I could see or think of was that they were not getting consequences fitting of their actions. These may not be the things we say out loud, but the thoughts in our head go to places like that; places that even cause us to contemplate not wanting to go on in life, or wanting to start all over.  In those times and places, our conversations with God are very important. This week we learn the whole reason Jonah ran from God was because He knew God would forgive Ninevah. He just knew God would do that. Jonah didn’t want to see that happen. Jonah wanted God’s grace for himself. In my sermon prep reading this week, one author said that people rarely psycho-analyze Biblical characters – assigning problems, thoughts and feelings that they may have dealt with.  In this case, there were deep thoughts and feelings behind Jonah’s wrestling. Some of it was just selfish, and some of it probably had to do with Jonah’s past.

The power of Jonah 4 is the way Jonah communicates with God. He is not afraid to say anything to God. He knows that God knows his deepest and darkest sins. Jonah communicates his frustration with God, and even shows Him silence. Jonah knows that open communication is important with God. Jonah even is willing to say that it is better that he die than live. You may be asking yourself, “Why is this good?” The answer is simple. It is all about the rights and wrongs of B1. I feel the greatest reason people struggle with praying out loud is because they are afraid to say something wrong. We have some feeling or idea that our loving God will be disappointed with our communication with Him. The answer is that He already knows our struggles! We’ve seen Jonah’s prayers.  What do we have to be afraid of? My heart as a pastor is to help the disciples of Christ, those extraordinary servants of Mt. Calvary, pray out loud trusting the Holy Spirit to guide their words.  That means you. Don’t let the devil put thoughts and fears of praying out loud in your head. Sure, there is a lot about Jonah that we could question, but there is something about Pray 1 to be taken as well. Jesus wants us to be able to communicate with Him always. Those moments we have to Pray 1 out loud with others are a great gift.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Read 1

When I was a young boy I showed evidence of struggles with reading. Whenever I would read, my eyes would skip to the next line. By the time they caught this and I got my reading glasses, I was already behind and reading at a lower grade level than the other kids. Somehow I was able to keep up in school and make all A’s, (typical first born behavior). I was finding a way to please my teachers in spite of my weakness. The school said they couldn’t do anything for me because I had figured out how to compensate. Compensate is exactly what I did; I spent the rest of my school days doing just that. I would find ways to try and speed up my reading to keep up with other students. The public school where I started as a freshman in high school wasn’t too bad, but Lutheran High KC was much tougher. Then came college and Seminary, and I wonder how I made it through with all the reading I had to do. Still today, the challenges that come along with reading are frustrating to me. I am not complaining; I know I have other things that come easier. I knew I had to keep facing these challenges and find ways to work with and around them, especially since reading plays a key role in growing in faith. Over time, I have found ways to read that work for me, and not all of it is flat out reading the Bible verse by verse.   I have Bible reading plans on my phone & other materials related to faith. I listen and talk to other pastors and professors as I’m prepping for sermons, blogs, and Bible studies. Before I was leading the young adult group, I was participating in a men’s Bible study, and Mindy and I participated in a small group for families.  Oh yeah, and I read the Beginner’s Bible to my kids most every night.
What is the point? This week is “Read 1”. We debated if one verse was enough for our discipleship model, but I knew that making it one chapter might be too much for some of our first time members. I really wanted our discipleship model to be thematic (maybe it’s the way I’m built or the influence of my youth).  It just fit better if all the key points were 1’s. Besides that, I didn’t want it to feel legalistic, like the model I grew up in. I wanted people to read the Word of God and the Gospels with great joy.  Thus, we kept it at Read 1: reading 1 verse each day.

Read 1 relates not just to the discipleship model, but also to Jonah. One of Jonah’s issues with Read 1 was not believing it would work. At that time, God’s Word was communicated orally.  Perhaps you could say that “Read 1” could also be called “Listening 1”. In Jonah’s day, the prophets were called to communicate the promise to the people, and Jonah was a prophet. His oral presentation was very important. Jonah had the idea that if he preached just half way, or half-heartedly, then there was no way the people of Ninevah would believe. Much to Jonah’s shock – they did! God’s Word worked despite Jonah’s meager attempt to share it. This is the amazing thing about God’s Word! It is living and cuts through the hearts of men! As a pastor, I wonder when and how this is going to happen, but then it does, and it’s amazing! As Jesus’ disciples, we get to keep listening to God, reading His Word, and preparing to share it. We trust He will do the work when we share His words with the Ninevah’s of this world.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Love 1

Sometimes the shocking thing about being a parent is watching how your love comes through to your kids. Most days as a parent, I think Mindy and I are just making it by. Sure, we are intentional about teaching them God’s love, but some days we wonder how it will translate. Gavin is our most temperamental kid.  When we discipline him, he will usually give us some kind of shocking face. Often, it seems like he wants to punish us for punishing him. He will run to his room, or even tell me I am a bad daddy. We never know what we are going to get with that kid. However, Gavin is also my most loving kid. He is the one that will give his mom back rubs, and come in at night to give me a kiss. A lot of his personality is far from my understanding. He functions, reacts, and responds differently than I do. My greatest challenge is to learn about Gavin and understand the middle child. My wife and my brother were middle children, and I watch how Gavin is similar to them. As his father, I seek out ways to love him. Lately, I have had the huge blessing of spending more time with him.  When Jacob started Kindergarten and began leaving for school with Mindy, I missed Jacob’s leadership and guidance at home showing the other kids what to do. Soon I realized that this gave me more time with Gav.  Rather than doing his own thing and letting me do mine, getting everyone’s stuff together to go, he wants to check in and help.  He wants to carry around his lunch box rather than keeping it on the counter where I have things gathered.  He wants to sit and watch Sportscenter with me instead of playing.  These first few months of preschool have allowed me to see unique pieces of his heart, and I am learning how to love him instead of expecting him to be like Jacob, or me. 
This may sound harsh, but it’s our “unique” personalities that God loves when He loves 1, or loves us. He embraces us the way we are and loves us, so that we can love others.
What does this have to do with Jonah? Well, we finally get to that big fish. As we talk about the big fish, we are really talking about God’s love for His prophet. The more you get into Jonah’s story, the more you wonder why God kept using this guy. Couldn’t He have found someone better than Jonah to go speak to these people? Maybe God knew, since He is omniscient and all, that only Jonah was going to break through to Ninevah. Here is something else to think about. God had a lot of prophets, and they were all very different. They each had some quirk that made them “unique”, and yet God used all of them.

The biggest piece for us this weekend is embracing the idea that “The Rights and Wrongs of Love 1” have more to do with letting God love us and shape how He uses us. Being human, we don’t want anyone to see our flaws, even though we know that every single person has them. God, who comes to forgive us, re-shapes our flaws, which then translates into uniqueness to work for His glory. God took stubborn, crazy Jonah, who was selfish on most days and even wanted to die, and used him to redeem a city. Not only that, God used the reference of Jonah inside the fish to relate to Jesus’ redemption for you and me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rights and Wrongs of Worship 1

Every year in October we will go over the discipleship model. Yes, I said every year. I remember when Mindy and I had a conversation about this. She asked me if I was really going to preach on the discipleship model every year, and I responded yes.  It is not just a whim; I have spent time thinking through this decision and why this is important. I don’t know about you, but a million thoughts run through my head every day.  One moment I can be thinking about one of my friends, and then I’ll see something and my mind changes directions. If I don’t respond to that person or thought right away, it may be gone. Even a passionate feeling about a subject, thought, or conversation can be lost if I don’t act on it in that moment. Now, I know some things are good to sleep on. Sometimes we are so emotional that we need time to cool down and check our emotions at the door. Yet other times if something is not fresh on our minds, we forget it.
Having a good memory has always been one of my strengths.  Images I see and make are burned into my head forever. I rely on them for many things, from preaching, to blogs, and of course – conversations. Having said that, there are times when something slips my mind. If events, discussions, and details are not kept in the forefront of my mind, they can be lost. Advertising has always intrigued me because it is used to help us remember things they want us to know. They are the best at jingles, images, and statements that are forever stuck in our minds. McDonalds has brought back Monopoly over and over again. People never get tired of trying to win a million dollars. McDonalds just switches the menu items they put on their monopoly pieces so you try different things. Hardee’s has chosen to be the most sexually explicit of all the fast food chains, and they never tire of telling us how they make their biscuits from scratch every day. This is not just with fast food. One of my favorite commercials right now is Nationwide. I love when Peyton Manning is humming the jingle even while he eats his chicken parmesan sandwich.  Progressive never gets tired of showing you Flo and her latest idea, and the little Gecko from Geico reminds us of saving money in 15 minutes or less. What’s my point?
Why we are so concerned about going over something again, or in this case, year after year, in the church? Are we going to let the commercials win out over God’s message to stay connected to Him? This is why we take time to go through the discipleship model time and time again. October is a great time to do it as we are settling into our fall routines. Recently, one of the discussions in ministry council was how we tend to focus on the right and wrong way to Worship 1, Love 1, Read 1 and Pray 1. This gives us a great opportunity to learn from Jonah.  Jonah had to learn the rights and wrongs of discipleship as God called him to extraordinary servanthood. The next several weeks we will discuss the discipleship model and how it played out in Jonah’s life. He had very real struggles that are similar to our own battles with the discipleship model. This weekend we begin with Worship 1. Jonah certainly wanted to worship God in his own way. God spent time reforming Jonah to help him understand what he was missing in worship. I pray that we will see God’s deep connection with us in worship as well, despite our mistakes and failures.