Thursday, December 31, 2015


Christmas is full of gifts. Many people try to buy just the right gift, the gift that best suits the person they’re buying it for. Yet, it can be quite a challenge to know our friends and family well enough to get that perfect gift.  I am sure some of the gifts you received this year were ones you loved, others you sort-of liked, and perhaps a few you even, shall I say, hated. When that happens, we are faced with another challenge – how to react to those gifts. It seems that the gifts we least expect (maybe even from a person we least expect it from) are the ones that let us know that person really knows us.

This week in church we are celebrating Epiphany. We look to the Magi, often called Wise Men, and ask, “What does their story tell us about Jesus?” One of the most powerful parts of their story was their gifts. Their gifts, at first glance, seem amazing. They are certainly high dollar gifts, but were they fitting for Jesus? The answer is… no they weren’t. Jesus came as a humble king, but their gifts were more fitting for a king concerned about wealth and status. Common gifts, really, that one would give to any king with little thought. In one way, it teaches us that the Magi didn’t realize who this king (Jesus) was, but yet they did recognize Him as a king. They also knew they wanted to see Him, and they recognized the warnings to not play into Herod’s trap.

This week my family takes to time to reflect on the one year anniversary of Maddy’s birth, our daughter who was born after already going to be with Jesus. I remember how the gifts poured out into our house last year. Many of those gifts were flowers. It was what people gave when they didn’t know what else to do – they sent flowers. Our house was full of them, so much so that it smelled like a flower shop. At times we didn’t want to see another bouquet of flowers because it was a harsh reminder of what we were going through. At times we didn’t even know where to put them. And in the end, we had a hard time figuring out which ones to dry out.

This December I started a new tradition. I made sure Mindy always had fresh flowers in the house. What was once a painful reminder of sadness was now a powerful reminder of love. In that season we learned how the people of God surrounded us. We learned how the love of Jesus surrounds His people! We saw how we were taken care of and how God brings amazing stories out of painful moments. Now the gift of flowers is seen as a deeper gift of love, and a reminder that a gift once given as a common gift had a deeper meaning behind it.

This year we could look at the Magi’s common kingly gifts as ones that tell us they didn’t really get who Jesus was, or we could recognize that they knew this was something big. They knew they wanted to meet this king, and that missing it was a bad idea. They knew they wanted to bring something to this king. And as they were warned in a dream not to head back to Herod, they knew this wasn’t just any king. Amazing how common gifts can have a very uncommon meaning!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Come and See Jesus in Brentwood!

I realize my Christmas blogs are stacking up, so I better say this is the Christmas Edition for 2015. That way I can look back on it and remember what 2015 was like for us in Brentwood.

I don’t know about you, but I avoid stores at all costs. I systematically plan when to go to the few places I need to go to hit the least amount of people and traffic. A few days ago Mindy asked me to stop on my way home and pick up this thing we needed to make one of our gifts. I said, “Sure. I am going to try and get it at CVS.” She said,  “Or you could just run into Target.” To which I responded, “There is no just running into Target right now.”

More stores than ever are trying to make sure we can run in, get what we need, and get out. Counting out change has been exchanged for the swiping of cards, and this year the swiping of cards has been exchanged for paying with your smart phone or with the new chipped card. Still, shopping seems like a tedious task that I only do when necessary. I know gifts are important, but I’m much more willing to purchase them from the comfort of my home, phone, or whatever makes it easy. I purchased most of my gifts online this year and they showed up at my door a few days later. I did have to go into Best Buy the other night for a gift I needed right away. It was 9pm so I thought I could get in and get out fairly quickly. Instead I found myself frustrated and annoyed with the staff as we were held up in line waiting on a manger.

Even with these new ways of purchasing gifts to make it the most convenient as possible for us, there is still one gift that makes people behave differently. For this one gift people will fight McKnight traffic, bundle up in cold weather, and brave the crowds. Even if they haven’t been inside a sanctuary in a year (perhaps since last Christmas), people will make the trek out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to come to church. There is something about the candles lit in the church, the hymns sung by a large group of people, and a message that brings us back to what the real gift is on this day – Jesus.

In the family service the kids will say, “Come to Bethlehem and See,” and they have it perfectly right. Come and see who Jesus is. The story has been told time and time again, but this is one we want to come and see. There is something about coming that always makes the seeing worth it. We see people gathered around the story of the Redeemer that came to save us. All the hustle and bustle of gift buying for 2015 is set aside to see a baby that quietly came to change this world forever. Yes, this gift is one worth enduring crowded parking lots and waiting in line.

Some people who may not have been here in a long time will come to Mt. Calvary to see this story and to worship together. Our job is to be ready. Talk about pressure, right? Mt. Calvary people are welcoming, caring, and intentional about relationships. This is a moment to remember that they are coming to see the greatest gift ever. How can we make that more special for them? Perhaps by taking a moment to share a friendly smile, asking about their Christmas traditions, or just showing joy that they are here. One of the first places that they will see the greatest gift ever this Christmas is living inside of you! 

Monday, December 21, 2015


The Christmas season means football, right? Well, of course! College and NFL football are wrapping up, and so with Christmas comes the final weeks of these seasons. It is undeniable that Jacob, my oldest, loves football. He is seen often diving around my house for pretend balls. Last Friday we went out back and ran some routes in the back yard. The boys so desperately wanted to do it again on Saturday, but with Abby sick we had to stay inside. Sometimes Jacob will even ask to watch the first few minutes of Monday night football. A couple weeks ago when I let him do that, I sat back and watched him copy the moves during the opening scenes. I flashed back to when I loved football like that. I remember being a kid with such energy and all the potential of what was ahead of me. Everything with the boys can be a tackling match here or there, but sometimes I feel like my job as a dad is not to stomp that kind of passion and enthusiasm. It is the way God made us and wanted us to be. It is sad that we can see how that enthusiasm, energy and passion fades after years of being tainted by the world and sin.

Last week we jumped forward and spent time talking about John the Baptist at the end of his ministry. It was a time that he needed to be reminded that Jesus was the one, especially while he sat in jail. The challenges John the Baptist faced in preparing the way for the Lord were endless, and his ending seemed bitter. This week, however, we flashback to see the energy John had in the very beginning. He was jumping in the womb because he knew Jesus was on the way. That flashback shows us his passion, a passion that got him through some pretty tough days.

I have seen a lot of babies moving in the womb, and though I hate to admit it, at times the amazement of God’s creation was not that strong. This year with this new baby, the amazement is stronger than ever. As Mindy and I begin to watch our new little girl move in the womb we have so much joy. This story of John the Baptist jumping in the womb holds a deeper meaning this year, reminding me of all of God’s potential waiting to come into this world.

A flashback is all we need sometimes to remind us of the great things God has given us. All too often, even at Christmastime, we have lost the excitement of God’s potential in our lives because we have been tainted by the bitter pains of the world. Christmas brings us back to the true promise that God will (and does) renew all the potential we have by giving us forgiveness so we can live to be His light in this world. John the Baptist was not only preparing for the potential he already had as a baby in the womb soon to come into the world, but the renewed potential of Christ’s coming. In our final Sunday of preparation we ask ourselves where have we lost vision and excitement for the potential God has for us, and how do we prepare for the renewed potential of the coming of our Savior?

Is this the One?

How many days until Christmas?  I hear that a lot right now. This year I think Mindy and I are beginning to know what it will feel like for us at Christmas time for the next 10+ years. The questions come at us like cars passing on the highway. One after another, question after question. How many days until Christmas? Does that count today? How many days until we are off of school? How many days are we going to be at Grandma’s house? With each Christmas event we attend leading up to Christmas, we get asked, “Is this the day?” It can be daunting and challenging to field all those questions. I am supposed to be more joyful this time of year, and yet I feel more stressed having to answer so many questions. I find myself in prayer at night asking God for the patience to respond to their questions, and to prepare them for the season. A tiny part of me just expects them to know.

During Advent we spend time preparing for Jesus to come. That is why we have extra services and talk about the preparation involved with the coming of our Savior. The people of God in the Old Testament had been doing this for hundreds of years. We cram it all into four weeks! We touch on a few actual events leading up to Jesus’ birth that deal with Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and John the Baptist, and then hit a few other things like in our reading for this week.

Luke 7:18-35 (our reading this week) shows Jesus already as an adult, and John the Baptist sending two of his followers to question Jesus to see if He is the one they have been waiting for. Wait – Jesus as an adult? Aren’t we just preparing for His birth?  Yes.  This week of preparation is about John the Baptist making the connection for himself and his disciples, and many others, that Jesus is the Savior of the world. During the years of waiting, I am sure that there were a lot of questions, similar to my kids as they wait for Christmas day. The difference is that they weren’t worried about presents under the tree, but rather about the fulfillment of the prophecy. Yet their expectations were just as grand.  They caught glimpses of Christmas, like being freed from captivity and judges being sent to rescue them, but were still waiting for the real thing. All these false alarms created a lack of patience among the Old Testament people. However, what they saw as false alarms, were actually pointed plans of God.

This week may seem odd to jump to an older Jesus, but there is a great connection in how they had to process that the Savior was finally here. There is much debate on why John the Baptist, who was the one who prepared the way for Jesus, was asking these questions, but we will get into that this weekend. For now, it leaves us to ponder what questions we would have had trying to understand if Jesus was truly the Savior? How would we have asked those questions?  How would God have responded? What questions do we have this year of God’s fulfillment to save and rescue us? What areas do we need the presence of Jesus more than ever?

Is your Nativity Showing?

Last year Mindy found this amazing table and wine bar/cabinet (I don’t the name of these kinds of things) on Craig’s list. It was just what we needed to display a nativity that Mindy’s mom had purchased for us. The nativity is totally breakable, and while my kids have gotten better at handling things gently, it is not one that you want to risk kids touching. It looked beautiful on the wine bar last Christmas, so instead of packing it away and chance breaking it, I left it out all year. Every time people came over to eat with us at our dinning room table, there was our nativity. Mindy said a couple of times that I should put it away, but I left it out. To me it was my way of saying I am always preparing for Jesus to come.

You’ll hear me say time and time again, Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus. In many ways we have lost that in church, and certainly in society, because we rush to Christmas. We miss the preparation part. Part of the preparation is the dirty work, dragging in the tree or breaking out the boxes and putting it all together. It is hanging up the stockings. (Every day my kids remind me that one of ours is missing a hook.) It is cleaning up the broken ornaments. Preparation is work, and it takes time and effort. We often want to move right into the good stuff and forget all about the preparation. Yet the preparation is very important.

John the Baptist was sent with the message to prepare the way. So what did he do? He showed up and started cleaning up all the broken stuff. He walked in talking about the sin in people’s lives and what they needed to fix. He baptized many as they came to realize they couldn’t clean up their broken stuff without Jesus. Their preparation was acknowledging the brokenness in their lives, and coming to Jesus.

The beauty of this season brings us back to the fact that we cannot live up to Christmas. We can’t live up to its awe and wonder. Time and time again we need to prepare our lives by acknowledging that we are broken, and prepare our hearts and mind by repenting and hearing the forgiveness given.

Maybe there is another reason I don’t want to put that nativity away. I know putting it away could lead to me having to clean up broken pieces the next year. I don’t want to have to clean up the broken pieces, and therefore I leave it out, figuring this way it can’t break. The reality is, even with it up all year, it still may break.  In life, plenty of things break, which makes the Advent preparation season a very necessary and wonderful season each year. This year, is your nativity showing? What areas of your life need preparation for that breathtaking moment intended for you – the moment of Jesus’ birth?

Concerning Thanks

Abby, my daughter, often holds my face when she talks to me. She will be so close that I almost go cross-eyed.  A few weeks ago when I carried her out of church like normal, she kissed me on the forehead. Sometimes she will come sit on my lap and lay back onto my shoulder. Last week when I got a flu shot, Abby kept laying on my sore arm. Yes, it hurt. She often comes to steal my spot in bed. At naptime, she will ask me to pet her face to help her sleep. Abby calls for me to come help her all the time. When I am getting ready in the morning she has to be in my room so she knows I am close. At bedtime, she seems to call me every five seconds. (That can be annoying.) The point is, Abby stole my heart a long time ago and things that would typically bother me don’t with her. I have a very strong German bubble and very rarely is it invaded. Yet, Abby pops it every time, and she does it as much as she can. Mindy has asked, “Doesn’t that bother you?” I say, “Well, not with Abby.” When I see Abby I am thankful for what God has given me in her, and some of my normal annoyances fade away.

There are times when you don’t want people to see you. Perhaps you are going through something that you are afraid will change others perception of you if they found out. You would rather keep a protective bubble around you, which keeps you far enough away that you can have your moment of pain, sadness, or just loneliness. This year was one of those years for me. God taught me so much this year. I felt really challenged. It was so hard. My family will never be the same after 2015. Although, I guess we could all say that every year, but this year for me seemed like more learning and more struggles than ever before. Mt. Calvary, so many of you were there to see the great days and the hard days this year. My bubble was broken and my protective layer cracked. Some of you got a glimpse of something that, had it been my way, you would have never seen. Yet, all I can say is that I am thankful. I am thankful to serve you. You showed me, time and time again, your great potential of extraordinary servanthood.

Thanksgiving is a time we gather together and show God thanks. So often Thanksgiving is also the time we gather with family and have all of our bubbles invaded. Family can be like that, knowing the ins and outs of one another. This year as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to rejoice over the people of God that He has surrounded me with, the type of thanksgiving Paul expressed for the people of God in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4. Mt. Calvary, thanks for breaking my bubble this year and giving me strength. I am so thankful to be here and worship with you. Thanksgiving is the end of the year for our church, and I am thankful to end my year with the family of God and excited to see what God has for us in the new church year.

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”
1 Thessalonians 1:2

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Emotion meets Stewardship: Money

My son, Gavin, is obsessed with money right now. We have run into a few bumps in the road due to his desire for money. A few days ago he lost a dollar that he said he had put away. He came in throwing a fit because he had lost it. These are the times he likes to do my favorite thing – throw a temper tantrum that ends with a promise that he thinks will hurt me, but really doesn’t impact me at all (except for the fact I have to deal with his behavior). Gavin said, “Fine, Dad, I will never have any dollar ever.” I, of course, know this is not true. Besides, he’s the one who lost it, not me. I know that one day he will have more money, unless they do away with the paper money altogether in the future. (You can make your own 2050 predictions.) Anyway, I led him back to the place he left it on Sunday after he had showed me that Mindy had given it to him. We talked about putting money in a place where we will know where we left it. There is no way around it, my kids are going to be exposed to money, and how I handle my money is an example for them.

Money has always been a key part of survival for people. We need things to survive, and money is the means by which we get those things. As kids, culture has a way of feeding us all the things they think we “need,” and if that isn’t bad enough, someone else’s kid who sees a commercial is more than happy to share about the gadget’s coolness to everyone in class. This is how Gavin came to like Pokemon cards, even though he really has no clue what they’re about.

I got trapped in this cycle too when I was a kid. As a young boy, I began mowing lawns and collected a good amount of money. I had a list of all the things I was going to purchase. I had CDs and MLB hats that I “needed.” Come to think of it, not much has changed. I still love music and baseball. At that time I needed hats from all the different teams. I had a great plan that I would spend my money on the things I wanted, and then at the end of summer, I would save just enough to total 10% of my summer earnings to give to church. Unlike Gavin, I never thought that once my dollar was lost (or spent) that I would never have another dollar again, which just meant that when I got it, I spent it. At that point, my dad laid down a very important lesson about giving to God first. My dad was giving me perhaps the most important lesson he ever taught me. Never let the list of things I wanted take control of me.

Yet it happens, doesn’t it. It may not be baseball hats, but the list of things we “need” keeps growing, and our struggle to give to God is a challenge. Do we forget that we give to God knowing He always gives to us? Every time we expand or increase our giving, it happens again – the questions and struggles. Once I set my giving for the year and it is drawn directly out of my account, I am cool with it, but ask me what I am going to give next year and I can give you all the reasons why I’ll never have another dollar again.

The emotion in Psalm 49 about money is powerful. Really? A Psalm about money? Well of course, a Psalm about money. Every person who has ever called or stepped into my office to ask for money knows there is real emotion involved and heart strings pulled when talking about money. Guilt, passion, joy, and many more emotions are connected to giving, and yet, it is all God’s. If I gave all my money away I couldn’t take care of my family. The dependency we have on money leaves us with that constant emotional pull. As a church we are meeting a budget, but we also come back to the foundation – talking about God’s gifts to us and how we give back, trusting in God’s work through His people. The church budget is our faithful way of taking the gifts God has given and using them for His glory. Every gift that comes to Mt. Calvary allows us to open our doors and ask how can we live as transformed people who transform a community. How can we help move from ordinary people to extraordinary servants transformed by the saving love of Christ? As a church, we make tough choices every year on how we spend the dollars, knowing that our fears of never having another dollar again sometimes surface.  Then we turn back to Christ, who continues to fill us with wealth, and pray that we can have God’s understanding how to share that wealth with the world.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Emotion Meets Stewardship: Time

Last week Friday started with it’s normal routine. I got up and helped Mindy and Jacob get out the door. Gavin, Abby and I proceeded to get ready as well. Before we left for the gym, I decided to decorate one more pumpkin. We came home for lunch, I laid Abby down for a nap, and then began working on my chili for the chili cook-off that night at Word of Life’s Trunk or Treat. As I was trying to pack the car with our trunk or treat decorations, and remember to put all the costumes in for the kids, I was also putting the finishing touches on my chili to make sure it was perfect. When we got to Word of Life, I finally got to sit down as I handed out candy to the kids. I got to chill. It was hard to believe how fast the day went. After not even coming close to winning the chili cook-off, I debated whether or not it was worth my time to enter with all the rushing around I had to do to get it done.

Life is like that. We fill our time with all kinds of things, and then ask where did the time go. We find ourselves processing how to best use our time and how to prioritize the things that God would want us to have in our life. Somehow, we find hours wasted on television, smart phones, reading a pointless book, a project that doesn’t work out, or even a relationship that doesn’t seem appreciated. A long time ago I got lessons from people in my life on how to prioritize my time, but so often I was too focused on my own selfish desires to listen.

Psalm 90 may seem a lot more like Ecclesiastes than Psalms. It has more of a wisdom perspective about what we do with the time God gives us. We see moments in Scripture where people questioned the time Jesus spent on different things, but in the large scheme of His overall purpose, we can see how Jesus was following a specific redemptive plan. This weekend we will talk about how to spend our time, and how can we be the best stewards of time, appreciating it for the gift that is.

This past Sunday I finished morning services and took a short lunch break before I led the Easy Access Service. I left right afterwards and headed to Meremac Bluffs to attend an All Saints Day Service with Mindy’s family. We all went out to dinner after the service and talked for a couple hours. As I headed home with the kids, preparing myself for their bedtime routine, I was thinking about how I was ready to change clothes and relax. That’s when I got the call from the hospital that Al Roehm was about to go to heaven. The chaplain actually had to tell me to drive safely because he could hear the hurriedness in my voice. I dropped the kids off with Mindy (we had taken different cars and she made it home first), quickly made sure they were good, and then rushed out. I rushed to the hospital praying, “Dear Jesus, let me get there before you take Al home with you.” I debated whether or not I would have time to stop and get the communion kit. When I arrived at the hospital room, I found Mazi and Jim talking with Al as his heart and breathing began to slow. We had moments to reflect and pray, then Al went home to Jesus. I certainly wanted more time with Al, but God did answer my prayer so that I could see him.

Whether it’s the trivial times like chili cook-offs or the more serious end of life moments, time is important. Time is a gift. Why is that so easy to forget? When we say goodbye to friends or loved ones we remember it even more. In Scripture, we see how God teaches us through the stories of His people, their love of Jesus and their passion to share it. In our lives, we see how loved ones teach us as well as they grow in the love of Jesus. It is an amazing gift to us to see Jesus living in them.

Al had a unique way of appreciating time. He was diligent, but he wasn’t rushed, and he evaluated how to best use his time. He knew the small moments, like giving compliments, were worth the time that Jesus had given him. Over the last several years as Al wore hats that proclaimed his age. He may have been sharing a lesson that God had taught him, one that we can take with us. Time is precious. Time is a blessing. Time is a gift. For Al, 92 years was a lot of moments to treasure and share the greatest message of all – Jesus is our Savior. How will you use your time?

Emotion Meets Stewardship: Creation

A couple of mornings ago as they were getting ready, I heard Gavin ask Jacob, “Jacob, do penguins walk on their tippy toes?”  He wanted to know if penguins walk on the front or the back of their feet. My kids watch a ton of shows on animals. We read books on animals, use animal references, and even our Halloween jokes are full of animals. My kids are fascinated with God’s creation, specifically animals. (Don’t even get Jacob started on dinosaurs.) When the story of Noah arises in our Read 1 moments, our daily reading of scripture, we talk about all the facts of how the animals survived and existed. Last week we went to Grant’s farm.  During one of the shows we learned that the bald eagle is no longer endangered. This was news to me. That change was a result of many people putting great effort into making sure this part of creation was taken care of.

God’s creation is important. Watching my kids’ fascination with it just reiterates that to me. I truly believe God instills that in them. They grow up with a passion to investigate and learn of God’s creation. Too often as we get older, our enthusiasm for God’s creation grows bleak as we encounter more and more sin in this world. Yet, trusting in Jesus, we believe in God’s restoration of His creation. There is no better way to start the topic of stewardship than by talking about God’s creation, which He allows us to manage.

Through this stewardship series we will be reading the Psalms. The Psalms seem to focus on emotions, which may be confusing at first of how that connects to management and stewardship.  Yet, stirring our emotions is what we want them to do.  We want the Psalms to invoke a child-like emotion that brings back the excitement and enthusiasm to care about, learn about, and love God’s creation.

I pray that this series will be uplifting for you, as we listen to different Psalms and hear that poetic way of managing the blessings we have in life.  May it lead you to ask more questions like how do penguins walk.

Stratacipleship Grace: Pray 1

Over the summer the boys got into Legos. Legos fall into that same category as my house fixing skills. I am not very good at either of them. I’ll admit I don’t like this part of adulthood, because I would rather just not do it than to learn. Legos, in some small manner, are the same for me. When the boys would ask me to play Legos, I would just tell them that I was not good at building Legos and then I wouldn’t have to do it. (I proved how untalented I was at this the few times I did try to create something with them.) As they got more and more cool sets that I wanted them to enjoy, I finally took the time to slowly learn from the book. Soon I realized that the step-by-step process the instruction books provide allowed me to build the cool little items. As more of the figures got put together, I realized I was actually having fun helping the boys build them.

Legos remind me a lot of prayer. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but most of the time we would rather claim that prayer is not our strength. It gets us off the hook from praying out loud, just like it got me out of making several Lego sets. Yet, once I realized that I can build a Lego set, with the directions of course, it was different. Sure, there are some great prayer warriors who can pray for a long time, but then there are those who can build a short little prayer. I think too many times we live in the realm of just saying this is not for me because I can’t pray like this or that person. We don’t take time to step back and try it. Doing it step-by-step we may find that it is not so hard after all. I also believe that the church didn’t help us with this in the past. Pastors took the role of “official pray-er” all the time and didn’t encourage others to step up. We are now seeing the results of that kind of passive teaching.

This week of our Stratacipleship Grace series is unique because it is the hardest part of our discipleship model. We know it is challenging to believe and trust that we can pray out loud, but now we need to take the next step by making it a strategy and helping others pray to Jesus too.   A great blessing of Jesus’ death and resurrection is, of course, eternal life, but it is also open communication with Him.  As a church, we want to help people know that they can talk to the God of the universe at any time and in any place. What a great message to share with everyone!

Stratacipleship Grace: Read 1

In our world there are a million different diets. There are places that will help you diet. There are businesses set up to train you how to diet. There are supplement stores to help you start your diet with pills. There are gyms that help you stay active so you can make the most of your diet. There diets that cut out standard foods people eat to help the weight come off quicker. Diets are intended to help people lose weight. The term “diet” can also just refer to what you eat on a regular basis. When people talk about staying healthy, they talk about exercise and diet. Using diet in that sense is not some 6-week program with the intention of losing 10 pounds. Diet, in that sense, is your regular pattern of eating.

Read 1 can be similar to diets. As we come into faith we know we should pick up God’s Word and read it. There are so many different ways we can do that. We read it with short devotional books. We can just pick up the Bible and start reading. There are Christian books that use God’s Word in them. There are ways to listen to it on the radio, cd, or electronically. Some even say that Christian music is a form of reading God’s Word. Even though we have all these ways to read God’s Word, like diet plans, we never seem to arrive at where we want to be. There is always more dieting, and more reading, we could do.

Read 1 is about God’s grace in many ways. I have done a ton of reading plans in my life, like different diets, trying to get into God’s Word daily. I have had devotional books. I have read the Bible straight through following a daily schedule. I have read it chronologically. I have listened to sermons.  Yet humanly, I find myself in a constant struggle to stay on routine with reading God’s Word every day. One person said it is because there is an enemy, someone trying to push against us. That person is the devil. Read 1 is all about God’s grace because we need it.  We need His grace! We humanly fail at putting ourselves in God’s Word enough, and often break the patterns and habits we are trying to establish. We need God’s grace to remember that it is a life long challenge to Read 1 every day. That is why we start with one verse. Sure, we want everyone to read chapters, or books, or to take a good amount of time meditating on God’s Word, but it starts with reading one verse. When we do that, we see God’s grace in these words. God’s grace embraces and loves us, and we remember again why we want to Read 1, because through it we hear the hope of Jesus.

With my kids, I’m trying to help them build future habits of Read 1 by reading together with them from an age appropriate Bible every night. My prayer is that one day this will help them to Read 1 on their own. Yet, just like in my personal reading life, there are days when we get home too late or I’m too tired and we skip it. Human nature strikes again. I have to be reminded that I need God’s grace, and we begin the pattern of Read 1 again. This weekend we talk about this part of our discipleship model -- Read 1.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Stratacipleship Grace: Love 1

This week I was at a conference with a great preaching teacher – Dr. David Schmitt. He was one of my favorite professors in Seminary. It is fun to go back into those situations and remember when learning how to be a pastor was my main job.  Dr. Schmitt has so much skill, and he certainly brought those who attended up on the times. One of the amazing things he does is say things that become a huge aha moment. I know the stuff he says in my head, but when he says it out loud, it hits home and the light turns on. That happened again at this conference.  This one is so good that I questioned whether to tell this story so quickly or to save it, but I trust God will give me more moments like this to preach on. Anyway, we were talking specifically about how God cares for us, and how to preach on that. Dr. Schmitt said, “When my mom says, ‘Well, I have all these things to pray for. I am not sure God has time to listen to me.’ ” In his frank and matter of fact way, Dr. Schmitt replied, “Mom, God’s eternal. He’s got time. Trust me.”  Aha! Yeah, that is totally right!

So often in my life and ministry I hear this type of comment, questioning if God has time for me. I am pretty sure I have thought that a time or two as well. To have Dr. Schmitt say it so matter of factly, and with those words, it was so clear. It is our human nature to define time by our standards, not God’s. I knew this, but having someone say this truth out loud cut so deep.

I pray a series like this does that for you. Over the last three months we have not been talking about subjects and ideas that are all that mind altering. Rather, we have been talking about Jesus’ values, outcomes, and strategies, and how He gives them to His people. Yet, like my experience with Dr. Schmitt, when you say them out loud you realize how common yet true they are, and intentionally implement them even more in your life and conversations. This happens over and over again for me after I preach on these subjects, or even just prepare to preach on them.

Over the last several weeks I spent more time with Charlie and Viola. Viola had been at Mt. Calvary since 1936. This was her second home. This week her final service was held here. When someone has been a member here for that long, you know that they were shaped by many values that happened in this place. Viola, with her loving smile and tender care, was always there for her family. They describe her deep love and how they knew they could count on her. I watched her husband, Charlie, and her son, Charles, sit with her everyday in the hospital, and eventually in hospice. Every time I came to visit her, they were always there, capturing every moment with her up to the end. The value of love was deep in their heart, and they were living out what Viola always did for them. It is moving for me to watch what God has done in a family like that. Jesus’ love is deep in their hearts. He is the greatest and unfailing example of someone who is always there for us.

If I were to tell Viola that it is a strategy to Love 1, I think it would play out like Dr. Schmitt, his mom and the story that God is eternal. Viola knew, and Charlie knows that Love 1 has always been a strategy of Mt. Calvary, but now we are communicating it and defining it. Sometimes that makes it stronger and puts it on the front of our lips. It also helps us to think through how we want to carry it out. While stories like Viola and Charlie have happened and will continue to happen, a series like this prepares us to be intentional in that way. For instance, I am pretty sure that every time someone questions if God has enough time for their prayers, I will now respond, “He’s eternal. He’s got time. Trust me.” This weekend I pray that Jesus, who is always there for us out of His love for us, moves in our hearts so that we can intentionally Love 1 as a church.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stratacipleship Grace: Worship 1

A few days ago we turned on an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It is funny to watch my kids and how they can latch onto a show that obviously was created years ago. Many questions about how we watched T.V. came out of this. They are shocked, of course, that there was no rewind or fast forward. They are shocked that our television watching was not connected to Netflix. Even at their young ages they pick up on the differences between the childhood their parents lived versus today.

It is no secret that Mr. Rogers was communicating a message through his show. There are books out describing the ministry he had for kids. He had a strategy to disciple kids through his lessons. On the show we watched, Mr. Rogers had a kid with special needs. The child had a tumor removed as a baby, which caused a spine issue and put him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. He talked to Mr. Rogers about his chair, his surgeries, and his medical challenges. Rogers’ gentle voice and care for the child was evident. He talked about how much the kid’s parents loved him and took care of him. The episode started with electric cars (it was funny to see where they were with that back then) and ended with an electric wheel chair. Make no mistake, Rogers was teaching kids about care and concern for others even in their differences.

Did Rogers really have a strategy? Is that a bad thing? In a context like we see here, we are probably ok with a strategy. So often, though, I think we are afraid of words like this in the church. We are afraid to become to “business-like.” Rogers was ahead of his time. He knew that if he wanted to influence children in a positive way, he had to have a strategy that was intentional. Now years later, books have been written about the way Rogers influenced children. Even in an outdated show on electric cars, my kids still take something from it. Rogers’ message was so intriguing that it captured their attention. Sure, at the end they said it was a little long and they asked why he used those puppets, but with a few updates, Rogers’ show could again be relevant.

Three years ago we brought the discipleship model forward with the understanding that we wanted people to know what a disciple of Christ looked like. Three years ago many questioned how long it would be around. We have stayed the course, and it is because we see that Jesus was teaching His disciples to understand the importance of these same elements. We continue to ask ourselves how to package this in a way that people understand. In light of that, we realized not only is this a discipleship model, but it is a strategy -- our strategy. In lifting up our values and outcomes, we can help guide people and explain this strategy.

Rogers wanted to impact kids and change their minds to be people who could impact this world. During those times my father wasn’t around, I learned from people like Rogers. Sure, I had grandpas, uncles and others, but watching that one show of Rogers recently reminded me of the part he played in my passion for people. In a culture that still needs relationships, we know the greatest impact is made when God’s people impact the relationships in their lives. If we don’t understand the strategy or the way to do that, we are empty handed in our relationships with others.

I would love to know the strategy Jesus had, but that would mean I would need to understand the mind of God.  Then we could understand how He created His people and how to help them. Well, that won’t happen, at least not until eternity. Now, though, we can watch the strategy of Jesus by His actions with the disciples and others. Jesus was there in the lives of people – loving, healing and discipling. Jesus did have a goal – to have our relationship with Him restored. That is why He died and rose again. He was teaching people key practices in their lives. We believe that these 4 elements: Worship 1, Love 1, Read 1, and Pray 1, make up a strategy – a discipleship model – and it is all centered around grace. That is how you get “Stratacipleship Grace.”  We begin this weekend with the first week – Worship 1.

Living in a broken world & connecting Sunday with the rest of your life

It only takes one lunch to find out what is going on with a friend. One lunch, dinner, or just hanging out with them will help you understand what is going on in the world of others. I have a friend who just lost his mom to cancer. I found out this week that a pastor who is highly loved and highly revered has ALS. Also this week we watch as Webster Gardens mourns with their pastor at his loss. (This may seem like deja vu for you.) I just heard a story of lady who lost her dad while he was out riding his bike, which he had been doing to get healthy and take care of himself. We don’t have to look hard to see that this is a broken world, and every morning we wake up and realize we are living in it. Yet, so often we pretend like it doesn’t have brokenness. I guess we think it is easier on people if they don’t have to hear about our brokenness, so we smile and pretend like our lives are going great. Sometimes we try to not to hear about the brokenness of others because it is just easier that way.

No matter how long we try to ignore it, the reality is that this is a broken world. Every household is facing that brokenness in one way or another. They could be facing a sin they personally struggle with, the death of someone they know, illness, or the sin of others to them. A lot of my call as Pastor is to listen to that brokenness, but it is also my job to prepare others to listen to it. God calls all of us to listen to the brokenness of others and seek out those opportunities to share the healing love of Jesus with them.

The final two Mt. Calvary outcomes collide together. The first one is living in this broken world, but the second one is connecting Sunday morning with the rest of our life. In worship we take time to give that brokenness to Jesus and let him heal it, but do we do that on a daily basis? I can’t be everywhere pronouncing absolution on you. That would be cool if I could. Imagine, you are on the street corner thinking about the pain or the sin of your friend, and miraculously I appear sharing Jesus’ forgiveness for those sins and His healing for our pains. If that was my call I would never get a break, not just from all of you, but from telling it to myself. But isn’t that what we need? We encounter brokenness so often and we need to hear from God’s word that His forgiveness can heal all of it.  The challenge now is how do we connect what happens in worship on Sunday with the rest of our lives? How do I wake up hearing the forgiveness that Jesus gives on Sunday morning, but hear it on Monday or Wednesday? It doesn’t take long before we understand why these are outcomes we want to see at Mt. Calvary, but then how do we carry them out?  This weekend we talk about that.

Growing in the Understanding and Confidence of God's Love

Abby wakes up from naps and often criticizes the person that left her. If I was in her room before she fell asleep, or she is at Mt. Calvary’s pre-school with one of her teachers, she will wake up and say that we left her. Little people are dependent on others and thus confident that adults will be there. This is something that God naturally puts in us. That is why if a child (especially a young child) has a parent they can’t depend on or be confident that the parent will be there for them, he or she can be affected for life. When a kid heads off to college excited and confident, the dependence on their family suddenly disappears. Most days the student never realizes how important it was in the first place, but it is a feeling that he/she will never forget. Now the student has an understanding of why that dependent love was something necessary in his/her life.

As believers in Christ, we soon learn that there is truly nothing in this world that we can be absolutely confident will remain the same. At the same time, we are also growing in understanding and confidence of God’s love. What I mean is, life is full of sin, pain and loss that impacts and affects everyone, and as we realize this, we see that we can’t be confident of anything in this life. In my life, there are two people who are dealing with the potential loss of a parent, or have just gone through it. All the confidence that Abby has when she wakes up from a nap, that someone she loves and trusts will be there with her, can one day suddenly be ripped out from under her. I am watching these two friends struggle through that loss. They both love Jesus and have confidence in His love, but their human dependence and confidence of what they had growing up is slowly disappearing. You can see and feel the pain from people going through this, even in Facebook posts.

Since I go to a lot of funerals, I see that this never changes. Even someone who loses a loved one at 98 can feel the same strong loss as losing someone who is younger. God built us to love and care for others, and that confidence and dependence on those who have been in our lives is powerful.

In a sermon series on outcomes you would think the blog would be positive and uplifting. The reality of this world is why this outcome is so necessary for believers. When the people we have our confidence in fail us, then what? It is then that we grow in the understanding and confidence of God’s love. Scripture is powerful. It shows us that the believers in Christ were continually taken care of by the love of Jesus. In their toughest and weakest moments, they were able to trust God’s provision. This is what we want at Mt. Calvary. When people are at their weakest moment, we want them to be confident that the love of Jesus will see them through. This is a moment where, as people who understand the love of Jesus, we can confidently tell people to wait for it-- wait for the moment when my Jesus shows up. There is nothing that He can’t handle! He is and always has been there to love and care for me! This is confidence in the love of Christ. When people learn that this world always falters, they can see how Jesus never does.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Utilize your God-given Gifts

A few days ago I had car battery trouble. To be honest, it was an epidemic at Mt. Calvary. A couple others had the same problem this week. Car batteries are just annoying to me. The corrosion is an issue, and when they have issues they just go out in the most random places. By now most of you know that I am a system guy, so I called my father.  He told me to go to Auto Zone and have them test it, so I did.  Not only did Auto Zone test it, but they put in a new one too. Keith was the worker who helped me. Keith took me to the car and showed me how to use the battery tester. Let me tell you something, I have limited knowledge of how my car runs and how to fix its problems, and that is where it stops. It is not that I am not willing to learn, I just know my brain doesn’t work like that. I could barely figure out how to put more Freon in my car this summer. When Keith started showing me how to use the high tech battery tester, my relational gift kicked in. I was nice because he wanted to show me, but honestly at that point, he could have told me my battery was bad even if wasn’t and I would have believed him. This is why I stick to my gifts of relationships with the car guys I know. My mechanic is a guy whose son was at my old church. I have spent time mentoring his son and I have a relationship with his family. The last time Mindy had to drop me off at the mechanic she asked why we drive to 170 and Page to get the car fixed. (I think we are already spoiled after a year of living in Rock Hill where everything is so close.) I said, “We drive out here because I know this guy will take care of us and our cars.”

My relational side is necessary even in my car guy. Last week when my sister-in-law asked me about her car, I told her about my car guy and assured her that he would take care of her if she brought her car in. I have learned a very important lesson in life as I have grown in faith and realized how Jesus made me. I am relational, and therefore utilizing my God given gifts even plays out in how I take care of my cars. Sure, as I share my faith I have pushed this area of my life to make new connections and new relationships so I can share the message of Jesus. But behind the scenes, my God given gift of being passionate about relationships plays a part in almost everything I do.

This lesson was painful in the beginning. In high school I struggled through dating relationships, friendships, and family relationships. As I matured and my time of confession grew, I recognized the bitter pain I felt when I knew I had sinned against God. Being made with a passion to care for relationships, when I was hurting the relationship I had with God, it hurt the most. Jesus’ grace restored my relationship with my Creator (and continues to each day), and through that I began utilizing my God given gifts, specifically relationships.

Sometimes the areas where we are so painfully impacted by the sins we commit can lead us to understand how God made us. This is the outcome we want all believers to have, specifically at Mt. Calvary. My prayer is that He will lead you through a journey that helps you acknowledge and see your sin, raw and real as it is, then lead you to His grace, and even beyond that to see how God created you and how He can use you uniquely for His glory. Every season of life will lead you to utilize your God given gifts differently. Nonetheless, acknowledging Jesus and His impact in your life, it will help you treasure how He made you and how He prepares you to use your gifts in this world.