Friday, March 13, 2015

Expertise of Baptism

In this day and age expertise is expected. We look to those who have been trained in certain areas and expect them to step up to their specialty. If they don’t do it well, then we are quick to criticize and challenge if they were really experts in the first place.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself these questions right now. Do you think Jamie Garcia can be the pitcher we expect? Will Rosenthal live up to his potential as closer? Who will be the next president and how will he or she change the flaws of the past? Is my tip at a restaurant based upon expertise? We all have these expectations whether we know it or not. We live with them everyday.

I love the Bible passage John 3:16.  It is held up on signs at sports events all across this nation, but so often its context is missed.  Jesus was talking to a supposed “expert” in the subject of religious law – a Pharisee. Nicodemus was a guy who knew all about the church, yet he had a hard time understanding the true concept of faith. Granted, faith is based on some unexplainable truths, but don’t we expect the “expert” to get it?  Yet Nicodemus is puzzled by Jesus’ words. What does it mean to be born again with water and the spirit, and how is someone transformed through this?

Two weeks in a row we celebrate baptism at Mt. Calvary. Baby Cora will be up there with me this week. We, as a body of Christ, will get to marvel again at the mystery of baptism. Just like last week, we realize the world can see this as folly. Is it different when it’s the “expert” who sees it as folly?

Confession time. Guess who are the people I am most critical of? I am critical of pastors. Honestly, I try to stay open-minded with pastors who have different views, but the truth is, if I hear horrible theology I am overly critical. I feel justified in being that way since Luther warned pastors that getting up and preaching is a huge responsibility. It is not something to be taken lightly.

Keep that in mind as we go back to Nicodemus. He was a guy who wrestled with his mentors around him. His colleagues (the other Pharisees) taught one thing and Jesus was teaching something totally different.  What a tough spot to be in. If the “experts” in your life are misguiding you, then how are you able to grasp the deeper understanding of what you need to know? Unfortunately, sometimes “experts” just expect us to understand rather than help us reach understanding. Growth is found in our questions, and Jesus wants us to reach and understand the deeper pieces of His life.

My son, Jacob, is full of questions. Just the other day he said, “You expect me to learn a lot.” Well the truth is, “Yes I do!” And just as much as he is learning, I am asking myself how I can be a better teacher. The famous passage of John 3:16 was Jesus trying to help Nicodemus grasp the deepest teaching of what He was about to do. It wasn’t some cliché. Nicodemus, the “expert,” didn’t understand and Jesus was trying to help, wanting him to understand. Just think, if he “got it,” how many others could be impacted? One reason I love this passage is that it brings us back to Lent again, back to baptism, back to the very truth we need to hear! This week we take time to look at an expert who is being challenged and how Jesus was helping him grasp the truth of what He came to do!  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

From Folly to Boasting

Last week I became aware of an unusual fight. It was a Facebook fight. Those who don’t use Facebook may wonder how this happens. On Facebook, people post their thoughts and then others can comment on them. Most of the time this works out nicely, like when I posted a video of Abby blowing out her candles from her birthday party last Sunday. It allowed people, like my family in Kansas City, to see her. It was a cool thing. Sometimes though, when people post their opinions and thoughts, they receive all kinds of feedback and remarks, good and bad. For instance, there was a lot of remarking going on when Wainwright had to come back to St. Louis to get his injury checked out, or when the Blues recently made those trades. Many people like to share their opinions.
Now, back to the unusual fight. This person posted that a number of people with Joy FM stickers on their vehicles were driving poorly and not living up to what they are proclaiming on the back of their cars. This sparked other comments about Joy FM drivers (which happens quite often). Some of these comments, I must admit, were a little intense and certainly judgmental. A devoted Christian responded to one of the comments, making some pretty wicked attacks for the world to see below this other person’s post. Since I know the story of both these people, I can see why this happened. I am pretty sure both parties were hurt. The fact that this happened publicly only made matters worse.

Now before I give firepower to those who think Facebook is a bad thing, let me say this. Our latest generation is willing to openly admit they have feelings and opinions, which allows for great dialogue on some of our inner struggles. Facebook is not a bad thing, but just like anything in life, it needs to be used in the right context. A few weeks ago I posted a picture of a little bench that was given to Mindy and I in memory of Maddy. Using Facebook for this was a great way to communicate our love and thankfulness. Remember the birthday video of Abby I mentioned earlier?  Facebook can be a great way to share special moments with family and friends far away.
I have to admit that I see both sides of this unusual Facebook argument. Those that struggle with faith and Christianity struggle with our hypocritical nature. I know the person posting about Joy FM. That person has sent me texts of care and concern recently. That person is fully aware that I am pastor and loves me. That person has never made a remark concerning my faith and, quite honestly, is supportive of me. I may not agree with the way this person handles Facebook posting all the time, but I am sure that if I asked, there would be a few things wrong with my actions as well. On the other hand, I see the motive of the person who was defending the faith to the point of getting upset and attacking.

I just can't do that

As Jacob gets older, he is discovering the things his dad cannot do. A few weeks ago I shared that my mom saved a box of my art and I still can’t figure out why. Regardless, when it comes to things Jacob wants to draw, he has learned not to come to dad for help. He knows that dad will just create a mess out of it. He also has learned that mom is better at helping him with homework. The other day he had the audacity to   This is never good. Yet I also realized that this is my own fault.  If he asks for something that I know I don’t do well, I tell him, “I can’t do that. Wait for Mom.” There also might be a tiny bit of worry that Mindy will judge me if I do help him, but that is a subject for another time.
say, “Dad, there are a lot of things you can’t do.” I was like, “What?” He listed them off like he had been keeping track. At this point I realized my son is now aware of my weakness.

Honestly, it is important to know our strengths and weaknesses because it helps us to focus on the things we are good at. But I also believe that sometimes, just like for me, it becomes an excuse. “I can’t do that. Wait for Mom.” In our faith life, there are some things we openly admit that we don’t do well. While there is a ton of truth to using our strengths to the glory of God, is there also truth to God challenging our weaknesses? Are there things in your faith life that you have just gotten accustom to saying, “I don’t do that?” Is it singing, praying out loud, leading a bible study, or sharing your faith?

In the lesson in Mark 8, Jesus had just admitted that He was going to the cross to die and rise again.  Peter was like, Jesus you can’t do that. Peter was stopping the very mission of Jesus. Jesus had to call Peter out in the toughest way possible – by calling him the devil. When He said, “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus wasn’t being mean to Peter. He was calling Peter out on thinking he knew the Lord’s overall plan. What does the devil do? He tries to stop the plans of Jesus. That is what Peter was trying to do as well.  Now think about us.  How do we limit the power of Jesus? How do we stop God’s plan by suggesting what Jesus can or can’t do?

Literally, the only thing I can draw is a tree. I was so proud of the tree I would draw.  It was tree that you’d find in winter – no leaves but tons of branches. So saying I can’t do art is not exactly true. Suppose I was talking to someone who spoke a different language or was deaf. Would I stop and say, “Sorry. I can’t share the message of Jesus with you because I can’t draw,” or would I remember the tree and trust that God can use even my weakness for His mission.