Thursday, June 25, 2015


It is funny how words change over time. Recently, Jacob has been saying, “That’s really epic!” My youth pastor side wants to tell him that using the word “epic” was cool about 3 or 4 years ago, but that might make my 6-year-old cry. A word commonly used long ago was “pilgrimage.” When I hear pilgrimage, I think about pilgrims in black suits and white hats. I never use the word “pilgrimage” today, even though I know what it really means (per  a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion). Instead, I tend to use the word “journey.” Yet, the essence of pilgrimage is hard to reach without using that exact word.

Scripture uses pilgrimage to talk about going to Jerusalem (the holy land for the Jewish people), or about going to heaven. Back then, making a pilgrimage was very important to the people because they had a certain holy place, or holy land. Today, we don’t have such a place, so we make that connection when talking about heaven. We certainly know the importance of our journey to heaven, and we look forward to that new home.

Think about your earthly home for a minute (your home now or your childhood home). What feelings do you get when you think of going home? Are there markers along the way that let you know you’re getting closer and the journey is coming to an end? I know when I take my kids back to Kansas City (my childhood home) I point out places where I have memories. It may be the high school where I had track meets in Concordia, Missouri, the place where a turkey hit my car, or the place where I used to work. Along the journey, though, my goal is to get home.

Rev. Shauen Trump will be visiting Mt. Calvary this Sunday.  He is a missionary we have supported ever since he completed his Seminary fieldwork here. Shauen makes the trek home to the U.S. about once a year to help people see where the journey has taken him and how he uses their support. For Shauen and his family, I am sure it is a shock to be home, as the people and culture here are very different than in Africa where they currently live and work. Yet, he and his wife probably have similar thoughts and memories of being home. The pilgrimage home is a long trek, but Jesus’ protection guides and helps them.

Shauen spends his ministry talking with people who do not have many of the comforts we are used to in our association with home, and points them to the great pilgrimage toward Heaven. He shares with them a passage that helps develop this idea of pilgrimage (Psalm 121), that as believers we lift our eyes to the hills, which he will also share with us this weekend. The hills are the place where we focus on what is to come when our pilgrimage is complete and we are finally home with Jesus. For people in Africa, with little money, diseases, and other struggles, this hope and pilgrimage is so important. Even though we are often more affluent in America, we still wrestle with diseases, the attacks of sin, and our lack of appreciation for all that we have. No matter what country we are in, we are all headed on the pilgrimage home to heaven.

Psalms is a book of the Bible that often expresses deep emotion, and how through that emotion God moves us to see and experience the Gospel. Psalm 121 is a psalm of hope and promise, as God promises to provide, protect, and forgive all our sins. That grace is so important as we face challenges and look to the hills, or focus on the journey to heaven, and what God has given us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Calming the Storm

Storms are a common theme or way of life in St. Louis these days. Right now you may be wishing you were in a dryer part of the country, like sunny Florida.  I was waiting on an appointment the other day and I overheard two men talking about this very thing. One said, “Do you like all that Florida weather out there?” The other responded, “It is like a tropical island or something.” I don’t usually think of Florida as a tropical island.  When I think of a tropical island, I think of blue skies, great temperatures, white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, like at Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast of Belize that I got to visit. Yet, Caye Caulker has a rainy season, and storms come to that island just like they come to St. Louis.

This week’s lesson is about Jesus calming the storm. It can be hard to connect the dots when trying to mix this story with Father’s Day, which is also on Sunday. Sometimes, our thoughts of our fathers on Father’s Day are like those of the tropical islands – we focus on all the great memories, but realize there are challenging ones too. It is no secret that I have faced many storms with my father, and at times, struggled to think of him in a positive way. While the world paints a picture of islands, or Father’s Day, in a blue-sky type way, we know the reality.

Father’s Day has a unique feel this year. In year’s past I was focused on how I was different than my father, and on the joys of my own kids. This year, after the loss of a child, Father’s Day doesn’t have the same blue-sky feel.  I have been faced with the fact that we all face storms, and though we want to ignore them, eventually they’ll get so outrageous that we need to ask Jesus for help in facing them.

Father’s Day and calming the storm truly have a lot in common. Throughout this life we face storms over and over again. We return to Jesus, who is the only way for these storms to be calmed. Jesus gives us restoration with Him and with others. We celebrate that restoration. This year I celebrate restoration with my Heavenly Father and with my earthly father.  Though my earthly father is no longer on this earth, I await the time when I will celebrate full restoration with him.

Calming the storm is a reminder to the disciples, and to us, of what we need in this life. We want to paint our lives with blue skies and great weather. We want Father’s Day memories that are only joys and celebrations. The reality is that we face more than that, and we need God’s forgiveness and restoration. We can be full of joy knowing that God does this for us time and again. God forgives us and gives us the strength to live in forgiveness with others.

Later in his life, my father was great at admitting his storms. He so desperately wanted blue skies and great weather for his son, rather than facing the same storms he faced. I credit that to my father’s passion for reading God’s word. He saw what God wanted for us, and His willingness to do anything to get that back for us. While I am going to face storms in my life, I am thankful for my father teaching me to acknowledge and admit the storms I face personally. Like the disciples, I find that the only person who can calm my storms is Jesus. This year I encourage you to rejoice in the gifts of your earthly and heavenly Father. With your earthly father, may you treasure the moments together and the forgiveness you share in Christ, and with your heavenly Father, may you treasure His unending forgiveness, blessings, and love for you.

Outfit of Grace

When I was in grade school I had a shirt of the dream team. Remember that elite basketball team who won the Gold Medal in basketball?  The shirts had every member of the team in those old cartoon-faced pictures. I loved Michael Jordan, and since he was on my shirt, it was one of the t-shirts I treasured. I would wear it with my favorite blue Umbros (shorts), which matched perfectly. You see, even back then I was structured and systematic in my thinking. This outfit made me feel cool. I felt like I could do anything. I felt better at basketball, and just life in general. I am pretty sure I wore that shirt out.

As I grew up, my clothes and how I dressed became even more important to me. I worked in clothing stores and got cooler clothes, yet I always felt like other people looked cooler than me. I had some buddies in college that no matter what they wore, they always looked like the coolest guys on the planet.

It is intriguing to me how dress can catch our eye, and how we associate some kind of power or coolness to it. The honest truth is, like me, each of those people I thought were cool were really hiding their brokenness. They had areas of life they did not feel like they could ever fix. They felt as if they were stuck, and no matter what they did, they could not break loose. Sometimes all of our resources are spent trying to fix the problems we are covering up until we have nothing left, and then we feel like we have no alternative but to give up.

The Gospel reading this week has an odd way of connecting those dots. Here is a lady who has attempted to deal with her physical illness in every way possible. She has seen many physicians. The Apostle Mark comments that she has seen so many that she spent all her money. Spending all your money means your resources are tapped out, and ultimately, the next step is to give up. Just before she takes that step, she finds Jesus, the true healer, and touches His garment. Unlike our clothes, which supposedly make us look cooler, feel beautiful, or provide some kind of emotional support for the brokenness hiding behind them, Jesus’ garment really has power! Jesus is outfitted in grace. His clothes even send off grace! Wouldn’t it be great to have clothes that would take away the brokenness and give us grace? We could cover up all the nasty things about ourselves and have only the good things showing. Well, Jesus came to heal all the nasty things and restore us, showing us that we are clothed in grace! For this woman, Jesus was able to do what the physicians could not do, heal and restore her. She knew the only one who had truly won the victory over her illness – Jesus.

Jesus’ defeat of illness is a key understanding for us today. No matter what stage of the healing process we are at, or acknowledgement of the sin or illness we are covering up, embracing that we could find a garment that could truly heal our struggle and not just cover it up seems impossible. It is in this moment of doubt that the devil has us right where he wants us, believing we are incurable. Like the woman, it is an important moment for us to come back to the promise that Jesus can do things that no human can do, no matter what their profession. This week we take time to talk about that.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A house divided

While I was doing my internship in the South, I learned what true passion for college football looks like. I was hanging out with a family who had both a Tennessee fan and an Alabama fan. You can imagine the kind of passion they had, and they often referenced, “A house divided cannot stand.” Whether you are quoting Abraham Lincoln or the Bible, we know that this reference began in Scripture.

I remember that when I was with my friends in the South, all bets were off when they started talking about college football. I didn’t know what they would do or say next.  They were willing to take cheap shots and say things that were not allowed in conversations, and sometimes even enforce the rule of silence. It’s odd how an issue of deep passion can create such a change in our behavior, and even in our logical thinking. How many things have you said during a fight, that when you really thought about it, didn’t make sense?

Looking back to the life of Jesus, we find some leaders of faith coming against Him, and questioning His family and who stands with Him.  In response to them, Jesus points out that the devil, working against himself, would not accomplish the intended purpose. He uses the example of a robber in a house.  The robber is going to take down the strong man, otherwise he can’t get what he came for. If Jesus was working for the devil or by the power of the devil, yet casting out demons, He would be defeating the devil’s intended purpose.

This easily shows that the church leaders, by accusing Jesus, were tearing down the very house they were intending to build. They were pushing against the purpose they had, which was to further the kingdom. Jesus, then, points out that speaking against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. If we question the work of the Holy Spirit, how then can we be forgiven, since forgiveness is His very work.

To make things more complex, the religious leaders bring Jesus’ family into it. They try to create tension among the crowd about those people they suspect are the most supportive of Jesus. Unlike us, Jesus is not easily swayed and moves on to talk about the family of God.

All this is great, but it’s a lot of deep talk, and it’s challenging to see the intentions of those coming against Jesus and how we fit into this picture. I return to the reference of my friends and say this, college football is a harmless thing to be battle one another on, but other things are not so harmless. Times when my wife and I fight about the kids or our parenting skills create major tensions. Mindy and I have a passion for family, and we have put that as a mission for our marriage, to be intentional for our family and others. In the beginning of our marriage it was much easier judge one another and say hurtful things when we felt like the other one was not doing what we wanted. We soon realized we were not getting anywhere. We were never getting closer to our intended mission by slamming one another, even if we felt like they had made a poor decision. It was not until later that we could see a lot more was accomplished to strengthen our house by thoughtful forgiveness, discussion, and love. The church leaders of the day were coming against a perfect Jesus (not sinners like us), and more importantly, they were missing that it was their own selfish desires that were leading them to attack Jesus, and in turn, attempt to wreck the very mission they were trying to uphold.

At first, this text may seem far from anything we think we need to talk about it, but look deep enough, and you will find missions you sabotage on a daily basis thanks to your selfish desires and misspoken words. Thankfully, knowing the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus, we know He came to restore us and forgive us. That brings us back to our intended mission – to build the house and restore homes – speaking of the victory won by Jesus.

Settling into the Holy Trinity

Over the last several weeks at Mt. Calvary, you might have felt like there has been one celebration after another. First there was ascension, then confirmation, Pentecost, and now Holy Trinity Sunday. Throw in the end of the year picnic for the Early Childhood center, and graduation for our association school (CCLS), and other end of the school year stuff, and you have party, party, party. This is the stuff my life is full of this time of year. One day I realized I had something going on every night. Mindy and I finally get to take a breath at the end of May. You may not have kids in school, but May probably is still busy for you with various events and invitations. As June approaches, the church calendar will settle into a rhythm – the weeks following Pentecost.  (Hopefully your personal calendars will settle down too.) This Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, is our one last push before we settle in for the summer.

In the message last week, I prepped you for this week as I talked about the Trinity. This week we hear two key readings: one from Acts 2 when Peter is literally on fire talking about Jesus in his sermon to the people; secondly, one of my favorites from John where Nicodemus is digging deeper trying to understand Jesus. Thinking about the Holy Trinity can give us the same overwhelmed feeling as a world wind of events going on in our lives.  We wonder how it will all fit together and get done, yet as happens every year, we get through it and stand on the other side amazed that we survived. Thus it is studying the Holy Trinity again. How do all these pieces fit together – wondering like Nicodemus what it means having to be born again without being able to re-enter our mother’s womb, or like Peter realizing that the power of Jesus is his and that he will not be abandoned because Christ has already won the victory for him? Then add the other mysteries of the Trinity – one God but three persons.  How does it all fit?  Will I ever understand? It can all be overwhelming. Then we settle in.

Okay well, we never really settle into the Holy Trinity, rather we fall into a routine. Just like a graduation or other pinnacle moment of life, after the emotion of the big day fades, we embrace what this means for our life now. Holy Trinity Sunday is, once again, acknowledging the amazing things the Trinity does in our lives – the pinnacle moment if you will. The Sundays after Pentecost we will settle into the idea that this is our reality – Jesus will not abandon us, the Holy Spirit will guide us, and the devil is real, but the victory has been won. Hard to believe I can say all those things in one sentence! They are huge pieces of our lives! Yet, the summer will put us in that routine of living life with the Holy Trinity.

A week or so ago I went to Jacob’s kindergarten graduation. As Jacob stood up and proudly proclaimed that he wanted to be a video game inventor, I realized my son was growing up. He’s no longer the little baby I brought home in that unfamiliar state of California during my first call. He has been on this journey with Mindy and I, and now is really showing signs of growth. Sometimes life is so busy I miss the moments of awe. Honestly, if I recognized them all the time, it would be overwhelming. Instead, I have to settle in.  The Christian life is like that too.  Everyday I could be filled with awe for what God does for me, but it would be overwhelming, and eventually I would need to settle in and start living.

Over the next few weeks Mindy and I will plan out our summer. We will put together a calendar of the day-to-day stuff. There will be days that Mindy takes the kids to the Zoo, the Magic House, or to the pool.  Other days they will just relax at home. There will be Cardinal day games, and now night games too. There will be $0.50 drink days when the Cardinals score six runs or more, and occasionally Papa John’s pizza nights when the Cardinals win (you can get 50% off your order). I can’t do it every time or I would go broke, but trust me, I am not complaining about Cardinal wins. As summer goes on, we will settle into the summertime routine with our kids. There will still be those surprising awe-filled moments, like last night as Mindy and I could hear the boys still up talking way past their bedtime. As we wrestled with whether to tell them to go sleep or keep listening to them enjoy each other, Mindy and I remembered our favorite times of summer were when we could talk with our siblings with that little bit of sunlight still coming through the window. I think as we settle into the Holy Trinity we have those sunlight streaming moments, perhaps when we read scripture, hear a Christian song, or see the way God made this world.  It’s those moments when we realize just how amazing our God is, and that we get to live in this beautiful world He created. That is when we’ve settle into the Holy Trinity.


A week or so ago, I was with a group of pastors from the UCC church (United Church of Christ). You are probably wondering what they believe, and I would say, “I don’t know.” You might think pastors understand all the distinctions between the denominations, but trust me, we don’t.  I had a class in seminary about it and got some key resources to use when I need to brush up a particular church body. Anyway, at the meeting, one of pastors kept talking about being an “ER” church. Not knowing their lingo, all I could think of was “emergency room.” Maybe they are confessing that they need an ER to revive them? Figuring that was not the case, I finally asked, “What is ER?” They told me Evangelically Reformed, which means they are more like the Lutheran Church in that the pastors have more say in how the congregation is run, rather than all the power being held by the congregation, as in other UCC churches. Regardless, I left knowing a term that is common to them, which was previously unfamiliar to me.

All church bodies use terms that are hard to understand. Some of them make sense when they are explained because they put understandable words to things we can’t easily describe or understand in Scripture. The most common of these terms is Trinity. The word “Trinity” is not in Scripture, but it is commonly used in the Christian world just as if it was. It makes sense to us to use the word Trinity to help clarify a challenging concept in Scripture – one God and three persons. Perhaps this is why we have felt the liberty to create other terms to describe other parts of theology and beliefs within our denomination. However, with fewer and fewer people regularly attending church, it falls more on the pastors to explain these terms. This weekend gives us a chance to talk about a key term that highlights a huge theological point – Pentecost.

Scripture is living, and a living book means we see new things every time we open it and read it. Lately, I have been processing the roles and persons of God. We often teach that the roles of each person of the Trinity are very important. The Father is the creator, Jesus is the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier. Their roles become important as we see the progression of Scripture and watch the story unfold. The Father spoke in the beginning, Jesus came to restore us, and then the Holy Spirit comes to each of us to guide, protect, and teach us how to love. The verse that stood out to me recently was John 16:7, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” I find it interesting that Jesus says, “it is to your advantage that I go away.” What does that mean?  Does it mean He will no longer be present when the Helper comes?  As I look through Scripture, each person of God has their time when they are the focus, but Scripture is clear in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Therefore, it is clear that Jesus was there in the Old Testament, and is here today. Thus it is for the Father and the Spirit. Their roles never change. Yet it is certainly interesting to hear Him say, “it is to your advantage I go away.”

Pentecost brings a shift in focus to the person of the Holy Spirit, who was not focused on much until Jesus ascended. The Holy Spirit is first seen in a powerful way when he helped the apostles deliver a message to the crowds of Jesus rescuing everyone from sin, death, and the devil. The amazing thing is that the apostles shared that message in the unique languages of the people, languages the apostles didn’t know previously. Now, the Holy Spirit drives the very sanctification in our lives. What does that mean for our Pentecost today?

Sometimes I find myself wishing God the Father would talk to me on a mountain, or Jesus would teach me in a huge crowd, or that I could see one of His healings. Is this what God intended for now? Am I worried more about the past, which I have 20/20 hindsight vision to appreciate, and missing the power of what Holy Spirit is doing today? It makes me wonder if Moses, the disciples, and others had similar feelings. Did Moses want the future to come because he wanted to see Jesus? Did the disciples wish the Father would speak to them on a mountain like He did with Moses on Mt. Sinai? Were the people of the Old and New Testament the same as us in their impatience and desire for a clearer picture of the future? Are we missing what is happening right in front of us today?

The key part of Pentecost, and a powerful one, is we have the Holy Spirit now! One of the lessons I learned early on in life was that my desire to rush into the future was not a helpful thing. I had desires for life to hurry up, and I also had an image of what my future would look like. Now I would say I am at a place where I would not have wanted to see back then. It is not because things are bad, but if I had that foreknowledge, I am not sure how I would have acted. As a teenager, there was no way I could have embraced that kind of thinking. As an adult, I am embracing it and trying to enjoy each moment of each day. I wonder if it would be helpful to think like that about our Christian walk – enjoy each moment and embrace the gift and power of the Holy Spirit in our life. God gave us a unique season, different from the people of the Old and New Testament. As Jesus said, it is better for Him to go away so we can have the Holy Spirit. This weekend we’ll talk about the unique season we are in, and why Pentecost is so important in our lives right now today.


I have been through 12 confirmations in my lifetime. Of course, I was there for my own and my brother and sisters, then there was one on vicarage and 7 in ministry. Every year of ministry I have been highly involved in the confirmation process. While as a youth pastor I may not have done other pastoral jobs, the title did make sure I was always involved with confirmation. As I came to Mt. Calvary, we tried to take the culmination of all the things I had learned over the years and put together a class we felt could truly benefit our youth. Confirmation Sunday is the pinnacle of all that work.

Work is something our world requires. From the classroom to the work force, we are required to work. While it is changing, work often earns its name, and we find it to be challenging and exhausting. This does not help me as a pastor convince the middle school students that the work done in confirmation is something worthwhile. Thankfully, like I mentioned earlier, work is changing in some ways. People are trying to find work that that they like and that is beneficial. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and even less when you are dealing with youth in middle school. Rarely do I find middle school youth happy with their schoolwork and life. It is just an awkward time. While people may argue that they would go back to high school, it is rare that I find anyone that wants to go back to middle school. Yet ironically, middle school is the beginning of some of the most foundational moments in our life, as we move into high school and prepare for adulthood.

This is exactly why we do confirmation at this time. This puts us at a challenging place to help youth separate from their school life, and see their faith as truly important for their eternal life. The readings and work we do in confirmation bring us to the foundation of who God intended us to be in relationship with him. That relationship is only possible because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which has taken away our sin and defeated the sin of the world. At Mt. Calvary we use the Action Bible in confirmation class, a Bible that takes the words of Scripture and puts them in comic form. There are many ways we criticize our technology and how fast paced our world is, but let me tell you, we have some amazing and unique ways to read Scripture. In the adult world, there are many different Bible plans and applications that take you through the Bible. Right now, I am reading with a plan called Old and New Testament. It allows a section of the Old and New Testament to be pulled up everyday. These tools are helpful to keep us in the Word, and see the Word in unique and different ways. The Action Bible does that for middle school students in confirmation class. We use it and connect it to the catechism, which helps us understand Scripture. At the end of the class, the only way to truly to see what the students have learned is to have them share some type of faith statement. This weekend we will hear a faith statement based on Psalm 91.

Psalm 91 is a very important Psalm that reminds us of the shelter of the Lord.  I have to admit, I use this Psalm mostly when I am with sick or dying people. At first, looking at it as a confirmation verse seemed different, until I thought about the reason I read it to sick and dying people. It is because the Psalmist is struggling with the enemy in this world. The enemy is real and present, and attacks us when we least expect it. Sick and dying people are truly feeling the attack of the enemy and the effects of their own sin. The Psalm then brings comfort as God promises to protect and defend us. A promise fulfilled when God sent His Son to defeat sin, death and the devil, and therefore protect us from all the evil of this world. While this seems to make sense for a sick or dying person, the reality is, to a middle school student looking at a scary world, a passage sharing that Jesus won the victory over evil brings comfort to him too. As life challenges them and their own failures confront them, confirmation students are confirming they are trusting in the very saving and protecting power of Jesus in any and every situation.

It is not just confirmation students who need this. We need this too as we face the devil in this world and our own sinful failures time and time again. This weekend we take time to celebrate with Lucas as he gets confirmed. We also take the time to reconfirm our faith in our Lord, knowing the very protecter, defender and Savior that He is.