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.