Thursday, February 18, 2016


When you watch the news, you can’t help but notice all the horrible stories of people facing pain or problems. It may be death, illness, or injury—none of which make happy stories. I know many who don’t watch the news because of the negative way it impacts them. At the end of the day, we do our best to protect ourselves and those we love from the painful attacks of the world.

One day my kids will find out this is my secret weakness. I can be pretty tough in my expectations at times. I want to help them learn to function in a world where they will continually face trials. Yet, if I see in their eyes the fear of the world or the need for protection, I break down. I want to do everything I can to protect them from the world. I am sure we could look into my history and find many instances that led to my heart for protecting my kids. Then again, just watching the world operate could also give me that same lens that drives me to protect them.

We all feel this to some extent.  We think of many ways to protect ourselves. We have security systems in our homes, locks on our cars, and maybe even a weapon for a potential intruder. This isn’t even the half of it. When a child or relative heads off to college, we pray for protection from all the ways the world could attack.

I have a new friend who works in Brentwood, but lives in Ferguson. I was shocked that he lives there (partially because most people who work in Brentwood live a little closer than that). I, of course, was interested in the unrest and how he felt about it. He didn’t leave his house or run in fear. He said most of the unrest stopped after the 10pm news every night.  I know the world had a real bad view of what happened in Ferguson, and sometimes St. Louis was painted to be a city of unrest. I also know that wasn’t true. But still, in light of all the dangers going on, it was shocking to see a friend of mine living there with little to no fear.

This weekend we will talk about one of those passages that contradicts our normal way of thinking and reacting, especially since we are often worried about being protected. Jesus is responding to the people who are warning Him about the king who wants to kill Him. Jesus, who knows the dangers of sin in this world, responds as if He is casually tossing the threat aside. It brings us to a very important reflection. He knew the very challenges of the world. He also knew that His provision would take care of us. Jesus suffered so we could be redeemed! Now, how do we stay aware of the dangers and challenges of this world, and at the same time, trust in Jesus and His protection? This weekend our Gospel reading helps us reflect on that tension.


People find it odd when they find out desserts are not a strong pull for me. I can usually take them or leave them, and on top of that, I am picky about what I take. Don’t get me wrong I have desserts I really like, for instance, Reece’s Peanut Butter cups, Dove milk chocolate, and chocolate cake (and only chocolate cake). Watch me, if white cake is out for an event I will never take it. I will tell you it is not worth the calories, but honestly, it is not even tempting in the least.

Temptation can be like that based upon our personalities. We are all susceptible to different things. When someone is not susceptible to something we are, we can be jealous or suspicious of their lack of temptation. Just as we all have unique interests and strengths, we have different temptations as well.

Lent is a great time to talk about temptations. During this season of the church year, we move to more sacrificial, and certainly reflective, topics and behaviors. We do this in all sorts of ways. We worship more— Sundays and Wednesdays. Some even take on the long time Catholic-originating tradition of giving something up. By now you might know my bent of how I really don’t like this Lenten tradition. Regardless, I do like the idea of us taking steps to observe the sacrifice of Christ. I think the ideal is when one takes on something new to start serving or growing in Christ in a new way.

It is not fun at all to compare our temptations to those of someone else, but it is even worse to compare how Christ handled His temptations to how we handle ours. Sure, we get to see that He is fully human, but we also know He handles everything perfectly. Us? Not so much. It can make us feel so down. This is where the Gospel comes in, to remind us Christ did this so we could enjoy all the blessings of being His forgiven child. There is something else that we can take from the story of Christ’s temptations, and that is His response. Jesus uses the Word to respond to Satan’s taunts.

The power of God’s Word cannot be stated enough. It is an amazing book! The Word is strong, and cuts through the hearts of people. This weekend we take time to reflect on how Jesus handled temptation, what it teaches us, and as we journey through Lent, the great benefits of being in the powerful Word of God.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


The first time I went to Belize it was in a whirlwind of joy. I knew I was going to get married in the next year, and I was going to start my first call in the ministry. I was going on this trip with great friends who had walked the journey of seminary with me. We were doing what the seminary told us to do – take a trip you wouldn’t normally take, because once you get into ministry you will be so involved you won’t have time for awhile. So we took a cruise, something I had always wondered what it would be like. We got a good deal. We were much younger than the majority of the people on the ship, but we didn’t mind because we were set on having a blast. We spent a lot of time laughing and talking about the future of ministry. Probably my favorite day of the cruise was when we docked in Belize and decided to ask a local what to do. We were directed to an island called Caye Calker. On the island we met a guy from the U.S. who moved to Belize for retirement. I began to imagine what it would be like to just move to a place like this. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, perfect blue skies with the sun shinning on the sand. I even found an Internet café to email Mindy. It was just a little hut, but had computers inside. We have some great pictures of us guys hanging out that day. By far, that was my favorite memory of the cruise. I have a dream of taking Mindy there one day to see that little café. In my opinion, it was like I had experienced the best of God’s creation.

I got the chance to go back to Belize on a mission trip. I always questioned if a Belize trip would live up to the hype I had made it in my head. We got to stay in a great, safe condo on the beach, but our real focus was a little village just down the road where they had little to nothing. While it was a completely different experience than my first trip, it was just as amazing! I got to see teenagers hungry for Jesus. When we came into the village, they experienced a little bit of heaven by the way we cared for them, bringing VBS and a youth time dedicated to their needs. The first time I went to Belize I was passionate about my first call and marriage, and I got to experience God’s great creation. The second time I went there I began to contemplate moving from youth ministry to a broader ministry. Belize was a place where God was all over. I look back and all I have is fond memories of both of those trips.

But both times I had to come back to reality. My first trip I brought back a painful sunburn, and came back to some grueling days as I worked hard to finish Seminary. The second time, I came back to days of processing through what was next for me in ministry. Both times I wanted to head back to Belize and build a tent and stay.

Some of you may remember me telling this story, or some of it, before. That is ok because that is part of my point. When you experience something like this you never forget it. In some ways, the people you tell never fully get the picture. No matter how well you explain it or how many times you talk about it, they had to be there to fully understand. You probably have a place like that, a place where you felt God in the midst of His creation. Maybe it is a pinnacle moment in your life. Perhaps, occasionally, you drift back there wishing you could experience that again.

This is where we are going this weekend. Anytime we are dealing with Jesus on earth, we talk about it a lot. We have to understand the disciples, the scene, the context, and then finally what it means for us. There are certain stories that are harder to do this with than others, and the Mount of Transfiguration is one of those for me. I have read or heard this story thousands of times, and yet this year it has had more impact with experiencing heaven on earth. There is no doubt that Peter and James had a much greater Belize-type experience than I could ever understand. It made a lasting impression of the promise fulfilled by Jesus, and what they had to look forward to in heaven.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Too Taboo to be True!

With the Super Bowl fast approaching, many people are planning parties. It’s the time of year for get-togethers, snacks, and good times.  Yet this year it will change in St. Louis. It seems like more and more passionate articles are coming out about St. Louis boycotting the NFL. The bitter ending of losing the Rams is a sad day for many fans. Brentwood Spirit’s own Steve Bowman posted an article voicing his disappointment.

I honestly had to hide my joy. I felt like I was finally free. I had tried to stick to my soapbox about rooting for the teams in my town. When someone roots for a team of an odd city I never looked at it as a conversation starter but more of a question of why. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake that I am a Chiefs fan through and through. Now with the Rams departure, I know I can proudly wear my Cardinals hat and my Chiefs sweatshirt if I want. Right now, though, I still tread lightly. The wound is still fresh, and there are far more hurt feelings than I expected. After finding out the news, I did not run out with joy or even dare to make a statement on Facebook. I didn’t even respond to other posts asking how we felt in St. Louis. I knew it was a taboo subject. Watching the many posts and hurt feelings, I felt for the fans that had watched the Rams win the Super Bowl. In Kansas City we only got a post-Rams Super Bowl winner, Dick Vermeil. I also saw a beat up Trent Green come to Kansas City. But I never experienced what many did in St. Louis as they watched the Rams win a Super Bowl. To be honest, the team I am most passionate about won the Super Bowl so many years ago that Jacob asked me the other day while they were interviewing Len Dawson, the Kansas City quarterback of old, how can he still be alive?

I could relate to Rams fans in one way. I will never forget the World Series game 7 in 2011. I went downtown to experience the moment. I was lucky enough to stand by the gate and be let into Busch Stadium for the last couple of outs. While that is probably the closest I will ever get to seeing a World Series game live, it left a lasting impression on me. As the KC Royals won the World Series last year, after many years of heartbreak as a boy, I felt for my family as they got to experience the parade and excitement back home in KC. I knew it had to be amazing, and that those were memories that would last forever.

Too taboo to be true or not, let me say that after living in both cities, St. Louis is a baseball city and Kansas City is a football town. Make no mistake about it, the Chiefs will never leave Kansas City, and the Cardinals will never leave St. Louis.

We live like this don’t we? In different times and in different ages, different things are too taboo to be true. We have our standards of taboo topics. People know what not to talk about it. And while we have become more vulnerable and open about our personal lives in our current generation, there are still those odd taboo subjects that cause our mouths to drop if someone brings them up. We might say to ourselves, “Did they just bring that up… at dinner? You have got to be kidding me!”

I remember when my college English professor told me never to correct anyone’s grammar. She said it was one of the rudest things you could do. It stuck with me, and so I watched to see how often people did it. Life lessons like that one taught me how to care for others, and which things really should be taboo or not.

So what about Jesus? How did He respond to taboo topics? Had I been alive in Jesus’ time, I would have watched Him like a hawk to see how He was similar to culture or counter culture. In this week’s lesson, after spending time in His Baptism, first miracle, and the beginning of His ministry, we move into the way Jesus lived His ministry leading up to the cross. More specifically, this week is about sick people and demons. In this day and age, we deal with sick people much better than in Jesus’ time. We do not cast them out to the outskirts of town, instead we fight for their incurable diseases. But in the time of Jesus, well, medicine was not up to the same standards, and fear of catching the diseases was strong. As for demons, Jesus didn’t shy away from them either. He entered a world few talked about. How did people receive these stories of Jesus healing and casting out demons? Were they too taboo to be true? How does that relate to us today? What stories cross our taboo lines and make us too uncomfortable to talk about? This week we take time to watch Jesus forge through the most devastating evidence of sin present in our world, and ask ourselves where are those areas and places of sin we are ignoring.  We pray for Jesus to forgive us and lead us on a path where nothing is too taboo to look at, confess, and move forward.   

Looking for a Leader

For some reason this year is a little easier to embrace. In years past, writing down the new year (such as in a date) was hard for me, but not so this year.  Maybe I write less physical checks, or maybe there are just some things that happened in 2015 that made it easier to let go of.

No matter how you shake it, 2016 is here and we move forward. For us in the United States, 2016 means a presidential election year. Eight years ago history was changed when President Obama brought diversity into the presidential office, and this time it looks like there is a chance of that happening again.

This election will be a big deal for our country. There will be many presidential debates to help us determine who is the best candidate. I have to admit, debates don’t help me much. I never understand all the ideas and policies they are talking about. I also don’t know who is telling me the truth. I know I am thankful for America and I want good leaders, and I believe, as I pray on Sundays, that God can give wisdom to whoever those leaders might be. Sure, there is a question of if they’ll listen or not, but honestly, the same question can be said of me.

A long time ago God’s people wanted kings instead of His leadership. Hard to imagine that ever being true, but we have moments like that.  We, too, forget that leaders are sinful, and that we’ll have challenges with them. We get captivated by their great speeches and their promises, and soon we dream of what a better place this would be if they took the lead.

This week’s reading is one we often forget. Jesus reads the scroll in the temple, the proclamation that He will come. He is in His hometown of Nazareth, where the people have watched him grow up, so it creates many questions. Can you imagine if Jesus stood up at one of the presidential debates, walked up to the microphone and started reading Isaiah? Basically He would be saying to the audience, “God said I would come, so here I am to rescue the world.” How many votes would He get? That is a challenge for us, and we know the truth, right? The one true leader who came to bring change and peace was not embraced. And we spend our days trying to proclaim His truth to broken people who keep hoping the next leader will save them. We take time to look at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and the challenge humanity had trying to understand their God who came to earth to rescue them.

Faith Struck

I have had a chance or two to hang out with a few stars, or catch glimpses of them. Growing up I used to work for Rod, my kids’ Pa, and we would go to these batting tournaments for American Legion Baseball. At one of those tournaments there was a high school kid hitting bombs out of the park. Rod assured me he would be in the majors one day. I didn’t ask his name at the time, but a few years later I asked where that kid was and Rod told me that kid was Albert Pujols, now the rookie of the year.

In college I took a detour into rock music focusing on punk. I loved pop punk and a band called MXPX that had some faith themes. I went with my buddy to their show, and he was able to get us backstage passes. I stood face-to-face with the lead singer, so I asked him a question about a song. My buddy couldn’t believe I was so bold to walk right up and ask him a question, not to mention a question about a song with faith implications. My buddy and I also had t-shirts made for the show, which he was too timid to wear, but I was able to get mine signed. I was soaking up every bit of that moment.

During my lonely days back in Chattanooga, I met some people with common interests. One of them was a girl who liked John Mayer, like me. (Don’t worry, she had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend.) John Mayer was playing concerts for 10,000+ people across the US at the time, but came back to Atlanta, GA to sing at Eddie’s Attic, the place where it all started for him. There were 3 shows with only 120 tickets each. This girl had an extra ticket to one of the concerts and wanted to make sure the right person got the ticket.  She could see my passion for John Mayer and invited me to the show. I had a major dilemma about what my girlfriend would think, but this was too good to pass up. I was able to take a picture with John Mayer, which I hung on my wall.  My girlfriend and I broke up but I got a life long memory, and I met Mindy the next year.

I’ve grown up a bit from my star-struck behavior.  A few years ago I got to go to a Storyline conference with Donald Miller, my favorite author. His passion is to help people change their stories through the message of Jesus. It’s a great message. Donald Miller wants everybody to have the opportunity to attend his conferences regardless of how much money they have. If you pay the regular fee to attend, he invites you to his exclusive after-conference event as a way of saying thank you. I got to go to the after-conference event. We listened to a chapter of his new book while enjoying the cuisine of a few San Diego food trucks. At one point Donald opened the floor for questions, so I popped up with a question about the necessity of vulnerability in the Christian church. His answer, “Many see vulnerability as a weakness, but it is actually a strength,” are words that only enhanced my thoughts about ministry.

No matter how star-struck I have been over the stars I’ve seen, they are all human. John Mayer openly admitted he was on a diet during that concert, and my picture with him is proof. One of my worship leaders in California who knew MXPX said that their faith was not as squeaky clean as they portray on tour, and Albert, well he left the Cardinals. They are all human.

In this week’s lesson of the wedding at Cana, there are so many details to distract us. One of those, of course, is Mary the mother of Jesus and her way of asking him to help at the wedding. You probably know what happened, the party needed more wine, Jesus came through providing the best wine as He performs His first miracle. Let’s think about it for a minute. If you saw Jesus, the Son of God, and his new crew come in, and you knew He was about to break out the promise that would restore all of humanity, who would you turn to if you had a problem? This weekend we take time to see what the miracle at the wedding at Cana has to do with us, and if, perhaps, we are more like Mary than we think.

Understanding Moments I Can't Remember

A few days ago, Mindy pulled out a kit that Word of Life had with life-like pre-born babies in it at different stages, or weeks, of development. You heard me right, it was babies in utero, and it showed what they looked and felt like. I was quick to criticize that the kit babies looked more real than pre-born babies actually look, because their skin at these stages would not look like ours yet. My kids wanted to hold all the babies and show me every one. I was not as intrigued as they were. Mindy went on to say that our new baby could use four of her five senses even now while she’s in Mindy’s tummy. She could touch, taste, hear, and see. Again, I was quick to point out that she couldn’t smell.

All of this got me thinking. Our baby, right now, can see. That seems really weird to think about a baby seeing what is going on in the womb. It made me drift into deep thought. What is her brain doing while she is in the womb? What is she thinking about? What is it like to live every day in there? I have become more and more fascinated with how God makes our brain. With memories being one of the key things I treasure in life, I am fascinated with memories we can’t remember. I am also fascinated with memories at the end of life that we don’t know are happening. Maybe this is one of those odd things that pastors think about. As people, we spend our days focused on memories and things we are currently experiencing. Yet, we have way more memories than the ones we remember, or should I say, way more things that have happened to us than what we remember. The womb is a reminder of how God shaped and formed our brains even before we could think of things like we do today.

I say all this because this weekend we focus on baptism. We will talk about how baptism became what it is because of Jesus’ baptism. Our baptism is something we treasure. It was our entry into being a child of God. If you are like me, you don’t remember your baptism. One argument for not baptizing infants, rather waiting until the child is older, is that the child might understand the significance and remember the occasion. But just because I can’t remember how I was born, or what it felt like in the womb, doesn’t make it any less necessary to my existence. I would argue that the same is true for baptism.

My blog is never meant to win any arguments over theology. Honestly, its purpose is much different. It is to help those coming to Mt. Calvary to prepare for worship, and for others who read it, to connect a piece of what they are facing in 2016 with Scripture. Even now, when technology and reality television are running rampant, the womb is still something we can’t fully understand. Our brain was working in there, but we have no clue what we were thinking or feeling. In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, many of us can’t remember what we felt when we came into God’s family through baptism, but it was, and still is, powerful. This weekend we take time to understand the details of why it is so powerful, and why powerful moments are sometimes hard to understand.