Thursday, March 24, 2016

Easter Edition

The problem with having friends that are pastors is that they are all over the country. They are called to unique places and are doing awesome ministry among the people. I am so grateful for their ministry and their hearts. Being a pastor is sometimes unique in the fact that people have a hard time recognizing you are normal. And if they recognize it, it still has its boundaries, especially since we often bond with people whose jobs are similar to ours. This is probably what I miss most about a large church, living life with people who have similar passions and are faced with similar challenges. In seminary, I built some life long relationships that will never go away. I may have been poor and single, but I was blessed to be in friendships with people who had similar passions, and therefore we had many things in common. Occasionally I get the opportunity to see them again. When that happens, I treasure it and try to soak it all in. One such opportunity came almost four years ago after I got the call to Mt. Calvary. We celebrated what a new call meant for my life, and we dreamed of some of the ministry that might happen in this new church.

I am sure I could think of a million examples of moments in my life that I am sad are gone. You know, the days you wish you could return to again. Mom and Rod were here this weekend, and Rod was reflecting back to when he was Jacob’s age (a first grader) and how he used to walk a couple blocks down the street to a park, by himself! Those days are long gone, and who knows if they will ever return again.  What makes my relationship with my pastor friends unique is, while I won’t ever have that time like seminary again, occasionally I get a glimpse of it and treasure it. Those are the moments I want you to think about. They exist in your life too. It may be with friends you used to live by, or a city that you loved to live in and occasionally visit. It may be when your kids come home from college, or even the place where they live now. It is whatever gives you a glimpse of a moment that once was, and you want to soak it in, knowing full well you can never go back. It’s unfortunate that most of the time we never treasured it as much as we should have when we had it.

 Easter weekend is the glimpse of the past for the church. Years ago people walked into church compelled by the teaching of their parents or grandparents. If they had stopped going to church, they eventually felt guilty. And when they had a child, they knew their family would freak out if they didn’t return to church and get him or her baptized. But sadly, those days are long gone too. People rarely come to church because someone told them they should be there. More often people come because they moved into the area, their conscience won’t leave them alone about a sin, or someone took the time to lovingly share why Jesus is just what they need. In this respect, Easter stands out even more than Christmas. Christmas is still muddled with our false cultural norm of going to church. Many will still attend church on Christmas as a family tradition, but not so on Easter. Easter is our time, as a church, to soak in the past that is long gone. If people come to church on Easter it is because they are compelled to be there because of Jesus. Easter is undeniably a holiday about Jesus. Trust me, no big bunny with eggs can cover up what Easter really is. I can’t say to my kids, “Today we are just thankful for family and so we hide eggs and eat candy.” Our world has commercialized Christmas, but they can’t touch Easter no matter how hard they try.

My point is, it is our time to treasure the days of the past, the times when the church took for granted that a visitor would walk in our doors just because they felt like they needed to. The times when we didn’t have to focus on how to lovingly care for visitors because it happened every week based upon a family norm. Now days we pray for every visitor to hear Jesus loud and clear. We pray that someone forms a relationship with them to let them know why we would love to see them here every week. We pray that God opens the door for those we can talk to who are thinking about coming on Easter. And finally, we pray that we soak in every moment we bump into a visitor and lovingly care for them. Jesus’ resurrection was the open door. He wanted a relationship with all people for eternity. This weekend we get a glimpse of the past when people came to church because they knew something was missing in their life.  You and I know that something is Jesus. My prayer this Easter is for us to treasure the past and love the people who walk in our door on Easter.

Palm Sunday

I had this vision of what it would be like to be a pastor, husband and father. They were beautiful pictures in my head. I dreamed about them like they would make up a perfect life. I forgot that I was going to continue to drag my sin around. I mess up all the blessings God has given me, and will mess up the ones yet to come too. After great sadness in the delivery room last year, we were excited for perfect happiness this time. Yet, there were moments when the baby was showing dips in her heart rate. There was talk of a C-section as the labor went on for a long time. The baby came on a Sunday that I had not planned for someone else to preach for me. I had Wednesday and the following Sunday covered, but not this day. Mindy, of course, had pain like was promised in Genesis because of our sin. She and I were trying so hard to enjoy every minute. We didn’t want to take a second for granted. Looking back I hadn’t enjoyed every minute of Jacob’s birth like I thought I would as I dreamed about being a father as a young man, and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I was going to make sure every minute was enjoyed. But of course, it never works out perfect and we still had ups and downs and concerns to make sure Audrey’s health was good. Yet in the end, Audrey came out in all of her beauty.

As a child, I looked at Palm Sunday with great confusion. How on earth could they praise Jesus one moment and then crucify Him the next? Didn’t they know how awesome Jesus was? Didn’t they understand what He came to do? Palm Sunday was a great Sunday, and it was fun. I just knew we understood it better than anyone back at the time of Jesus. I was sure I appreciated and praised God more consistently than the people who stood by waving palms on the first Palm Sunday.

Time has gone on, and just like my perfect image of father, husband, and pastor, I have seen my sin come back time and time again. Even after a tragedy that reminded me of the pain and sin in this world, I still was not able to perfectly capture every moment of Audrey’s birth with joy. I whined about being tired, and at moments just wished she would hurry up and come.

Palm Sunday is a great time to reflect upon our lives as sinner and saints. Martin Luther talked about how one minute we are living in forgiveness and the next minute we are sinful. One minute we are asking God how we can serve Him today, and the next minute we are complaining that our life has too many trials and tribulations. One minute we are thankful for the joy of a cup of coffee and God’s Word to begin our day, and then next we are dreading this silly time change and how it wrecks our morning. One minute we are praising God for our spouse, and the next minute we wonder if they could just leave us alone for 5 minutes. Yes, no matter how hard we try not to, we have Palm Sunday moments of joy then days later forget that joy. So maybe it isn’t so odd how the people in Jesus’ day acted, and maybe scripture was teaching us about our ups and downs with Jesus also. But the amazing blessing is Jesus was focused on the plan to redeem and love us. He was headed to that cross no matter how the human world reacted to Him! He wants a relationship with you and was willing to die for it!

A Jesus Original Series

I remember when Netflix was a service that sent DVDs that you requested to your house. The hard debate was whether to get the plan that sent only one DVD at a time, or the one that sent multiple DVDs at once. The benefit of the “more-than-one” plan was that you were never left without something to watch after you finished the first DVD. As the year 2000 began, more TV series’ were written as stories that brought the viewer along to the next episode. They wanted to see what would happen next. With more ways to catch up on missed episodes (i.e. DVDs), producers were able to string series’ together. The days when writers wrote as if the viewers were hit or miss were long gone. Today, this is just extended by the ability to stream the shows using the Internet. There is no need to wait patiently (or impatiently) for a DVD to arrive in your mailbox, rather now you can watch show after show until you are so tired at work the next day that you can barely stand it.

The idea of a story has become more and more important in our culture. Sure, people have always loved books, movies and plays, but now we see almost an addiction to a certain story or show someone is watching. We claim people have limited attention spans, but that is not the case if they willingly watch hours and hours of TV shows in a row. It allows us to ask big questions, such as, what is it about these stories that draw people in?  And what ways can we engage people with the story we hold onto so dearly during Lent?

Jesus was constantly using parables, or stories, to help people understand the great master plan God had for us. The challenge for us today is that these parables are told in settings and with language that was relevant to the time of Jesus, which can make them more difficult for us to understand. They take work, on our part, to understand them ourselves before we can relay them to someone else.

This week’s parable is more clear cut, but the context surrounding it leads us to believe that it is only about Pharisees or church leaders. That, along with the fact that it is set in a vineyard at the time of Jesus, often causes us to loose interest. While the meaning of the story may be simple, without the proper understanding or interest in the story, the meaning may be lost. The simple meaning is that although many prophets came to provide guidance to God’s people, they were rejected. Then, finally, Jesus came to the people as well, and He was killed. While much of the Lenten season is about us reflecting upon the story of Christ on His way to the cross, this weekend we take time to hear how this parable was heard by the leaders of the day, how it is intended for us, and how to take a story like this into our heavy story culture.

Overflowing Teaching

Recently I have realized that my oldest son is going to be remembering more and more. Jacob is nearing the end of first grade and moving closer to second grade. I remember a good amount from both of these grades myself. I know Jacob’s mind is being impacted every day. As I look at his first grade teacher, I know he is going to have memories of the way she taught and how it overflowed into his life and character.

Mrs. Hatfield was my first grade teacher. She was a kind, old lady. In my eyes she was like 80 years old, but I’m guessing she was probably in her late 50s or early 60s. (I bet she would love that I said that.) She was seasoned with knowledge, and I’m sure she helped mentor many of the new young teachers, as she was one of the oldest there. See, William Bryant School was brand new when I began. How often do you get to start in a brand new school? Seriously, it doesn’t happen for many people.  I got to begin my grade school years in a new building. The desks were new, the rooms were new, and the paint was fresh. When something is new, it creates a passion to bring in the best. As they were looking to hire teachers, I bet there was tons of excitement at the thought of teaching in this new school. The principal had to have had lots of passion to assemble a great team. He got to fill every staff position. So, Mrs. Hatfield was not just some teacher at the end of her career who had been at the same school forever, she was intentionally hired by the principal. Why put the oldest teacher in first grade? I don’t have the answer to that, but I have a guess. She was known for her skills in teaching and the way she handled kids. (I still know poems I memorized in her class.) Mrs. Hatfield knew what she was doing. She knew these first graders were putting together the building blocks of their learning career.

One of my classmates, Carlos, was one of those crazy kids.  You know, the kind who got in trouble every day. He was known for cussing on the playground and hurting other kids. Each day, I watched how this older teacher handled this wild first grader, and she did it with gentleness and love. Whatever was going on at home was affecting Carlos, and she knew her teaching could overflow back into his home. As a first grader watching this, I was learning patience, love, and a bigger vision for life than just first grade.

We can get stuck, time and time again, in the moment—the right now—and the desires we have right then. The constant battle is to pull our minds out of the daily, earthly focus, and onto a bigger understanding of purpose for our lives and the lives of all people. This is what Jesus was teaching us, to go beyond our tunnel vision driven by our earthly focus and earthly desires, to an understanding of the great vision God has for us and what He wants for us. This week’s lesson is one we hear often, but sometimes loose the reflection about teaching others. Jesus was teaching the disciples to cast a bigger vision for those to whom they would minister. He wanted them to help give meaning to life in places where people were focused on selfish daily desires. He was bringing the focus to what He was about to do for us—restore the relationship with our Creator who supplies everything.

Mrs. Hatfield was a unique teacher. She understood giving a greater vision to the lives of kids. Her teaching was overflowing. Not only did it impact the student she was teaching at that moment, but also those of us watching her. I later found out that Mrs. Hatfield was a Christian. Shocking, right? Our Lutheran schools put teachers in the classroom who have a bigger vision for the lives of kids. They teach lessons that overflow into the kids’ lives and give them a greater purpose. This weekend, we take time to celebrate our association with CCLS, we thank God for teachers who give kids a greater vision, and most importantly, we celebrate the greatest teacher who ever lived—Jesus. His overflowing teaching impacts all of us every day with His amazing love that rescues us out of our sinful desires, brings us into restoration, and gives us the gift of eternal life.

A Tale of Tattling

The other day I was putting clothes away in the boys’ room and I set a bunch of hangers up on the top bunk. Abby and Gavin were climbing all over and they decided to head up to the top bunk to hang out. I told them to watch out for the booby trap (referring to all the hangers). Gavin must have been using the word “booby trap” while playing because later Abby came to me and said, “A booby is something that mommies give their milk out of and we shouldn’t say that.” I was so confused. Where did this come from?  What was she was talking about? I was trying to figure it out when I heard Gavin say the word again. Then it hit me, and I realized she wasn’t really tattling on Gavin, but on me, since I was the one who said it in the first place. Abby had no idea what a booby trap really was, but she knew it is a word we shouldn’t say.

I hated tattling so much as a kid. It always seemed like people would get in trouble for the silliest of mistakes, or choices, because someone chose to tattle. Kids tattled out of spite – with the sole purpose of getting others in trouble. I vowed to punish my kids strongly when they tattled, just because of my dismay for it. I’ve calmed down with age, but my kids know that unless it is earth shattering and very dangerous, I will often ignore whatever the crime is they are tattling about. My response to the tattler is often to remove yourself from the situation if you don’t like it. Until this point, I had never thought about what to do when they tattle on me to me.  

No matter how I feel about tattling, it is a part of our culture. It is that way for many reasons. Just the fact that we are all sinners who can’t live up to God’s standards creates a motivation/reason for us to look at others and say why they are worse than we are. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Maybe tattling helps us feel like we can clear the world of evildoers, until we realize that we are evildoers also.

This weekend we take time to reflect on another story during the journey of Jesus to the cross. This week’s stop takes us to some tattletales and Jesus’ response to them. It brings us back to focus on God’s call to repentance and what He came to do on this journey for us.