Thursday, April 21, 2016

Learning about things I don't understand

Spring is here and that means it’s the time of year when we regularly cut the grass. I watched my parents cut the grass my whole life. Eventually I even got to help cut the grass for my family. I know I did not have a second thought about how I cut it; I had one goal—to finish. I felt the same way as I cut the lawn at my dad’s office and the neighboring office. I just wanted to finish. I wasn’t trying to make it look nice. As I was in college and seminary, I watched Rod get a passion for the grass. If one of our tires left the driveway and hit the grass, we knew it was bad news. Yet I admit, I still didn’t care about it. It was not something I had to worry about.

When I moved into my house in Rock Hill, I heard there was a guy who cuts grass for most of the neighborhood. His rate is pretty reasonable, if not on the cheap side, but I did not for a second think of using him. It had nothing to do with money, but now I had a passion for my lawn. When we moved in the yard needed work. The front lawn had crazy weeds in the grass. The mulch needed help and the bushes needed reshaping. The back yard was even worse, with an over grown fenced in area and a fence line that was ridiculous. Yet, I knew that with a little work and some fertilizer this would be manageable in no time. Recently, when my mom came to visit after Audrey was born, she mentioned right away that my lawn looks good. At this moment I remembered all the work I did to make it happen. (Even though I hadn’t touched my lawn since early fall, since I knew a small amount of leaves were good for my lawn.)  Going back to my early years of life when I was mowing other lawns, I never cared to learn about the best ways to mow or the steps one takes to make a yard look nice. I had no desire. I didn’t understand. But now with a house of my own, and a desire to set a good example as a neighbor, I do.

There are plenty of areas of life where we let the experts take care of things. For me these are haircuts, hymn selection, and yes—taxes. Those areas just seem to take more work for me to figure out. I’d rather trust somebody else who can do it a lot better than me. But then there are the areas of life where we just never bothered to ask or care about. It is not like it is some complex challenging thing, but merely our lack of seeking or caring. These are the areas we “let go,” still functioning in/with them, but by not asking, we are not doing nearly as well as we could.  Sometimes, these turn out to be pretty important areas that should be given attention.

Almost every couple I counsel in marriage thinks they’ve got it figured out. I usually wonder to myself why they think that. Are there some required relationship classes in high school or college that weren’t required back when I went to school? The answer is no, of course, but somewhere along the way they feel like they got this. The same thing happens as parents. Maybe we are too prideful, or maybe, like me back when I cut grass, we think that if we can get the job done it is good enough. Yet by asking questions, seeking out knowledge and new ways of doing things, it can enhance our work and change our attitude in those areas of our life.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, I am working on explaining certain practices in the church rather than assuming everybody understands why we do what we do. I feel that the more we know why we have these practices, the more it can enhance our worship. Having the lectionary is one of them. (Some of you may not even know what I just said. Lectionary? What is that? I’m glad you asked!) The lectionary is the set of Bible readings (Old Testament, Epistle & Gospel) assigned to each Sunday for a 3-year period by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). You hear them in church each week. Sometimes we treat these readings like I did when I first started cutting the grass—they are there because they get the job done. Other times, the readings might create questions of how this was chosen and why.  The simplistic answer is our church body (the LCMS) in our history has set aside readings for each week, some which fit areas we anticipate (i.e. Holy Week), and the rest fall into other themes. While different church bodies chose their own themes based up current culture, or what they think their church needs to hear, we stick to a lectionary. This means that when you go on vacation and step into a Lutheran church in that area, you will see the same readings. Now, some churches may chose their own themes and go off the lectionary, but for the most part, it works. We go off of the lectionary sometimes too, like when I do a special sermon series in the fall. When I do that, I will include my sermon text as a reading, but I try to keep the other two the same. Having a lectionary keeps a pastor grounded. He can’t just pick whatever he wants. At the same time, going off the lectionary and preaching on a series can be helpful so we don’t ignore current culture. This is why I try to have a balance between the lectionary and my sermon series’.

Why is this helpful? This week when you listen to the Bible readings you may wonder why we jumped from John 20 & 21 (which we have been reading the last few weeks) to a reading all the way back to John 10. You will be armed with the knowledge that this year in the lectionary most of our Gospel readings are from John, and John 10 fits in with the theme of the Good Shepherd caring for His people. After Easter, we began to talk about how Jesus provides, which is fitting for our Easter Season. While my sermon topic is still chosen in a way to fit Mt. Calvary, I am naturally guided by the lectionary themes. Last week’s theme was how the Good Shepherd feeds His lambs, and if you think about how Jesus brought the disciples back to normalcy (He showed up after their night of fishing and provided breakfast), it makes sense that He feeds His lambs by knowing the normalcy they needed in their lives, especially that of being with Him.

As you come to worship, these readings shape a theme to help you grow in God’s Word. The lectionary provides a healthy balance in our spiritual growth and brings us back to the central purpose of Scripture—to point us to Christ. Once I knew ways to help grass grow I was a lot more intentional about it.


As I look at my newest daughter (almost 4 weeks old already), I’ve had time to reflect on a few things. I am learning who she is, and I have all kinds of questions about who she will become. I know from raising my other children that there is a lot about the personality that is not yet defined by age 1 or 2. But somewhere between then and the ages they are now (4, 5, and 7), that unique and defined personality emerges. Each of them has characteristics well known to our family. Now, with a new little person in the house, Audrey is day-by-day becoming a normal part of our lives. It is not like the newness of her is wearing off, it is just that we are adjusting to her becoming a part of our family. And from her perspective, becoming a part of our lives is becoming normal too. She is becoming accustomed to the routines of our family. She will know a dad who is a pastor and a mom who is a teacher. She will know life with 3 older siblings. This all will be normal to her (that is until she looks into the lives of others and realizes their family is different than ours.)

This creates a tremendous challenge for Audrey, and for us as her parents. As parents we ask, “Are we creating the kind of normal that is best for her?” When Audrey gets older, will she ask if we are giving her the best normal we can give? We all know that our own personal struggles and challenges play a part into the kind of normal we are creating. What does Jesus want us to do? Does He want us to challenge ourselves to be a normal that He expects? While the answer to that might be an easy yes, what does that mean for our day-to-day lives?

These are all questions we ask ourselves as we are confronted with areas of normalcy. There is a passage in Scripture that talks about being either hot or cold for God, but not lukewarm (Rev 3:14-16). This sometimes causes us to think that normalcy is wrong.

So, if normalcy is wrong, why did Jesus eat fish with the disciples? Why is one of the areas where He went to visit them after His resurrection a place where they were comfortable? Think about it. The room where the disciples were locked behind closed doors after His death might have only been normal to them for a short time (during the events from the previous chapter of the book of John), but this was not a normal spot for them growing up. A normal spot or task for them before they met Jesus was to be on the lake fishing. With their new normal shaken, the disciples reverted back to their old normal before they met Jesus. And guess what…Jesus met them there.

New normals happen all the time in our life. I’m not sure normal is bad. I think too often we associate “normal” with being lukewarm. There is something to be said about norms that are sinful which need repentance, norms that result from a life change that Jesus guided us to, and norms that are just part of life due to our personality and life circumstance.

This weekend we look at another time after the Resurrection where Jesus meets with the disciples and we ask this question about normalcy. We take time to reflect on why Jesus had breakfast with the disciples, and we look at their changes in norms and what it teaches us.  

Peace be with you

I am not sure how other pastors are feeling after Easter, but I am pretty restless. It’s a combination of many factors. I am trying to put everything I’ve got into Holy Week. Maundy Thursday has developed into a special day to recreate the passion and love Christ had for us, knowing what was ahead.  I want Good Friday to live up to everything it was for me as a Christian growing up—the best service of the year. And Easter is making sure we celebrate this amazing day, but send the visitor home with something they can reflect on. At the same time, I am managing the expectations I’m creating for next year’s Holy Week activities. Thus, I feel restless.  Did I do all that I wanted to do?  Did the message get across? Did it reach my expectations? What can I do now for next year? It may be obvious to you, but there is no way that when I was in seminary I would have been able to articulate the passion behind these services. It is only through time and observing our current culture that these have become more developed. And it doesn’t mean they will be always be this way.  As a kid, Easter meant falling asleep while it was still light outside, having a new suit to wear, candy, biscuits and gravy, and of course, the story of risen Lord. Trust me, I had no clue the kind of energy it took my pastors to go through that weekend. And as a 13-year-old kid, I had no clue what Holy Week would become for me. I knew one thing, I believed in Jesus and wanted to share that message with our world. That pretty much sums up why I wanted to be a pastor and what I am called to do.

I guess most jobs come with intense seasons followed by restless periods. This week I walked into my CPAs office and the first thing they said was, “We were just talking about you.” Let me just say, in most places in my life I am ok with people talking about me, but when my CPA says it, I am not sure what that means. Am I the dreaded client he has to chase around to find missing information? I can imagine they have a lot to deal with right now. Even though Easter isn’t always in March, it is always floating around tax season, which means even with my best intentions, I barely beat their April 1st deadline. So, maybe there is good reason to be talking about me. Regardless, one would think they have much more important clients to worry about than me. For them, once they have serviced all their clients and finished those that need extensions, they take a break, probably wondering what new taxes will be passed and what new internet crime will be developed. All they can do is take time to rest and then wait until next year.

My second favorite service of the church year is coming up this weekend. As a kid, I was highly critical of myself, and this is the one time I felt like Jesus was good with me. It probably helped it was right after Easter. I loved the powerful line, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I knew that was me! I hadn’t seen Jesus and I believed! I could make all the excuses why I wasn’t meek, or humble, or any of the other beatitudes Jesus used, but in this one I felt confident. That lasted for all of the service, and then I am sure I figured out something I needed to work on right afterwards. But for those glorious minutes, I felt freed from the cycle of looking at my own sin, and just trusted that I believed in Jesus.   

Now, as an adult, I know I was kidding myself thinking I hadn’t seen Jesus. I see the hand of Jesus everyday. I see Him provide for people. I see a sermon that He helped me write days ago impact someone’s life situation that I just found out about 5 minutes before the service. I get to watch the impact of people at the end of their lives, and how they knew and felt God’s peace. I watch as God uniquely uses someone’s gifts, and how they see the work of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. Sure, I’m not in a locked room, but I see Jesus all the time!

I don’t know what was going through the disciples’ heads as they were locked in that room, but I got some guesses. If they had any clue they were going to be “the Apostles” they had to be freaking out. They would be providing the foundation of Scripture based upon what they said and wrote. That’s a lot of pressure. Pressure like that makes one restless, and question if this is really happening. Maybe because Jesus is gone, Thomas is thinking he just dreamt he spent the last 3 years with Jesus. If so, he doesn’t have all the pressure of telling everyone everything he has seen. Maybe that is easier. But then, Jesus comes from behind locked doors and says, “Peace be with you.” At that moment it is like Jesus makes life stop, and he looks at his child and reminds him he is loved.  Go ahead—see, touch, and believe.

Easter is just the beginning, and I know that may be why I get restless. I try and figure out what is going to happen this year leading up to next Easter. And then Jesus appears in the areas of my life that I have locked down and says to me, “Peace be with you!” In that moment I know to believe. Jesus sends us His Holy Spirit to help us believe and to share this great message. The season of Pentecost reminds us of that.

Easter is just the beginning for you too. Love 1 is part of the Discipleship Model and a strategy of the next steps for those of us who see the risen Lord. In this broken world there are so many people who need to hear what we celebrated on Sunday and to be loved by you. They need to know that Jesus says, “Peace be with you!”  Maybe we have more in common with the disciples and Thomas than we thought.