Thursday, May 12, 2016

Just Confirming!

We use the word “confirm” everyday when we are talking about appointments and dates of events. Most often this is to check that what we said before is still true, and that we are going to move forward. If both people “confirm” we are good to go, then we can see what is next. The idea behind “confirming” a date or event is to make sure the plans we’ve made will work out.

For a long time, Fridays have been like this for me. Ever since the beginning of my ministry, Fridays have been my off day. They are a day when I care for my kids, my family, and myself all at the same time. Since I’m off, I have the kids at home with me, so every plan I make for this day I have to juggle with the kids. For this reason some of the Costco workers know my kids. They have seen them come with me on Fridays for a long time. The gym childcare team knows my kids too (and asked me few weeks ago where I have been.) Confirming Friday plans with with me is challenging.  First, my kids need to be able to come, and second, it needs to be flexible.  The event or activity can’t depend on me being there, because with kids, all plans are subject to to change. Now that 2 of my kids will have school 5 days a week, it is kind of odd. It was hard to say goodbye to Jacob at the beginning of this school year since he has been with me on Fridays since he was a baby. Next year, it will only be the girls hanging with me on Fridays, as Gavin will be starting Kindergarten. That gives me just a couple Fridays left with him in this school year. The fall will be another adjustment.

The disciples had to change their schedules and lives when they followed Jesus. Their normal days now became a new journey every morning they woke up. It was probably hard in those days to confirm what was next and when they could meet up with family or friends. While dealing with life changes had to be hard, there had to be many moments of seeing the great benefits of being with Jesus every day. Now with Jesus gone, it was time to confirm that this was going to be their new lifestyle for good. They proclaimed that on the day of Pentecost. Guided by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples began to teach and preach the change in their lives and how it could be a great change in the lives of others as well.

This week is not only Pentecost, but Confirmation Sunday at Mt. Calvary. Beginning Confirmation classes here often changes your routine of going to church. Our classes are held at 9 am on Sundays, the same time as the first service.  We expect a parent to attend Confirmation Class with the child, and that they both will be there every week. For many families, this requires a change in their church pattern. It takes a commitment, maybe not the same it took the disciples to follow Jesus for 3 years, but certainly it is a commitment. They are learning the very theological themes they have been taught in Sunday School, but going much deeper. Confirmation Sunday, like Pentecost, is the day when the change of schedule is gone, and now the confirmand stands up and confirms what he or she has been taught. This young person makes a commitment to live faithful to the Word of God and the doctrinal teachings of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It is a big step and one to be celebrated!

Confirmation is much more than just a casual confirming of an appointment, which is usually a one-time thing.  Because it is something we traditionally see in the church every year, we can fall into the trap of thinking of it casually, just like confirming an appointment. But with Confirmation, the youth are confirming a lifetime commitment. We are asking the youth to truly commit to a life of following Jesus. This is not a day to just confirm, but to proudly confess what we teach and preach in our church body. At Pentecost, the disciples were also confirming their lifetime commitment, and the teaching and work of Christ in them.

Grace changes everything!

Recently a local church in St. Louis had to ask their pastor to step down. We are used to this situation being created by infidelity, but a new problem has become more prevalent of recent—the ego-centered, controlling type who thinks it is his way or the highway. Maybe it is due to the pressure to make a church “work” or be successful despite the cultural changes in its recognition among people and changes in monetary giving? The same passion and drive that brings a person into ministry in a large church context can also be manipulated by the devil into an ego so large as to say that my way is the only way. How can a church leader or pastor go so far that he needs to be removed?

While I was in seminary, the Synod strengthened the infidelity policy. A one-and-done rule was enforced. This is probably not a shock to you, since at that time the Roman Catholic Church was getting into a lot of trouble with priests doing such activities. Since then we’ve even seen the sports world crack down harder on drug use and abuse. Maybe we were naive as a society before, but the time has come to make sure we are responding a lot tougher to the abuses of those in leadership, power, and in the public eye.

At the district convention last year, one of the pastors asked where is the grace for pastors who have fallen into some of these sins? He said it out loud, but we all wrestle with it. There are painful stories of people who were once seen as great men or women who have fallen into a sin that grabs a hold of their life. It seems even worse when that person is a servant leader for Christ. How do we take time to graciously love that person and yet move on? This is a question the church has been asking since the beginning of time. If David were in our church body today, would he be removed from office?

I think all too often we want life and service to be a neat little box that we can pack up and put perfectly on our shelves.  But life is messy, and grace is needed. This is why Jesus came. God’s people get to walk with others in their messiness (and vice-versa), but at the same time they must press forward. Jesus wants us to continue to share the Gospel message because grace is so important in the lives of all people.  It is needed just dealing with daily habits and sins, as well as fixing mistakes that take years to fix.

Why do I tell you all of this? Acts 1 is a smattering of all the issues we mentioned above. It has someone known for his association with Jesus involved in a brutal and crazy tragedy (Judas), but it also has the church moving forward to find a new apostle. This passage often leaves us with similar questions about where do we show grace. What if someone would have come alongside Judas sooner? Someone had to betray Jesus, right, so isn’t that what God wanted? In cases like Judas, aren’t the consequences and condemnation of his sins justified because he is getting what he deserves?  What about us?  While we may not be like Judas, what about us?  What do we deserve? How come it seems like we get off “scot-free” when others deal with so much more?  When we start trying to answer these questions, we can get into trouble. Rather than focusing on ourselves, we need to keep focused on Christ and what He’s done for us.

Acts 1 reminds me how messy life is. This was one of the most pinnacle times in the church. The disciples are about to take the message of the fulfilled prophecy of our Messiah’s redemption out to the world, but first they must they clean up the mess of Judas. They know people need this message, but they need to re-group and prepare for this powerful moment Jesus said would happen as Pentecost comes and the Holy Spirit joins them. At first when I read this text, I didn’t want to talk about the R-rated story of Judas’ suicide, but then I was reminded that this is just like every Sunday in the church—one person is caught in the midst of their mess, while another person is celebrating the work of God in their lives. There is something important about celebrating the work of God in our lives. Another baptism this weekend will have us celebrating the work of God in little Audrey’s life. Yet, we are continually fighting the battle of celebrate our own work in our lives rather than the work of Jesus in our lives. This weekend we take time to unpack this further.

Form Running

May is an exciting month for us at Mt. Calvary. This Sunday we will have one of our fourth year fieldworkers preach. He has been with us since the very beginning, and just found out on Tuesday where he will be going to serve. It will be exciting to hear him preach and talk about his future. The following Sunday we have a baptism, and confirmation the third Sunday. Then the fourth Sunday we will lay out a vision for the future of Mt. Calvary. These are exciting times in the weeks ahead!

A vision for our church is only fitting if we keep in mind the core of our faith, that is, that we are sinners who need Jesus.  The more we can learn about our theology the better. Theology sounds like a big word meant for pastors, and there is some truth to that.  My Call brings me to Mt. Calvary to help us understand theology.  I very much want our members to understand what we are doing and why. I have to remind myself to talk about the basics, those foundational pieces of theology that continually point us back to Christ.

This spring I have been coaching track at Word of Life. The head coach, Travis, is an amazing guy who is very gifted in coaching. Every practice we do exercises in form running to keep the kids running the most effective way. Travis says even professionals do form running exercises. That really made me think. After all those years of practice, wouldn’t you think they could eventually quit the form running and move onto more important things? His point is that if you don’t work on the basics over and over again, you fall into bad patterns and bad habits develop.

When Martin Luther helped to reform the church, he was starring down bad habits that had developed. Yes, even the church with the Word of God developed bad habits. Why? Simple—original sin. Our sinful flesh draws us back to self-serving ways. Luther was looking at a corrupt church focused on ego, power, and greed. That same church had confused him. They had him believing that the way to Jesus was based upon his actions. This put Luther in a prison, of sorts, that continually locked him up every time he sinned and realized he failed his God. Luther went on to really look at Scripture and found what we treasure today—grace—a foundational piece of our relationship with God. It was through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we received grace, which was the restoration we needed to have a relationship with God.

So what does this have to do with a fieldworker, infant baptism, and confirmation? Everything! The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has built “form running” into our rich traditions. Those “form running” activities bring us back to the core of Scripture. An infant is baptized because we know grace is a gift of God for everyone. I am not sure what Audrey will observe the day she is baptized, but I know this, like at home when she gets a bottle or a diaper changed, she is brought back to her human condition. She is a sinner living in a broken world. But on that day when she is baptized, she receives the gift of love that God, her Father in Heaven, lavishes on her, and in His family she is embraced and forgiven. We move from infant baptism to confirmation. This tradition teaches kids the core parts of theology using a book that Luther wrote (Luther’s Catechism) alongside of the Bible. We want them to understand what Scripture truly says so they can recognize sin in this world, even when it comes out of the church. They come back to the foundations of grace, Scripture, and faith. They are confirming the work that happened in them at their baptism many years ago. They confirm that God’s grace is a free gift, and they publically respond to God’s grace by living a life of faith. Like forming running exercises, this process of confirming our beliefs should never stop, even after confirmation. Our fieldworker is just beginning his ministry to the church in which he will help God’s people to continually confirm their faith every week.

As a pastor, I am called to keep us in form, and understanding these practices and how they connect to our theology. I want you to be able to tell someone why we have the sacrament of infant baptism. This was at the core of why Luther was fighting against the church. Grace is a gift, and we give it as often and as early as we can! I have to admit, I’ve heard these parts of theology over and over, but it took a long time for them to sink in, and it went to a whole new level when I was confronted with someone who challenged them.

We can’t have a vision for our church without the foundational theological principles that bring us back to the core of Scripture—Jesus came to rescue us and there is nothing we can do to earn it. We also want to take these rich traditions and theology and share them with the world. This is where our vision comes in. We haven’t always been so good at this and so it takes work, but this work is good. When people see the wonderful gift of grace that Christ offers and how it is in our songs, liturgy and preaching, they want to find out more. It is a gift like no other! I pray May is an amazing month for you, and that as you come to worship, you see and hear again how our theology of grace is proclaimed in the sacrament and practices of our church.

Sing to the Lord a New Song!

Every week on Tuesday and Friday I check my phone. These are two highly anticipated mornings of my week. Well, Sunday is also, of course, but these days I check to see what new music is out. Hang around me long enough and you’ll figure out that I love music. Sure, I have my long time favorites, but I love hearing new music from the artists I know. I look forward to their latest projects. Sometimes I will go so far as to listen to a song on repeat. It often drives my wife crazy, and occasionally my kids say something like, “Dad can we listen to a new song?” I had someone once say that I would grow out of music, but the truth is, I never have. I look forward to new music, but I love the classics as well. No matter how you look at it, I love music!

In the blog last week I talked about the lectionary, the set of readings that the LCMS has assigned to each week. Sometimes weekly themes for those readings stand out stronger than others. For a long time, this week was known as Cantate Sunday. Cantate Sunday celebrated making a new song to the Lord. According to the church year, we are in the season of Easter, which means we continue to celebrate. For many years, each Sunday following Easter was named with a celebration theme. Over the years the lectionary has held strong, but some of the themes have disappeared. With less knowledge of the traditions of the church, these were the first to go. On the positive side, it allowed for new themes each year while still following the lectionary.

This Sunday we take time to celebrate Cantate Sunday. It is fitting for us at Mt. Calvary because we have a new worship director.  We also have a very gifted hymn/song writer who has been sitting in our pews for years. This week they will use their God-given talents together to teach us new songs. We will be reminded of the words of the psalmist, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song.” (Ps 98:1) It was in light of his season of life where the psalmist was celebrating everything God was doing in his life. He was passionate about it. And we, in the same light of the season of Easter, celebrate what the Lord is doing.