Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why we do the things we do!

In August we will begin a series highlighting specific aspects of our Lutheran denomination. We will talk about some unique ways the LCMS has used traditions to teach us and keep us in the practice of forgiveness and grace. As we move toward that series, it is fitting that we find a text like this one to help us prepare.

Infant baptism is always a challenge for people. It might be because we are a country of choices. We don’t like choices taken away from us. This is evident by the many who proclaim to be pro-choice. I have heard it said that those who baptize their children as babies are basically dragging them into worship and forcing them into a decision they don’t want. This is the challenge we face as we tackle this issue.

In our reading for today (Colossians 2) we see a direct connection of baptism to circumcision. Circumcision is the Old Testament connection to the covenant. When God made His covenant with Abram, He told him the people of Israel must circumcise all males, and that this would be a sign of the promise God made with them. At that point, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, for he would be the father of many generations. This was a big moment for Abraham.  God had given him a great promise to bless his offspring! If you remember in the OT, passing on your legacy was a big deal, so this generational promise was hugely important. There are multiple times where we see the passing of a legacy in Scripture. I think when Jacob is wresting with God, he is fighting for the same thing, a passing on of generations.

Now back to the point. God called the male children of Israel to be circumcised after 8 days. This was the sign of the covenant given to the family for generations. But after Jesus came, there was a new covenant, which began with two of the sacraments He instituted. In the Lutheran church, for something to be called a sacrament, it has to have been instituted by Jesus, be a means of grace (provide forgiveness), and have a physical element (something we can touch and see). Baptism has all these parts, which is why we consider it a sacrament. Baptism, therefore, in its connection here with circumcision, is just as important as a last name. It is a part of the legacy passed down, and in our case, an important legacy of eternal life.

Why would we not want to give this to our kids? Why would we hold back such an awesome gift until they choose it? Infant baptism brings them one of the best gifts we could ever give our kids- forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus. Paul is making that connection for us, and helping us see why baptism is important. With the original covenant calling for circumcision 8 days after the birth, it points to the fact we should give this to the kids as soon as we can. I know people disagree with me. But if I make this connection, how in the world could I not give my kids the greatest gift I have for them as soon as possible.

Good Samaritan Moments

My English teacher in 7th grade did something awesome. Once a month she would take us to the special needs area in our school to help the kids. She was obviously passionate about teaching us more than just grammar. Little did she know how much help I needed. Anyway, her life lessons were powerful as she pushed us to help others.

I was scared though. There were some severely special needs kids, and I was afraid to help them. I can’t tell you why. My mom was special needs certified, and I would watch movies with her about special needs kids. I remember even praying that I wouldn’t have a special needs kid when I got older. So when it came time to pick a special needs kid to help, I chose a girl with Down Syndrome. I was better at this (and more comfortable) because I had some cousins with Down Syndrome. I loved this little girl and enjoyed being in her pre-school class helping her. But one day she was sick, and I had to read books to the severely special needs kids. I remember being so scared and uncomfortable that day.

This week we talk about the Good Samaritan. This is one of those parables that is pretty obvious. Just love the person who is your enemy. We can all understand how that is hard for us. We also can see how selfish we are and how we pass by people who need our help. How about just communicating to people that intimidate us, or to a group of people we are scared to help? How are we at that?

God has a funny way of teaching us Good Samaritan lessons. Over a year ago I asked the youth at Mt. Calvary how they wanted to serve. Having no clue about my history, they said they wanted to help the special needs kids down the road at the Children’s Home. I was thrilled with their passion. So what did we do? We read books to the special needs kids. It was a good experience.  We did it for about a year, and my fears were mostly gone. Yet you should have heard me fumble over my words as I was being interviewed about it for an article they wanted to write. I was trying to say everything just right and hide my battles with fear from years ago.

There are Good Samaritan moments all over the place, and most of them, like my story, are uncomfortable to talk about. There are paths all over our lives that lead to people who need help. Sometimes it is the tug of youth that get me to notice someone lying in the road that I’m trying to avoid. This weekend, we take time to hear this parable again and look at our road and who God might be leading us to help.

Choosing Chores

Recently, Jacob said to me, “Dad you don’t have as much time for us because of Audrey right? I wish you had more time, but that will come right?” Second grade wisdom can be like a knife. Mindy and I grew up in big families, so if God allowed, we knew our family was going to be big. But as we grow and make decisions about how many kids to have, much of the deliberation for me has been about time. I want to make sure no kid gets left in the dust. I want to have time with each of them and take special time to care for them.

Adult life is funny. We grow up and just get to start making decisions. We decide where and what to eat, or what we are going to do on a Friday night. We are governed by our resources, and of course, the influence of how others say we should live. This can often translate into chores. There is a certain level of cleanliness in our homes taught to us by our family. We have expectations of what our house should look like when people come over. We have chores that are more important than others and must be done. We are making these decisions based upon need, systems we set up, or time we have available. Of course, our personal hobbies and activities play in there too, and sometimes people and relationships outweigh the dishes being done tonight vs. tomorrow.

Mary and Martha help us talk about something every family must deal with. There are people gifted in cleaning and cooking, and others gifted in caring for bills and the social calendar. We can get upset with one another when we don’t feel like that other person is pulling their weight. Jesus helps Martha see the value of what Mary is doing, and at the same time, He knows the work Martha is doing is important also. This brings us to a tension we have to manage. There are tensions we all manage where chores are equally as important as something else. This weekend we take time to break down the story of Mary and Martha and talk about the balance of life and chores.

Caught in Sin

Recently Gavin and I have been having talks about not hitting girls. I always feel it is best to deal with sin as it arises. This means that sometimes it seems too early to talk about a subject, but if not now, then when? Abby and Gavin have gotten into some recent battles. Abby is strong willed, and often the instigator. She can be quick to push Gavin’s buttons, and then turn around and try to get him in trouble. Gavin is gentle-spirited, but if you catch him like this he unleashes his furry, and Abby faces his punishment. That is how he got his nickname as a baby – “Gav attack.” A few times I have been able to catch him in sin, and then we have a Galatians 6 moment (our text for this week). I try to gently guide him to understand the challenges that go along with this. I also told him that when he is older, if he hits a girl, he could go to jail. Sometimes it is more than I bargain for because it unleashes the machine gun of questions afterwards. But being a sports follower, I see how many of these guys have been caught in domestic violence this year, and I want to make sure my boys never go down that path. I remember ways that my mom did this as a kid and it stuck in my head. There were many ways she strongly told me to avoid something and it stood out in my mind.

There was a girl in college who also pointed something out to me that stuck. Boldly she said to me one day, “Didn’t your dad ever teach how to be gentle?” Wow. This got me thinking and analyzing my actions to see my gentleness, or lack thereof. I am a pretty passionate guy and so many areas of my life were affected by my lack of understanding gentleness. So, I pursued gentleness. I watched how people were gentle. This has been important as a husband, father, and of course, a pastor. One needs to be gentle when confronting people caught in sin. I remember being harsh on people in sin in high school and God changed my heart in college. I know only the Holy Spirit could guide me to understand gentleness.

This week we celebrate the independence of our country. What an amazing gift our country has to celebrate! What freedoms we have! Of course, the problem is that most people didn’t have the lesson on freedom we had last weekend in church, how we still need law to help guide the areas where we are battling our selfish desires, and that our freedom is founded in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I think our freedom in our country has led us down a path of being caught in sin, and yet our country doesn’t see the church as a place that is gentle. Rather they see us as quite the opposite – harsh and condemning. That makes it all the more challenging to gently guide people who are caught in sin. It starts, of course, with the cross, and the reminder we need it just as much as the next person. Then it takes patience and intentional relationships to be able to talk to others about God’s calling for the lives of people.

In a country that has embraced its freedom so tightly that we abuse it, being gentle means caring for those around us. It is often a long process. It means many conversations, as those who have bought into freedom so much that the truth of Jesus is just hard to understand.  We take time, as we celebrate our freedoms this Fourth of July, to pray for the conversations to help others hear how God would call us to use that freedom.

Sanctification Smoothie

When Gavin was a little baby, I had decided that I wasn’t getting enough fruit in my system, so I started making smoothies in the morning. I just don’t do as well eating fruit as I do vegetables.  I do a better job of drinking things, so I started drinking my fruits instead. Then someone told me that when they were trying to gain weight they drank smoothies a lot because of all the calories in them. That made me think I was doing the opposite of what I was trying to do, so I altered my routine and I quit drinking the smoothies.

Over the last year I have been working with a health coach and I have learned a lot. One thing I learned was that those smoothies I was drinking to get more fruit in my diet really were good for me. Over the last few years, Weight Watchers changed their system and no longer gives points for fruit. They claim that while there are sugar and calories in fruit, the health benefits we get from eating them is way better than something else we might pick up to eat. They found that having this freedom when teaching about foods that are healthy and good for you was important. As far as I know, they haven’t run into anyone gaining a ton of weight because they ate too many strawberries.

Now when I look at fruit, I see smoothies. I want to blend them all up and drink it as a frozen drink. So tasty! The smoothie has changed my life. I also used to struggle with what to eat for breakfast. I used to have a sugary frozen-type coffee with a banana for breakfast. That combo never seemed to fill my stomach, so I always went searching for more. It was certainly way worse than what I have now, a fruit-packed smoothie, a banana, a little juice, and a yogurt. I now drink it guilt free and enjoy every minute of it. I know the calories in it are the ones that are good for me and will keep me going and healthy.

Now that I have told you about my breakfast habits, what’s my point? The people of Israel had been counting calories for a long time. They knew, because of sin, they must watch every action they did. They knew sin was lurking around every corner. They understood that God required a sacrifice for their sins. So, in a sense, they were counting calories, always trying to live the way God wanted them live and watching out for sin. When Jesus came and fulfilled the law, making the final sacrifice for all our sins, there was now a new freedom for the people. Yet, this new freedom was hard to understand; they were so used to counting calories. In our Galatians passage for today, Paul tries to help them understand where they needed to count calories and where they do not.  He said that any time you are producing the fruit that is in the image of God (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self control) you can eat/do as much of that as you want. Drink that smoothie and enjoy it!  But, like happened to me, the warnings from others so many times before, made them nervous. Yet, they soon learned that because of Jesus, the “sanctification smoothie” was different than anything they had ever seen or felt before. It was easier to get and produce the fruit that was in the image of God.

This weekend we take time to talk about freedom in Christ and what it means for us. Where are the fruits that need no law or guidance, and where are the areas that need the law and guidance to keep us away from sin?

Overshadowing Love

When we were driving home from the lake last weekend, Jacob got bored. It wasn’t his turn on the iPad, and he had already finished the activity book I had given him. On the way down I had given him the speech that back when I was a kid there were no iPads. I can only have that speech so many times before I feel like my great grandpa, so I resorted to teaching him how to play the Alphabet game. It was amazing watching his second-grade mind race as he ran through the alphabet in his head thinking of the next letter. Then the deluge started. As the rain was slamming down on our car, Jacob was frantically looking for the object that started with the next letter so he could beat me. Nevermind that I couldn’t even see anything to drive, much less play a game. Jacob finished first, of course, and celebrated his victory. I have to admit, I felt a little pride at that moment.  I was playing a game with my son and enjoying it. I got him to have good father/son time and forget about what he was missing. Then, as we drove up 44, came a beautiful rainbow, and I was reminded of the way my Father in heaven takes care of me. I had been overshadowed by, of all people, my heavenly Father. I know. How can I even think that?

Mother’s day is held in much higher regard than Father’s Day.  It seems to get lost in the aftermath. Just look at the date. It’s stuck in the middle of June, a smoking hot day when we try to barbeque. But if you are a Christian, Father’s Day means much more. On Father’s Day we can remember the example set by our heavenly Father, who loves His children. Yes, I am overshadowed, and so is every father out there. I can’t live up to that kind of love. Honestly, some people can’t even begin to understand God the Father’s love because of their own father’s lack of love. But the overshadowing is from Scripture; not only in the way fathers should love, but the way they should serve as well. Scripture teaches men to serve their wives. So, Father’s Day should not be some big day to celebrate the work fathers are doing, but another day that fathers are blessed to love and serve their wives and kids, and worship the one true Father, who is flawless and worthy of worship.

Scripture points us to the characteristics of our Father in heaven. That is exactly what Paul does this weekend in our lesson as we read from his letter to the Galatians. Here we learn more about the characteristics of our heavenly Father and how He loves His children. His example helps all fathers as they continue to care for their families. God’s loving refinement is amazing, as we listen to His Word and see how His amazing overshadowing love falls on us.

Unexpected Guest

Can you imagine if you invited someone over for dinner, and then one of their poor friends showed up in raggedy clothes needing to talk to them? That is kind of what happened in this week’s Gospel reading from Luke 7. The Pharisee thought he was doing a generous and nice thing as He invited Jesus into his home, but then this woman shows up to pour perfume on Jesus’ feet.  In that culture, a woman was seen as a lower citizen, so having one come into the house of this Pharisee, someone who was on a different level with God (or so he thought), was an outrage. It is easy to give the Pharisee a bad rap, but in this case, if we think about a stranger coming into our home and stealing our time with our guest right out from under us, we can understand the Pharisee’s bitterness. Jesus quickly responds to the Pharisee’s dismay by saying that a person who has more to forgive will show even more gratefulness, and talks about how the woman truly greeted and cared for Him, while the Pharisee just invited him into his house.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, but one that has taken me years to understand is that we should be prepared for unexpected guests walking into church. Being prepared is easier said than done. It means that we, in every corner and in every place, look to help a new person understand our culture. It means we look to explain Lutheranism all the time. I spent years thinking, or maybe being taught, that if we changed our music or the way we preached, we would get more people. But the answer is not found in making these changes just to look like some other church that seems to have more people. The answer is helping the people who come understand why we do what we do. Once we get a friend in the door, we need to help him/her understand this unfamiliar setting. It is education—something the Lutheran church has traditionally been good at. Perhaps we need to work a little harder, or more intentionally, in this one particular area.

Last weekend after the funeral, I shared one of the most powerful parts of the committal with the family at the graveside. I talked about putting dirt on the casket, then I put my hand on the casket and spoke the words that define the roles of each person in the Trinity. If you have been to a committal or graveside service done without this part, there is not much to it. Later I was talking to a pastor friend of mine (of a different denomination) and we talked about the amazing gift of the committal liturgy in the Lutheran church. It has such powerful language, which provides comfort in a confusing and sad time. That is the beauty of liturgy; words that are not dependent on the pastor coming up with everything for himself in the moment. This is an important point in helping people understand liturgy and why we do services and worship the way we do.

Imagine if the Pharisee would have welcomed the woman into his home. What if he had said, “You want to see Jesus?  Of course! Come in. Join us.” What if he had set a place for her and helped her understand his traditions and what to do at his table? Can you imagine her reaction?

We know that when people find out about Jesus they want to get to know Him better. As extraordinary servants, it takes time to talk to people about the uniqueness of our Lutheran heritage, and also the uniqueness of our church. It means slowing down, taking steps to build relationships with newer people and talk with them.  Then in the comfort of that relationship, they can feel at ease asking questions and you can explain the whys.