Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Some Doubted

I remember one time as a kid I walked into a store with my mom and saw some mineral waters. For some reason, I tried to convince my mom to buy them. She tried to tell me I wouldn’t like it, but after enough “convincing,” she finally got me one. I thought it was horrible and promised never to have it again.

Hope, the woman who has watched Audrey in our home over the past year, likes mineral water. As a kind gesture, I started buying it to have around the house for her. One day, even though I thought it would never happen, I tried mineral water again for the first time since my childhood. This time I liked it.

I used to be a big believer that regular soda was okay but diet soda was bad; that diet soda created the desire in your body to drink more & more of it, where normal soda allowed you to stop. I was such a believer that I might even argue with you about it. The thought that there would ever come a day when I would replace soda didn’t even enter my mind. Over the last several years, there has been a growing trend to drink less soda and use mineral water as an alternative. Now that I’ve tried mineral water again, I’m finding this is slowly happening to me. I am drinking less and less soda and replacing it with mineral water, and I like it.

In the lesson for this week, I noticed something “different” for the first time. It was right before the great commission—that point in time when Jesus sends His people out to make disciples of all nations and baptize them. The Bible says, “they worshiped him, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17) It was the great commission! The resurrected Jesus was right there with them! There was every reason to believe… but some doubted. I know this culture can be frustrating. As a pastor I feel it every day. It takes time to build the relationships that help doubters to believe. Last weekend we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit. We know He will prepare us for those moments, with the right words to speak, to help those who don’t understand what we believe and why, especially regarding the Trinity.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Why does the devil always have to steal the good words?

A few nights ago we dove into the conversation about bad words with the kids. It all started with the word “sucks.” Don’t worry; we approached it at an 8-year-old level. I am a professional at these types of talks. While many of my other Seminary classmates were writing sermons every week or making visits to people who had been in faith for a long time, I was dealing with high school and middle school students and their unchurched questions. Many of those conversations are in locked boxes in my mind. Even the most open and honest conversations won’t unlock them. From them I learned to practice what I preach, never be shocked, and always be ready to give an answer for my faith. Yes, I even have an answer about bad words. What? You don’t think the devil is just as active in all the language that is out there. A word said in the wrong company can affect a person’s view of us. Oh trust me, this is a bigger deal than you can imagine.

Anyway, Mindy got stuck in this “bad word” conversation and called me to her rescue. I shared how we often don’t understand these words when we hear them, and if that is the case, we shouldn’t say them before we ask mom and dad what they really mean. This pulls us away from the whole “my friends use it” argument, and gives the instruction back to us. We explained many of these words try to destroy something God has made beautiful, which was followed by the question, “Why?” The answer, well, the devil is active trying to distort any of God’s beautiful gifts of life. Then I asked, “Did you ever say any of these words before you knew what they meant?”

My photo memory flipped back to my own experience on a hot, miserable Blue Springs summer day. I was probably around Jacob’s age. My mom had just put the air conditioning units in the house, but it was still super hot. Luke and I wanted bunk beds instead of individual beds, so my mom was busy changing all of that around for us. As we were standing there watching her, I was finding words that rhymed with the sounds I heard. The word “stuck” came to my mind as I listened to the metal hit the wood. I spiraled through a bunch of beginning sounds as you do when finding rhyming words, but of course the only one I said out loud was… well enough said. I had no clue what the word meant. After sharing this story with my kids, Jacob said, “I know what word you said” and he asked if grandma was mad. I said, “Of course.” He tried to grasp why she would be mad if I didn’t know what it meant. This is why we don’t say something until we know what it means.

Society, the world, and the devil are constantly stealing words and creating derogatory meanings for them and other nonsense words. We have to deal with X-mas and the dreaded “higher power” conversations. (I am not even sure why higher power is safer than God, other than it allows people not to have to say that they believe in God.) We could all get on soapboxes and yell at society, the world, or the devil for doing this. Yet we know that the victory is really won by Jesus. In the meantime, we have to deal with the devil’s acts, and the way we do that is with a Ghost. You heard me right—a Ghost. And the devil has even tried to distort that!

This weekend is exciting as we worship as one body in one service. This hasn’t happened in a long time, and what better timing than a weekend where we’ll talk about the Holy Ghost, aka the Holy Spirit. It was in a room packed full of Jesus’ disciples when the promise of a helper was fulfilled. Maybe the most shocking part was that this helper, this Ghost or Spirit, was invisible! That was a powerful moment! It was undeniable that a helper was there, based on what they saw, and regardless of what they didn’t see. But trust me, they didn’t understand it all. What words or circumstances has the world tried to steal, making it so we can’t explain, or even try and understand it? To understand Him? This morning we break the silence on one of the most powerful, but unexplainable, parts of our journey with Jesus.

I love Mondays!

I am not sure how any pastor takes off on Mondays. My Mondays get things rolling for the following weekend. I begin to study the next Sunday’s Bible readings and write the blog. But, there are many Mondays where those things get put off, depending on what came up over the weekend. It could be a hospital visit, a phone call, or just an unexpected drop in. Although interruptions to the routine may throw some people off, it honestly doesn’t frustrate me. Instead it reminds me that I’m in the world, and that Jesus allows me to speak to those having bad Mondays.

The world hates Mondays and makes many jokes about them. Why do they hate Mondays? I think it’s because they don’t see the problem. The problem is that the world is its own problem. It’s all the sinful ways of the world that make Monday’s bad. It could be the weekend behavior, or just habitual abuse, that brings shocking things on Monday morning.

As Christians, we know that whatever we were hiding from in the world over the weekend comes back on Monday. We still face the realities of our jobs, school, and weekly routines. We are bombarded with unexpected painful realities of this sinful world. Jesus knew this. He also knew that the world would never see themselves as their own worst enemy, so He sent you and me to speak understanding to those who are confused about how sin causes so much pain in this world. Jesus also wanted to guard us and protect us. He does that with His Word and sacraments. We get that great blessing in worship together, with other people who know there will be hard moments. But, thankfully, we have the forgiveness and love of our Savior.

Adopted, not Orphaned

Jacob was asking about the bills the other day and how we paid for them. After his typical rifling of questions, he came to the conclusion that being an adult is hard. At this point I got to say something I wish was said to me more often as a kid, “Enjoy being a kid.” I was always too anxious to grow up. Maybe I am a better adult than I was a kid, or I just feel more comfortable in an adult role. Regardless, I want my kids to enjoy their home and the blessing of parents that provide and care for them. Abby will tell us that she is never leaving home. She is not going to get married or leave our house. I know she is only 5, but there is a great sense of joy knowing my kids feel peace and security at home.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like if my parents just told me one day that in a little while they would be leaving—for good. What do you do when the ones who have taken care of you tell you that they are leaving?  The disciples were put in this position. When Jesus met the disciples they were teenagers, and they left their families to be with Him.  Now Jesus was telling them He is going to leave, but not to worry because He’ll send a helper. I have never been orphaned, so I can’t imagine how this felt, but they had to be scared. And since they had no clue what the Holy Spirit was going to be like, it had to be even scarier. This weekend we will dive into these words to see where the disciples were at and how they responded. We’ll also review the good news that Jesus did not leave us as orphans, but adopted us in spite of our sinful behaviors. His constant grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit are with us every day, and it is an awesome blessing!

Let the Expert be the Expert

As a young adult, I always went for the most economical haircut. The issue I had, however, was that the workers would always ask me how I wanted it cut, and I would try to relay whatever I thought was best, which meant the same way I had done it for the last 10 years. At some point my mom told me to just find someone professional to cut my hair. The first time I went to a professional for a haircut, he basically just started cutting. I gave him little instruction, and in turn, he showed me how he thought my hair should be cut. I still go to this guy today. Don’t get me wrong, occasionally I will tell him what annoys me about my hair and he does his best to answer my concern. I trust him because he has been cutting hair for 40 years, so now I don’t stress about it anymore.

A similar thing can happen with funeral or wedding planning. I sit down with the couple or family and ask what hymns or Bible verses they would like to use. Sometimes they have specifics, but many times they are not really sure what to pick or where to start looking for options. When that happens, I try to provide comfort saying,  “Don’t worry. I just wanted to know if you wanted something specific. If not, I will take care of it.” At this point they usually feel a sense of relief that they don’t need to display their Biblical knowledge in front of me, or lack of it. (Honestly, you will sometimes find me googling verses based upon the theme just to see what other verses may fit.)

Many times we want to be experts in everything, and we have concerns when we’re not. For example, I have hair on my head, but I get uncomfortable when I have no clue when trying to tell someone how to cut it. As a pastor, I want to help people through critical times in their lives. Not knowing Bible verses or hymns does not change my opinion of anyone. I love that Jesus allows me to serve them.

The disciples had a great task in front of them—tell the world about Jesus. I am sure there was pressure in their own minds to make sure that they knew every detail. Thus, they probably had a hard time sorting out the concepts that only God can understand and explain. For example, Jesus and the Father being one is one of the toughest to understand. Only God can truly understand a concept like this. The fact that Jesus is preparing enough rooms for everyone who believes in Him is another. This weekend we take time to step back and let Jesus be the expert in the matters we can’t understand. I pray it will bring clarity and relief to you, not having to figure out everything, and also encouragement to work together as the body of Christ. Jesus has surrounded us with gifted experts in many matters, and the more we work together, the more we see the uniqueness of God’s creation.

Provision and Protection

I remember a time as a kid when we had to pack up the car quickly to head to one of my great-grandparents funerals. In haste I remember putting my sister’s blanket in our shoe bag. We arrived at the hotel late and went quickly to the room to crash. In the morning we found out that our car had been broken into during the night. They took a couple of our bags, my bag and our shoe bag. My bag had video games and my school books in it, which was sad, but I was more impacted by the loss of the shoe bag because it had my sister’s blanket in it. I felt responsible since I was the one who put it in there. I didn’t like that feeling at all. It felt like someone had come and wrecked my sense of the protection and security that I felt when I was with my family. When we got back from the trip, we had to pay the school for my stolen books. I felt ashamed, and almost confused, walking the check into the office to pay for them. What had my family done to deserve those books being stolen from us?

Protection and provision are two tough topics, and certainly ones that plague our minds in different situations. We can worry about how Jesus will provide for whatever need is forthcoming. At times, we can feel unprotected, whether electronically or physically. When we feel like this our minds race and it can be hard to find peace. We look for our own sense of protection and provision based upon what the world teaches, but Jesus teaches us to look to Him.

This week we take time to look at a passage that was confusing to many listening to Jesus, John 10:1-10 – Jesus the Good Shepherd. The people may have understood what shepherds are and the role they played, but making the connection to how that fit with them was too hard, as it can be for us. Yet the message we hear is surprisingly simple—Jesus came to bring life to the fullest, but the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Even though this is a simple message, it doesn’t change how hard it is for our human minds to process in the midst of times when our protection and provision are being attacked. This Sunday we’ll learn more about God’s provision & protection.

Point of No Return

This phrase always stands out as one of those movies scenes where once you hit this point you can’t go back. It usually has a negative connotation, and creates a fear of reaching that point. I think it is a little different in life when we hit a point of no return; it is more that we can never look back and see things the same way again.

Every spring for the past nine years, two of my friends have come into town to attend a few things at the Seminary. It began when the three of us started teaching a class to help seminarians process what it means to receive a call. This year was the big finish. We taught our last class, which made it our last time to have a few days to hang out together. Our relationship has only grown over these last 8 years. Certainly when we look back years from now, there will be no doubt how these yearly trips impacted and grew that relationship. I don’t think any of us could see it differently. On that last night we took time to ask what we would change or do differently regarding our time at Seminary. After years of ministry, there are some parts of Seminary we see totally differently now. We can never again return to the students we once were, students with no view of ministry, and have that same view of Seminary. We can only step back on the campus and remember. We have hit that point of no return.

The road to Emmaus was where the disciples were exposed to that point of no return. The words out of the disciples’ mouths spoke of uncertainty of the resurrection, and wondering if and when the promise had been fulfilled. But then, as they broke bread with Jesus, their eyes were opened! They could never again return to that emotional state of wondering if He really was the Savior. Never again. It was such a powerful moment! I think there are times for all of us when Christ’s presence comes into our lives and we can never go back to where we once were. Most of the time we are happy about this, and it is hard to take our minds back to how we thought before. This weekend we take time to reflect on the points of no return and what they mean for us on our road.

The Unexpected Presence

Have you ever had that moment where you saw someone you didn’t expect to see and it was a good thing? Not the moments when we bump into someone who we have had issues with and it is shocking and nerve racking. I’ve had those too. But I’m talking about the time you bump into someone you have been thinking about, and you are so thrilled for the unexpected surprise.

I was at the zoo with my kids on the sacred church staff holiday called Easter Monday. We had a regimented plan to deal with the rain, which was trying to interrupt our trip. We had to see the bugs and butterflies, then the reptiles, and finally the gorillas. I was standing, hood up, watching the gorillas with a light sprinkle coming down when I bumped into someone.  It was a local pastor who I had been meaning to call to set up lunch. We chatted for a minute and made tentative plans. I praised Jesus for the unexpected presence, which makes unexpected joyful reunions.

There are a million ways to tackle our Bible reading this weekend. Growing up I loved this Sunday more than Easter. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Easter, but I loved even more when the resurrection became a reality by the unexpected presence of Christ. His disciples and a few others didn’t immediately recognize Jesus after He had risen from the dead, but the minute they did, it was a joyful reunion. This weekend we take time to understand a God who is omnipresent, which means He can be everywhere, and He knows the times we ignore, or just miss, His presence in our lives.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Minutes

Sunday night I put my kids to bed after the Easter egg hunt at church. They were asking questions about the week ahead. I knew Palm Sunday was just the beginning of a long journey and an important week. The sun wasn’t down yet and there was still light coming in their room. I reflected back to the many Easters I would fall asleep in my bed excited for the next day. Back then it seemed as if the hours and days couldn’t move fast enough. Now I feel like time moves so quickly. I begin my days asking the Lord to guide me through the day. I pray that the Holy Spirit would give me the words I will need, and that I would treasure every minute I have.

Jesus had such a short timeline. Can you imagine 33 years of life or 3 years of ministry?  What if someone told me I only had three years to teach my kids everything? What if someone told me I only had 3 years to love my wife and let her know that she is God’s unique creation? What if someone told me I only had 3 years to love a congregation? Three years is so short, and yet this was the amount of time Jesus was given to prepare the disciples for a huge ministry. He was preparing them to bring the world back to its true purpose. He was preparing them to help this broken world to know that healing could only come through Him.

Sometimes I find myself in an alternate cloud as I look around at this world. I get into this fog where I just look at people as God’s creation. I look and think God created that person in their uniqueness. They are all living their own stories, making the best or the worst of every minute they have. Quickly, I can get overwhelmed thinking about the time that is wasted by those who have no idea about what Holy Week is or the true purpose of life. And I realize every minute counts.

Don’t miss the moments this week to come to worship Jesus and hear about that powerful Maundy Thursday where Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. There is a reason we do the Seder every year. We are looking again into the story of Jesus in this incredible week. Don’t miss Good Friday and the reflections of the deep scars Jesus has because of you and me. Don’t miss Easter Sunday as we celebrate the gift of Jesus’ resurrection and ask what if Jesus wasn’t on silent (like when we have our telephone ringer turned off). Life can get busy, and before we know it our time is full of who knows what. Jesus sent out His disciples to help people recapture the intended meaning of life’s minutes, and now you and I have that same opportunity. It all starts with this week we call Holy Week. Come and worship, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct every minute of your life to be Easter minutes—minutes that speak that Jesus is your Savior.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Humanly Impossible

Recently my friends from Wisconsin were in town. We had a blast hanging out with them at their hotel pool during spring break. Our kids had fun playing together. A friendship that started with similarities during times of dating, engagement, and weddings, has now progressed to similar stages of raising kids. Most of our time together wasn’t one-on-one conversation; rather we were just parenting in the same room and trying to sneak in a conversation here or there. There is something that feels good about being with an old friend in a similar life stage. The most profound thing that came out of their visit was that my buddy introduced me to a show called The Carbonaro Effect. In this show, Michael Carbonaro, a magician, does amazing tricks that shock people and catches it all on hidden camera. One trick that stood out to me was called H2O To Go. He mixed two packets of dust together, one he called hydrogen and the other he called oxygen, and it made water. The people were so shocked.  The looks on their faces were unbelievable. For the most part, they bought into the trick and believed him. I mean, how could they not when he did it right before their eyes?

Moments like this stick out in life; when someone does something we never thought was possible. Sometimes the situation is just our lack of knowledge or understanding, for whatever reason we were unaware this could happen. But when the situation is miraculous, meaning it is outside of the way our world naturally works, it is life changing. These situations happen few and far between, but when they do, they stand out.

In this week’s lesson from John, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. There are so many significant things to point out in this reading. We see the faith of Martha and how she understands who Jesus is and what He can do. We see the human side of Jesus, as he gets emotional at the loss of His friend. We see the actual event of Lazarus’ resurrection. The most powerful reality showcased in this event is that Jesus is God; it is undeniable. Our world often tries to undermine Jesus and dispute the fact that He is God, but in this passage it is undeniable, as only God can raise someone from the dead. Many of these points might make their way into our conversations with others about life and faith, therefore we take time to look at how this passage can help shape our future conversations.

Bad Days, Sin, Suffering, and Healings

My dad had a strong faith. During the last five years of his life he was very intentional in how he approached his relationships, creating opportunities to share his faith. Since much of my step-family was unchurched (my dad’s wife’s family), they became his personal mission field. My step-uncle was dating a lady whose son was very sick. My dad poured hours of his time into this young man, which meant that us kids spent hours at the hospital. Since I was only at his house every other weekend, for me to remember the hours spent there meant that I am only scratching the surface of how much time they actually gave this family.

I was in high school at this time and knew that I wanted to be a pastor, but I was still a regular kid who loved playing basketball and wanted to have a girlfriend. Instead, I was sitting in waiting rooms playing games with my brothers and sisters. There were no cell phones so we were forced to come up with our own methods of entertainment. While my dad and stepmom poured into this young man and prayed for him, we waited and observed.

I also remember that the day finally came when he was no longer sick. My family experienced such joy! Through this my dad hoped that this family would come to faith. I don’t think much came of their faith, but I will never really know for sure. I can’t tell you why this boy was healed. I also can’t tell you why this story is one I still remember since my dad has been gone for 15 years. I do know this, in this experience I observed bad days, sin, suffering, and healing.

I can’t tell you why one person suffers versus another, and I don’t try to figure it out. All the theological training in the world will never fully make sense of these situations. Rather than try to understand it, I merely hold onto the truths that come from the Bible: there are bad days and suffering because of sin, but Jesus is the ultimate healer. God created our bodies in the first place, who better to heal them? I know to trust Jesus. He walked a path of suffering so that one day I won’t have to suffer anymore, neither will you.

One important lesson in this week’s reading is that the leaders of the time wanted to figure out why and how Jesus could do the miracles He was doing. They wanted to trap Him in their rules. In the end, they found themselves caught in their own sin – thinking they had all the answers. We will never have all the answers for bad days, sin, suffering, or healing. But, we can learn so much by watching Jesus walk the path of suffering for us this Lenten season.

How badly do you need a drink?

Sometimes we can have a wilderness season on an annual basis. You know, that season where you are just walking around looking for a drink of water and a minute to catch your breath. I think the Lenten season can often be that way for my family. It is in the middle of the school year, so Mindy can get worn down from teaching and taking care of our kids. My kids can be restless wondering how much longer until summer break. I am in the middle of Lent and feeling the pressure of two sermons a week and thinking about how to make Holy Week great. We are just trying to make it through. Sometimes complaining is easier than embracing the reality of what we are going through.

Lately I find more and more people who begin their discussion of Scripture by criticizing the character(s) in the story. By no means do I think the people in these stories are sinless, but I think our first reaction is to judge them too quickly. If God wrote down my story in book to be used as an example, and someone read those stories over and over again, I would not like it. I am flawed, giving the readers plenty of mistakes to pick at with a fine-tooth comb.  Are we forgetting that the life stories of people in the Bible are written to help us as we walk through similar situations?
Learning from their examples, and recognizing that the wilderness is something we can face, is a blessing.

A few weeks ago we talked about how Jesus addressed the downfalls of the Israelites when he faced the devil and his temptations in the wilderness. This weekend we will break from following the Gospel to look at the Israelites in the wilderness and their grumbling during this tough season. Their hard lessons are a blessing to us. As we grow in our faith, reflecting on the wilderness seasons in our own lives, we see time and time again how Jesus is right there in the midst of it with us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

You cannot see the Kingdom of God

For each of us there are things in life we don’t want to miss out on. When that thing comes up, whether it be an event or a gathering or something else, we do whatever it takes to go. If you have to miss it, sometimes the only way to stop yourself from being bummed out is to not think about it or distract yourself with something else. For those of you who are giving up something during Lent, this may be the tactic you use. If you remove yourself from the thing you are trying to avoid, you handle the loss better. By now, most of you know my opinion on giving something up for Lent—I’d rather see you start a new habit rather than give up something. But regardless, if your avoidance of a specific item helps you focus on Jesus, then praise be to Jesus!

I love live music. Sometimes I forget how much I love live music until I see it again and realize how much I’ve missed it. At times the Grammy’s or the iHeart Music Awards are enough to remind me how much I love it. Yet usually I get focused on the many other things I have to do in life and forget all about it again. Recently, John Mayer had tickets go on sale for his new tour. Sadly, the tour was not coming through St. Louis, and the closest stops were Chicago and Kansas City. I tried to forget about ticket sales starting and just remove the whole thing from my mind, but that didn’t work. Instead I found myself texting a friend who lives in Chicago to see if he wanted to go.  It wasn’t going to work for him because his baby is due close to the concert date. Next I texted my brother to see if he wanted to go to the show in Kansas City, but he is going to a concert the night before, so it wouldn’t work for him either. The day the tickets went on sale I still attempted to get tickets even though I didn’t have anyone to go with yet. I got pretty good seats on my first try, but gave them up thinking I could get better ones. When I tried again, just in that short time, the available seats were quite high in the venue, so I gave up and thought I can just buy the cheap seats later if I decide to go. You can imagine my disappointment when the concert sold out! John Mayer released another stop on the tour and I thought I had second chance, but still no St. Louis dates. I tried to convince myself that I am older now, and with kids around I can’t see him every time he has a tour, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit how bummed I am that I will be missing out.

Why do I tell you all of this? Most of you probably don’t care about missing out on John Mayer’s tour, but you care about missing out on something, and you know that feeling when you really want to do something but just can’t. It bothers you. And while you might try to ignore it, you find yourself looking for ways to justify going, or trying to tell yourself that you don’t care, when deep down you know you really do.

This weekend in our text Nicodemus meets Jesus.  During my reading and preparation, the Holy Spirit helped these words of Jesus jump out at me, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was a man who knew God, and he knew he did not want to miss out on the kingdom of God. It mattered to him. It would be like missing out on a John Mayer concert. Ok, it is way bigger than that, but you get my point.

Here’s the sad part, in an unchurched culture, there are many people who just don’t care about missing out on seeing the kingdom of God, or they have convinced themselves that they will see heaven because they are “good enough.” If Jesus were to say these same words (the ones above) to them, they would just say who cares, or there isn’t a heaven anyway. We can’t even get to the point of talking to them about baptism or anything else because they don’t think they are missing out on anything. Nicodemus had a strong motivation not to miss out on the kingdom of heaven. Here Jesus was talking to a person of faith, and therefore he had something to build on. What stood out to me is that we may read passages and have great enthusiasm to tell our friends and neighbors, but all that might be lost on them if they are not in a place to know they are missing out.

So now what? How do we help get them there? Unfortunately, I think if their families did not lay a faith foundation, then they have to hit a rock bottom moment to get there. Since we are born into sin we think we can handle things on our own, and when we think that, we don’t see a need for God. There has to be a rock bottom moment for us to get to the place to realize we need Jesus. And the only way we can help them is to be there when they hit that rock bottom moment. For our relationship, it means we have to be intentionally in their lives, so they know they can count on us when those rock bottom moments happen. This Lenten season I pray that you discover the people who you are talking with that may not be worried about missing out on heaven, as well as look for ways to introduce conversations of faith in your intentional relationships.

This weekend is CCLS Sunday. Christian day school provides another avenue to help families “get there” because the Christian faith is introduced at school. Since CCLS continues to strive for excellence, it attracts Christian and non-Christian families alike. This allows the children to see why not entering the kingdom of God would be so sad, and therefore starts conversations with families who may have never cared about this before. This is just one of the reasons our partnership with CCLS is so important and why we take time to celebrate it.


Sometimes there are conversations and posts on social media where I really, really want to leave a comment and give someone another perspective that they can’t see for whatever reason. There are times I want to help people understand why they shouldn’t post this or that. I recently had someone inquire of me about how to respond to people who were posting a lot of negative stuff about Scripture. I have to admit, it is so tempting to publicly challenge these people, but quickly I am drawn back to Matthew 18 where Jesus clarifies that it is best to start one-on-one if we have an issue with a brother. Thankfully God’s Word brings me back in line. As I think about the times I get so frustrated at humanity and just want to write a bunch of responses to posts, I can truly understand why people get off Facebook altogether.

This is temptation 101, and Jesus laid the foundation for us on how to handle it. There is something specific about the temptations Jesus faced…they were specific to Him. They were designed to knock Him off track, and they were right in His weak spot. Now, with Jesus there is no weak spot, so the easiest way to show this is to show the human issue of hunger. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus would have been hungry, and we can all understand that. The other temptations are big boy stuff – the devil and Jesus are debating about protection and ownership of the world. Those are specific issues Jesus was facing.

It is hard to translate some of this into our context since most of us probably don’t fast, and I have no temptation to throw myself off a building and challenge God, nor am I tempted to start devil worshiping anytime soon. Yet, I am tempted to respond to those who write things on Facebook. Pastors are not immune to temptations. Some of my pastor Facebook friends are writing things about one another. At times I even feel the devil whispering in my ear to write a specific comment or line, but then Matthew 18 draws me back. (I use the term Facebook friends lightly, as there are lot of people who I am connected with via Facebook who may not truly be my friends.)

My memorization is image based. I have images of paragraphs and stories in my head as I am preparing for a sermon I am going to give. I memorize Scripture in the same way. I memorize the book and chapter, sometimes the verse numbers, but the actual wording is conceptual for me. I know Matthew 18 talks about going to your brother one-on-one, then bringing together two or three, and then including the larger body like the church. If I publicly react out of frustration to a Facebook post, I have just skipped the first two parts of Matthew 18 and jumped right into the last part about the larger body.

In this Lenten season my prayer is that we each take our habits, as they are linked to our personal discipleship, to a new level. The temptation of Jesus is a reminder that the devil is going to attack our weakest areas all the time, and those attacks are specific for each person. Our awareness of this allows the Holy Spirit to do the work He is trying to do in us also – to refine us. In our discipleship model, Read 1 – reading God’s Word daily – helps us grow and see Jesus in the midst of our lives. The Holy Spirit then can prompt us back to a Scripture passage in the midst of that temptation. Jesus laid the perfect example for us on how this happens as we read about His temptation. This is an ideal way to begin this season of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross as we reflect on His example for us to follow in our lives.

Knowledge of God vs. Knowledge of Man

Audrey is in that new phase of investigating absolutely everything. Early on as a parent this phase annoyed me because I was constantly redirecting Jacob or Gavin not to get into something. But with Audrey, I am acknowledging how her mind is growing and changing every day, and it is intriguing to me the things she finds intriguing. Audrey is fascinated with the shower. You cannot leave the shower door open, even for a minute, or she will join you in the shower. Maybe it isn’t that shocking because who doesn’t love a warm shower, but the girl is drawn to it. Even after the water is off she will hang out in there for a few minutes before she crawls back out. Audrey is also fascinated with the dishwasher. I take this as a good sign because hopefully she will be the child most ready to help with chores. My question though is why, in her little mind, does she want to be in the middle of these specific things?

God begins us all as infants, with the same lack of knowledge that grows as we grow. Our world realizes knowledge is power, and has built a very profitable schooling system based on that premise. Maybe too profitable, since young people are accumulating so much student debt. Nevertheless we know knowledge is important. You can always learn more, but you can only learn so much so quickly. I was reading something the other day that said successful people keep reading and learning every day. There is always something more to learn, and the older I get I treasure those eye-opening, learning moments. When you learn something new, it changes your perspective on life.

One of the hardest things for me to understand is how an atheist thinks that they have gained enough knowledge in life to be sure that there isn’t a God. Many different people have tried to set out to disprove God, but the more knowledge they gained the harder it was to deny. But like anything in life, we can stop learning and choose to believe what we want to believe. There is just something that draws us to the idea of “a complete knowledge,” however if humans begin like Audrey, then who can know it all? At a recent conference I attended, it was said that when asked this question, “If you could have lunch with any person (past or present) who would it be?” that the majority of people would answer Jesus. This answer is from Christians and non-Christians alike. The speaker continued to say, “Who else would you say? Mother Theresa? Well, she is connected to Jesus. Gandhi? Well, he had ties to Jesus in some ways too.” So, imagine if you were the lucky one able to walk with Jesus and gain knowledge from Him. Now imagine the impact of walking with Jesus would have on a teenage boy.

The Mount of Transfiguration is a key moment where Jesus allows His disciples to grasp a piece of the knowledge of God. They are looking at Moses and Elijah and are just beginning to understand how big their God is. For those young men, their knowledge is expanding in ways they never thought possible. Our sinful nature will make us think, like Adam and Eve, that we can understand the knowledge of God, but the Mount of Transfiguration shows us the reality – that we can only have a glimpse of what God sees and knows. This weekend we will spend time looking at how this moment in history exemplifies how great Jesus is, and how our knowledge and God’s knowledge is so much different.   

Let's not talk about that

Abby has fallen into the routine of sleeping in the same room with her brothers. There was a short stint of unknown fear, which led to this arrangement. We will occasionally say, “Abby, when are you not going to sleep in the same room with your brothers?” Abby will reply, “Let’s not talk about that.” Out of a four-year-old comes such deep and adult like thinking; oh excuse me, a 4-and-a-half-year-old (if Abby heard me she would correct me).

Anger, lust, divorce, and oaths, as in our lesson for this week from Matthew 5, are just what any preacher wants to talk about. I am sure Pastor Z is thankful this is the text he gets to preach on while I am gone. No matter how much we trust or look up to a leader, nobody loves everything he or she says.  There are plenty of things that rub us the wrong way. In this case, with the leader being Jesus, and Jesus being perfect, it means that He is going to challenge us where we need to be challenged.

With the child-like faith of my youth, I questioned whether stepping on an ant was murder. As an adult, I often fly by such worries because I have so many more important things to worry about. Continuing with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He brings us back to understand these laws the way they were intended. Murder is not just murder, but also includes anger that burns within someone. Lust is not just committing the act, but also just thinking about it. Divorce devastates a family no matter the sins that precede it. And finally, in our sinful world, one’s word is seen as not strong enough to trust, and so we think we have to add things to it to make it stronger.  Jesus says not so.

God, as our leader, is constantly shaping us. And while the cultural norms allow anger, lust, divorce, and oaths to thrive, Jesus calls us to truly understand what He wants for His people. He came to give grace to all people so that we can be what we spoke about last week—a unique spice to this earth & light to the world. Could we do this on our own? No way, no how.  That is why He gives us His grace as a gift.

Then comes the next step, the Holy Spirit working on us each of us, challenging us where we need to be challenged. For some of us He may challenge our anger. For others it may be the way we use our tongue. Perhaps it is our giving, or better said, our lack of giving. The Holy Spirit is restoring what was intended by the law, which somehow got interpreted softly along the way.

Challenges and changes we need to make are always hard to hear at first. But, each time I am reminded of an area I need to work on, I am also reminded of the grace of God. Jesus lived perfectly, and He gave me grace because He knew I could not do it without Him. My selfish ways want to pretend like I can do everything perfectly, but thanks be to Jesus I am not left in despair, because I do not do everything perfectly. The laws come from a God who brings hope to the hopeless (as we talked about just two weeks ago) and made us all unique to be the spice/salt of life (as we talked about last week). “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) is one of my favorite passages in Scripture. His grace restores us, and then He fine-tunes us to be His extraordinary servants. So often we face the tough challenge of seeing things differently than what the world may accept. But unlike the world, we have a peace and joy they cannot explain, and that is worth every challenge that comes our way.

Changing the Norms

A few years ago Jacob got to be principal for the day. He was so excited. He wore a tie to school and got to visit each Word of Life campus. He ate lunch with the current principal, and got to play with all the kids. I drove up that day to find my little principal in the middle of recess playing a game with a bunch of older kids.  Later I saw pictures of him playing with the preschool kids. For his final act as principal, he declared a free dress down day. Jacob’s innocence was undeniable. He had no clue what “power” was given to him for that day. My son is not perfect, but at least his understanding of power and leadership is pretty pure. Now granted, he is too young to understand the adult world.

Over the next several weeks, we will take time to look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We started last week as we looked at the Beatitudes. This is an impromptu series – “Changing the Norms.” No matter how hard we try to avoid these norms, they sneak up on us like a bad habit. Before we know it, we have accepted something we assume is the way things are, without any questions.

I am going to take this unique opportunity to show how the words of Jesus are relevant to us today. In fact, Jesus’ words have become even more relevant since our world is so focused on leadership right now. Again, I am not concerned where you fall on the spectrum, because all human leadership is flawed. This is one reason why God truly never wanted the children of Isreal to have a king. He knew an earthly king would always disappoint them. You can read all about that in 1 Samuel 8. But, the people were persistent and they begged God. While we cannot turn our eyes from the actions happening by our country’s leadership, let’s take this unique opportunity to look at the Sermon on the Mount with fresh eyes, eyes focused on the leaders, and our leader – Jesus.

Jesus had a unique way of changing the cultural norms. He was looking at the commonly accepted principles of the day and helping to guide people to a new perspective. That new perspective was so shocking that it was hard to hear at times. Jesus was helping to form people into what God intended them to be. A few weeks ago we said this formation starts with repentance, and then last week we said the next step was hope for the hopeless. Over the next few weeks we’ll cover another step – sanctification. The Pharisees had interpreted the law in a certain way, but Jesus was speaking with absolutely certainty the way the law was intended, and giving the people a new way to live. This was not always well received by the current leaders of the church, but God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus showed the people God’s intention for their relationship with Him, and with the Holy Spirit. After hearing Jesus, the people were ready to act. This week we hear about Salt and Light, a hopeless people hearing God speak that they are the key to the future of the city. Jesus spoke with authority, and He is still that authority today, no matter what norms are sneaking up on us.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus' Inauguration Speech

I have been around speeches my whole life. In sixth grade my class had a competition to see who gave the best speech. I didn’t get to participate with the rest of the class because I had to go to Florida for my grandpa’s funeral, but I gave my speech when I got back. I ended up in the final running for who would be in the speech competition. Thus began my journey of public speaking. In Seminary I began to define my speaking further, as soon I would be doing a lot of preaching. Sure, I would be asked to speak other places as well, but preaching was going to be my primary mode of public speaking. I have had the blessing of working with great pastors who speak & preach very well. I have watched their gifts and uniqueness’. At times I have been tempted to critique those who are speaking, but as I have matured, I am able to just appreciate public speaking for what it is.

Weddings are one of those places where we see public speaking by people who are usually not used to doing it. Most of the time, the pastor leading the ceremony has a good handle on things, but at the reception things get a little nuts. I have story after story of speeches that I remember, mostly because of their oddness combined with nervousness. I have very few that are memorable because of the great delivery and preparation.

This past Saturday, Mindy and I attended the wedding of a shy couple. Everyone knows they are shy, and knowing this about themselves, the couple limited the number of guests they invited. Not surprisingly, many of those around them are shy too. Because of his shyness, the best man had his wife read his speech. When it came time for the man of honor (a male “maid of honor”) to do his speech, we had no clue what was coming.

Let me tell you a little of the backstory so you get a deeper appreciation of what I mean. The man of honor was the bride’s brother. A few weeks before the wedding he had a stroke. He is a young guy, so a stroke was very unexpected. For awhile He couldn’t talk, and there were questions about whether he was even going to be able to attend the wedding. He went through physical therapy and, thankfully, he was able to attend. When he got up to speak, there were questions about how challenging this would be for him. The room grew silent, and he laid out a heartfelt tearjerker! He transported the audience back to his childhood and that of his sister, where he would ask her, “Do you want to talk, listen, or just go to sleep?” He told everyone about the secret language the two of them share, which only they know. He went on to say that his sister was “his person,” and he doesn’t have many people in this world. My eyes welled up listening to the heartfelt connection he was communicating. I could see how deep this relationship was, and being a relational guy, I was caught up in his words. The delivery didn’t matter. As I listened, I wondered how he was going to connect this to the groom, who was hearing the story of a brother and sister and their deep relationship. But before I could think too long about it, he flawlessly spoke about how great the groom was, how thrilled he was to watch the relationship between him and his sister develop, and how happy he was for his sister that she had found “her person” to be with forever.

In those few minutes, every wedding speech I had ever heard was trumped. Mindy and I made sure to tell him how great his words were. I, knowing that public speaking is challenging for many people, wanted him to leave that night knowing he had done a magnificent job. He had no clue who I was or that I preach every week, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be the unknown in the crowd who told him his words were powerful.

No matter how technological we become as a generation, technology will never take away from public speaking. The words of a person can immediately transport us into a different place, thought, or emotion. They also can leave us desperate or bored. When you speak publicly often, you know that you can fall into any one of these categories, if not all of them, even in the same speech! That is why it is so scary for people to do. Some would rather die than to speak publicly.

I can’t imagine what it was like to hear Jesus speaking for the first time. Those that understood the words He was saying understood the power of proclamation. Jesus was the only person able to fulfill everything He said, while at the same time fully meaning every word that came out of His mouth. The Scripture lesson for today is called the Beatitudes. It is often hard to explain to people. The words are a powerful proclamation of what Jesus came to do. At first you might think He is talking to specific groups, but He is really talking to all groups. Jesus was proclaiming to us a promise to fill the hole of emptiness we feel in our lives. We take time today to look at this powerful speech from Jesus, given to people that needed to hear words of promise. Nothing has changed for us today, as we hear God’s Word for us as well.