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.