Thursday, April 21, 2016

Confirmation Sunday

I remember the day. Eight of us lined up in the front of the old church. The boys wore ties. The girls wore dresses. We all wore white robes. Our grandparents were so proud. Our parents took pictures with their Kodaks and Polaroids. The preacher tried to tell a few jokes and stumbled through our Scandinavian names the best he could.

And then it happened: The preacher laid his hands on my head and said: Craig, may the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

I’ll say words similar to these this morning—thirty-one times. It doesn’t matter if the person saying this blessing is a saint or a scoundrel—it only has to do with God and the one being prayed for. And what a blessing it is.

I don’t remember much about that day. We had sandwiches and salads for lunch. Those eclectic fruity Jell-O salads with shredded carrots and chopped celery covered with a bizarre blend of cream cheese and Cool-Whip. I didn’t attend church or participate in ministry much the next few years. I remember going four years later on graduation Sunday. Standing up front with the exact same friends and a different preacher stumbling through our last names.

The next time all of us gathered in the church was about twenty years later. I stood in front of the crowded church wearing a black robe and a stole around my neck. One of my friends laid peacefully ten feet in front of me. He died too young. Two of the others sang some of the most heartfelt and compassionate music I remember hearing. At the end of the worship service, I went and laid my hand on the casket and said a different blessing: May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. What distance and interests and time separates, God joins back together. Nothing quite like the church. At its best, it connects us to God who gives us abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come.

Today is a great day at The Water’s Edge: We welcome our fifth Confirmation Class. These thirty-one students have learned, worshipped, and served together. They have been equipped with the tools necessary to help them thrive as a disciple of Jesus. Confirmation Sunday isn’t the end of a journey. It is the beginning. We have great big dreams for a student ministry that deeply impacts the lives of our students and students in our community. 

To the Confirmands: you are not only the future leaders of our church. Your ministry has already started: sharing the grace of Christ with people in your life and in God’s world. I pray your high school years are some of the best of your life and I pray you continue to grow in your love of God, your love of people, and your service to the world.

The best is yet to come…


Saturday, April 9, 2016

I'm a Failure

I’m a failure. I have failed more than succeeded at life.

My dream in high school and college was to run a sub four-minute mile. I’m guessing I raced the mile or its metric equivalent over one hundred times. I never really got that close.

I ran for student body president my junior year at Drake University. I had a great vision and a savvy campaign manager. Many political careers have died in Iowa. Mine was one of them.

As a young adult, I invested most of my life savings in a company called Web Van. They went bankrupt two years later and it didn’t help my bottom line too much either.

I inherited a decent soccer team that my oldest son played on. We trained hard in the offseason. My assistant coach and I developed a great game plan. My first game as a soccer coach, I lost 9 to 0. And it wasn’t actually that close. I remember telling the boys after our loss that failure teaches us lessons success doesn’t. I don’t think any of them got it at the time. I believed it. Still do.

I have learned that a single failure doesn’t mean failure has the last word. Someone once said: “Failure should be our teacher and not our undertaker.” Failure is best thought of as a delay and not a dead end. 

If success is the destination, the path to success goes through the land of failure. My observation is that people who don’t experience some failure never experience much success. Success isn’t the absence or the opposite of failure. It is overcoming failure.

I’m in the company of some good people. Peter is one of them. He got into an argument with his buddies about who was the greatest. He wasn’t too keen on Jesus washing his feet. He pulled out a sword and chopped off a man’s ear. He fell asleep when Jesus was in agony. He took his eyes of Jesus and sunk in the water. He denied Jesus three times. Yeah, Peter was a failure. 

But when God was ready to start the church He summoned Peter. I’m guessing if somebody was going to be talking about grace, God wanted somebody who has experienced it. And after Peter’s first sermon the world has never been the same again.

If you are stuck, try something new and know failure isn’t a bad thing. If you are failing, learn your lessons, get up, and try again. If you are in a season of success, take a look back and be grateful you have overcome failure.

The best is yet to come…


Friday, April 1, 2016

Blues, BBQ, and Love Does

Blues music started in the Deep South at the end of the 1800s. It combined African music with European folk music. The lyrics were often melancholy and sad. 

Downhearted lyrics are not an American invention. Lamentations begins with the announcement that Jerusalem is empty and the ends with the writer asking whether God has deserted the people of Israel once and for all.

It would be nice if joy and peace were the typical status of our hearts and minds, but such isn’t always the case. So we have things like blues music and lamentations to express our feelings. They help us be real with ourselves and real with God.

Benjamin and I love to smoke meat together. We are not purists. We do it the modern way, with an electric smoker, a remote thermometer, and wood pellets. Salmon, whole chickens, and baby back ribs are our favorites. But, BBQing isn’t about the food. It’s about spending a few hours together. 

The food finally comes out of the smoker it goes to the table. Usually it’s paired with some sort of potato, vegetable, and pie. And if we are really blessed, a bunch of people to share the meal with. We tell stories from the past. Share hopes about our future. And listen and laugh together. It’s all worth it and then some. 

Today we start a new series called Love Does. It’s based upon a wonderful little book of the same title. The premise is that everyday we wake up with an invitation to do love. When a blues song describes our life, we have the invitation to do love. When we wonder if God has deserted us, we have the invitation to do love. When we are surrounded by loved ones enjoying God’s creation, we have the invitation to do love. 

The poets tell us love is a feeling. She says, “I’m in love with him.” The Bible doesn’t use the word “love” that way. Love is a verb. It is something we do. Jesus tells us to love God and love others. We do it when we feel like doing it and when we don’t feel like doing it at all.

So enjoy the music this morning. AJ and the band have worked hard. Enjoy the BBQ. We are grateful God provides things like friends and food. And take this five-week journey of doing love and living out the Gospel. It’s going to be an amazing experience.

The best it yet to come…