Greetings in the name of Christ!

As I write this article, we are in the middle of our VBS for 2017 (Maker Fun Factory!). There are a couple dozen kids running around the campus, playing games, making crafts, enjoying snacks and Bible encounters…In short, having fun learning about God’s love for them!  It’s loads of fun to have them here, to have the privilege of welcoming these kids from the neighborhood around us in the name of Jesus.

It’s got me thinking about welcome. We have a culture here at Rock that is quite welcoming already. Today, I’m thinking especially about extending welcome to young people.

I was the youngest child in our family. That meant that when I got to my teenage years, what was once a pretty full house with four kids running around had become a much more quiet one with just me. Both my brothers and my sister had moved off to college, etc. So, when we went to church, I was the only kid going along with my parents. There was one guy at church I remember mostly as a friend of my dad’s. I don’t remember his name. We’ll call him Rob. I do remember that every time we went to church, Rob would say hello to me. He wouldn’t just say it either. He said it warmly, like he was genuinely happy to see me! That had an impact on me. I don’t remember ever having much of a conversation with the guy, but I began to look forward to going to church in part because I knew Rob would give me a warm greeting.

Teenage years are tough. In those years, we often begin to feel out of place even in places that have been home to us for a long time. Church can be one of those places. When Rob would greet me, it reminded me that Messiah Lutheran Church was a place for me just as much as it was for him. Young people need that welcome.

It is the task of every generation to invest in the generations that follow them, to build them up, even to sacrifice for them and for the sake of the kingdom. This is God’s calling and it is a privilege.

Sometimes when we greet children and teens, we may not get much back from them. That’s OK! We just keep welcoming them and loving them. I promise you, you will make a difference. They notice. We want our young people to know that they are part of God’s family and that Rock is a home for them just as much as it us for the “grown ups!”

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Eric

‘You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’

Just recently I read the part of the Gospel of Matthew where Peter denies Jesus. It’s such a powerful thing. I keep thinking of a statue in Jerusalem at the traditional site of Peter’s denial. I forget the name of it. That statue shows the servant girl, the soldier and Peter, just as Peter denies Jesus for the third time. They are gathered around a stone column. At the top of the column is a bronze rooster crowing. There’s something about that rooster that gets me. It’s one of the pictures we have from our trip to Israel a couple years ago. A focus on the rooster as it crows.

The darkness of the night both literally and figuratively. The fear over what is happening, the danger in where Peter has come, following Jesus as he is taken away. The other disciples have fled. The questioning that Peter experiences and fear of being exposed, caught. Then the sharp pain at the sound of the rooster. I can almost feel a physical crumbling when I read that text. Peter is completely broken down. He realizes the falsity in his previous bluster about being willing to die before denying Jesus. Now, he hasn’t even been threatened with anything beyond exposure, at least not directly. Vague, unspoken threat does linger and creep around him. There’s no reason to suspect he would have any different fate than Jesus is experiencing. The threat of death creeps. He dodges it. I can’t say that I would have been any different.

The Gospel of John’s telling of it brings me additional comfort and additional challenge. There, Peter denies not just knowing Jesus, but being his disciple (thanks to Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary for that connection!). That’s what they ask him. “You’re one of his disciples, right?” In Matthew, it’s just about knowing him. In John, it’s about discipleship.

The comfort is (of course) after the resurrection, where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter is troubled by the questioning, but on the other hand, Jesus gives him three opportunities to say, “I love you,” after three times denying discipleship. I love you. I love you. I love you.

How much do I love you, Lord, and how often do I deny discipleship? Lead me closer to you. Guard me against the temptations that would send me down some other path. I desire to grow in discipleship, in courage. Forgive me. I say again, I love you. Think of me according to your love, and repair me and my brokenness. Amen.

Stille nacht. Heilige nacht!

Last year, Lisa and I had the good fortune to spend two weeks traveling around the Holy Land, following in the footsteps of Jesus. We started by visiting a few sites that gave some background information about what Israel was like at the time, like Masada and Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found). Then we visited sites around Jerusalem and Galilee that were significant in the life of Jesus, from the church in Bethlehem built over the site of his birth, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the place of his crucifixion and resurrection. The different sites all had different levels of authenticity to them. For some places the archeological support is pretty good, like the rock of his crucifixion. Others are not quite as good, like the church on Mt Tabor, supposedly the place of his transfiguration.

Some were quiet places where one could pray and reflect on Jesus’ life and what happened at that site. Others were busy with tourists and pilgrims bustling about.
One such busy place was the church at Bethlehem. Continue reading

Spiritual Contracting

“There’s a problem,” he said. “There’s too much moisture in the foundation. The glue won’t work.” At least I think he said the glue wouldn’t work (the glue they would use for the new flooring). I’m not entirely sure what he said, to be honest, at least not after the word “foundation.” At that point I was experiencing that quivery, tightening-in-the stomach, weak-knees feeling a new homeowner gets the moment someone tells him there’s a problem with his foundation. The foundation!?! I mean, you expect to encounter some things to repair, or fix up when you move into a new house, but the foundation?!? The whole house is supported by the foundation. If the foundation goes, you can be in some really big trouble! I began to have images in my head of the whole house tumbling down as my the moisture-laden concrete of my foundation began to crumble into dust.

Thus began two months of plumbers, flooring people and concrete specialists, discussions with neighbors and city planners – . I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about foundations lately. Whenever I see Continue reading

Fresh coat of paint, or a remodel?

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I got to talking to a couple friends today about technical change and adaptive change (sometimes also called first order and second order change). Technical change tends to be more of a surface level thing, whereas adaptive change is deeper and of greater substance. An example of technical change might be painting your house. The house may end up looking quite different, but it’s still basically the same. Adaptive change might be taking out a wall or two on the inside to make it function better as a gathering place for family and friends and remodeling the kitchen to accommodate feeding larger groups of people. With the adaptive change, the way the house actually works is different.
Every now and then in life we need to face some kind of adaptive change. Sometimes … Continue reading

When in Rome

    My wife and I are fans of a band called Nickel Creek. They are often referred to as a bluegrass band, but their music tends to branch out from bluegrass in very interesting ways. They’re a simple trio of guitar, violin (fiddle!), and mandolin. One of our favorite songs of theirs is called When in Rome (off the cd Why Should The Fire Die?). It presents situations in which someone brings some sort of gift to a community (like a teacher or a doctor) and chooses not to use it, simply because it’s not the way things are done around there. “No one knows, so I don’t, honey. When in Rome.” (Of course, it’s a reference to the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”) It finally comes to this verse:

Where does a dead man go?     Continue reading

No time for chit-chat!

One morning recently, I got to thinking about a phrase I’ve heard about hurry. It comes from an article John Ortberg once wrote for Leadership Weekly. I’ve also heard it repeated now and then from different people. Apparently Ortberg was looking for some spiritual direction after starting a new position at a very busy church. After describing his situation, the person he was calling simply said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

That was it. No more spiritual direction than that.

When I got to thinking about that statement, I decided     Continue reading