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September 24, 2014

Back to BSF!

Once upon a time, there was a little kindergartner who went to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) with her mother. They went in the morning. Afterward, the little girl are her lunch from her Barney lunch box as they drove to kindergarten. She learned about the minor prophets at BSF. They sang lots of hymns. (I still know the first verse of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" by heart.) They did crafts. (I have the Bible bookmark still in my Bible today.)

Fast forward many year. Now I have the opportunity of getting back into BSF. Levi is getting his first taste as well. BSF has been re-imagined since I was a part of it "back in the day." It is a four-fold approach to studying the Bible: home reading and preparation, small group discussion, large group lecture, and take home passage notes. It is one of the most intensive Bible studies I have been a part of. This year we are studying Moses. Groups across the country (and the world) are all studying the same lesson each week. It's hard to wrap your mind around sometimes that my friend Katrina is reading the same thing in New Jersey each week for her BSF Bible study that I am here in Texas.

Today was my second week (third week for BSF - I was a little slow getting connected to a group this year). I volunteered in the children's program with the toddlers today. It was a blast! We had 7 very energetic little ones running around. But all of them remembered that the baby in the basket from last week's story was Moses. We played (inside and outside in the beautiful fall day), read our Bible story for the week (Moses killing the Egyptian and fleeing), ate snack, had quiet time and story time. Two hours were gone before I knew it. The children's program mirrors the adult study so that families can discuss everything together. Although I enjoyed the children's program, I'm looking forward to attending my small group for the first time next week.

I'm excited to be a part of BSF again. It is also nice to have some friends outside of our vicarage congregation. Our vicarage congregation is wonderful, but it is easy to forget that the world exists beyond the church walls too. BSF is helping me stay grounded and allowing me to be me too.

September 18, 2014

You never know...

I went to our circuit's winkle on Tuesday.  For those who don't know, a winkle is our monthly meeting where the circuit pastors get together, have a short service with communion, have a theological presentation, have some other kind of presentation, have lunch, and have a business meeting.  (I am told that winkle is the German name for the tool we call a square.  Thus, we get together to 'square ' things away.')

During the service, Pastor Knobloch talked about how we faithfully serve in the ministry and the impact it has on people.  It is easy to question if our ministry has any impact, and it's easy to get discouraged.  Yet there are moments that the Holy Spirit lets you know that He is in fact working through you and those moments are both exhilarating and humbling.

This past Sunday, I preached on forgiveness.  (The sermon is posted on the 'Sermons' tab.)  I preached about how as a sinner it is impossible for us to truly forgive because forgiveness brings life and as such belongs to the workings of the Holy Spirit, but at the end of Jesus's parable He tells us to forgive or we too, like the unmerciful servant, will be condemned.

So what are we to do?  Since forgiveness is of the Spirit and not of us, for us to 'forgive' is for us to yield to the Holy Spirit and let the forgiveness we receive as sinners flow through us and out to others.  When we refuse to forgive we are refusing to let the life giving water flow through us and thus bring condemnation down upon ourselves.

Often we refuse to forgive simply because we don't understand what forgiveness means.  We think it means that we must forget about what had happened to us and pretend it never happened.  Not so.  Forgiveness is letting go of another's throat and releasing them to God.  Refusing to forgive is insisting that you are the judge and that you are the one who gets to bring down condemnation.

I made one thing clear though, struggling to forgive is not the same as refusing to forgive.  We all struggle to forgive because our struggle comes from the Holy Spirit within working against our sinful flesh.  Yet when we yield to the Holy Spirit and let go of the other person's neck, we allow the Holy Spirit to kill the sin that is choking the life out of us, and by doing so we find the healing and peace that we really need.

Anyway, it was a sermon that I enjoyed preaching and a topic that has been on my heart for some time.  As a preacher, you never know how your words are going to be received.  After service, I had several people tell me that my words struck home, one or two even with tears in their eyes.  My wife told me that she heard several more around church commenting on, "Do you ever feel like the preacher is talking specifically to you?"  And throughout this week I have heard from others on how my sermon impacted them.

As a preacher, you rarely ever know what happens to your words once they leave your lips.  You hope and pray that the Holy Spirit uses them to work in peoples lives, but most of the time you are left in the dark.  There are moments though where the Holy Spirit really lets you know He is active and that He is using you, and it is those moments that trump every discouraging thing and every doubt and reminds you why you are doing what you are doing.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for giving me the words to speak, and thank you for empowering those words to touch people's hearts and work in their lives.  Amen.

September 13, 2014

Love, according to my toddler

Love is...

-Sharing Mom's last goldfish crackers
-Getting your blow-out poopy bean diaper changed... Twice in the same day. 
-Going to the mall playground on a rainy day
-Being served first at every meal
-Having unrestricted access to Mom's plate
-Cuddling with Dad when I get scared at night
-Playing outside, even when it's hot
-Mom and Dad finding my giraffe buddy, my pacifier and my sippy cup before bedtime and several times throughout the night so I can sleep
-Three letters: PB&J
-Wearing my big boy shoes all day
-A big hug when Mom and Dad come back after abandoning me in the church nursery

September 9, 2014

The Last Thing You Think About

Five-year drought, they said. Stage Five water restrictions, they said. When we arrived in Wichita Falls, we knew the history. We knew water was a commodity that we undervalued in St. Louis. We learned the difference between city water and well water. We knew that Levi may or may not have the opportunity to go swimming in the neighborhood. (He gets to enjoy the pool only because the neighborhood association is paying for well water to be delivered weekly.) We knew that there would be no sprinklers running or people washing their cars outside. Grass would be dying around the city and trees and plants would be barely hangng on. We saw all of that.

One thing no one tells you about drought is how the ground changes. The ground drys out and begins to shift, snapping the pipes in the process. The precious water bursts forth and bubbles up from the ground to flood the street. In the past two weeks, our street has had this happen twice. The breaks were only 15 feet apart. When the pipes break, your water gets shut off as fast as the water company can get workers on the scene. Depending on the severity of the break, your water can be off a couple hours or for most of the day. The first break was at Wednesday around 9 AM and the second break around 8 PM on Saturday night. Needless to say, life gets rearranged when your water is suddenly gone.

September 4, 2014

Midweek Activities - Texas Style

If you have spent anytime in the South, you know how important Wednesday night church activities are to the community culture, second only to Friday Night High School Football. Midweek, as it's known in our congregation, started up at Our Redeemer yesterday and will continue throughout the school year. Midweek includes a meal, hand bell choir for first graders through adults in 4 different ensembles, Bible study classes for three year-olds and up (including confirmation), and adult choir. The church is a buzz of activity and crawling with people. I'm ringing in the adult hand bell choir this year and it's a lot of fun. We may be playing in church in a week and a half.

I will also be playing in church during the prelude this Sunday. I had the opportunity to practice today with our wonderful organist, choir director, and director of outreach, Linda. Linda is incredibly talented and patient. She balances so much with ease. We will be playing a setting of "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." I look forward to ringing with her each Wednesday and playing with her in services.