Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

Pastor’s Posts

Cutting Room Floor: The Never Ending Search for God, Part 1

Cutting Room Floor: The Never Ending Search for God, Part 1

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares Matthew 13:24-30, 26-33 July 20, 2014 (Listen to the Sermon) Last week I had lunch with my friend Mark, who’s one of the pastors at another Church here in Memphis. When I got home, my wife Melissa asked me how Mark’s family was doing; his wife and kids – you know – normal people stuff.  I tilted my head to the side as I only do when searching my memory for something that’s not there, and answered, “Come to think of it. I really don’t know.”  Melissa said, “Well, then what did y’all talk about for an hour and a half?” Another head tilt. “Theology.” Here’s the thing about the Bible: It’s not just a collection of bullets to keep in your holster and fire out one little verse at a time. The Scriptures are this fascinating, complex dance of competing ideas each finding their meaning in contexts riddled with problems and questions that quite often people of faith just aren’t asking anymore. And because of this, often we find ourselves asking questions of Scripture that they just weren’t write to answer. And so there’s no question I love to “answer” more than this one: “Pastor, what does the Bible say about… fill in the blank.” So for the past two weeks in a row now, I’ve gotten to preach on parables about seeds growing in the ground and sprouting different things for farmers and servants and enemies to reckon with; which

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Cutting Room Floor: Everybody, Panic!

Cutting Room Floor: Everybody, Panic!

The Parable of the Sower Matthew 13:1-9, 24-30 July 13, 2014 (Listen to the Sermon) Before I get going, here’s the link I promised: Gene Weingarten’s article about Joshua Bell from 2007, “Pearls for Breakfast.” It’s worth a read. I should begin by saying again how much I absolutely adore the parables of Jesus. God (the Father) is always so mysterious. It always seems like one day He’s telling us how much He wants to have mercy on everybody, no exceptions (John 3:16 stands out, but why stop there? Acts 10:34-35, Ezekiel 18:32, Romans 11:28-33), and the next He declares His arbitrary rejection of folks like Esau (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). It’s maddening! Especially if we’re trying to figure out what kind of Father God the Father is to us. What’s it like in this family of His? Well, as it turns out, life in His family is a whole lot like the parables Jesus tells in the Gospels, which is not obvious in the variable minefield of Scripture. You have to weed out a lot of other stuff to get to what God is getting at. His is a family where the worthless, snot-nosed younger brother who blew all of Dad’s money is welcomed back no questions asked while the older brother who always did everything right sulks in the corner (Luke 15:11-32). It’s a family where everyone is equal. Neighbors, enemies, brothers and sisters, all charged to care for each other (Luke 10:25-37). Again, none of this stuff

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On Why the Church is Sometimes a Little Like Star Wars

On Why the Church is Sometimes a Little Like Star Wars

“The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.” ~ Charles Spurgeon I am, this very minute, introducing my five-year-old nephew, Will, to the (original) Star Wars trilogy. It’s the responsibility of any decent godfather, and it’s already a hit. He just leaned over to my brother and sister-in-law and said, “Mom; Dad! Do you know why I love Star Wars so much? Because it’s awesome! That’s why!” I remember how much I adored these movies when I was a kid. The special effects are (or at least were) absolutely incredible. How cool to see them through five-year-old eyes again! But honestly – and I say this with due trepidation of being disowned by fully two-thirds of my closest friends – they’re not nearly as jaw-dropping awesome as I remember. I blame Mark Hamill. Or maybe George Lucas for casting Mark Hamill. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because nostalgia rarely holds up under the weight of time, and instead of trying to recreate what can’t be recaptured, I should just appreciate these masterpieces for what they are. This, of course, is one of the handful of things the Holy Church has in common with the Star Wars universe. There are several, but for now, we’ll hold our reflection to just this one. The longer we live, the more glaring the imperfections of both become to us. Like Christ Himself, and the Holy Scriptures as well for that matter, the Church exists within that mysterious paradox

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Cutting Room Floor: June 29, 2014

Cutting Room Floor: June 29, 2014

Many of you probably don’t know this, but each Sunday night I make a habit of reading through the next week’s Lectionary passages to start my sermon prep. I think this is a fairly good habit for all preachers to have, and our Synod’s “founder,” if you will, CFW Walther cautions that preachers who wait until much later run the risk of inadvertently sending their parishioners – and likely themselves – to hell. Hyperbole is the best! Anyway, that’s when I try to get started. Sunday before last, I was thrilled to discover that I would once again get to preach on John 21; the third appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the apostles, and the restoration of St. Peter. This, incidentally, was also the reading last April 14, 2013, the 3rd Sunday of Easter. Here’s the issue. The regular reading for Easter 3 includes the context of Jesus’ conversation with Peter (which for those of you able to swim through flooded streets, was the basis of my sermon), the reading I had in front of me offered no context at all. So here’s what wound up on the cutting room floor. John 21:1-14 brings with it this awesome parallel in Peter’s life. It’s as though St. John takes nearly half a chapter of his account – in prime post-resurrection real estate no less – to show us how far Peter has come since the Lord first called him. It’s a bookend, if you will, the compliment of which is

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The Traveler’s Guide to Everywhere

The Traveler's Guide to Everywhere

Sojourn (sō – jûrn’) – intransitive verb. Anglo-French.  def: To stay as a temporary resident: <ex. sojourned for a month at resort> It’s fascinating the people you meet when you travel to faraway places.  A few years ago, Melissa and I spent the better part of her cousin’s wedding reception talking politics with an incredibly quirky human rights activist named Vincent.  He was from France – we were just outside of the Champagne region where her cousin lives – and our new friend had more than a few deep-seeded convictions about the direction of the French government under the leadership of the then newly-elected President, Nicolas Sarkozy. It was a strange exercise in self-reflection. We listened, but with far less interested ears than most of our late night conversations about human rights and the responsibility of government.  The difference: We were Sojourners.  We didn’t live there. Visitors. Tourists.  Passing through for a short time with no thought of putting down roots in the community.  Our hearts, our minds, and soon enough our bodies belonged somewhere else. St. Peter opens his first Epistle by addressing Christians by that very label.  “To God’s elect Sojourners” (1 Peter 1:1).  In fact his entire Epistle is, if nothing else, an instruction manual outlining how to live as a stranger in a strange land; how to get by as a visitor, a tourist, one who’s just passing through for a short time with no thought of giving in to the temptation to put down roots

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All In, Part 2

All In, Part 2

… a continuation of: All In, Part 1 “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” ~ Psalm 86:9-10 It seems simple enough. One Sunday, we’ll all gather for our regular 10:30 worship service. Sometime during the week that follows, one of our Trustees will lug a power drill to the front of the church building – take the old sign down and put the new sign up. And the next Sunday, some of us will show up at 8:30 and others at 11:00. Done and done. The Reality: Our Transition Team has spent the last 13 months praying, planning, praying, surveying, adapting, and praying some more to make sure that by the time that new sign does go up, we’re ready to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the adjustment process that will inevitably follow. As I write this article to the sounds and smells of my favorite coffee shop, we sit exactly 206 days away from Transition Sunday. Holy Cross Day. September 14, 2014. Our Team is about to start a tour of Home Bible Studies and Committee Meetings; answering questions and addressing concerns. With that in mind, I’d like to revist the heart of what got us started on this journey to begin with. We believe God is calling us to reach the lost for the sake of Christ. And

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Adapting to Change

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. ~ Isaiah 42:16 Change forces us out of our comfort zone and into the discomfort of the unfamiliar. And while it can turn your world upside down, it makes you face your greatest fears and deal with the things that steal your joy, peace, and confidence. Change can be your friend or foe, depending on how you use it. Running away turns it into an enemy; embracing and learning from it makes it one of your greatest allies. C. Neil Strait said: ‘Change is always hardest for the man who’s in a rut for he has scaled down his living to that which he can handle comfortably, and welcomes no change or challenge that would lift him up.’ When you are facing the unknown, instead of automatically going into resistance mode, ‘…Fix your eyes on what lies before you…stay on the safe path’ (Proverbs 4:25-26). Ask yourself: What is God trying to teach me? How can I become stronger and wiser? What opportunities does it hold? John Mason says: ‘Correction and change always result in fruit…One change makes way for the next, giving you the opportunity to grow. Every time you think you’re ready to graduate from the school of experience, somebody thinks up a

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BHM Spotlight: Cross of Calvary Lutheran School

BHM Spotlight: Cross of Calvary Lutheran School

“The difficulty in all this is that the pull of the old will want to intrude on the new,” Rev. David Callies, district president, warned black and white congregations who left familiar arms of tradition Sunday to embrace each other. “There will be attempts to get us back to the old ways of prejudice, selfishness, indifference,” Callies told the members of two local Lutheran churches as they united to form one church. Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Whitehaven and Calvary Lutheran Church in South Memphis. A predominately Caucasian congregation and an African-American congregation became one under the eyes of an overflowing crowd of about 300 that filled the aisles of the new “Cross of Calvary Lutheran Church.” Cross of Calvary Lutheran Church became the first intentionally biracial church in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. This newly formed faith-based union adopted and renamed its child “Cross of Calvary Lutheran School and Daycare. The program included three year old kindergarten through 8th grade. Later it expanded to include infants. A quality Christian education was the tunnel vision of the school. Mrs. Donna Gable was the first principal of the school. On Sunday, July 3, 1994, Mr. Aaron Dickerson of Dallas, TX was installed as the “School Administrator” During his tenure as principal, teacher, coach, and athletic director, Cross of Calvary became well known throughout the City of Memphis and the Parochial School Community. Mr. “D” touched the minds, hearts and souls of 125 students and their parents. The children of the school

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On the Hosanna’s of a Diverse Heaven

On the Hosanna's of a Diverse Heaven

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” ~ Revelation 7:9 A little boy once fell into a hole from which he was unable to climb out. A farmer heard his cries for help and brought a rope, hoping it would be long enough to rescue the boy. It was not. The farmer called a friend over to help. He also brought a piece of rope, but it too failed to reach the bottom of the hole. The two men were at a loss, wondering aloud what they should do, when the voice of reason called from the depths of the pit, “My friends… May I make a suggestion?” It was All Saints’ Sunday in 1956 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stood in the pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and left a cumbersome truth to linger in the minds of generations to come. “You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” and “Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind,” you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America.” Behold the elephant. According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, only 14% of American Churches are considered diverse, up

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The Midnight Protest: A Reflection on the Incarnation

The Midnight Protest: A Reflection on the Incarnation

“The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Where do you come from? In John chapter 19, Jesus is standing trial before Pontius Pilate. The people He came to save were gathered in the Praetorium courtyard demanding His crucifixion. Pilate, who was growing more fearful by the minute, comes to Jesus and he asks Him, “Where are you from?” That’s the question of Christmas, isn’t it? And while Matthew and Luke both give us some great insights into the human origin of the incarnation of Christ – that beautiful story of Mary and Joseph; the baby Jesus lying in a manger – I’m just not sure that’s what Pilate was getting at. St. John’s is more what we might call a “Cosmic Infancy Narrative.” His Gospel gives us a Heaven’s eye view of the Incarnation. For John, the answer to the question of the origin of Jesus goes back a little further than just His birth in Bethlehem. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…

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On the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

On the Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna… …to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” ~ Deuteronomy 8:3 I’ve spent the last few weeks meditating heavily on the Forty Day Temptation of Christ in the Desert, particularly in the account of Matthew chapter 4. I’m struck by the incredible strength of Jesus; how filled He is – though hungry (1) – with the Word of God, and the deep spiritual benefit of the discipline of Fasting. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When the flesh is satisfied, it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote ones self to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation” (2). This Scriptural call to modern asceticism (in moderation, of course), disciplines us in a ton of different ways. Here are just a few: 1. Fasting Trains the Body to Not Get What It Wants It is a rejection of the hedonistic indulgence of the world which teaches us that if we want something, we should have it immediately whether it’s good for our soul or not. In its place it leaves for us a true freedom from the enemy that rivals that great adversary, the Devil; our own selves (3). Fasting teaches us that we don’t have to get what we want (4). 2. Fasting Instills Humility & Selflessness It is the full-on abandonment of self-reliance. By withholding from ourselves that

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Front Porch Theology : Why I Am a Lutheran

Front Porch Theology : Why I Am a Lutheran

“Go, and be not silent. You are not the only one to be saved.” ~ Martin Luther Last night I spent the better part of an hour in the photo department at Walgreens talking with my new friend, Kevin, as he peeled the edges off of our family Christmas Cards. It’s a much more complicated process than I once thought, the printing of Christmas Cards, which left us plenty of time to talk over one of exactly four topics I can actually hold a decent conversation about. Theology. It’s a question that comes up often here in this Southern Buckle of the Bible Belt. “What exactly is a Lutheran?” And while it’s usually a soft invitation to an intense theological and idealogical debate, I got the sense that for Kevin, his was a genuine question about God. I’m certain we all run across these open doors as the Holy Spirit puts people in our path to whom we might give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). My answer (which I was later, by the miracle of a backspace key and with the benefit of another hour of reflection and prayer, able to clean up a bit) focused on six points I’ve come to treasure as devout Lutheran. For the occasion of the open doors in your journey, here they are… 1. We Are All Sinners It’s our nature. In other words, we aren’t sinner because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners. None of

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