From generation to generation

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

“His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him” (Luke 1:50).

I read those words early Thursday morning before I went to visit my dad one last time before I flew home from a frigid Springfield, VA to my temperate home in FL. Dad was awake enough to FaceTime with my three kids and most of their kids. In those moments, I had a front row seat to God’s mercy from generation to generation to generation to generation!

There is no way to explain the generational faithfulness in our family other than the grace of God. Mom and Dad did little more than fear, love and trust God above all things, raising three children who are still active in church life. (My brother and I are pastors. My sister is a church musician.) All of my children are active church members, and are doing an amazing job of raising their children in the Christian faith. None of it was forced. None of it is a battle. It’s just a part of who we are.

But they aren’t the only ones. My in-laws also raised their family in the fear and knowledge of God, a spiritual legacy passed along from my wife’s side of the family, too. Because they worship with us, I get to see those four generations every single Sunday. I hate to admit it, but I often look right past that miracle. A few moments with dad opened my eyes to it once again.

Though I spent a few hours with dad each day, he was only awake for a few five minute stretches. Our conversations were brief and repetitive. Though he knows when I am there, I doubt he’ll remember my visit. As he dozed, I added new photos of his grands and great-grands on my side of the family, a poignant reminder to me of his importance to the family.

Sometimes we wonder why dad has lived so long. I think he sometimes wonders the same thing. Obviously he is still has a few things to teach. His presence reminds me not to congratulate myself too much because I or my family is faithful. God used my father to plant some seeds that have grown more than any of us could have imagined! Maybe he’ll use me to do the same thing.

“I’m going to have to come to church every week!”

Heard at confirmation class last night: “But Pastor, if I’m going to finish up my sermon reports this year, I’m going to have to go to church every week!” And yes, this comment was accompanied by a suitably horrified face, as if I had threatened to break their fingers.

Their comment wasn’t entirely correct. I pointed out that they needed ten more sermon reports, and that there were at least twenty-two more worship services between now and confirmation Sunday. For some reason, this did not provide them much comfort. They were still a bit disgusted.

The reason I require sermon reports is to stimulate worship attendance. I ask for twelve during the class which meets from September through April. For some reason, families had it in their head that their children could become confirmed members of the church without ever actually participating in the life of the congregation. This is actually the exact opposite of my goal: to equip them for a lifetime of involvement in the life of a congregation.

At the end of every sermon report, I leave a space for “What questions do you have about the sermon?” Ironically, the student who lamented going to church actually did a sermon report last week and wrote this question, “How can someone get closer to God and strengthen their faith?” Yes, I have an answer for them. It goes something like this: God gave you the gift of the church!

I wish I could connect some of these students and their families with those in our congregation who wish they could get to church. For any number of health and family reasons, they can’t be with us, and they would give anything to be able to come. They’d let someone break their fingers if they could come. Well, maybe. You know what I mean. What a contrast.

I’m not going to give up. I truly enjoy teaching this age group, we have a good time, and it keeps me young to hang out with the youth. The evil one keeps whispering, “Why bother?” But I hold on to the hope that maybe the brief time I have with them will be a seed that grows sometime in their life. They may not all get confirmed because some of them won’t actually do anything, but they will get the gospel each and every time I get to teach them. And that is powerful.

A tear in my eye?

(Tear in the title is pronounced with a long a, not a long e.)

A feeling of relief swept over my as the doctor stepped back and said, “Everything looks good.” Two weeks ago, I was in for my annual checkup with the retina specialist. A few years ago a colleague had repaired a tear in my right eye. Now something had shown up in my left, aka my “good” eye. I hadn’t noticed any changes in my vision. Asymptomatic is the term the doctor charted. A little lasering was the treatment he prescribed. (I’m sure there is more clinical-sounding word for that.)

eye laserSo an assistant numbed up my eye, I put my chin and forehead on the “look inside your eye” machine, and the doctor got to work with a trigger in his hand and an intensely bright light shining in my eye. For about ten minutes he fired shot after shot around the tear to isolate and attach anything that might come loose. There was a soft sound kind of like a “pew-pew-pew” over and over again as he called for his assistant to increase the power after each round. It didn’t really hurt. The sensation was like someone was in my head poking a blunt stick on the back of my eyeball. Annoying but not painful.

When it was all over, the assistant rinsed out my eye, put a patch over it and said, “Wear this for about an hour.” I asked, “Any aftercare instructions?” “Nope,” was his reply. “We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” Oh. Ok. And just like that I was done and out the door. It turns out that was the easy part. Now I had to drive home with a patch over my good eye and my so-so eye fully dilated. It was only a mile or so, but I vowed right then and there to get a driver from now on.

For the next fourteen days I was ultra-sensitive to every little floater, shadow, blurriness, sensation that might indicate that something wasn’t right. Nothing happened during that time, but I was hyper-vigilant.

Finally it was time for my recheck. My driver dropped me off and left to run some errands. The doctor only dilated my recovering eye, peered in at every possible angle with two different kinds of light, and announced, “Everything looks good.” For the rest of the day, none of the floaters or shadows bothered me at all. Those three words made all the difference in the world.

On his way out, the doctor said, “We’ll want to see you more than once a year now.” I replied, “I’ll come whenever you want. Thank you!”

Eyes are pretty amazing. So are the doctors who specialize in the care of eyes and the correction of vision.

What happened on Saturday?

Holy Saturday. For we pastors who run the entire Holy Week race, we’re coming out of the final turn on the way to Easter morning. The week has been filled with extra worship services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and a few visits to some homebound members who won’t be in worship tomorrow, perennially the biggest Sunday of the year. What do pastor’s do on that in-between day?

For me, it’s pretty relaxing. I didn’t have to get up as early as I usually do. I did a little sermon review for Sunday. Then I oiled up the valves and blew a few notes through my trumpet, just staying limber for tomorrow’s hymns. I exercised, did some grocery shopping, bought a new tie for tomorrow, got into the Easter candy, and may still take a nap this afternoon. All in all, a pretty nice day.

What happened on that Saturday before Jesus’ resurrection? Not much. It’s the Sabbath, so it’s a day away from the regular routines of work. The reality of Jesus’ death is beginning to hit those who knew and loved him. Thoughts of having to get up early to finish taking care of his corpse were on the minds of some. Fear haunted those in hiding; “Now what are we going to do?” The Roman soldiers had to work, guarding the tomb.

The one thing that we do not see on that Saturday is any kind of celebration from Satan and his demons. Why not? The Christ is dead. This should be their moment. They can run amok  unhindered through creation and mankind. They’ve won. They should be celebrating. They should be planning the parade.

But they’re not. Maybe they knew. Maybe they knew that this pause in the story isn’t a good thing. When Jesus said he’d rise, the disciples didn’t get it. Maybe the demons did. From the beginning they knew who he was. And they knew they didn’t have a chance.

In a sense, much of life is Saturday. We’re waiting for resurrection, for the return of Christ. For some, it’s relaxing. Others have to work. Some are afraid. Many hope it comes soon. We’ll get a taste of it tomorrow, in word and sacrament and song, and be reminded that death doesn’t have a chance!

“What is God going to do?”

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Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

It’s been three days. Three long days. People are starting to get thirsty. And grumpy. And panicky. We’re in the middle of the desert – when are we going to find some water?

Ironically, three days ago they had plenty of water. Actually, too much. They stood on the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their tail and no where to go. But God made a way through the water, on dry ground, and they traversed safely to the other side. When the Egyptians tried to follow, there was plenty of water to swamp their chariots and kill them all.

Three days later, three days into the desert, there’s no water. How many times did they hear the update, “I’m thirsty”? And the first thing they wonder is, “What are we going to do?”

Typical. At least for me. Maybe you’re better at this than I am. But when there’s not enough help, not enough time, not enough money, not enough whatever, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What am I going to do?”

How come I hardly ever ask “What is God going to do?”

God’s the one who brought them out of Egypt. God’s the one who decimated the Egyptians with ten plagues. God’s the one who parted the waters of the Red Sea. God’s the one who caused the waters to return to destroy the Egyptian army. So far, all the people had to do was follow him. He led them with a pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire during the night. He would provide water, food and protection along the way.

When I was listening the the sermon at the hispanic service a few nights ago, one of the small parts I understood was the reminder that it’s Christ’s church. He brings the people together to do his work. It will grow exactly the way he intends. It may decrease at times, just the way he wills. But if you need anything, you go to him. He doesn’t expect you to do the heavy lifting. He just wants you to follow, trust and obey.

Maybe it’s time to stop asking, “What are we going to do?” and start asking, “What are you going to do, God?” That question certainly takes a lot of pressure off of me. It’s not “my” church or congregation or ministry. It’s his. My job? Preach the word. Watch over the flock. Equip the saints. And maybe most importantly, “Be still and know that I am God.”

So that’s what I’ve been working on lately. I’m trying to catch myself when I want to ask, “What am I going to do?” and rephrase the question to, “What is God going to do?” I’ll let you know what I learn.