The Junk Drawer
Every home has that "drawer" where you put things away you may use later. On this page, Pastor Luke shares different articles, ideas, and musings... that you just can't throw away! So into the "junk drawer" it goes.
May 11, 2021
If the fit ain't right
I remember, when I was still working as a teacher, I went to the shopping mall to pick up a few dress shirts. Typically, I would just go to a big department store and grab a few shirts that looked like the right size and color. You cannot try them on, so I would just take them to the register and buy them.
However, one time I went to a "men's clothing store." There, you don't grab your own clothes. The store attendants come to you, they pull out a tailor's measuring tape, they take measurements of every corner of your frame, and then they pull off dress shirts from the clothing racks in different styles and colors that they think will fit you.
When I was in the store, going through this unusual process of buying a dress shirt, the store attendant looked at me and could see my discomfort. So he told me, 'If the fit ain't right, it ain't worth buying."
In other words, don't just settle for whatever is near you. When you pick a shirt, know what you're getting. Make sure it fits.
I tell you about this experience because I think it helps me to explain a very challenging topic in the church: baptism. In the Christian church, there are two main camps : those who baptize babies and those who only baptize people old enough to "consent" to it. - In other words, "believers."
I was not baptized as a baby. The church I grew up in did not practice this. However, when I was discerning whether to pastor in the United Methodist Church I knew that this was a denomination that baptized infants. So, I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about baptism in order to decide if this was something that could "fit" in my belief system.
I did not want to just "take whatever was near me," but I needed to decide if this was a belief that I could hold to as my own. Did it fit on me?
So I did my work. I researched and prayed. I was hoping through that research to find proof for one type of baptism over the others.
Secretly, I was hoping to discover that infant baptism was some type of practice that was snuck into the church unwanted. Like a tradition that was added after a few hundred years of the Christian church only baptizing consenting adults.
Unfortunately for me, I did not find that to be the case. When you look at the history of the Church - we have been baptizing adults and babies since the beginning. Setting aside 'church history"- if you just focus on what the bible says, you will not find a strong statement for or against baptizing babies either. It is an unsettled issue in the Church today because it never was settled throughout the history of the church.
So I had to accept that there is not strong evidence for or against the practice of infant baptism. Rather, throughout the New Testament, you will hear a clear statement that we should baptize, that baptism is an integral part of the Christian experience, and that baptism is one of the tools of grace that Christ has given the Church.
Why do we baptize babies?
Discovering all this, I did not find stones to throw. Rather, I realized that the forms of baptism teach certain beliefs. They highlight certain parts of Christian theology.
Believers baptism holds to the need for faith - that an individual needs to have 'real faith' in Jesus to experience the grace and salvation God offers. Those who practice infant Baptism - also believe in needing faith - but hold up higher the belief that 'grace is a gift.' Through baptism, you can experience the grace of Jesus working in you. You did not earn it, did not even have to ask for it properly, it was just given to you.
So the question left for me was "did this fit?" Did I understand baptism as an experience of grace? Did I believe you can experience God's grace without asking for it? And to both of those questions, I said 'YES.' And that "yes" opened the door to accept a practice I had been unsure about.
The other day, I read a letter written by Cambron Wright to his infant son who was about to be baptized. I deeply appreciated the words that Cambron wrote. It's an explanation of why they were baptizing their son, but it was not written as "dry theology" but written in the love and language of a father who wanted his son to someday understand what they believed God was doing through his baptism.
If you click the button below, it will open a PDF document of that letter. I encourage you to read it, to hear the heart of a father who deeply loves his son - and because of that - had him baptized.
Why are we talking about baptism?
March 22, 2021
Thoughts Toward a Younger Generation
Any church in North America in the twenty-first century is asking the same question: where are the young people? This has been a question raised and addressed in different ways over the last 40 years. 20-30 years ago, the trickling exodus of young people was a concern, today their absence is a felt reality.
This did not happen for lack of trying. The old system of discipling our young people was done primarily through Sunday School. And this model was widely successful for decades. At some point, many churches added in evening youth groups and young adult small groups to help address the change in culture, but many of those groups over the last 20 years have dwindled.
There are many reasons for this change, but ultimately it is the result that the generation that ranges in age from 40 and younger have slowly shed church-attendance as a primary pattern in their life. Even if they are sympathetic to church and the Christian faith, they stay home. This has been a quiet revolution of indifference.
While we have experienced this change in the younger generation, some things have never changed about the human heart. The under 40 generation still struggles with fear, guilt, a need for direction, a desire to have something to believe in, and a deep sense that something is not right with the world. All of these things are answered in the Gospel of Jesus! Which makes this whole situation a tragedy. We, as a church, have a cure for a hurting generation that we do not know how to administer. They won’t come to us. They are skeptical of churches as institutions. They feel they are too busy for church in a fast-paced, high-demand, always-encroaching culture.
So what do we do about this?
Some churches are continually trying to reinvent the wheel to find something that works and feels relevant to a younger generation. This is noble but exhausting. Some churches have changed their expectations of success. If they can have a young person in church once every two months, they feel they are reaching them. This is practically-minded but spiritually shallow – for a person needs far more than an hour every two months to grow in a relationship with God.
As your pastor, I have a few thoughts. But one need that is clear to me is a shift in our thinking. We need to think about reaching our young people (adults, youth, and children) not with a mindset exclusively of discipleship (“getting a committed Christian to grow in faith”) but with a mindset of missions (“introducing someone to a true faith in Christ”). There is some overlap between missions and discipleship. The difference, however, is in our approach. A missionary goes to the spaces of the unreached. A missionary seeks to find avenues to reach people. A missionary is less concerned with fitting things in a typical Sunday-morning pattern, and will engage people with the Gospel in any situation that presents itself. A missionary moves.
Over the months to come, I hope to have some opportunities where we rethink how to be effective missionaries to Rochester and the surrounding region. I want to think about the ways that we can continue and even strengthen the ways we intersect our church ministry into the life of this community and its young people.
Every weekday afternoon that I walk outside the church, I see dozens of children and youth crossing Virginia Avenue from the school building to walk to their homes and to their waiting parents in the streets that surround our Jefferson St. location. And as I watch this I think, who is reaching them with the love and hope of Jesus?
We can! And as God’s people, we are called to as our duty.
So I encourage you, right now, turn your thoughts to the younger generation. Not in frustration but with an open-heart for how to reach them. And as you think, listen for the Spirit of God’s inspiration.
Along with those thoughts, I recently read an interesting article by a UMC Bishop. His article is a bit scholarly in language. But I think it is so insightful on the larger trends in young people.
Below is a summary of his points.
Sculpting a Strong Inner Core: The Spiritual Needs of Young Adults
By Bishop James Swanson
1. The Problem: Young people are part of the “CONNECTED GENERATION.” What this means is they are more connected to a community digitally (phone and computer) than they are to the community around them. In other words, they feel more a part of a community in their social media apps or video games than they do in their neighborhood or school.
As a result: “The vast majority of the Connected Generation feels the impact of broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them.”
2. The call to action: Get young people in a real community where they can grow. Get them involved through the church where they actively live-out the faith of Christianity (praying, serving, advocating for justice), but do that while fostering a love for Jesus.
3. The Challenge to the Church: “We cannot foster in others what we do not personally practice.” If we are not committed in growing in our love for Jesus and we are not engaged in a lived-out faith – we cannot expect to lead the next generation in this.
If you would like to read the full article, you can do it at the following link.
February 12, 2021
Attended by Angels
Let me begin by sharing these words from the Gospel of Matthew:
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. –
Every year Lent starts with the same inaugural story: Jesus goes out into the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. This summary of the gospel story might sound strikingly similar to how many of you begin the season of Lent. Perhaps, you begin by going out into the wilderness of spiritual discipline. You try to fast, read your Bible a little more, or pray a little more often. Maybe, in the attempt, you realize why you don’t do these things as often as you’d like. Life is busy. You’re exhausted. The days are too short and the list of things to do is too long. And if we were honest, on top of it all, the temptation for tv, your phone, or the to-do list is too strong to overcome.
I want to remind you, however, that Jesus’ “walk through the wilderness” was draining for him too – both physically and spiritually. As the verse above says, Jesus needed to be ministered to by angels after his show-down with the devil.
Now let that be a mirror to your own life!
We are coming into the season of Lent - in what we pray are the waning months of a pandemic! As we journey into Lent, this season is not meant to be a torture chamber – where we put upon ourselves difficult and sometimes impossible things in the hopes of growing up a bit in our spiritual walk.
If you thought that’s what Lent was, I’m glad to say you’re wrong.
Lent is a season to remind ourselves that we need God’s compassionate mercy. Lent reminds us that the journey can be rough and wearisome, but God is ready to come down and refresh us with His Spirit. Just as Jesus was refreshed by the angels heaven sent to him.
When I picture the angels attending to Jesus, I like to think of them holding onto a Christ who is about to collapse in exhaustion and hunger. Maybe as his head rests in the lap of an angel, they slowly feed Jesus a few bites of bread and a few sips of water to help him regain strength. And they speak to him words of encouragement to help him regain his resolve. “You did it!” they say, “You went through a difficult time. Your Father saw it and is proud of you.”
“Jesus ministered to by Angels” by Jacques Joseph Tissot
I have no doubt that Christ was given a real taste of mercy through those ministering angels. God showed compassion to Jesus’ frailty as a fully human – yet fully divine – person. And I have even less doubt that God wants to give us a real taste of mercy too. God wants to meet us in our weaknesses. These are weaknesses that have us valuing the wrong things, pursuing things that will one day turn to dust, and loving things that will never love us back. And the fight against these temptations for sin is always exhausting. But God is ready to come down, hold us, fill us with good things, encourage us, and put us back on the path – refreshed so we can continue.
So over this season of Lent, I encourage you to join with us in person or in spirit as we journey through Lent. In this season, we add a few more worship services. Not to torture ourselves with a few more things on our schedule. Not to give ourselves a few extra chances to try to “make ourselves a little bit better Christians.”
But to have the opportunity to be truly honest with ourselves. To come with that full-throated honesty that says, “Lord, I need you. Have mercy on me. I am tired. I am weak. I have tried but feel exhausted. I have labored but for the wrong things. God, I need you.”
And I know that God’s love is so great and inexhaustible that mercy is sent down to those that seek it.
God’s mercy is real. It is not just a nice thought or a moment of clarity. It is soul-refreshing, life-giving mercy that you can feel and know deep within. Come be refreshed by His mercy and journey with us this Lent. Whether you come in person or join in the safety of your own home, let’s travel the road of Lent together!
January 8, 2021
A New Year, A New Calling
I have been spending the beginning part of this year in prayer, taking time to fast, and to try to listen to what God is leading our churches to in this New Year.
To help, I've also been reading a few books and articles to help center my mind on what is the "most important" work of the church. I've been thinking, "After a pandemic, what is the ministry that the church should be leaning into? What needs to be put aside? What needs to be rediscovered?
I appreciate this article from Matthew Reynolds, a United Methodist Pastor from Ohio. His encouragement is to "not go back" to the things we once had that we no longer need.
It's an article filled with sobering truths and powerful encouragement. I share it (on the link to the right) so that you can ask and think through the same questions with me.
december 14, 2020
Joy for this season
As we have moved through Advent (the season before Christmas), my preaching has been focused on the four themes of Advent. These themes are HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE.
This past week, I preached a sermon on joy, and how joy is something God is fulfilling in us - both now and in the future.
As a pastor, you sometimes wonder if a sermon would preach better as a series of sermons. This is one of those sermons. As I was writing it, I was full of ideas and reflections on how joy is such a unique blessing for Christians. But thinking and listening come at two different paces. We often think faster than we hear, which is why the words in James 1:19 are so valuable: "Be quick to listen, slow to speak..."
So God bless our faithful people who listened to an onslaught of ideas in this sermon! Ideas that maybe, came faster than can be heard.
I am sharing the written sermon on this page so that you might get a chance to read it slowly and reflect with me on the wonder of joy. The wonder that, through Jesus, is becoming the core of who we are. God bless and merry Christmas!
November 3, 2020
All Saints Sunday
Hello Dear Church family,
Normally, each week we send out a transcript of the previous Sunday’s sermon. This week, however, I wanted to write a personal letter to you. This past Sunday we celebrated All Saints Sunday. It is a special day in the “church calendar” where we take a moment to remember those we love that have gone on to glory.
Growing up, I had never observed All Saints Sunday. It was never a thought in my mind and not an important moment in our church worship schedule.
And for most Christians, we are more aware of the day before All Saints - that was originally called “all hallows eve” than we are of the day that follows. It would be as if Christmas Eve eclipsed Christmas day to the point we didn’t even think to celebrate anything on December 25. But all hallows eve has become the bigger day that we now know better as Halloween. Halloween has built up its own traditions of costumes, candy, and trickery - along with darker themes of witches, devils, and scares. Because of how big Halloween has become we miss the beautiful moment that All Saints gives us to remember as a community those who’ve left this side of eternity to go onto the next.
John Wesley, the fonder of the Methodist movement, loved this day on the church calendar. In his journal, Wesley described All Saints as a day he “peculiarly loved” and one where he found a lot of “comfort in.” I find that I have similar feelings to John Wesley. As I’ve preached and planned for several All Saints worship services, I find something incredibly comfortable and beautiful within this day.
I find comfort because of the way that All Saints brings Easter promises into our everyday experiences. It’s a “Christmas in July” type of moment where we take all the promises and hopes of Easter and the resurrection and bring them into November and the closing of the year. It’s a time to remember that we have lost people very dear to us, but also remember that Jesus has plans in store for them. It is a powerful moment to remember, as the Apostle Paul teaches us, that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Those who have died in Jesus Christ are not “gone.” All that we have loved about them has not disappeared into oblivion. They are present with Jesus Christ. They are the saints, as it is described in the book of Revelation 5, worshipping and praying in the presence of God waiting for the day of resurrection when Heaven and Earth become one.
So as we sit at the end of this year, a year that all across this world has been long, frustrating, and full of death, we can take the moment of remembrance which All Saints Day is calling us to do. First, remember those who you have lost this past year, those dear to you and those familiar. Remember that each was precious in God’s sight and carried the very image of God within them. But also remember that Jesus’ death and resurrection has everything we need. Jesus' death rescues us from sin. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that new life is promised to us. And Jesus’ words tell us that too. “Because I live,” Jesus said, “you will live also” (John 14:9).
The video above is the names of those we remembered at our Faith Community worship services. I invite you to read these names and if you recognize some of them, recall to yourself what each person was like. And then pray.
May God’s grace and peace and blessings come to you.
And know that I am praying and thinking of you.
October 22, 2020
A lament over racism
It goes without saying that the conversation about race is really difficult. There is a very obvious inequality that exists in our country that is most often divided over color/race lines. Although we see the same things, we are often not having "the same conversation" when it comes to race and equality in our beloved country.
I have, personally, sat in so many conversations about racial justice where people have talked at each other, but we are rarely talking to each other. Political ideologies have us poised to be angry with one another, the separate stories with which we understand our American history have us skeptical of the end goals of other groups, and the strong need we have to blame someone for this racial inequality has us constantly looking for the scapegoat in the other camp.
Which is why I appreciate this song (it's more a poem set to music than a traditional pop-song). Andrew Peterson brings up in this song all the hot topics of the race debate: police brutality, protest marches, riots, the need to say-the-names of those who have died unjustly. But there is no anger in this song. Nor is there resignation. It is a full-throated confession that God loves the least of these. God loves George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. They are His beloved. And too often, we overlook the beloved of God. Too often, we jump to the debates and divisiveness of race conversations. Those debates make us calloused to the real loss of human lives. Rather than weep with the God who made them. We close our ears, turn our head, and move on.
But as Andrew said, there's a reckoning that's coming. We will one day be face to face with Jesus Christ. He will be coming down on high to bring full redemption to this world. In that arrival, Christ is also coming to put justice in its proper place. And he will ask us, "what did you do for the least of these?" What will your answer be? Did you turn your head away? Did you just resign yourself to the status quo? Was anger your only meaningful participation? If anything, as Andrew says, we can start with lament.
October 12, 2020
Church: A place of Movement
This week's video is from our service of worship at Faith on Jefferson St. It is the final sermon in our series called "retrace church."
This sermon summarizes the whole series, including that overarching theme that a true, good, and beautiful is one where God's hand has been working in and through it.
I invite you to watch the video and see all the elements of the service, but for those that want to jump ahead, the sermon starts at 25 minutes into the video.
October 5, 2020
Speaking with Grace
I deeply appreciate Christians who engage non-believers with their deep, heart-felt concerns. One of the Christians I find especially gifted to speak to the world is Amy Orr-Ewing.
In the video I've added to this post, Amy joins in a discussion with Jon Steingard (a Christian who stopped believing in God).
I just appreciate Amy's grace in conversation. I, also, appreciate Jon's honesty and thoughtfulness. My prayer is that God would continue to raise up voices in the church who speak with thoughtfulness, charity, and hope that I hear in Amy's words.
September 30, 2020
A Love Feast
This past Spring, in the midst of the pandemic shutdown, I created an "at-home" experience called a "LOVE FEAST."
The love feast is an old Christian practice of having dinner, worship, and fellowship together. It's a way to practice our new life as "the new family of God."
The video to the left is the audio guide for the feast.
There is also a print portion of the guide which you can access at the following link: