Sunday, November 19, 2017

Almost Thanksgiving Day

It is Sunday, the 1st day of the week. This is a special week because by the time we make it to Thursday, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. I was sitting here thinking about what am I thankful for? I was going to put it as a post on FB, but then realized I had more to be thankful for than a FB could hold. Imagine that! Not a post or a tweet but a blog doth hold some (but not all) that I have been blessed with. So here goes ...

I am thankful first and foremost for my faith. It isn't something I have given myself but is a gift to me by the heavenly Father, working through the Holy Spirit, given in my Baptism, strengthened through Word and Sacrament. Daily the Lord strengthens my faith and I rejoice and give thanks for this greatest of all gifts.

My family. I give thanks for my loving wife, Penny, who loves and cares for me more than I deserve. She has been my love for longer than I can remember (not true). We started dating in high school and have weathered all the storms of life together since that day in 1979. I love her with all my heart. I give thanks to God for the blessing of a wife who is a helpmate, who lifts me up, who inspires me, who is my rib.

My children - Rachael and Matthew. What a blessing they are. I could not imagine what life would have been like without them. They are a joy and a frustration. The joy far outweighs the frustration and I give thanks to God for them. I thank God that He lead Brandon into Rachael's life and brought them together as husband and wife. He has been a blessing as part of our family. I thank God for Chelsey, who though not officially part of the family until May, is a joy for Matthew. Together they will make the family that God intends them to be. Both children are truly faithful Christians and have become such wonderful adults.

My church family. Yes, I give thanks to God for the church family here at St. Paul's, Troy, IL. Like all families, they can be challenging but they are my family. I love and care for them. Each one is a gift from the Lord that I care for and feed through Word and Sacrament. I pray for each of them, lifting them up in a special way to the Lord of all things. Rejoice! Give thanks and worship the Lord for we are family.

Food. Oh my yes I give thanks for food. Biscuits and gravy, turkey, ribs, blackberry pie and a whole host of other wonderful tidbits of sustenance that the Lord has given for the strengthening of the body and the joy of life. I do believe that He gave us food to enjoy, not just to maintain the body.

My body with all its aches and pains. I have had this body for 56 years and it has served me well. I have mistreated it but it has held together. I give thanks for doctors and nurses who are able to take care of me and all the things that go on with the body. I rejoice and give thanks for medicine, though I might grumble about taking it. Thank God I am able to take it for it helps me through each day.

The Chicago Cubs. OK, I was just seeing if you were really paying attention. I do enjoy the Cubs, win or lose. I have learned much from them and the Lord has taught me over and over again what patience is. I enjoy baseball more than other sports. Yet I know that many give thanks for a variety of sports and sporting teams. And there are those who even enjoy and support the redbirds (I can't bring myself to say their name). God has given all for the good of those whom He has given them to.

What else? I could go on and on. The Lord has been good to me. And so I thank the Lord. I pray that you will also take time to give thanks to God this week. Not only this week but every day for He is good and gracious to us day after day. His mercies are new every morning.

Happy Thanksliving.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Give Thanks

I can't believe it! Thanksgiving is only a week away! Really, only a week. Today is Wednesday, which means that this time next week, we will be preparing for family gatherings, turkey dinners and lots and lots of eating. It just dawned on me this last weekend that it was so close. Has it hit you yet?

Thanksgiving. Give thanks. Yes, give thanks. I have much to give thanks for in my life. The greatest thing I give thanks for is that God has saved me. He saved me, a lost and condemned sinner, a person who is not worthy of being saved. He gave His only-begotten Son for me and for my sin. As one who was born sinful (as all people are, Psalm 51:5 "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the moment my mother conceived me."). I did not deserve to have God send His Son to take my place. I did not deserve to have Jesus Christ go to the cross in my stead. Just the opposite is true. I deserved to have God turn His back upon me for all the times I have turned my back upon Him. Yet "For our sake (that is my sake) he (the Father) made him (the Son) to be sin who knew no sin (Jesus was sinless), so that in him (Jesus) we (you and me) might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV) All I can say is "Thank You!"

Thank You God. Yet I should do more than just say thanks. I should live a life that reflects that thankfulness. In all that I do and say, I give thanks to God. I give thanks to God by how I treat others. I give thanks to God in how I work. I give thanks to God in forgiving others. I give thanks to God in sharing the message of the gospel. I give thanks to God with my life.

I also thank God for my family, for my lovely wife of 33 years Penny, for my daughter Rachael and her husband Brandon, for my son Matthew and his fiance Chelsey, for my mother-in-law Shirley Rex, for my brothers John, Bub and Nathan, for my birth father John and his family, and for the extended family which includes Penny's sisters and their families, my brothers families and the others like Bill & Cassie, Gina and those that I can't think of right now. I rejoice that I am blessed with such family, even if we don't see each other or talk to each other as much as we should. That is not all their fault. It is mine as well. We all allow ourselves to get too busy to talk with those we love. Thank You God for family.

I give thanks to God for church family and friends. Here, there are too many to list. There are the folks here at St. Paul's, Troy for which I am thankful. I give thanks that I have the opportunity to be a part of so many lives and bring to them the message of hope found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I thank God for those at Immanuel, Altamont; Bethlehem, Ferrin and Trinity, Harvel (all in Illinois) . Each congregation held a special blessing for myself and my family, blessings that were sometimes open and apparent and then at other times hidden by the things of this world. Thank You God for all those lives that have touched my life and the life of my family. Thank You for those who lift us up in prayer as well as those who challenge us at different times.

I also thank God for the trials and tribulations I have faced. They have taught me not to rely upon myself but to rely upon God alone. When I turn my eyes from Him, I find myself not doing what needs to be done, even straying off into sin. I ask Him to forgive me for all my sins. Yet, many of those trials and tribulations have made Penny and I what we are today, the people we are and the pastoral family that we are. Yes, they have brought Penny and I closer and molded us into a team to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have never understood all those things that have happened to us but we have trusted God through them all. He alone has given us strength to come through the storms of life. At times, we were certain that our boat was going to be swamped and we would cry out, "Master, save us!" Only to hear the words, "Oh you of little faith, did you not know that you were safe with Me all along." He has spoken to the wind and the waves and the they would calm. At other times He would stand with us, holding us tight, as the waves battered the boat, as we were soaked to the  bone with the issues and problems of life, only to find that He also dried us off as the storm passed. So I really am thankful once again for the Lord who has brought Penny and I through so much and has strengthened our relationship and love. Together we face this world, Penny, me and the Lord, a cord of three strands that is not easily broken.

I give thanks for...oh my, there is so much to thank God for. I now realize that it shouldn't just be one day a year. Giving thanks is meant to a daily thing. I am to give thanks each day, throughout the day. When I fail to do so, forgive me God. When I actually do it, thank You Holy Spirit for leading me to do that which is right. Yes, thank You God for all things in my life.

And that, my friends, is where we are. I didn't know where this was going but I reckon it went where it was meant to go. Give thanks! With a grateful heart.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation Thoughts

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. He did this in Wittenberg, Germany. In his day, you might say he was "blogging." Why? Because he saw that there was a problem with the teachings of his church. He put them up against the teaching of the Word of God and found that the church was lacking in truth. The way of man had usurped the way of God.

In today's world, the same could be said. The way of man has usurped the way of God. The world does not want the message of the Gospel. It wants a message that tells people that any way that they live is all right. A message that proclaims goodness that is found in every individual. It wants any message other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many churches have given in to that message. Proclamation of Law and Gospel is not clearly and properly proclaimed. Sin is no longer called sin. Salvation is found in Jesus and...whatever you want to add to that message. Why? Churches want to bring people into their doors, with the hope that the message that the pastor proclaims doesn't upset or turn off the folks sitting there. "Tell me that my life is all right." "Tell me that if I follow Jesus I will have no more problems." "Tell me that my lifestyle is acceptable to God, perhaps even a gift from God." "Whatever you do, don't tell me that I am a sinner."

But that is not the way of the Reformation. The truth of the Word of God needs to be proclaimed clearly in a world of lost sinners. We, you and me, are in need of a Savior who died upon the cross and rose on the 3rd day. We cannot save ourselves. You and I cannot make the decision to follow Jesus. Why? Our hearts and lives, our very nature, is sinful and wants nothing to do with God. Oh, it might long for God when it needs something, like health or security or hope. But notice, it is selfish desire that makes us want God. Sin says, I don't want God in my life to change it. No, I only want God if He will give me what I want at the moment. And then, the God I am calling on is not the God of Scripture. It is a god that I have made up, created in my image, which will do what I want in the times I want and will not make any demands upon me. No, my sinful nature will have nothing to do with a God that comes to me in the Word.

I need Him. I need Him to save me. I need Him to come to me. I need Him to change my heart. I need Him to save me. I need Him, period. AND He comes to me through His Son Jesus Christ, shown to me by the Holy Spirit who does this through Word and Sacrament. My action? It is there as I live my life in faith. My salvation hinges on Him and not on me. He saves me. He enfolds me in His arms. He gives me hope. He guides me through my life. He gives and I receive. What a blessing!

Reformation thoughts. Yes, I guess they are because Luther was working towards that end. The Spirit was guiding him as he studied the Word. The Spirit showed him the truth that everything hinges on Christ and not on us. He forgives, without our help. He holds in His hand. He fills. He lifts up. Notice, it is all about Christ and not about what we have done. That is Reformation thoughts. That is what Luther was trying to get people to see.

And today, we still try to see that truth. It is still all about Jesus.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Show me the...

"Show me the money." Do you know where that line was spoken? (Besides you talking to you boss about a raise or the wife talking to her husband on payday.) It was spoken by...most of you will say Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire. And you would be...wrong. It was actually spoken by Cuba Gooding Jr. playing role of Rod Tidwell in said movie. Yes, you would be correct to say that Tom Cruise was shouting those words on the phone while in his office. But it was Cuba Gooding Jr. who got Tom to say/shout those words. "Show me the money!"

It was thinking about those words as I was reading in the Gospel of John this morning. Jesus is in the Temple following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people were excited. The Pharisees are saying "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him." (John 12:19 ESV) The world has gone after Him. And then we see that is case. There were some Greeks who came to the Temple at that time. Thy approached one of the disciples, Philip by name, and said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." (John 12:21 ESV) Show me the Teacher. Show me the Messiah. Show me the Savior! Show me the...

People are crying out like the Greeks. They want something, someone to help them in their lives. They are struggling. They are frustrated. Things in the world today are not good. Murder and mayhem are the rule of the day. Love? That is just a word that is said when someone wants to get something from you. Sexual abuse happens in all corners of the world. The whole Harvy Weinstein debacle shows us more of the abuse in the world. Perhaps folks were saying, "Show me some love." By that they meant that they were willing to do whatever it took to get ahead, to make the money. I am not saying that he was right in what he did. He was a snake, a no good rotten person who used his position of power to abuse women and young girls. It was terrible what he did. Yet he was allowed to do this for years and years because folks figured it was a way to get what they wanted in this world. Many of the victims did get ahead because they put up with the abuse. "Show me the money!" they cried. "Show me the love!" he would reply. The sinful decadence of the world showing the terrible underbelly of rottenness.

Show me...Jesus. In a world crying for something, the Greeks had it right. What do we really need? We need the Lord. We need to see what true love looks like. We need to see that true love does not use or abuse a person but offers the greatest gift of all, freedom from sin, from the tyranny of the devil, freedom from the emptiness of death. That can only be found in Jesus. Only in the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, the sinless Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

That is what you and I are to be about - showing the Savior. We often get off track. We forget that the mission of the Christian is to show Christ. The message of the Gospel does not need our help. We need the help of the Gospel in our lives. That is the task of the Church, the people of God, to show others Jesus. Christianity is not about getting rich, being healthy, having fun, being pain free, having the perfect job, etc. Yes, those things may happen. Or they may not happen. We don't know. But we know one thing, salvation is found in Jesus alone. Freedom is found in Jesus alone. Truth in found in Jesus alone. Life is found in Jesus alone. Eternal life is found in Jesus alone.

Show us Jesus! The world cries. What is your response?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Temperatures

It was cool yesterday. Yes, perhaps some folks even turned on their heat because their houses felt cold to them when they rose in the morning. It was a morning to wear a sweater or a jacket when you headed out. 

Then it wasn't cool any longer. Long pants were exchanged for shorts. Long sleeves for short sleeves. Heat turned off. Windows opened. Windows closed. Air conditioning turned on. The temperature rose throughout the day. Today (Saturday, Oct. 14) it is possible in the Troy, IL area to set a record high temperature. 

Tomorrow the windows will be closed again. The sweaters will be out. Perhaps the heat will be on again as the temperature drops from nearly 90 to a little over 60 for highs. We shake our heads and wonder, "What is going on?" 

If only...the weather would become more fall like. If only it would remain one temperature, then we would get used to it. If only it would normalize, then there would be fewer people getting colds or other sicknesses. Life would be all right, if only...

If only...that is what we often say about most situations. If only this would happen or if only that would be done, then everything will be all right.

Well my friends, the "if only" will not fix the world, the weather or our lives. The only One who can do that is our Lord Jesus Christ. What we face is the challenge of following Him and not our sinful desires or the temptations to try to fix things on our own. We struggle with that. We want to be in control. And when we are in control, that is when things really get messed up. Our sinful desires control how we act, what we say, and how we treat each other. We feel completely justified in how we have treated another person and figure it is their fault, their problem and not ours. Often, we don't even look at our own lives and see where we have sinned, where we are not "righteous" in our actions or words.

This is where we come back to our Lord Jesus Christ. Or perhaps I should say, this is where the Holy Spirit brings us back to the way we should live. We are convicted of our sins. Lead by the Spirit, we confess our sins to the Lord and to one another. We ask for forgiveness. We give forgiveness. We ask the Spirit to lead all involved to treat each other with love, with forgiveness, with mercy and with an attitude not born of this world but born at the cross and the empty tomb. 

We are to be different from those around us. We are called to be followers of Jesus Christ. That will be shown in our attitude of humility (like Christ) and service (again like Christ). 

Temperatures will be up and down. We will say "if only" once again. And then, let slip from your lips, "Lord, forgive me for how I have been toward You and toward others." Help me to follow You in how I act. If only I would be more like You, dear Lord.

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11, storms, fires and the only Hope

The day dawned bright, sunny, clear blue sky overhead, a touch of fall in the air. A day of hope. A day which promised and promises so much. People moving about their day, routines. Coffee, a roll for breakfast, a quick stop at Duncan Donuts for a cup of the regular and a deep fried delight to give the day a good start. Perhaps you should have exercised instead. Tomorrow.

Winds blow, sky darkens, rain starts. Water rising. Hoping the wind doesn't cause too much damage. A surge of water, deeper than expected in one area, less than expected in another. Why didn't they get it right? How come they made us prepare in one place when things fell apart in another? Crazy people. Why didn't they just leave us alone and let us eat the donuts and drink the coffee and go about the day in the way that we wanted?

Eyes glued to the TV, the in computer, the smart phone. Fire, raging fires eating away at countless acres of brush, trees, chasing wildlife from their homes, people from their burrows and yet there are those who stand, staying the course, fighting to stop the onslaught of the raging inferno that seems so angry, so hungry.

Then the unthinkable. Explosions. Eyes turned skyward. Watching as it happens again. Two times, planes and buildings do not mix. The first might have been an accident. The second could not have been. Why? What? Countless lives gone in an instant. Unheard of events. Terrifying stuff.

Then it happens. The house of cards comes tumbling down even as two massive buildings crash to the ground in a roar, a cloud smoke and dust, covering everything. Could nothing have stopped this? Lives shaken. Routines broken. Fear. Deep fear. What is next.

Then is is 16 years later. Have we learned? Do we understand? We build our lives on the sand of our hopes and dreams. We build our routines, sure that nothing could change that. But that pain in the body, what is it? Why does it not stop? Driven to our knees, the routine broken with uncertainty. The storm breaks upon an entire state, disrupting thousands and thousands of lives. Millions out of power. Where is our certainty that we have it all under control?

Groaning. Deep groaning, from deep inside. "Lord, have mercy!" Led by the Spirit, we cry out to the only One who can help in this time of need. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me," we whisper through tears of pain, fear, and anguish. "Please.," is on our lips as we slip off into the shock of the moment, the medication giving relief for a moment, the nurse saying it will be all right, the preacher pointing to the One who leads through the valley of the shadow.

Yes, life is uncertain. We think our routine is set and nothing can change that. But everything changes. Everything. Except the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrew 13:8) He is the Rock on which we can build. Yes, the storm still come. Yes the pains still happen. Yes things are pulled from our lives without a request for permission. But in Christ, we stand. In Him we are given hope to face the moment. In Him is given the power to face the day. His rod, His staff, they comfort us in our days.

Thank You Lord for being with me today. Thank You Lord for being with those who are ill at this time. Thank You Lord for being the One who holds people fast when the wind blows everything apart. Thank You Lord for being the Rock, the Savior, the Hope, the Peace, the One that never changes. Thank You for comfort as we remember the events of 9/11.

Thank You. That is all I can say. Thank You for being You and not being me, or someone else. I can look to You and find certainty when nothing else is certain. I can be anchored in the storm the of life. Only You. Yes, only You. May each one turn their eyes to You for what they need today.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thoughts on changes over the past 30 years

I did not spend any time reflecting in the last blog. I spoke of the wonderful support and love that was given by St. Paul's congregation as they recognized my 30 years in the pastoral ministry. I thought I would reflect a little on some of the things that have taken place in those 30 years.

Social media. Need I say more? When I began, computers were large, bulky and slow. Internet was something still to be figured out. While at Bethlehem, Ferrin, IL the Internet became something that was starting to be used. I remember going to the library in Carlyle in order check out the latest things on-line. We did not have the Internet at home yet. Why? Because it was dial up and any calls to the the AOL number in the area was considered "long distance." That meant we had to pay for the minutes we used while on-line. To download a document would take 20 to 30 minutes. There were times that I would try to download a document from the LCMS website, only to have the connection time out because it was taking too long.

And social media was not something that was even considered. Emailing was new. Not too many did it. We still called people on the phone, which today would be called the land line. We didn't have cell phones or IPhone or Ipads or anything like that. I would tell Penny were I was going. If something came up, she would call the number where I was in order to relay a message to me. I can remember being in a hospital room, visiting a member and having their phone ring. I would hand them the phone and step back while they talked to whomever it was. This time though, the member smiled, said, "It's for you," and handed me the phone. Penny had found me. There was none of this tracking a friend's phone. It was open communication.

People talked. I mean really talked. Not just instant messaging or email but sitting down and face-to-face talked. It was just the way things were done. Now we do meeting via email or Webex or some other form of communication.

I do like some aspects of social media. I can actually find out what is going on in people's lives without having to hear it from someone who happened to hear it from another person who heard while at the White Cottage (Raymond, IL) for a cup of coffee in the morning. I am also able to share regular prayers with many people. It has helped me to be in contact with people that I hadn't heard from for year, whether it is folks from congregations I have served or people I grew up with. I do like that part of social media.

Newsletters were handed out or mailed out. Here at St. Paul's, we moved into the 21st century and started to send the Troy Lutheran out via email about 2 years ago and have been posting it on the website even longer. That sure saves a lot on mailing costs. Unfortunately, it also means that we end up with more flyers and things in the TL since it doesn't cost any more to have 10 pages or 5 pages (which was the max to go for 1st class without extra postage).

Changes for good and for bad. In the end, it all depends on what you do with the changes. The Lord gives us many blessings. In our sinfulness, we learn how to corrupt it. The Internet is a great example. Lots of good on it but also lots of terrible, filthy stuff as well. Social media has been a blessing but can be used for harm as well.

As I use these tools in the ministry, I see many blessings. I also see that it is possible to sit at the computer without talking to a single person. I fear that is not a good thing. We still need to talk. We need to see each other rather than isolate ourselves from one another. We are the body of Christ. As a body we need each other, not in virtual reality but in physical reality. Good and bad, once again.

More reflections to come.