Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Disappointment and a response to it.

People will disappoint you. I say that not because of the recent situations that have happened, though I would be deceptive if I said that did not also have something to do with my thoughts. I say that because it is true.

Think about it. That disappoint started with Adam and Eve. They had it made. They walked and talked with God Himself! Seriously. How much better could it be than that? But they disappointed. Following the deception of of Satan, they ate the fruit. Really? Fruit is better than a perfect relationship with God? When all was said and done, Adam must have been disappointed that Eve had listened to the serpent. Eve must have been disappointed that Adam did not fulfill his role as head of the family and didn't stop her.

Fast forward through time to other incidents in the Bible. Abraham says Sarah is his sister rather than his wife. What? You can't even stand up and be a man, accepting that others might not like the fact that Sarah is yours and yours alone? What kind of a man are you? David lusted after Bathsheba, took her, got her pregnant then killed her husband. Wow. I can't imagine how that must have disappointed so many people. Sure, it's good to be the king. But to act in that way is rotten. It is disappointing.

I have been reading in 2 Kings (after I finished 1 Kings). There the kings and the nations were so disappointing. Time after time it is said that the king followed in the way of the sins of Jeroboam. They would not follow the Lord. They would worship other gods. Some even sacrificed their children! What?! Why would they do that? Don't they know...of course they know what the Lord says. But they did not care of follow the way of the Lord. How disappointing.

I am sure that you could find examples in your own life of how you have been disappointed by others. The marriage relationship that was betrayed for a roll in the hay. A trust that is destroyed by a few words, a life that is destroyed by the use of drugs or alcohol. Friendships torn apart because of some action. Jobs destroyed, futures ruined because of self-centered actions. Disappointments.

While I don't want to say this but...I am sure that you have been disappointed in me as a pastor. You had a direction you thought the church should go and because of my leadership, it did not go that way. You thought that something should be said and I did not say it. I did not make the call when you thought I should. I was not available when you had a need. And I disappointed you.

People will disappoint you. No matter who they are - parent, child, employer, employee, pastor, teacher, or friend. Why? Because we are all sinful. We all struggle with ourselves, our desires, our directions, our needs and our wants. We do not always live the way we are supposed to live. We do not love as we are to love.

So what do we do? We turn to the Lord. He never disappoints us. I am sure that you can point to some situation you were disappointed by the outcome and you blame God for that fact. But think about it, did God actually tell you that you would get everything your sinful heart desired? Nope. He did not. We think He should do what we want, but that is not the way it works. That would make us God and Him our lackey. That is not the way it is. He is God. We ware the creatures. He made us. He knows what is best for us.

What about when my daughter or son died? God disappointed me. No He did not. You set yourself up as God and told Him what should happen. Death destroys. It always will. Until the last day when God destroys death in the resurrection. When Christ comes on the clouds, the dead will rise and we will see what it means in John 11:25-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die." God did not disappoint you. Sin did. Sin caused the break, the death. But God could have stopped it! Yes, you are right, but He never promised that you will not face death, your own, your spouse, your child, your parent. He did promise to give life from death.

God disappointed me when the pastor sinned. God disappointed me when my friends turned their back on me. God disappointed me when He did not give me the job. God disappointed me when He did not heal my broken relationship. God disappointed me...do you see the common theme? You are blaming God for the sinful behavior of others, of yourself. He did not do those things. You did. Others did. They disappointed you not God.

God will never disappoint you when it comes to that which He has promised. He will be your God, always. He will love you even when you do not love Him. He will watch over you even when you are blatantly doing wrong. He will love you even as you do not love Him. He will never even turn on Himself and disappoint. Paul wrote to Timothy, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV)

No, God does not disappoint us. People disappoint us. What do we do about that? We learn to forgive. We learn to move beyond the actions that caused disappointment. We also learn to admit that we have also disappointed others. We learn to live with one another, sinful people that we are, knowing that we all trust in the One who will never disappoint and that is not you or me.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

OK Lord, Now What?

OK Lord, what now? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Most of the time it comes in the midst of a crisis or a problem. You wonder what the Lord is doing or not doing in your life. You had your life all figured out, knew where you were going and what you were doing and then something happens - sickness, death, loss of job, mental struggles, friends turning away, attacks from places you were not expecting it - and you ask, "OK Lord, what now?" Or maybe you are saying, "Lord, where are You? I need Your right now."

The answer is always the same, "I am with you. I am your Good Shepherd who will lead you if you will only follow My voice." Shaking your head, you think, "But Lord..." And like a sheep that doesn't quite hear the voice of the Shepherd, you begin to wander. You think perhaps you know the best way to go, the best thing to do, and so off you go, doing your own thing.

Wait a minute, that wasn't where I was going with this today. Where did that come from? OK Lord, what now? I mean that in the sense that He is leading me into a new area of ministry that will stretch and challenge me in ways that I have yet to imagine. Yesterday at the national LWML convention in Albuquerque (I still have to think about how to spell the name of this city) the ladies of the LWML elected me to serve as the junior LWML pastoral counselor. And I ask, "OK Lord, now what?"

I didn't really believe that I would be elected. The journey has been interesting. After having served the Southern Illinois District LWML as pastoral counselor two different times and having served as zone pastoral counselor in the Midstate, Upper Kaskaskia and Metro Central Zones, I wondered if the Lord wanted me to continue to serve the LWML. So when the request for nominations for national counselor came last year, I told the SID LWML Board that they could nominate me. The process was such that I didn't think anything would come from it. There were approvals given by the SID president Tim Scharr and St. Paul's, Troy. The next step was to go through the committee and then getting approval from Pres. Harrison. I figured, no way. Not some parish pastor from Troy, IL. But the Lord said, "Watch this." Down to five candidates, my name was still there. Really? Not possible.

Then came the interview with the committee. That was fun. Margo Dupre interviewed me. She was such a pleasure to talk with that it didn't even seem like an interview. Even thought the video portion of the interview didn't work, we still enjoyed the time together. I guess I am going to have to figure out this web stuff. Then I went on with ministry.

Penny and I were walking into Walmart one day and I received a phone call from Margo. She said that they had decided that I would be one of the two candidates for the office of pastoral counselor. I remember saying, "For real?" I was so excited. I couldn't believe that it had gone this far. Penny and I talked about it while shopping. We figured it was an honor just to make it this far in the process. We figured that I wouldn't be elected but were humbled even to be considered to this point.

As we prepared to go to Albuquerque, the ladies of St. Paul's were excited. This was as much an honor for them as it was for me. I felt proud to be the pastor of the ladies of the LWML at St. Paul's. I knew that I was representing them in this trek. They wished Penny and I well, even had a bake sale to help us with the expenses. Thank you ladies. With a prayer we were off on a journey that would lead us to where? OK Lord, now what?

So here we were in ABQ (didn't want to spell it again), attending the convention. Yes, I packed a suit coat, dress shirt, tie and dress shoes along with my purple LWML socks just in case. But really, I didn't think I would need them. Thursday and Friday lead to Saturday, imagine that! I was nervous getting up on stage with the other candidates, being introduced to the convention. Why? Because I was out of my element. If I was going to lead worship or preach, no problem. The Spirit leads me at those times and the focus in upon the Name that is above all names, the name of Jesus. I am just a tool that is used to bring that wonder of the Word to the people. Jesus is already there and the Spirit is already working, I am just joining the mission. But to stand there, silently...hear name, step forward, wave, and step back. Ugh, nerve wracking, really, it was.

Then after lunch, after several presentation, the elections. Penny and I waited. What did the Lord have in mind? "Vote now." Ten seconds. They seemed to be longer than 10 seconds. Results. Computer tabulating. And then...there is was. I had asked, "OK Lord, now what?" His answer was, "Serve the women of the LWML through out the country and the world as pastoral counselor." Really? Me? A parish pastor who loves serving the folks in Troy, IL? He said, "Yes, serve Me as you serve the women throughout the LC-MS at large." I felt like crying. It is overwhelming. It is such an honor. It is so humbling. I can't believe it. Thank You Lord for this privilege to serve You and the women of the LWML.

And so I ask, "OK Lord, now what?" Really, now what? I will need to learn. I will need to listen. I will need to get to know new people. I will need to have guidance in what I am to do in this position. My mind is kind of spinning, because there will be many new things to do. Lord, You have been training me for this service through the 30 years of ministry in each congregation and in each position on the circuit or zone level in the SID and CID, and the district levels in both LWML and the SID. Each piece is in place. You knew where this journey was leading even when I didn't. Now I serve You. In all I do, I lift up Your name for it truly is the Name above all names.

OK Lord, now what?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Time in New Mexico

Good morning from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It took me a while to learn how to spell the name of this city. Actually, for the longest time I just wrote ABQ, which was the designation given by Amtrak (and the airlines I think) so that it can show up on your tickets. St. Louis is STL. Chicago is CHI. This city is ABQ (I didn't feel like typing it again). It is brutally hot here, over 100 degrees, but it is a dry heat. Which means it is still hot. The air is hot. The wind is hot. Everything is hot. It is hard to cool a building with it being so hot. But it will get better. Down into the 90's but they say that the humidity might come up. What that means is it might get to 20% or maybe 25% humidity. They are struggling to understand how that will affect them. Even the weather man was talking about how it would affect their swamp coolers (I guess that is a form of southwestern air conditioning) and their houses might not get as cool. Every area has it's weather woes. I do miss our Troy weather. I know what to expect. This is new to me.

We are here for the LWML convention. That is the Lutheran Women's Missionary League convention in case you wondered. IT is nice to see so many Lutheran women in one place. I heard 3,400+ in attendance. Last night (Thursday) was the opening service. The convention center was packed with folks as we received Word and Sacrament ministry. Always amazing to worship in such a large crowd. I haven't read this morning how many attended that service but the convention floor was packed. I think many Lutherans from around ABQ must have attended as well. It was great to hear the Word, receive the Supper and sing the good old Lutheran songs. The choir was amazing. Sang 3 great pieces. I was amazed at how they were able to pull that together with only 1 practice. Wow! Way to go ladies.

Penny and I took the train to New Mexico. The Southwest Chief left Chicago on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. (right on time) and traveled over the next 25 hours to ABQ. We were on time all the way until we reached Lamy and then it fell apart. With track work being done, there were slow orders (I would rather go slow than take the chance that the work wasn't completed correctly) from Lamy to just NE of ABQ. So we had to wait for the eastbound Chief to arrive at Lamy before we could continue. It was about an hour late. Then we rolled through the area of track work. Finally we arrived to the stretch of track owned by the New Mexico Rail Runner (the form of metro, commuter service). They put us on a siding while we waited for an inbound Railrunner to pass and then for an outbound one to pass. We sat there for just shy of an hour, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And...finally it passed and we started moving. Hurrah! Then we had to wait for another one to pass so we stopped for another length of time (I forget how long). Sitting there taught us patience. Real patience. Because we could do nothing to change the situation.

Have you ever been there? In a situation where you could do nothing to change it? That is a struggle, isn't it? We like to take control. To do something to make our situation better. We want to act! That is probably why God's grace is so tough for us to receive. We want to do something for it. We want to work out our salvation is some way. So instead of trusting in Christ alone, we trust in Christ and our works. What works? How we act, what we say, the money we give, the attitude of our lives and so on. We want God to look at us and say, "You deserve My love. Here, let me give it to you." But He doesn't. There is nothing we can do to earn His love, nothing we can do to deserve His grace, nothing we can do. Period. Nothing. No matter how pious we act or how nice we are to the cab driver, none of that earns our salvation. No matter how I sit and endure the wait on the train, no matter how quietly I grumble to myself or to Penny, I still don't deserve His love, His grace, His presence in my life.

He just gives it. He gives it to me even though I don't deserve it. And I don't. Even while I think I am a good person, I am not. I was upset at the New Mexico Rail Runner dispatcher for making us wait. I was upset that my time table was messed up. I was upset with other people that got in my way. I can't count the number of times I have unkind thought about people for situations that were beyond my control or were in my control and I still had bad thoughts. I think about what I would like to say and I don't, but I am still wrong. I look at situations and know that what was done is wrong and I want to blast someone, but I don't. But that desire in my heart was just as bad. And O how the heart wanted to do just that...I give praise to the Holy Spirit for helping me in my time of need to say and do the right things. Only through His power does that work. I realize once again, I am not worthy of God's love.

He still gives it to me. All praise be to Him for His true love and grace for me. And for you!

Back to ABQ. So we enjoyed yesterday. Spent some time in the morning at the Old Town Albuquerque. Nice southwestern shops, felt like old town. Wonderful meal though I had doubted when I heard the name of the place - Church Street Cafe. I thought that it sounded more like a place to get a so-so meal that was more in line with a Denny's or something. But the mexican meal was great. I have to say, I have enjoyed the food so far. Even Q Burger with the mesQuite bison burger was good.

Today the LWML convention continues. Yesterday I was on stage at the delegate orientation, being introduced. Why? Well I am from Troy, IL. Who shouldn't know a little known preacher from Troy? No, actually I am on the ballot for national pastoral adviser/counselor. Exciting stuff. Saturday is the elections. We will see were that goes. Penny posted a picture of me waving from the stage. Felt really strange yet exciting. The parade of banners is this morning and bible study and other things.

Today is our 33 wedding anniversary! 33 years ago Penny and I shared our vows. I am thankful for each of those years and for her love. I know it has been a rugged road but she has given me love and support that is beyond imagination. She is really a special lady. I know that some don't think so but they are wrong. Her faith, her commitment to sharing the Lord, her love for children puts most of us to shame and I think it is also unnerving for some. She is an amazing lady and I love her more now that I did 33 years ago. And I think she is prettier now than then. Thank You Lord for leading us through these 33 years. Let's see if we get another 33!

That is all from ABQ for now. I will let you know what all continues to happen. Praying all is well with you. Moving forward in Christ, all things are possible. His is the name above all names. His name is what fills our hearts and lives now and forever.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Spiritual Whiskers

I sit here this morning feeling the stubble on my chin . I guess it means that I need to shave. But I don't really feel like it. Perhaps I can go without shaving today. It is Saturday. And what about tomorrow, Sunday. What difference would it make if I decided to not shave tomorrow. Sure, someone might say something about it. But it is my face and my whiskers. Why should someone else have anything to say about my face and whiskers. So what if it doesn't look good. If I don't mind, why should anyone else?

Or maybe I will just shave the right side of my face today and let the left side grow. I could do that all week long. What difference would that make? It shouldn't bother anyone else. It is my face and my whiskers. I am not hurting anyone by not shaving the left side of my face.

I am sure you are wondering where I am rambling to on this Saturday morning. Shaving is really an option for men. It is also an option for women. Men can grow those long beards that became so common following the guys in Duck Dynasty. And why should anyone get upset if a woman lets the hair on her legs grow? After all, women in Europe have done that for years. Just imagine how freeing it would be to let the hair on the legs grow, especially during the summer when you wear shorts or even a swim suit. It is personal preference and why should anyone have anything to say about it?

All right, so I am rambling at the moment. I have had only 1 cup of tea so far this morning. And I haven't shaved yet. So that means what?

Whiskers and hair is like sin. You have to stay after it in order to keep it in check. If you don't shave your face, the whiskers keep growing. If you don't want a beard or moustache, you have to shave each day. The whiskers will continue to grow. If you don't stay after temptation and sin, it will continue to grow in your life. And many times, the sin is personal. It is your own sin. It doesn't hurt anyone else. What difference does it make.

Take pornography. (Yes, take it and get rid of it!) It is a "personal" sin. With the advent of computers and the Internet, you can sit in the privacy of your home and watch as much porn as your stomach can handle. You no longer need to feel like a perv by going to the shady little building on the wrong side of town. You don't need to wait till dark or when no one is around to hurry furtively into the front door, hoping that no one sees you going in or coming out. Now, you can have the porn right at your finger tips. What does it hurt? Who does it hurt? No one. Like whiskers, if you don't nip it in the bud, it will keep growing, the desire, the temptation, etc.

I am getting up to shave, but not till I finish my thoughts. So porn is personal and private. No one is hurt. But what about those folks who make the porn? Do you really think that the women like what is happening to them? What if that was your wife or your daughter or your sister or your mother or your brother or father or uncle? Would it be OK? (Some men and women in their sickness of sin would desire that to be the case. That only show show deep the sin has gotten into their being. Like whiskers or let hair, they have let it grow and grow. The leg hair is not several inches long and the face whiskers is 12 inches long.) What about that marriage relationship? Does the husband now expect his wife to act like a porn star? Does the wife now wish that her husband was built like the guy in the porn movie? Or wish that he would satisfy her like the women "seem" to be in the flick? Does the boyfriend want his girlfriend to act like what he was watching?

Now the whisker has grown. Desire has changed from love to lust. Care for the other person has changed to demand for certain actions. The relationship has changed. It has become like a moustache that hangs an inch over the mouth. Everything that goes into the mouth must pass through those long whiskers. Nothing is truly pure any longer. It now has hairs in it whenever you open your mouth.

And personal? Really? Joseph was tempted by Potipher's wife. He could have had her anytime he wanted. Who would know? What would it hurt? (This was before smart phones when people could video whatever happens.) Joseph gives the answer. "How can I do this wicked thing against God and my master?" He knew that even if no one else knew, it was a sin against God! Yes against God Himself. So Joseph shaved off those whiskers of temptation. He knew that to let it grow even a little bit was a problem.

That is where I am going today (I actually had a plan). Each day I shave. Why? Because I do not want to let the whiskers get long. Each day I return to the waters of my Baptism and I go to the Word of God. I receive the Sacrament of the Altar regularly. I attend worship weekly (not just because I am a pastor but because of my personal need and the invitation of my Lord). Why do I do all that? In order to continue shaving the whiskers of temptation. I do not want to give sin the chance to take hold, to grow in my life. For if I let coveting take hold, it will lead me to other types of sin. If I let foul language slip from my lips, it will soon become a part of my life. If I let sinful desire into my heart, I will soon find ways to act on that desire (not just sexual desire but desire for money, or fame or power).

Can you imagine trying to shave without a razor? Or a knife? Or any other instrument? Try shaving with a noodle or pencil. It won't happen. That is why we turn not to ourselves but to the one place that can help us. God. He gives us the Means to overcome sin and it isn't by trying harder. He gives us Word and Sacrament. Those are the "razors" that shave the whiskers sin. They cut them back, daily. Because those whiskers just keep growing. It doesn't matter your age, the whiskers keep growing. Without the Means the Lord has given to us, those whiskers would soon grow longer and longer until they overtake our entire being and lead us to destructive and sinful actions.

So go shave. Go read your Bible. Return to the waters of your Baptism. Receive the body and blood of your Savior in the Lord's Supper. Attend Bible study. Be in worship with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who need to shave as well. There, the Lord will be with you. There you find your razor, your Savior, the One who will keep those whiskers of temptation cut back.

Now, I am going to shave. Yep, I need the Word of God for this day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Smeared windows, growing grass and Christ

I washed the windows last Friday. It was amazing how dirty they were after the winter months. Open, spray, wipe, clean, return to normal position and move on to the next window. When I finished, I felt really good about what I had accomplished. When Penny came home, she commented on how much better the world looked through clean windows. I felt really good about what I had accomplished. Patting myself on the back, I looked out the windows at the world around us and rejoiced. I had done a good job.

The grass needed mowed. So I got the mower out, and did the job. Back and forth, up and down, cutting the grass, making sure not to miss any part of the yard. When I finished, it looked really good. I sat on the porch and looked proudly at the yard and felt a sense of accomplishment. I had done good once again. I had made things look really nice around the house. Patting myself on the back, I walked back into the house and rejoiced that things were looking so good.

So we are in life. We do something and we feel proud of it. Look at what I have done, the job I have accomplished. Me, not someone else, me! I did this. I did that. I made the company a fist full of money by the way I sold that contract. I convinced a set of people that they needed what we offered. I set the standard for others to life up to because I did so good. Pat yourself on the back and rejoice, you are really good.

The next morning, as the sun came up, I proudly looked at the window I had cleaned. I knew it was going to be a great sunrise because I had cleaned those windows. But...wait a moment. What is that? They are smeared. Really, they are smeared. Not by dog noses, which would come soon enough. They were smeared because when I washed them, I didn't do a good enough job. I looked at the windows with disgust. Really? How could I, me, the great and wonderful window washer, have not gotten those windows cleaner? Oh, they were good enough. They still looked nice, when the early morning sun wasn't streaming in but I knew. I knew that I hadn't done a good enough job cleaning them. My best efforts weren't really good enough.

I got up this morning, looked at the yard as I let the dogs out and thought, what happened? Didn't I just mow the yard? Wasn't it just looking beautiful after this great lawn mower finished? What did it look ragged today? Why did it look like it needed mowing again? What is up with that? I don't really want to mow again but look at it. Just look. Even though this great yard care person made it look so beautiful, today it doesn't look that way. Oh sure, it is good enough. It really can wait a day or two but look at it! It isn't as pretty as the other day when I mowed it. Even though I had done what was needed, today, my best efforts didn't stop it from growing and looking, well, not bad but not good. My best efforts weren't good enough.

As I thought about this, I realized something important. My best efforts aren't good enough. When I look at my life, I mean my spiritual life, I realize that my best efforts aren't good enough. I try to clean up my life and all I do is smear it more. I try to clip down the sin but all that happens is it grows back, often times faster than I can imagine. I try to help others, but it is not always from such altruistic care. I am doing it for myself. When I help that person that needs help, it only shows that I am in a better place than them. I don't need their help, they need mine. (Pat, pat, pat) When I make some serious cash, I find that my greedful self wants more. Make more. You did it before, do it again. Temptation rears it's head. Sin grows back in my life just like my yard. Sin smears my life just like my windows.

I realize it isn't about what I can do because what I do is colored, completely colored, by sin. Sin is always there. It smears my best intentions. It grows back despite my best efforts. It makes my actions self-centered. It creates in me an impure heart, a heart that is self-serving, self-seeking and self-delusional. Yes, I struggle against that old, sinful nature and I cannot overcome it.

Into this picture steps the Lord. He knows my best efforts are not good enough. He knows I am a sinful person. He knows that I will become proud and arrogant about what is accomplished (even when it isn't something I have done, I will try to take credit for it (especially when it comes to the life of faith). So He shows His love. He takes my sin, my unrighteousness. He carries that for me. He carries it to the cross. He hangs there for me, for my selfishness and my my best (actually they are my worst) efforts. He suffers for me. He dies for me. He is laid in the tomb for me. Then He rises for me.

He gives to me what I lack, His righteousness. He gives that in the waters of Baptism. He gives that through the Holy Spirit working in my heart and life. He gives that through His Word. He gives that in the body and blood, bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar. He gives me what I cannot give myself - purity. He created in me a pure heart! He made me know. He makes me new every morning. He forgives, upholds and leads me each day.

Smeared windows, growing grass and Christ. The first two are my sins. The last One is His righteousness. I would love to do away with the first two. I can't. But He does. I would love to claim the last one. I can't. He gives it freely. Looking at the window, I see Christ's righteousness for me. I look at the grass and see Him working in my life.

All I can say, "How great Thou art!" No patting myself on the back. Falling on my knees, I now see is the better place to be.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mother's Day ramblings.

Happy Mother's Day!

This Sunday, May 14, 2017 is Mother's Day, the annual celebration of motherhood. It is a grand day to remember your mother. It is important to take a moment and thank the Lord for the gift of a mother, since we all have one (either living or departed). For those who have living mothers, I would encourage you to stop by and see her, if you live in the area where she lives or give her a call and talk to her. We all know that we do not live forever. One day, your mother will pass away. At that moment, all the things you wish you would have said or done will weigh upon your mind as guilt. You will wish you would have stopped more often. You will wish you would have called more often. You will wish that you would have told her that you loved her.

So why wait till Sunday? Call her today. Stop by today. Tell her you love her today. Life is fragile. We are not told how many days we will have. Someone that is waiting till Sunday will find that between now and then, their mother will have passed. Don't be that someone.

Mother's Day. I think about the day. I do not know my birth mother. Yes, I have her name. I have vague memories of her but I do not know her. The woman that raised me, that became my mother, died in 1999. So I cannot celebrate Mother's Day with them. But I do celebrate Mother's Day with Penny, my wife of nearly 33 years. She is the mother of our 3 children, yes, 3. You only know 2 of them, Rachael and Matthew. We lost our first child to that unspoken of thing called "miscarriage." It broke our hearts. The Lord healed those broken hearts and broken lives that came from that death. (Do you ever think of a miscarriage as a death? It is. That child was alive, no matter how long he/she was carried.) We were crushed when we lost our first child. I give thanks for the Lord at that moment because we were alone in Wisconsin and received no support from anyone around us. Hurting, lost, the Lord was all we had (and in many ways, He is all we have every day). Penny is a wonderful mother. So on Mother's Day, I celebrate her.

I also celebrate Penny's mother, Shirley. She has become the mother that I don't have. I rejoice that the Lord has given me the opportunity over these years, especially since 1999, to have a mother (though she is technically a mother-in-law). I love her like a mother and give thanks to the Lord that I was able to be a part of her life and family.

I have another mother that I celebrate. That mother is the Church, the Christian Church. Yes, she is my spiritual mother. In the Church I am nurtured and fed regularly. She gives me life. She gives me strength. She feeds me through Word and Sacrament. She gives birth to many brothers and sisters around the world, each one brought to faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. On Mother's Day, I rejoice at the spiritual family that I have been given, here at St. Paul's, Troy; at each of the congregations that I have served as pastor; in each congregation that I have been nurtured in faith; and in the congregations that I have not visited or seen for they too are a part of this Christian family.

So in the end, all I can say is, "Thank You Lord for my mothers, living and departed. Thank You for the life You have given me - physical life and spiritual life."

If you are a mother, happy Mother's Day to you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sheep and Shepherd

The 4th Sunday of Easter (yesterday, May 7) was Good Shepherd Sunday. It is on that day of the Church Year that we focus our attention on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. He says, "I am the good shepherd..." (John 10:11 ESV) We read in Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." (Psalm 23:1) He watches over us and cares for us in our lives. The sheep (you and me) need the Shepherd to care for us in the midst of this world that is filled with many wolves, lions and other dangers. The devil, the sinful world and our sinful nature all seek our destruction. Left to our own ways, we would find that we fall prey to so many things that our lives are filled with pain and suffering.

Isaiah writes, "We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way." (Isaiah 53:6 ESV) Straying sheep, sheep that feel that we know better than the Shepherd, sheep that seek their own way, that is how we are described. And it is true. When we quit following the Shepherd (for a shepherd leads his sheep rather than driving them ahead of himself), we stray off to all sorts of things.

How true this is for my life. Those times when I am tempted by the tuft of grass here or the berry on the bush that looks so succulent, I forget to follow my Shepherd. I figure, "What will one little moment matter? How can I get in very much trouble if I just go over here for a moment?" It is at those moments that the lion (1 Peter 5:8 "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." ESV) smiles to himself and realizes that yet another little lamb is straying from the flock and is fair game. The simple little tuft of grass leads to another tuft a little further and so on until I have strayed from the Shepherd and the roaring lion gets to devour this little lamb. All because I didn't think that one little temptation would actually lead to something bigger, something called "sin."

That is when the Shepherd comes for me. Now the question that I ask myself and I would ask you is this, "When the Shepherd comes for you, to rescue you, do you fight Him? Do you listen to His voice? Or do you think you are still wiser, more apt to know what is best for you, that you don't listen to Him? Do you run to the Shepherd? Or do you run from Him?"

When called back from sin, we have one of two choices: 1) listen to the voice of the Shepherd, turn from our sinfulness and follow Him, or 2) think that we still have it under control, that we can still hold fast to the sinful action and not be hurt by it. When the Law calls to us, points out our sin, shows our weakness, shows our need of a Savior, how do you respond? I know that often my sinful nature will tell me, "You are all right. You don't have to turn from this temptation. You are still in control. You are safe. Nothing will happen to you." Then the lion sinks his teeth into me, tearing at my flesh, seeking to destroy me completely. That often happens when someone is in a sinful action and doesn't wish to stop - the person who is consumed by alcohol and doesn't want to/is unable to stop; the person who is caught up in pornography; the person who is a gossip; the person who doesn't feel the need for Word and Sacrament in his/her life; and so on. "I can do it myself. I don't need the Shepherd to bother me." Sheep lead astray, sheep getting lost, sheep being destroyed by sinful temptation and sinful actions.

The Shepherd wades into the fray, the battle for the soul of the lamb, giving Himself to the claws of the lion, to the teeth of wolf, to the terror of the angered grizzly bear, all in order to save the little lamb, the sheep who has strayed. That is what the Good Shepherd does. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11b ESV) He does that when He goes to the cross. The nails piercing His hands and feet, the weight of sin laid on His shoulders, the Good Shepherd gives up His life for you and me. He takes our place, standing between us and sin, death and the devil, fulfilling the Law for us, in our stead. He dies so that we might live. The Good Shepherd rushing to our aid, fighting off those which would devour us.

In Him, we have life. In Him is forgiveness. In Him is true earthly life. In Him is peace. In Him is all that we need. And so I ask you (and myself), "Do you go rushing back to that temptation? Do you feel that it will still be all right to chase after that one berry of sin, thinking that you will still be all right?" The answer to that question is most generally "yes." Even after all He has done for you and me, sin still holds that power of us. This is why we need to be in the Word regularly. This is why we need to be living in our Baptism. This is why we still need to receive the Lord's Supper when it is offered. This is why we still need to be a part of the "flock" which we call the local congregation. A sheep by itself is easy prey. A sheep surrounded by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments), is protected. He/she will still fall into temptation but will be easily brought back through forgiveness. A sheep that is off by itself, feeling no need at all for the flock or the Shepherd or the Means of Grace, will find that he/she is sliding down the steep cliff to his/her spiritual death (even when he/she doesn't realize it). We need each other as brothers and sisters in Christ for the reason that it gives us support, strength and the power to withstand the temptations to stray. Being a part of the local congregation centers us, anchors us and strengths us each day.

All right, so this blog didn't go the direction I thought it was going. But as a sheep of the Lord, the under shepherd of the flock here at Troy, I see that the Spirit leads where He wishes and I follow. Will you follow today? I pray that you will. More than that, I pray that I will follow as well.