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.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflections and Thank Yous

Well, well, well, this last weekend was really something, If you were not in worship, you missed so much. The first thing you missed is the blessing of the Means of Grace. The Lord feeds us through Word and Sacrament. That is a gift given to us weekly. Worship is that time when God says, "Come into My house. Let me take Your burden. I will take Your unrighteousness and give You my righteousness." How can we say no to that?

Another thing you missed is the remembrance of my ordination in to the Office of Public Ministry, which took place on June 21, 1987. The Board of Elders and the congregation recognized that it had been 30 years since I had been ordained. There was not one reception but 3, one after each service. I give thanks to the Lord for the love shown by so many members of the congregation who showed that they cared for me as their shepherd and wanted me to know that they appreciated the ministry of the Word that has taken place in their midst.

I received numerous gifts (not that I was looking for them). The greatest gift I received was the gift of love. So many kind words and hugs, sharing the love of Christ. That melts the heart of a pastor to know that those that he spends so much time caring for, praying for, leading and uplifting also care for him. One thing that is often said by pastors is that they do not feel supported by the members of their congregation. I can say that this weekend showed me that there are many in the congregation who do care and love me, and not only me, but also love Penny, my dear wife. It was uplifting to receive the gift of love.

I also received a special edition of the Lutheran Study Bible, ESV. It is a Reformation edition, with the woodcut of Dr. Martin Luther on the cover. It is numbered 285/625 made. Engraved on the cover is "Rev. Mitchel Schuessler." Inside the Board of Elders wrote, "Presented by St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Troy, IL; Celebrating 30 years in the Ministry; June 21, 1987-June 21, 2017." This is a gift that will continue to give each day as I use it for devotions, study, teaching, and preaching. Thank you.



The other gift the Elders gave on behalf of the congregation was a painting by Ruth Schmitt. She does lovely work. This painting was of Wrigley Field with the marquee showing that the Cubs were the 2016 World Series Champions. I know it must have been hard for Ruth, a diehard Cardinal fan, to paint this picture but she did a good job. I greatly appreciated the thoughtfulness of such a gift.


There were also many cards and kind words spoken. All Penny and I can say is "Thank You." Thank you for your love, your support and your kindness. Not only at just that moment but for your continued love and support.

I give thanks to the Lord that I have been given the opportunity to share the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel with the saints of St. Paul's and the community of Troy. Not only is this the opportunity for folks to say thank you to me for the work that is done in the name of the Lord but it is also the opportunity for me to say thank you to each of you for the Lord uses you too in the sharing of the love of Christ and the sharing of the Gospel.

I suppose you notice that the heading is "Reflections and Thank Yous." I feel that I have gone long enough for today. I will not get to any reflections on the 30 years in the ministry. Instead, I am stopping with the thank you that Penny and I give. Thank you for love. Thank you for support.

Thank you most of all to the Lord for being the One that has made it possible for me to be in the ministry for these 30 years. I pray that I will be found faithful when then days are done, faithful not to myself but faithful to the Lord and the words of the Gospel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Change...Unchanging

The 2017-2018 school year is set to begin. Here at St. Paul's, Troy we begin school today, Monday, August 14. Some schools like Metro East Lutheran High School began last Thursday. Others, like Triad, will begin on Wednesday. Those who are in college will find that they begin next week, many of which begin on the day of the Great American Eclipse, August 21. Still in other areas, school began earlier in August while other areas will begin after Labor Day. While there is no uniform date of beginning classes, the reality is that school begins.

Here at St. Paul's, and I would imagine many schools throughout the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, there is a theme based on Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow." (ESV) This corresponds with the theme for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation which takes place this year on October 31, 2017. That theme is: "It is still all about Jesus."

Jesus Christ is the same. He doesn't change. Things in this world change. At St. Paul's, the teaching staff has changed. We have only 2 teachers returning that were with us in the 2016-2017 school year. Change. The students have changed in the sense that they are a year older. They have changed, grown and matured. They look a year older. For those that were not seen over the summer, they look different from when school ended back in May.

Change. It happens. We sing in a popular hymn: "Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day; Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see..." (Lutheran Service Book, #878 vs. 4) Change. It is inevitable. It happens whether we like it or not. We change. We never remain the same. The things of our lives, our situation, changes us. Nothing remains the same. Nothing. Except...

...Christ Jesus. He is changeless. As the writer to the Hebrews says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow." He alone is changeless. This is such a wonderful, powerful and uplifting word of promise. Why? No matter how much you change, no matter how the situation of your life changes, no matter the ups or downs of your life, Jesus is the same Jesus that claimed you in the waters of your Baptism, who was with you as a little infant, as a child, as a teen, as a twenty-something, as a young adult, as a middle age parent, as a person in your 50s or 60s, as you grow older in to the 70s and 80s, and then into the final years of your life. He is the same.

His love for you never changes. It doesn't rise or fall with the situation of your life. The promise of life, of forgiveness and of salvation is the same today as it was yesterday and will be the same as that of all your tomorrows. He is unchanging. The hymn verse ends with "...Thou who changest not, abide with me." (LSB #878 vs. 4)

Never changing. He loved you yesterday. He loves you today. He will love you tomorrow. All with the same, passionate love that doesn't wane with time. Unchanging. That is the message of the Gospel, unchanging. Salvation still comes through the grace of God, shown in His Son Jesus Christ, bestowed by the working of the Holy Spirit. It remains the same. He doesn't change the way we are saved. He doesn't say one thing today and then another thing tomorrow. He says the same thing day after day: "You are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ." Always the same.

As we begin this school year, we do so with the very same confidence with which we begin each day. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. It is the same confidence that I had yesterday. It is the confidence I have today. This is the confidence I shall have tomorrow. And if my confidence wavers, if the situation of my life shakes me to the core, causing me to struggle, wonder or doubt, I know this: He has not changed. His love is the same. He still loves me. In sickness and in health, He loves me. In strength and in weakness, He loves me. In perfection and in sinfulness, He still loves me. He is unchanging.

I give thanks to Him for this assurance. I rejoice that Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Thank You Lord. Thank You.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I wonder...

I wonder...do you ever wonder about things? Do you wonder why there is such order in this world even while it is filled with such chaos? Do you ever think about why people will love one person and hate another? Do you ever wonder why we treat each other with such contempt? Do you ever wonder why people lie, cheat, steal, hurt, destroy, deceive and do a whole host of other things to people around them? So do I. Even while I wonder about others, I realize that the same could be said about me. There are those who feel the same way about me, no matter how perfect I try to act or try to come off as in my life.

Then I read such words as, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5 ESV) I hear these words echo in my thoughts: "None is righteous, no, not one, no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good." (Romans 3:10b-12 ESV)  I realize the answer is that I am living in a fallen world that focuses on self and not on others. I realize even a deeper issue. My heart is that same way. I cannot change it. In fact, when left to myself, I often don't even want to change it.

That is when I give thanks to God for His grace and mercy. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 ESV) And again, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10 ESV) It is all about what God has done through Jesus Christ. He suffered and died in my place. He gave His life for all my sins, for all the ways I have broken the law. He died so that I might live.

And then He draws me to Himself. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, He breaks into my hardened heart, tears down the walls of sin, and makes me a new person. I am made new, not in my actions, but in that which Christ does within me. In my Baptism, the Old Adam in me is drown and I rise to a new life in Christ. He changes me. That is what happens. He changes me. I don't change myself. He makes me new.

Then I live in that new life. I listen to the words, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4:11 ESV) My old self balks at these words. My new self, in Christ, empowered by the Spirit, rejoices in these words and turns from hatred to love, turns from deception to openness, turns from self to others. That is the life I have in Christ.

I wonder...what would happen if each one of us that professes Christ would actually live in Christ? I wonder what would the world be like if we would love as Christ has loved us. I wonder...then I I ask the Lord, let this begin in me. Instead of me looking at others and trying figure them out, send the Holy Spirit in to my life that I might be changed, yet again today, that I may grow in faith, love and life each day.

Yes Lord, let it begin with me.

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?