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.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Where is He?

"He is not here. He is risen, just as He said He would," the angel says. "Behold my hands and side," Jesus says to the disciples. "He walked with us, talked with us and broke bread with us," the men from the road to Emmaus tell the other disciples.

"He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" the parishioners and pastor greet each other on Easter Sunday morning. The lilies trumpet the news of the resurrection even as the trumpets play loudly along with the organ as the worshipers lift up their voices in a rousing hymn of joy, "Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!" With confidence, they join in singing "I know that my Redeemer lives, What comfort this sweet sentence gives..."

Yes, He is alive. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He lives even today. Easter joy, Easter celebration. Join the festal song as we praise the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is now almost 2 full weeks since that Easter celebration. This Sunday, April 30th, will be the 3rd Sunday of Easter, the 2nd Sunday since that celebration. The question I ask you, "Where is He?" Where is Jesus Christ today?

I know that you are going to say, "Everywhere." You would be correct. Yet I want you to think deeper than that. Where is He today? If you celebrated the resurrection on Easter Sunday, where is that risen Lord in your life right now?

As I write this, I have several thoughts in mind. I may or may not get to all of them today. That is all right. These are after all, "random thought..." I can be random even as I try to be specific.

First, we know where Jesus is. He is in the Word and Sacrament. He is THE Word. John tells us that in the 1st chapter of the gospel that bears his name. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." (John 1:1) Then in verse 14, John tells us, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) The Word is none other than Jesus Christ. Martin Luther knew this Word when he wrote in the hymn "A Mighty Fortress," "One little Word can fell him (Satan)." That Word is Jesus Christ. He is the Word. All the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, are written to show us the Word, to show us Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, the Holy Spirit lead the chosen writers in the thoughts they expressed and the words they wrote. The purpose of the Bible? To show each one of us the Savior, to show us the Word, to show us the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ. Where is He? In the Word. He is the Word.

Even more, He is the Sacrament of the Altar. There, in the bread and wine, we see the very risen Lord. He gives us His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine. As you eat the bread in a normal fashion, you receive the body of Christ. As you drink the wine, you receive the blood of Christ. How? Through the Word of Christ. He says it is there and therefore, it is. Period. If He was wrong on this point, then on what point can His word be trusted? Where is He? In the Sacrament of the Altar, each time it is offered.

There we know that He is. There we are assured of His presence. There, in Word and Sacrament, we see the risen Lord. Have you gone back to worship since Easter? If not, why not? Was the one event of meeting the risen Lord enough for your life? No. Put your hand on your chest. Is your heart beating? If so, then you need to return to the very place where He promises to meet you week after week - in Word and Sacrament. (I am not going to get into that argument that says, "I can be a Christian without attending worship." True, but what kind of Christian are you? The Lord invites you to worship and you are saying to Him, "No thank you." What does that really say about you?)

Where is He? He is in your life. He is in your heart. He is with you every single day. He is with you as you sleep. He is with you as you eat a meal. He is with you as you drive. He is with you as you go to work. He is with you are school. He is with you as you go to the ballgame or hockey game. He is with you as you watch TV or surf the Internet. He is with you as you post on Facebook. He is with you as you read the book. He is with you as you work in the garden or do the laundry. The risen Lord is with you wherever you are. He tells you, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." Always. Everywhere.

How is that reflected in your daily living? Do you reflect the living Lord in your actions? Your words? Do you reflect the living Lord in your plans? Do you show those around you that the Lord lives in you? Do you live for Him or do you live for yourself? This really gets into the life of sanctification, the life we live each day. This gets into our life as Christian stewards. Our lives are not our own. We were bought with a price (His suffering and death). You were baptized into Christ Jesus, into His death and into His resurrection. He lives in you. You are to live for Him. You are to live according to His will, sharing His love with others, caring for those around you in the way that He would have you care for them.

This is so challenging. It is easy to say "He lives!" It is more difficult to live "He lives!" Why? Our sinful nature doesn't want us to follow Him. It wants to live for itself. It wants what it wants. He desires what it desires. And that generally is not what the Lord desires. Wow! Really? That means that He alone is the One we should live for each day.

Where is He? Ask yourself that today. Ask yourself that every day. Pray that the Spirit will lead you to live for the risen Christ, live in the risen Christ, live as He lives in you. Let that risen Lord shine through you today.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! He lives in you today.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Disappointment

Have you disappointed? In some situation, in a person, in an organization? I think that probably all of us have been disappointed at one time or another. Someone tells you that they will contact you, then they don't. The interviewer tells you that they will get back to you about the job, then they don't. You have high hopes to get into a certain school, then you are turned down. You put all your trust in a government, a president, a governor and then they don't quite live up to your expectations. You love and trust someone in a relationship and then they do something that lets you down.

Yes, we have all faced disappointment at one time or another. Perhaps it is just the disappointment of not getting the certain toy or gift that you wanted as a child. I can remember as a child, standing at the door of the house, looking out the screen door, waiting to see a certain person walk up the steps to the door, only to not have that happen. Disappointment.

Why does it happen? Sinfulness. We are sinful people, living in a sinful world. No matter how good, true and honorable our intentions, each of us is still a sinner. We will disappoint someone and they will disappoint us. It will happen again and again.

There were some that were greatly disappointed people on that 1st day of the week so many years ago (the day we call Easter). Why were they disappointed? Because it didn't go the way they expected. They knew that the body of Jesus had been placed in the grave. They knew that there was a stone at the mouth of the tomb. They knew that there were guards placed outside the tomb in order to keep people from getting into the tomb. Why did they know this? Because they were the ones who did it. The chief priests and the Pharisees did not want the body of Jesus to be taken by the disciples or some other fanatical person. So they made the tomb as secure as they knew how.

Come that Sunday morning, they were disappointed. An angel came and rolled back the stone. The guards fell down as though dead. And Jesus walked out of the tomb. (All right, we don't know that He walked out. It is safe to say that He was no long dead in the tomb.) He was alive. And they were disappointed.

Another one that was disappointed? Satan. He wanted Jesus to remain dead. He wanted to defeat the Son of God. And he didn't. He did NOT defeat the Son of God by having Him put to death on the cross. Instead, he sealed his own fate. For not only did Jesus die, but He rose from the dead on the 1st day. To say that Satan was disappointed is probably a huge understatement. He was crushed!

Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive today! He lives! For me, there is no disappointment in Christ. I look at Him and know that no matter how often I disappoint other and they disappoint me, all is forgiven in Christ. He has brought forgiveness to each of us. In Him there is no disappointment - only truth, forgiveness, life and eternity.

Yes, others will disappoint you. They will disappoint me. You will disappoint others. I will disappoint others. The joy we have is that we are given forgiveness through a risen and living Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, there is no disappointment at all. In Him is life!

I give thanks to God for the faith, forgiveness and life that I have been given in the risen Jesus Christ. No disappointment there!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

If only...

Another gray day. It is one of those days when the clouds have set in. The sky doesn't want to rain and yet the sun doesn't want to shine. It is a day when people become a little grumpy and start to growl at one another. If only the clouds would part. If only the sun would shine. If only...

We spend a lot of time with the "if only." If only this would happen. If only I could do that. If only I would get the new job. If only the doctor would find out what is wrong. If only I would have turned left instead of right. If only I would have stayed in bed an extra 10 minutes. If only I would have gotten out of bed 10 minutes earlier. If only...

I would challenge you to think differently. Don't spend your time with those things that might have happened or could have happened or might have gone differently. Spend your time and effort living where you are now. Yes, make plans for the future. Have a goal or three. Have a direction you are going but don't spend your time looking backward. Look forward. Paul writes, "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Chris Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV) The writer to the Hebrews says, "...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings to closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1b-2a ESV) Looking forward to what is coming rather than looking behind (if only), we move forward each day.

The goal? Living in Christ. Living each day in our Lord we lay our "if onlys" at His feet, ask Him to forgive those things where we have failed or sinned and to bless us as we follow Him into a new day. We all have those moments, sometimes many of them, in which we were not living for Him but the joyous news is that He went to the cross for us, for our sins, for our if onlys. Look not to what you might have done differently to what He is doing in you. Be guided by the Spirit through Word and Sacrament to live in Christ. 

Yes there will always be an "if only" in your life. The One that is bigger that your "if only" is Christ. He overcomes each one of them and gives you a "now in Me" for your day. Now in Christ, you can move forward, learning from the mistakes, failures and sins, and living in Him. All praise be to God for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ and for the faith given to each of us through the water and the Word. 

Now, let's face today with the confidence that comes through the One who has already walked this road and leads us through the Valley daily.