Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Randomness in the morning.

Cold air. Darkness. Christmas lights. Barking dogs. Hot tea. What do all these have to do with each other? As I sit here this morning, all of those things are tied together. Here in December, it is dark outside. The sun comes up later and later. It goes down earlier and earlier. For many, these are difficult days. There is not enough hours of daylight. And for most folks, those hours of daylight are spent at work, where they cannot experience them. If they are lucky enough to have windows to see the short hours of daylight, they rejoice. Darkness - into this darkness comes a Savior, the Light of the world. He comes to lighten the darkness of sin that encompasses each heart. He comes to break the grip of darkness on the hearts and lives of all people. The Light is Christ, the Child born in Bethlehem.

Cold air. It is December. It is supposed to be cold, at least here in Illinois. This cold blast has reached all the way to the gulf coast. They are probably grumbling about the cold more than we are here in the central part of the country. But I tell you what, I sure seem to be affected by the cold more now than when I was younger. That is part of life. It reminds me that I am living in a world affected by sin. It is fallen. I am fallen. My very nature is sinful. As the years go on, as more things seem to pop up in my life, like the less than pleasing effect cold has upon me especially in the morning, it reminds me that I need a Savior. Yes, once again such a thing points that out. Each time I grumble about the cold, it reminds me that I am not able to change anything, including the weather. I can't even change my spiritual situation. Without a Savior, my heart remains cold and lifeless. Without a Savior, my heart will grow colder as I grow older. Only through the new life given by Christ Jesus can my heart grow warm (metaphorically speaking). He comes into this cold person that I am and gives me a new life that is filled with the warmth of His love and forgiveness.

Darkness, cold air. What next? Christmas lights and barking dogs. Hmmmm. What about these two things? Well, the Christmas lights make things brighter. They brighten up a dark neighborhood. They are meant to remind us of the Light of Christ that has come into this world. We have a neighbor down the road who decorates greatly. He has more lights out than one can imagine. It really brightens the neighborhood up. He leaves them on all night. As such, they remind us of Christ shining in the dark world. As joyous as that is, it leads to barking dogs. My dogs. Sorry neighbors. I get onto them in the early morning hours and don't let them stay outside barking. But they are able to see things they wouldn't normally see/ Why? Christmas lights brighten things up and cast strange shadows in places there have not been shadows. They causes "concern" in the dogs minds and they bark. Yep, they bark because of the extra light that is not normally there. Barking dogs and Christmas lights - go together. Christ brings light into the world and Satan doesn't like it. Satan would prefer that it remained dark. He would be silent (not really but he wants us to think that he would). If Christ didn't bring light into the world, then Satan would be content to let the darkness continue. Christ's light exposes those works of sin, the works of darkness. Turn the lights out, then those works would not be seen and there would be no problem. What to do? Light up the world! Make it shine brightly, not with Christmas lights, but with the Light of Christ. Show sin for sin. And bring Christ to all who are struggling.

Hot tea? I threw that in because I like to sit here and drink my hot tea in the morning. It warms me up. I enjoy it. I like to drink my tea while I read my Bible, do my devotions and prepare for the day. So hot tea is part of my daily routine. So is the Word. One is desired and one is needed. I will let you decide which is which.

Cold air. Darkness. Christmas lights. Barking dogs. Hot tea. Random thoughts brought together in the rambling mind of this preacher. All of them point me to one thing - Christ Jesus. Yes, living in the Light of Christ sure ties everything together.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Really Rambling. Just thoughts that flowed from my fingers.

Well, the turkey has been stuffed, cooked, carved, eaten and the leftovers have already begun to disappear. The stuffing has been stuffed into so many different family members. The sweet potatoes are no longer so sweet. They have disappeared. Family is starting to think about that return trip back to their homes. It has been a good visit or may it hasn't been such a good visit. I don't know the dynamics of your family. Perhaps you love being around them or maybe you are happier when they finally leave.

Me? I love my family. I love having Rachael and Brandon and Matthew and Chelsey around for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we don't always get what we want. We had Rach and Brandon here but Matt and Chelsey were in Florida to see her new niece. Made our heart sad to not have them here. But then again, life is filled with disappointments.

I wasn't sure what to write about but perhaps that it is - disappointments. Not an uplifting thought but we all have them. Disappointed about how the Thanksgiving meal went. Disappointed certain family members didn't make it. Disappointed that other family member did make it. Disappointed that - someone close to use has died, that somone's health is not what we had hoped, that a relationship is broken, that a heart is hurting, that a gift was not given, that a kind word was not said, that a harsh word was said, and the list goes on and on.

Why are we disappointed? Because we have set up a certain expectation. I expect that I will spend the next 25 years with Penny. I imagine that a young couple that we have known for years, one which I married nearly 25 years ago had but will not see come to fruition as they must have his funeral today. Not easy to face. Not easy to accept.

We have expectations. We set expectations. We know what we want. Disappointments come when they don't happen. We forget that we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a broken world, a world that will disappoint us (perhaps even crush us) from time to time.

I don't mean to say that we will never have joys. I know I have had plenty of joys. 33 years of marriage - a joy. 30 years in the ministry - a blessing. Family and friends - a blessing. Dogs that bring me joy. Days that are filled with sunshine. Ministry that sees the Holy Spirit working wonders as that one person who didn't know Christ is saved. The joy of baptizing an infant, a child or an adult. They joy of seeing a heart lifted with the message of life and hope that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as the Savior. There are more joys and blessings than we can count.

But we do hit those disappointing times. May disappointment isn't the word that you would use. Frustration. Anger. Fear. Whatever you want to use, those times do come. Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Loss of health. Loss of ... whatever it might be. Those times can destroy the joy we have in a brief moment. One moment, sisters are driving down the highway singing their favorite song at the top of their lungs, laughing and enjoying life and the next there shriek of tires, the grinding of metal, the final breath of life ebbing from their broken bodies. Terrible. One moment feeling good and the next moment seeing the husband laying the hospital with a doctor saying they are going to have perform surgery in order to try to save his life. More than disappointment. More life fear. More like, "What am I going to do?"

The very same thing that you have always done. Where can you go when your loved one lies in the hospital? When you get the phone call about an accident? When you hear the last breath come from the lips of that special person?

You trust in the Lord. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23 from my memory) You turn to the Lord. Your heart is broken, He holds the pieces in His hand. Your life is struggling, He gives you the guidance you need.

Talking with the young widow, she tells us, "The Lord has made my faith stronger through this. I know my husband is out of pain and is with the Lord." What a powerful witness to the strength that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the Savior, the Strengthener, the One who guides through the valley, who lifts up when disappointment sets in, when the family leaves and heads home, leaving you alone in a quiet house, when you wait for that message that says, "I love you mom, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend."

I guess in the end I want to turn your eyes from disappointment, frustration, anger, bitterness, loss and pain. I want to help you turn them to the cross, to the Savior, to the only One who is always there to help, to lift up and to save. Jesus alone is the One you can turn to that will never disappoint you, that will always love you, and that will never leave you alone.

I rejoice that the Lord loves me, cares for me, and is with me every day. I thank the Lord for Penny, my family (both near and far), for my church family, for my everything. Yes, thank You Lord for the joys and the disappointments. Thank You. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Almost Thanksgiving Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksliving.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Give Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Show me the...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Temperatures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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