Friday, June 26, 2009

A Thought

We were driving along Interstate 5 on the way to Sacramento today and we saw a huge tree that had basically fallen apart. I imagine that the trunk was big enough that it would have taken 3 people holding hands to reach around it. That, my friends, is a big tree.

A tree that big should be able to withstand anything that nature could through at it. How many trees sway in the wind, even a strong wind doesn't bring the trees down? But here is a massive tree that had faced storm after storm, and it was torn apart. A huge part of the tree lay on the ground and portion of the trunk still stood, broken and jagged against the skyline. What happened?

The answer was found in what we saw - it was a rotten tree. It had rotted from the inside. That rottenness started small and slowing ate away at the tree till it could no longer stand strong and firm. Soon it was dead and just a shadow of what it was once.

My point? That is what happens to many of us. We have a life that we know we should live. We actually do live that life. We go about our days doing the things that we should do, living the life that our Lord would have us live, but we have that little sin that we allow to eat away at our hearts and lives. We become stronger in our lives. We look beautiful on the outside but inside, there is that sin eating away at us, tearing us apart, piece by piece.

We withstand storm after storm. We look like a paragon of virtue and so strong to the world around us. People look at us and think "That person will be able to withstand all things that comes against him." And then all of sudden, the storm hits, or perhaps no storm at all hits, and we fall apart. Like the tree, the rottenness on the inside tears us apart. And we lie fallen in a heap, people shaking their head and wondering what happened.

Before we say any more, ask yourself, is there some sin inside that is eating you up? Are you allowing some sin to take root? And is it eating you up? That my friends, is something to be honest about. We'll talk more about that later

Coast Starlight and Napa Valley

The trip continues - leaving Seattle on Thursday on the Coast Starlight. We left Seattle at 9:45 a.m. which meant we didn't have to get up early in the morning. The unfortunate thing is that we are still on central time not pacific time. That means that I wake up at my normal time, which is early this time. I am waking up around 5 or 6 here on the west coast which is actually late central time. I am soooo confused!

The Coast Starlight was even better than the Empire Builder. Sleeper car passengers had their own parlor car - with dining, wine/cheese tasting and comfortable chairs to sit in and watch the world go by. We ate lunch in the parlor car and supper in the dining car. Both were really good. the wine and cheese tasting was a blast.

The scenery was amazing. It was even better than the Empire Builder, which had some great things as we went through the south part of the Glacier National Park and the Cascade mountains. Along the Puget Sound, it was great to watch the wonders of the world. The mountains were great and finally the sun set. The night of sleep was great.

But the Coast Starlight arrived at Sacramento, CA 1 hour and 10 minutes early! That wouldn't have been so bad if you were ready for it. Penny had just gotten up when they knocked on the door and said that we were arriving early but had plenty of time. We didn't want to miss our stop, so we hurried to get ready. It is nice when a train is early but not when it arrives at 5:30 am. instead of 6:30 a..m.! That meant we had a 2 hour wait instead of a 1 hour wait while we waited for the rental car office to open (at 7:30).

All went well as we waited. Amazing the people you see while you wait. I watch the people and wonder - how many of them know God? How many of them have a personal relationship with Jesus? How many of them will be going to heaven? And it makes me sad to realize that there are those who are not in that relationship with Jesus. Watching people come and go, I hoped and prayed that these same people would be reached with the gospel. How hard it is to sit and not say anything or reach out to them.

Soon we had the car and off we went to Napa Valley. Interstate 80 was like a race track! I felt like we were going to be run over. Finally I got into the swing of driving in CA and off we went. We got off the interstate and headed for Napa. A rousing breakfast at IHOP and off to the wineries. Beringer winery was great. The tour was interesting, and I learned a lot. The Sutter Home wine tasting opened my eyes. Who would have known that I actually like port wine? I sure didn't. Don't like the rest of them though. The gentleman that worked with us really did a good job. Thank you Sutter Home Winery. I did get to see the Napa Valley Wine Train, though I didn't get to take a picture of it.

We returned to Sacramento through the mountains on a 2 lane road - it was amazing. The hairpin turns, the sharp corners and the fantastic vistas, I can't say enough. Driving through the mountains is amazing and after a while, quite boring. You can never see around the next curve to know where you are going. While it was a great drive, I like being in Illinois. I guess I am true flatlander after all.

Diner was along the Sacrament River in an old steamboat. I had wild boar! yes, wild boar. It actually was really good. Penny had scallops which were quite good. Over all, on a star rating scale I would rate dinner a 4-4.5 on a 5 point scale. What do you think about that?

More coming on another day. God bless to you all.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Empire Builder

Hello Friends. Thought I would pass on a few thoughts after having spend 2 days on Amtrak's Empire Builder (that is the train that runs from Chicago, IL to Seattle, WA). It was a great trip. We left a few minutes late from Chicago but that wasn't a problem. The trip through Wisconsin was great. The scenery was what you would expect of Wisconsin. Penny and I enjoy a great dinner in the dining car. She had a steak, which was cooked well but was a little tough. I had a braised lamb shank - which was excellent. We met Hugo and Charlie from Cleveland, OH. They were a nice couple to visit with.

Returned to our compartment (a private room which had a lounge chair, couch, large windows, and its own bathroom - that was great) to relax. We watched the WI countryside pass by, and then into MN. Traveling along the mighty Mississippi River was spectacular. Having the beds turned down, we turned in as the sun set in the west, the direction we were heading. Stopping in the Twin Cities in MN, I got out because we saw the Milwaukee Road Hiawatha. It was dark but I tried to take a few pictures. Leaving out of the Twin cities, we rolled on into sleep. It was a great night of sleep.

Waking up in North Dakota, we got cleaned up. Let me tell you that showering in a moving train isn't as bad as shaving. Thankfully I didn't cut my throat or it would have been a short trip. I can say that while North Dakota is pretty, it got pretty stark and bare. Moving into Montana the countryside became REALLY wide open.

There were flag stops and smoking stops. Since the Builder is a non-smoking train (they tell you regularly that if you are caught smoking on the train you would be put off at the next stop), they would stop every so often so the smokers could have one. Penny and I got off a few times. When we got off in Havre (Have - er), Montana, is was cool, but it was a dry cool. LOL. Whatever that might mean. It was cool, and it was dry. Not like the heat we left at home, where there is so much humidity you have push hard on the screen door just go get out the air is so heavy.

Watching Glacier National Park from the dining car was wonderful. It was also our 25th anniversary! Antonio, the waiter in the dining car, announced it to the car and they acknowledged it. It was great. Penny loved it. Gave her a new diamond ring. She gave me a great Chicago Cubs game time watch. Thanks Penny, for the watch and the 25 years of love and support!

Falling asleep in Montana (it was over 700 miles across the state!) and had another good night sleep. We woke up in Washington state. The high desert wasn't what I expected. It was so different from the Midwest. We went through the Cascade mountain range. That was something else. The Cascade Tunnel, 7.7 miles of tunnel under Stevens Pass, was something else. I couldn't believe the engineering that made it possible.

As we came out of the tunnel, things changed. It became lush, green and amazing. When we passed along Puget Sound, we hoped for a sea lion or seal but didn't see one. Saw some blue herons and lots of sea gulls. Was really pretty.

Arrived ON TIME in Seattle, WA. And it was cold! OK, not cold, but windy and cool. Quite a change. I will share more thoughts on Seattle later.

Was the Empire Builder worth the trip? YES! It was great. Today is the Coast Starlight down to Sacramento, CA. I'll let you know how that goes. Have a great day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Today's Wedding

I go to Bethlehem Lutheran, Ferrin, IL to preach at a wedding today. I am just the guest preacher, having known the bride since she was 5. My daughter and her are best friends and my daughter is the maid of honor. It is really strange seeing my daughter as maid of honor. How did she grow up so fast? I know, she isn't a kid anymore, hasn't been for years. But it is still a strange feeling. It won't be long and that will be her standing at the altar as the bride - 2 years from now, but still, it isn't that far away.

I will enjoy preaching today. I love to preach the Word. It is something that the Spirit has put in my heart. I don't even see it as work. It is just that which I am called to do. I love preaching. And it will be wonderful to present the Word at a wedding. It is the opportunity to put the true meaning of a marriage relationship out there in front of not only the bride and groom (who probably won't remember much of what I said, which is all right, they have the video) but before the many people who are there. Perhaps it will help someone who is struggling in their relationship to begin to get things back on track.

When I do a wedding, I love to have Penny there. (She is my wife if you don't know that.) It reminds me of the vows I made on the day we were married, 25 years ago on June 23rd. I lead the couple through the vows and it feels as though I am saying them to her all over again. I don't remember much of that day when we said "I do" but I have it brought to mind over and over again as I perform the variety of weddings over the years.

Next time you go to a wedding, use that as a time to renew your vows to your spouse. Listen to what is said, and put it into your heart and practice it in your life. Now, I am off to a wedding. Looks like it will be a good day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can We Know God?

I was sitting on my porch this morning doing some reading. When I got tired of reading, I sat there and looked around. The sky was a brilliant blue. The trees looked a deep green against the blues of the sky. It was glorious. There was a slight breeze blowing the warm air around me. I reveled in the wonders of a summer morning. And I asked myself, "Can we truly know God?"

Can we know God on that warm summer morning? As I looked at the sky, could that tell me all about God? Could the wonder of the the tree, that just a few months before was leafless and dead, tell me about God? Could I experience God in the wonder of nature?

And I finally had to say, "No." It is true that I can see God in the wonders of creation. After all, He is the One who created all things (we could easily get sidetracked into the whole creation - evolution debate. We won't. God created the world. It didn't evolve.). He is the One who made it that the tree would die and come to life every year (kinda reminds us of the wonder of the Christian life, the death and life that Paul talks about). But in the end, as I looked at the sky, the tree and felt the breeze, I had to admit, while those things might show me a "higher power," they will not show me the true God.

That is why you find so many world religions. They are trying to find that "higher power." They keep searching. Keep defining. Keep reaching out for something. But they just can't quite find what they are looking for (makes me want to break into a U2 song - "I Still Haven't Found What I am Looking for").

If those don't show us God, then what does? The Word, His Word, the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures that have been passed down through the generations, the Old and New Testament, given to us by those who came before us, shows us God. He is found on the pages of the Bible. He reveals Himself there - for us to know Him as He wishes to be known. (The argument can be laid forward that God is more than is found on the pages of Scripture, and I would agree. Yet that does not negate what He has shown us.)

You want to know God? Turn to the His Word. Open the Bible. Read it. Study it. Make it a part of your life. Where do you begin? I would say to go to the New Testament, open to the book called Mark, and begin there. Spend some time getting to know God there. Then come back and we can talk about where to go from there. Have fun reading - God is waiting for you to get to know Him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


How many times have you heard it said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? We raise our children to eat breakfast because we are told that children who eat breakfast do better in school. They are sharper, more in focus and better able to learn than those who don't eat breakfast. I was thinking about that when I was eating my sausage this morning. (I grilled last night, and when I grill sausage, I always do too many so that I will be able to have a sausage for breakfast the next couple mornings. I just love chorizo sausage. The spice just sits well on my taste buds.) And there sits my morning cup of joe (coffee) which I have to have even though I only drink a few swallows of it. That's OK, it is part of my morning.

That got me thinking about eating breakfast - eating a breakfast on the Word. How many times do we begin the day without being fed from God's Word? How often do we try to go through out day without having had a good breakfast of God's Word to start out day out? I fear that too many of us don't even think about having the Word for breakfast.

And then we wonder why our day doesn't go well. Why am I having trouble staying focused? Why do I give into temptation so easily? Why does it seem as though God is so far from me? Could it be that you haven't started the day with a good breakfast? Could it be that your soul is starving for something and you aren't feeding it?

It is good to start the day with the Word of God. Perhaps you could use the Portals of Prayer. Maybe you could have a Bible reading schedule. It isn't the amount of the Word, but what you do with it. There is a prayer in the liturgy that says that we "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Word of God. I love that prayer because that is what we need to do. Read it - that is the beginning. Mark it - mark what is important for your walk of faith for the moment. Learn it - make sure that you don't just read it like the comics in the morning paper. Actually learn what it is saying to you. Inwardly digest it - take it to heart. Let it become a part of who you are and what you do.

Then go about your day, refreshed, ready to face whatever comes your way. Have you had a good breakfast today?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nighttime prayers

This morning as I was doing my devotions I read Psalm 5. There are some wonderful words in that Psalm that you can use to begin your day. David writes, "Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray." (Psalm 5:1-2 NIV) I read those words as if for the first time this morning (though I have read them may times before). And they gave new meaning to the times of prayer that I find myself in.

Last night I woke up for no reason. Now some of you do that regularly. You are asleep and then wake up at various times. You might even be one of those people who wake up and have trouble falling asleep again. If you are, I am so sorry to hear that. I am not one of those people. If i wake up at night, I find that I generally fall asleep when my head hits the pillow again. I thank God for giving me that ability. But last night was one of those rare times when I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. Maybe it is because I am getting excited over going on the train trip with Penny next week. Maybe. But I don't think so.

That kind of thing happens to me from time to time. What causes it? I think that it is the moment when someone is in need of prayer support. There is someone, somewhere, that is crying out to God for help. Someone is saying to God, "Give ear to my cry for help." Or perhaps they are silently saying, "Consider my sighing." And then, for whatever reason, they need extra prayer support. They feel alone. They are crying out to God, sighing in their needs, and they do not feel as though it is enough for them. So they need help, support.

That is when the Holy Spirit does something amazing. He nudges one of us, or several of us, or many of us, and whispers in our ears, "Someone needs some support. Pray for them." That is what I believe happens on those nights when I wake up and can't fall back to sleep. So what do I do? I pray. I pray for whoever comes to my mind at that moment. I lift them up to the God of all comforts. i carry their hurts, their concerns, their thoughts to the Lord in prayer. Perhaps they are so overwhelmed they cannot even pray. Or maybe they don't even know what to pray for. Or maybe they are even unable to pray. At that moment, they are still surrounded with the prayers of the faithful, taken to the throne of the Lamb. And their sighing and crying is heard.

I will lay there, praying. each person I can think of, figuring that the Spirit is putting them in my mind for a reason. So I pray. When I get done with that, and if I am still awake, I pray for those that I don't know yet. Those nameless people that need help and support. I lift them up. I continue to pray until - sleep takes me.

When sleep arrives, I know that I have prayed for all that needed that support. Last night, it happened twice. Each time, different people came to mind. Each time, after the list was exhausted, I curled up in my Father's arms and fell fast asleep.

I thank God for sleep. I also thank Him for those times when He wakens me for the support of my brothers and sisters in Christ. As Paul writes, "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:17 NIV) How do you do that? That, my friends, is for another time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer of 1984

I can remember many things from the summer 25 years ago. Before June 23rd, which was the date of Penny and my marriage, I was attending classes at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. the class that I was taking was a short-term class on the New Testament book of Galatians. Dr. Jonathon Grothe was the professor for the class. A short-term class was 9 days in length, meeting morning and afternoon. It was a challenging time. During those few short days, we were to learn and grow in our understanding of this writing of Paul to the churches in Galatia. One of the most challenges things that took place in those days was that we were to translate the six chapters of Galatians from the Koine Greek to English. We had to do a chapter a day, so that we could make it through the class, talk about the book and its background, the theological implications of the book and what it means for us today. We also were to write a sermon with a text from Galatians as the basis for the sermon. I look back on that class and have two thoughts.

One, it was quite the challenge. I think about it and realize that the Seminary was pulling out all the stops to make sure that the men that were studying for the ministry would be well prepared for service in the church. How in the world did I actually translate that book? I look at it, and it amazes me. I would love to say that my Greek is as good today as it was in the summer of '84, but it isn't. I am ashamed to say that while I can still do the translating today, I am by no way as fluent as I was back then.

Second, I know that it is of utmost importance for the LC-MS to continue to prepare men for the ministry in the same way. the temptation is to cut back on the requirements for the men studying for the ministry, but that would be a mistake. I know that it is a lot to expect from the men at the Seminary. It will challenge them to greatest degree. But that is important because those same men will one day be in the pulpits and offices of our churches. We need to prepare them in every way possible. They do need to be fluent in the originals. They also need to be taken in depth in the books of the Bible. I have learned that as a pastor, I need to know those books and what they mean for us today.

Wow. I think about what it took to prepare me for the ministry and I am overwhelmed. There were a lot of people working hard to make it possible for the people St. Paul's, Troy to know that the man that is in their pulpit is qualified to be there - the men of Concordia Seminary saw to that.

The summer of 1984 was a part of my preparation. Thanks to Dr. Grothe, I am able to teach and preach on the book of Galatians.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Something Light for Sunday Night

Over the last week, I have written on some "heavier" topics. Tonight I felt like making it a little "lighter." What is a lighter topic? I don't know. Just sounds really good. It is only one week till I will be getting ready to board the train in St. Louis in order to head north to Chicago. that will be the beginning of a 9-day celebration trip that Penny and I are taking. We will be celebrating our 25th anniversary on June 23rd.

I remember that day. It was an amazing event. If I was to say that I remember everything that took place that day at Trinity Lutheran Church, Decatur, IL, I would be lying. I can remember getting ready, having hairspray on my hair for the first time (that was to keep my fly-away hair in place for the wedding, what we do for love!), and putting on my tux. Was that at my mom's house? I don't remember. Then we were at the church. I couldn't see Penny before the wedding. Oh how I longed to see her. I was able to stand in the "cry room" at church and watch as people were being escorted into church that day. I stood there and told myself that I would remember all that happened. Boy was I silly.

Then it came time for the service to start. What happened to the day? I thought we had plenty of time. We walked into the church - but I sure don't remember walking in. The next thing I remember I was standing there in the front of the church, watching as Penny's sisters walked down the aisle. Where was she? I know that she should be coming soon, shifting from one foot to the other. Remember, don't lock your knees. What does that mean? Don't lock your knees? Is there a padlock on them that no one told me about? I still don't understand that statement.

Then suddenly, there she was, on the arm of her dad. He looked like the major that he was. He marched her down the aisle. But the only one I saw was her. She was so beautiful. How did I get so lucky? Why would she want to marry me? I didn't care. I was walking on the clouds. She arrived at the front of the church. And it began.

I would like to say that Rev. Schrader preached a powerful sermon. I would like to proclaim how great the music was. I would like to say that the service was so beautiful that it brought tears to the eyes of the most harden Marine. I would like to say all that, but I can't. I don't remember it. all I remember is Penny was on my arm. I heard the words and the music, but I don't remember any of it. All I remember is that before I knew it, I was married. She was my wife. I was her husband. And we were walking down the aisle.

And then, we were standing at the door shaking hands. People were coming out. People I didn't know. Most of the guests were her family. As they shook my hand, I smiled, gritting my teeth and saying "thank you." Why did I grit my teeth? Penny had given me a ring for my right hand - a star sapphire. It was a beautiful ring. But it hurt when people shook my hand. I was so thin then. Nothing but skin and bone. And each time one of the men shook my hand, it felt like they were crushing my hand. Ouch! When will it end?

And then, it was over. Pictures came. I am sure that we signed the license, but I don't remember. Where was I? Why didn't I remember? I don't know. Perhaps because I was in uncharted territory - uncharted for me. I had never been married before. But here I was, standing my wife. She was so pretty. She was so precious. And I was her husband. How great was that?

25 years later - and we are still happy. I am still lucky. She still loves me. She looks better today than the day we were married - if that is possible. And I love her more today than I did that day. What else happened that day? That, my friends, is for another day. Perhaps I will write about that later this week.

And that, is "lighter" than some of the other things I have written.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do I believe what I preach?

Have you ever wondered if the pastor that stands before you week after week, preaching sermon after sermon, teaching class after class, spouting out those pious statements and those thoughts from Scripture, really believed what he was saying? Or is he just being paid to say those things? Perhaps he doubts what he is saying as much or more than you do. Maybe he is just getting a paycheck for doing a job others don't want to do. Is it really something that can be believed?

I can't answer for other preachers, but I can answer for me. Do I believe what I preach? Do I hold to those pious statements or those ways of life that I preach? The answer is a most definite - YES! I do. I have been on the side of not really believing it. I doubted the inspiration of Scripture. (At times it still boggles my mind! I can hardly fathom the work of god to inspire those writers.) There was a time when I thought that the way of life proposed by Jesus Christ wasn't really all it was cracked up to be. I would talk of a mountain with many roads (you probably have done that too. I remember sitting in Ron Tapscott's house in Decatur, drinking a little too much, smoking something I shouldn't have - though I was following Bill's lead and not inhaling, and saying that religion is like a mountain with many different roads...). Been there, done that, go the Bachelor's degree to prove it.

And then, something happened. Or should I say, Someone happened. That Someone was Jesus Himself touching my heart and life. When? I don't know. How? Through His Word, the very Word I doubted in my heart. I came to understand how amazing it truly is that God would step down out of heaven, become a man, for me, a sinner, a person who wanted nothing more than the next party or good time. He touched me not because I wanted Him to but because He had something that needed to be done - the saving of souls. He called me to be a pastor in His Church, a man who is filled with sins and doubts, a man who struggles with temptation, to take the message of hope and life to other people filled with sins and doubts, people who struggled with temptation.

I can say to you that when I get up in front of the congregation and preach the message of Jesus Christ, I believe every word I speak. I preach because the Lord placed it in my heart and the Spirit is guiding my thoughts. The Word is powerful. It is wonderful. And it is amazing.

Forgiveness is real and wonderful. The peace of Christ touches the heart in a special way in a world filled with pain and turmoil. When I am tempted, I know that if I follow myself I will be in trouble. Am I perfect? No way. Am I forgiven? You bet. Do I plan on perfection when I get up in the morning? Yes indeed. Do I attain it? No I don't. I fall to my knees (figuratively speaking because I have terrible knees and can't kneel) and ask God to forgive me and help me.

Do I believe what I preach? Yes. It is because it is not my word I am preaching. It is His Word and His Word is powerful, true and life-changing. I look at myself, the chief of sinners, and know what He does for me. And I want to tell you, He can do the same for you.

Do you wonder, come by St. Paul's, Troy sometime and we can talk. Stop in and listen to a sermon. You will be amazed - not at me. I am just the preacher. You will be amazed at the Word of God. It blows me away. I am sure it will do the same for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It truly is important

Working with the School Board of St. Paul's, Troy while we search for a 7/8 grade teacher, I have had an "aha" experience. I guess you can say that it is an epiphany of sorts. What is that epiphany? I came to ask myself how important it is for a teacher to have a strong faith in the Lord. More than that, I ask myself, how important is it for a teacher in a Lutheran school to be a Lutheran?

There are two ways to answer this question. 1) It isn't really important. or 2) It is very important. There will be those that will say that all that really counts is that the teacher should be a Christian. It doesn't matter which denomination the teacher is a part of. This thought lays it out that all that really matters is that faith in Christ is all that is important. The teacher can believe in Christ and can teach the class and not have his personal faith affect how he teaches the class.

And there is truth in that thought. Indeed the faith in Jesus is the final thing of importance for the salvation of a person. As long as the teacher lays that faith before the students, the rest doesn't matter. So it really doesn't matter if the teacher in a Lutheran School is Lutheran or not, as long as he believes.

The other thought is that it is important for the teacher to be Lutheran. Why? Because it is more than the faith in Jesus that is taught in a school. By virtue of the fact that it is a "school" that means that something will be taught. What will be taught in a Lutheran school? Lutheran doctrine, teachings and practice. How can a person who is not a Lutheran, who does not believe the teachings of the Lutheran church, teach those very things to the students in the class? Is it possible? Of course it is possible.

But is it honest? That is the bottom line question. Can a person teach that which he does not believe and teach it as truth? I cannot teach evolution as truth. I believe in creation. I deny evolution. There is no way that I could even begin to teach evolution and teach it in a way that would make it seem as though it was true. Can a person who denies infant baptism teach infant baptism without compromising his personal faith? Can a person who doesn't accept the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar, teach with honesty that the body and blood of Christ is present in the Sacrament?

I guess what I am saying is that it is truly important what a teacher believes and teaches in the classroom. So it is important for a Lutheran school to have teachers who are Lutheran in their classrooms. It is important for the faith of the individual, for the faith of the students and for all those that the teacher comes in contact with.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Early to bed, early to rise...

Now that school is out, I find that I don't feel that it is as important to get to bed "on time." We would walk the dogs, then watch the weather and hit the hay. Now, it seems that we don't worry about the weather nor the time we walk the dogs. Is that because school is out? Is that because we don't have to get up as early? I don't know.

I think that it is just a mindset. I still get up around the same time. But I don't feel so challenged to get to bed at a regular hour. I don't know why that is. I wish I did. But in the end, I don't think that it really matters.

Now that I think about it, perhaps this stretches back to my days of being a student in school. As soon as school was out, we dind't need to get to bed so early. Now, at age 47, does that still rest somewhere in the depths of my age-clouded mind? Someone who has spent time in psychology might just be able to figure it out.

All I can say is that I hope that you don't dig too deep into my head. It is kinda scary to have you poking around in those cobweb shrouded areas of years gone by. Let's just leave well enough alone. And walk the dogs and crawl into bed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What is a church to do?

Now that I have your attention, I don't know if I really want to write about what a church is to do. What do you think about that? I could go off on how much I am looking forward to being on the Empire Builder two weeks from today (which just happens to be Penny and my 25th wedding anniversary. How did she put up with me for so many years. The most amazing thing about it is that it doesn't seem like that long. It has gone so quickly. Would I marry her again? In a heartbeat. She is the most wondrous woman that I know. I love her deeply. And would love to sit in Elam's Silverfrost Rootbeer in Decatur and ask her to marry me all over again.) Yes, I am excited about our train trip. More about that another time.

So what is a church to do? Staff for growth. Most churches don't think about that. They look at what they have and think that they are just fine. After all, finances are always tight, and there is no way to expand the staff in any direction. When the church finally starts to grow, then after everything is in place, after the finances even out, then they begin to think about staffing.

Those of you who have children, let me ask you, were you financially ready to have children when they came along? Some couples think that they will wait till they are able to afford children before they start having them. But is anyone really ready financially? Is any really ready emotionally or mentally? The answer would be - no. The fact is that children come along and you figure out how to be a parent and how to afford all that it takes to help that child grow into an adult that will leave the nest when the time is right (and that could be another whole blog!).

So it is in the church. Staffing for growth means that you bring staff on in a way that plans for growth - even before it happens. You pray about it. You seek the Lord's guidance. You look at it from your worldly views and then - you take the leap. You bring in the new staff. You hire the person you think is meant for the ministry of the congregation and you move forward. Will it always work? No. There are times when it fails miserably. Does that mean that you were wrong? No. You do what you think is best and move on.

But there are times when it just clicks, when the Holy Spirit brings the right person to the right church and opens up the right hearts and lives and BAM! It is kicked up a notch (to quote a famous chef). And things begin to boom. The pews are full. The coffers are overflowing. And growth takes place.

Why? Not because of anything we have done but because of everything the Spirit has done. He works. He moves. He calls. He gathers. He enlightens. He builds up. He makes the church to grow.

What do we do? Staff for growth. Move forward not backward. Think about it. Pray about it. And see what happens in your church. (And for those of you who are members of St. Paul's, Troy, let's see what happens here. God is moving. The Spirit is active and vital. And we are facing a time of great potential. How will we face it? Only God truly knows.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Second thoughts

Watching the news I saw the terrible damage that was done by the storms today. Makes me realize that the little rain and the hail that we had wasn't so bad. I am so thankful that God kept people safe. Thank God that there was no damage here. Why do these things happen? We live in a fallen world. The world is crying out until the day that the Lord returns. There will be all sorts of problems and damage from storms until that day. Lord, watch out for all who are in the line of the strong storms.

Stormy Monday

Today started with a little rain, lots of sunshine and then some storms came through in the late afternoon that gave us rain, hail, thunder and lightning. It was quite a day for us.

Monday came upon us and one thing was for sure - school was out. Hurrah! We didn't have to get up and teach class this morning. It felt good to sleep in till a little after 6:00. Did you get to sleep in? I hope so. Did I miss the kids? Hmmmmm, let me think about it. Not really - it has only been one day and that means that ther ehasn't been much time to begin missing them.

Tomorrow there is a funeral. It reminds us of one very important thing - Jesus died and rose again in order to give us that assurance of life with Him forever. It was His death upon the cross that destroyed the power of the devil and sin over our lives. And it was in His resurrection that we see the exclamation point! He destroyed the power of the grave over us. The last great enemy no longer has power over us. How much better can it get than that?

I stood at the back of the funeral home and waited for the rain to stop. I could have walked home in the rain and gotten soaking wet, but I didn't. Why? Because it was hailing as well as raining. I didn't want to walk in the hail. That would hurt (to put it lightly). So I waited and visited with the guys from the ambulance service. Jason and Bob I believe their names were. They were really nice guys. They do so much for our community. We need to be thankful for the work that they do for our community. Thank you to all our public servants.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Today was a good day. We had worship this morning. It was wonderful. The Holy Spirit truly was present at St. Paul's as we praised God and were fed from Word and Sacrament. Bible Class was absolutely tremendous. We talked about Baptism and it truly was wonderful. I thank God for leading us today.

The Open House today went well. We had over 80 people come through the house today. We thank them for all the work that they did in getting the house ready for us to live here. It is a beautiful house.

Then the Youth Gathering meeting - 10 youth and 2 adults going. Penny and I are Community Life Builders once again. Thank you God.

And the Fish fry at Dale and Shirley Schnoeker's was well attended and the fish was, how would I describe it? Melt in your mouth wonderful. Can you tell, I had a great day today. Thank you Lord.

We are watching a show on Hallmark, "Come Dance at My Wedding." It made me think about dancing. Penny and I enjoyed learning ballroom dancing. I found it wonderful. There is something about dancing with one that you love. It is, intimate, and at times very sensual. I loved dancing with Penny. Wish we did it more. Can you believe that? Me, Mitchel, sayingthat I would love to go dancing. I loved how it felt holding her while we twirled around the dance floor.

Dancing with one that you love - that is what marriage is like. You learn to dance with one another. You learn how to hold each other, how to guide and travel with each other in whatever circumstance the world throws at you. There is something special when two people are in love, holding each other, showing one another that you like how you feel together.

I would love to dance. I would love to hold my wife. I would love to dance around the floor with her. It lifted my heart. It touched me deep inside. It opened my heart to something special.

Gentlemen, think about this - dance with yourwife. Dance with her each day. Dance in the kitchen. Dance in the dining room. Dance across the floor. Don't worry about what anyone thinks. It is just about the two of you. Dance, dance and dance some more. Let the music of your heart lift you up, take control of your feelings and show your wife how much you truly love her.

How I wish I could dance. How I wish we

Saturday, June 6, 2009

getting ready to preach

I was preparing for this week's message - "Seeing God, Confessing God, Sharing God" from Isaiah 6:1-8 and found that I had more thoughts that could ever fit into one sermon. They shouldn't go to waste. It is, after all, Trinity Sunday. Time to confess God.

There are those who say that God doesn't exist or if He does, He is impotent, unable to act, unable to do anything about that which takes place in this world today. As I listened to the Spirit speak to my heart (like He did to Isaiah, though in no way do I place myself in the same light and line of Isaiah. He truly was a man of God, a prophet of the Most High. Me, I am a parish pastor. Will always be, as long as that is the will of the Lord.) Anyway, I listened to the Spirit. And I was lead to some words of Isaiah. Isaiah 5:18ff "Woe to thsoe who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes, to those who say, 'Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it.'" (NIV)

All I can say is "Wow!" Bet they wished they had never uttered those words. They were standing there in their lives, thinking that they had the world by the tale. God can't act. He isn't going to do anything against us. He can't. We are too strong, too rich, too bright, too enlightened, too whatever you want to plug in at this point. We will outsmart Him. We will outlast Him. Sounds like today, doesn't it? Where is God? Look at what is happening. He is impotent. He is unable to act. Blah, blah, blah.

50 years later, Judah is gone. No more. God had warned them that He was acting. He had put into motion the direction that He wanted. The only thing that could stop it was - not them, not their actions, not their pleas, not their anguish - all that could stop it was the grace of God. And when the people refused the Spirit, refused the grace of God, Assyria and then Babylon was used by God to show them what they wanted. "Show us that you can act God!" they cried. He showed them. They cried out in fear and terror and were no more.

What about today? Are we much different? I don't think so. God calls to us through His Word. He calls to us through His modern day prophets (called pastors, preachers, men of God, whatever you want to call them). We yell out to God "Show us Your power!" Will He answer? Of course He will. I just pray that He doesn't answer like He did for Israel or Judah. I pray that we will listen to His call for repentance and faithfulness. I pray, oh do I pray, for the Spirit to touch our hearts and lives and save us from - ourselves.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Lutheran School

I had the pleasure today of going to the Science Center with the k-4 grade classes from St. Paul's Lutheran School here in Troy, IL. It was a fun time. I must say that I enjoy being with the kids. I don't know how anyone would be able to go about their days without being involved with children. Then again, I am not a teacher which means that I don't spend every day, all hours of the day with the children. But I do love being with the kids. Each day that I spend with them reminds me that it is important for us to be involved in their lives. We have so much to offer to them and they have so much to offer us. Each day that I see their smiling faces, hear their welcoem of "Pastor" and have them offer me hugs, I can't help but be lifted up. They give me such joy. I can't imagine being a pastor at a church that doesn't have a school.

There is a thought - what is education worth to you? More than that, what is good, Christian, Lutheran education worth? It costs to run a school. Many churches are struggling to keep their schools going because of several factors - salaries, benefits, general expenses and a sagging economy. The question needs to be asked - is it worth keeping the school open?

What would be my answer? It is well worth all that it costs to keep a Christian school open. Why? In a Christian school you can do what can't be done at a public school. You can teach about Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior. You can bring the truth of the Lord to the children in many different ways - not just religion class. And in this world today, that is important.

There is a hope given at a Lutheran school - the hope given through faith in Jesus. Is it worth the cost? Yes. The foundation that is given to the children will help them through out their lives.

Will it keep the children from getting involved in drugs, alcohol abuse, sexual activity and many of the other problems our society faces? No it won't. They may make poor decisions and still get into those things. But they will also be taught that in the midst of their sins, in the midst of their bad choices of life, they are still forgiven and loved by God. Having them day after day in school, gives us the chance to teach them that Christ is going to help them with their lives.

Yes, we need Christian education. We need the Lutheran schools. We need to decide if we are going to put our money where our mouths and hearts are. I know for one that I fully support our school and Lutheran education.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Woo Hoo

I have two followers! Woo Hoo! I can't believe it. Ok, so they are my family. That's ok. I love them.

Just another day

Today was just like every other day - just another day. But then again, it wasn't. Think about this one: You have never lived this day before. While it might seem like every other day, it isn't. It is different. Yesterday - you lived already. This is today. The alarm goes off at the same time, but it is a new day. It isn't a day that you have lived before. That means, while you must get up and go about your morning routine, you need to go to work or school, you need to clean the hosue, you have never done those activities on this day. Yes, you did it yesterday. But that was then, this is now. Today is a gift to you from God. He has opened His hand and given you another day to live, to rejoice, to breath, the face trials and tribulations and to - ready for this? - to live in His grace and mercy. Today is another day of tasting His love in your life.

But what happens if the day goes down the tubes? Where is God when the car dies and you are late to work? Where is God when the basement floods because of the 5 inches of rain and the power outage causing the sump pump not to work? Where is God when your best friend is suffering from luekemia and the points that should be going down suddenly doubles? Where is His grace? Where is His mercy? Why would I want to live this day?

My friend, what you and I must remember is that our lot in life is not good because of the little thing we call sin. We forget that we are sinners. We live good lives. So God should treat us good. But we live in a fallen world. We live in fallen bodies. We live apart from God. When those things happen - it isn't that God has forsaken us, it is because that is the way the world and life is. Those things will happen. And worse things will happen. And in the end, we will all die. It will be all over. From the cradle we are rushing to the grave. That is our lot in life.

Except for His grace and mercy. He steps into this world (called the incarnation) and does something that none of us could do - He gives us hope. That hope is found in Jesus Christ. It is found in God made man. It is not something we give ourselves but it given to us by God - out of His grace and mercy. His goodness is given - even when we don't deserve it. His mercy is shown even when we are rotten in our sins. And we shouldn't kid ourselves - we don't deserve that love. He gives us it to us. Free of charge. Out of love. Out of His heart.

And it is because of that love that we can open our eyes each day when the alarm goes off or the parent wakes us up. We open our eyes. And at that moment, we can say, "I have never lived this day before. Thank you God."

What will it bring? Which one of us knows? All I can tell you is that you can trust in Him, His love, and know that He will never forget about you. Live today. He has given it to you.

So with that thought, today is not just another day. It is a special day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What are they thinking?

George Tillmer was gunned down in his church. Why? Because he was a doctor that performed late-term abortions. Should that be a time of rejoicing among pro-life people? NO! It should not. There is nothing that makes such killing justifiable. As a pro-life person, I heartily speak against such actions by the one that killed George Tiller. As a Christian, the taking of one life in this situation is against the 5th commandment, just as the taking of the innocent lives of the unborn is against such commandment. While I speak out against those who perform any abortion, i also speak out against those who would take the life of another person just because they don't agree with them. What is this world coming to? Of course, we know the answer to that question. People listen to that sinful little voice deep inside that leads them to do crazy things. Pray for the family of George Tiller. They need all the support that they can get at this time. They need to know that such action is not in accordance with the will of God. And pray for those who are considering abortions. Pray that they will not go through with the murder of their unborn child/children. Pray that the Word of God would touch their hearts and their minds in time to avoid such a terrible action. And in this way, we would need no abortion doctors because no one would be having abortions. I know - a pipe dream. But why not dream big? After all, God is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine or ask.

Who am I? Just finished reading

"Who am I?" That was the question that Dietrich Bonhoeffer frequently asked himself. I don't think of myself as an expert on Bonhoeffer. I have read enough to begin to understand his life, his times and his writings. There is so much more that I want to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. I just finished reading "I Am Bonhoeffer: A Credible Life" by Paul Barz. For those who have read some about Bonhoeffer's life, this little novel is a good read. It makes sense and it could actually be showing some of his life. If you have never had a chance to read a history of Bonhoeffer, there are several good ones out there. "A Spoke in the Wheel" by Renate Wind and John Bowden is a good one to begin with.

I continue to be fascinated by some of the concepts and thoughts that Bonhoeffer put forward. His stand on being a Christian but not being religious is kinda fascinating. I really enjoy his work on the Sermon on the Mount. It actually lead me into a Lenten series one year. Boy was that one fun.

There are times when I find myself drawn to reading Bonhoeffer's works. I think that he has many good things to say to us about our life as Christians, struggling in this world that is filled with sin.

Who am I? I am lost without Christ. I am a person who would wander from the path of life to the path that leads to many different things - all of which lead to death. Who am I? I am a sinner who needs the Lord. Why would He even think of me? What am I in the vastness of this universe? Why would the omnipotent God have anything at all to do with me? Why would He...and the thoughts could go on. In the end, I am called upon to just trust the Word of God that He is for me. He loves me, despite all that I have done and continue to do. He loves and cares for me - in all avenues of my life. Who am I? I am God's child. Nothing more - nothing less. I am His. He claimed me in the waters of my baptism. He strengthens me in Word and Sacrament.

Who are you? The answer to that question is to be found within the Lord Himself. Without Him, you are nothing. But in Him, you are everything - belonging to Him. And that is all that really matters. Nothing else matters.