Sunday, August 30, 2009

How long?

How long should worship be? As a pastor, that is a question that I ask myself each week. that is the question many laity ask themselves - often after having to endure a service that has lasted longer than they would like. How long is too long? How short is too short? What is the perfect length of time? 1 hour? 1.15 hours? 2 hours? 45 minutes? You probably have your own idea as to what makes the perfect service.

We could point to the past, the history of the Lutheran Church. Luther was one that never went short. Read some of his sermons and you will find that he probably preached close to an hour, perhaps even longer, depending on the topic. It is doubtful that he preached a sermon the length of what we get at this time - 12-15 minutes. He would just be getting warmed up at that time. Then there was always communion attached to the service, the liturgy would be used in all it's fullness. Put that all together and you would probably have a 2 hour service. Remember this, most of the time they would stand for this service instead of sitting on padded pews!

Then the seminary and others tell us that a sermon should never last more than 12 minutes, because people's attention span is not that long. We live in a world of sound bytes - blips of sound, parts of video and a few fast paced minutes of intense "God words" and then you are done. The service includes numerous songs to begin, a few brief words of welcome and encouragement, music and then the message. Non-Lutheran and non-Sacramental churches often don't worry about the Lord's Supper since it means much less to them than it does to the Lutherans and voila - you have a ready made service of 45 minutes of fun, excitement and out the door so we can pack in the next service which starts promptly 15 minutes after the previous one concludes.

What is one to do? Preach the word. The people need the word. They need to hear the word. Give them word in the Scripture readings, offer up the liturgy, offer them the Lord's Supper, and still get them out in 1 hour, maybe only 5 minutes over. How do you offer communion? Does it take 15 minutes to distribute? Maybe more? Then the other parts of the service that we consider "important" and "necessary" for a Lutheran service and it leaves you only about 12 minutes, perhaps 15 for the message, but as we know, the service should last only 1 hour. Period. No more, possibly less.

So that means what? Cut the sermon short. Offer the necessary words that need to be said - and then say "amen." Get it going, get it done. People can't pay attention more than that. Be short. Be sweet. Make them feel good. Pump them up. And then send them out into the world.

What is my thought on this? I have a hard time cutting back on the sermon. There are two things important in the service - Word and Sacrament. I do not believe in dropping the Sacrament. Neither do I believe in shortening the sermon. Why? I believe that a good sermon (which I strive for each week) will touch the hearts of the people, but that is not done with the Cliff Notes of sermons. So what can be done? That is the real question.

Do I have the answer? No. Yes. Maybe. Stay tuned. More will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Darkness fills the land

It is ominous. Darkness is coming - no, that is not true. Darkness is already here. So often in our lives we think that the darkness of Satan is taking over. The reality is that Satan's darkness has filled the world since the Fall. When Adam and Eve disobeyed in the Garden, darkness came into the world and surrounded all that God had created as good. All creation fell at that time.

Since then, Satan has been the prince of this world. He is the prince of darkness and the prince of the world. When people ask why something terrible happens, they like to blame God. It is God's fault that something bad happens. They have it all wrong. It is Satan who has control of this world and it is because of the falleness of this world that those things take place.

Is God in control? Of course. But I am not dealing with that right now. God is the One who is control of all things - but He allows thins to take place. Just read through the book of Job and you will see what I mean. There is much more to it than the way we deal with it.

Don't blame God. Put the blame squarely where it belongs - in the lap of sin and the devil. This world is his playground. He is not above destroying your life just to make your miserable. He is not above destroying other's lives in order to destroy someones trust and love for the Lord. He will cause the death of a child if he thinks it will shake the parent's trust in the Lord. He does not love you. He does not love me. He is darkness. He is deep darkness. He is out to destroy all that is good, all that comes from God.

This world is darkness. Into this darkness has come the Light. read John 1. You will get the real understanding of the impact of the coming of the Son of God into this world. It shook Satan to the core. He fought against the Son of God. He did all he could to stop Him from carrying out the work of salvation. He even went so far as to turn the people of God against the Lord and lead them to send Him to His death - upon a cross. Satan laughed with glee as the Son of God hung upon the tree. He danced when that final cry went up. And he rejoiced in victory when He breathed His last. Satan had won!!!!!!

NOT! Satan had lost at that moment. 3 days later, as the grave burst open and the Son of God stepped forth, Satan ran in terror. God had won! Sin was defeated. Satan was now a chained dog (still the prince of this world). And death and the grave - no longer that terrible enemy that we must fear. Our Lord has overcome all. He has won!

We live in a dark world. We live in a world that is filled with hate. We live in the midst of the realm of that chained dog. We face struggles. We face pain. But we do so with a sure and certain hope that comes to us through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. the Light of lights has come into the world, brought light into the darkness and sheds light on our lives.

Will it continue to be dark in this world? Yes. Can we overcome the darkness? No. Only the Lord can overcome the darkness. He then uses us to share that light with those who are filled with pain and suffering. The message we are given, the message we share, is the most powerful message we can ever hope to share. It is the message of life, of salvation, of peace, and of a future. Face the darkness head on - not with fear but with the Light. And know this - through Christ, you have already won.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why? Oh, Why?

Why do we do that to ourselves? What is that, you ask. That is a good question. This evening we had the pleasure (yes it was a pleasure) to get together with the Youth from St. Paul's for an evening of softball at the park. The parents (and older folks) played against the youth. And if you ask us older folks, we won! Yes, we won! The score might not reflect that we won but the reality is we didn't get hurt, we retired the youth in each inning. We scored a few runs. So in the end, we feel as though we won. Hurrah for us oldsters! Let's hear it. Three cheers! Hip hip, hurrah! Hip, hip, hurrah! Hip, hip, hurrah!

Now we are at home taking our pain meds and wondering to ourselves, was it really worth it. My knees ache. Boy do they ache. Makes it hard to get up once I am sitting down. To get up the stairs is a challenge. And I wonder, why did I play the game like I did?

It is because I love the youth. Yes, I love them. I want the best for them. I want to help them to realize that fun can be had without the aid of drugs or alcohol. I want them to know that we oldsters will do whatever we can to help them to grow in life, to mature in thought and to enjoy life in any way. Jesus came to give life. To live in Him is to have a full, fun life. And that includes getting out there on the ball field and hit the ball, catch the ball, field the ball and take the pain meds when we get home.

Why would we do that to ourselves? For the sake of our youth. It is all about being with them, helping them and loving them. Thanks youth for letting us play. And you are well worth every moment we were out there and you are worth much more than that!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It makes me wonder

Why is it that people want nothing to do with the church until a moment of crisis? Why is it that someone will live their life as though the Lord means nothing to them and then when there is a death, suddenly they want to pastor to "preach them into heaven"? All right, so no one actually says that but that is how it feels.

I run into that regularly. The person doesn't want the Lord in their life. they want to live each day as though they are free from the Lord and having to do anything remotely "religious." they aren't into that sort of thing. "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than going to a barn makes you a cow." True. But at the same time, we remember that the Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21 NIV)

I don't need the Lord, His Word or the Sacraments. I don't need to be in worship. But I am still a Christian. Are you? Honestly? How can you say to the Lord, "I love You," and then turn your back on Him and thumb your nose at Him? You can't. It is only fooling yourself.

At the time of need, at the death of a loved one, families come to the church and ask for a service to be performed. When it is someone you know believed in Christ and lived that faith, it is easy to do. When someone wants nothing to do with Him in life, I think of that passage. Not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven. How can I give them any words of comfort? Would I not have to stretch the truth or even lie? Why would you want a church funeral when you didn't want a church life?

It makes me wonder, do they really think that I can preach them into heaven? I can't. They are either there in life or not. Those that believe have salvation already. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:18 NIV)

It is a hard place to be as a pastor. But I cannot give false hope to those who are still alive. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be faithful to the Word of God and to the people of God and say I can't do it. It may be the right thing to say, but it sure does cause the heart to break. Sigh. Pray for me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

School Begins

I love it when school is back in session. Some parents love it because the kids are back in school and are not sitting around the house getting bored, wondering what to do and bugging mom and dad to go to Bobby's for ice cream. All right, the last one isn't so hard to put up with, unless you eat Bobby's too often, then it takes a couple extra miles a day in order to lose the calories that were gained.

I love it when school begins because then the kids are back around the church and school. I miss them. I am always ready to have summer begin but I am just as ready to get back in the swing of things. I miss the kids. I love to see their smiling faces, to hear them say, "Pastor" and then give me a hug or a high five. There is nothing better than to have the preschool children gather around you and tell you their names. That must have been what set Jesus' heart jump with joy when the little children crawled up on His lap. I can just imagine the smile on His face, the joy in His eyes and the laugh in His voice. I can only wish that I could have been one of those children crawling up on His lap.

So they are back. The Kindergarten class has a goodly number - 9. That is so cool to see. Mrs. Thomas is a wonderful kindergarten teacher. She has such a loving way about her and I can see why she is good in that class. the 1/2nd graders are quite the group. Miss Gieseking is our new teacher and she has such an excitement about her. I think the kids will learn a lot and i feel that she is bringing something special to our school. Mrs. Tschudy in 3/4 grade has a small group, which will present challenges all its own, does a great job. Already they have memory work and are doing word problems. I love to read those problems (and sometimes I can even solve them). Mrs. Doyle in 5/6 grade finally has some girls in her class. That ought to bring some difference into the classroom after a year of nothing but boys. They are great bunch and Mrs. Doyle is a wonderful teacher and caring principal. And Mrs. Aebel has moved back to 7/8 grade. You can feel the excitement in her classroom. I am excited to be working with her in the class and I look forward to teaching the confirmation class.

I am so happy to be back in school. I would have liked a longer summer. Why? Because I would have. No real reason. Having said that I would like to tell you - welcome back to school! I love being back and the routine has returned. What a joy. And Jesus, please give us powerful, wonderful year where we are able to take the message of Christ to the children and to their children. And may our staff be blessed by each other and bless our families and students.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sick and tired

Why is it that when the homosexual community wants to bring about same sex marriage (though they are a minority), it is all right to be vocal and cause problems for those who are not supportive of same sex marriage (see what happened in California when the vote didn't go their way) and when those who are against the health care reform bill and speak up about it in a vocal way (same as the homosexual community), they are called a vocal minority and shouldn't be listened to? I really am getting frustrated with this whole debate.

The real issue is that it doesn't matter if you are republican or democrat, if you support this health care reform bill you better worry about getting re-elected. No one argues that health care needs to be reformed. But the bill that is put forward is a shame. It is socialism. It is giving our care to the government just like Canada and the United Kingdom. Go to either of those countries and you will find that government run health care doesn't work.

As far as the "death panels," what the liberal media wants us to believe is that a living will is the same thing as a panel of people who decide if you should have care or not. They are two different things. One decides for the individual what he/she wants to do in the case of extreme measures of life - ventilator, heart machine, etc. (living will). The panel will decide if you are eligible for the care or not, based on age, chance of survival, sickness, etc. We should not put forward to anyone the opportunity to decide who should have care and who shouldn't.

If you are put a 20 year old against an 80 year old, and have to decide who gets the treatment, the decision might be interesting. Of course we would say the 20 year old should get the treatment and the 80 year old should make the best of it. But would it not be better to say, both of them should receive that treatment - no matter how old they are. Life is life. Who decides who lives and who dies. But the panel won't say who dies. They will just decide who gets the care and who doesn't. If you die because you didn't get the care, that isn't the panel's fault. It just happens. Baloney. That is deciding who is to live and who isn't. Let's call a spade a spade and not try to hide behind words.

What is the problem? The real issue is who is in control of life? Man or God? This health care reform bill is saying that they should have control over life not God. This health care reform takes life out of God's hands. In the end, the whole thing deals with faith, trust and belief in the sovereignty of God. We are seeing what happens when faith in God no longer guides our actions. Lies, deceit and a desire to take over from God becomes the way that things are done. No longer does truth and God's will rule the day. Instead, selfish ambition, pride, self interest, and other sinful actions takes control.

In all that we do, let's move get one thing straight - we need to return to a life that is guided by the Lord and by His Word. Period. No matter where you fall on this issue, look at your life and see where you are in following God.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thoughts on Ephesians 4

This week's sermon covered Eph. 4:17-5:2. There is so much in this section that there is no way to preach on the whole text. Actually, I have some thought that I want to put out there, though they seem a little law oriented.

I was studying Eph. 4:18-19 and thought it sounds just like the world today. "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." (NIV) Lost in darkness, hardened in sin, the world does not see the way of Christ as the way to live. People avoid Christians because they are not able to "have fun" when a Christian is around. Life is going to be boring. When we were dating, Penny was told by one of her friends (who was trying to gain her interest) that she would not be happy marrying someone who was a pastor because it would be a boring life. She wouldn't have any fun. The thought was that as a Christian in a committed relationship, there is no hope for a full life. Then again, a "full life" means that you give yourself over to your sinful nature and indulge in every kind of sensuality, always needing more.

That is what fuels the pornography industry (and it is an industry, making billions of dollars off people's lust for more sensuality). There is money to be made by delving into the world of sex, every kind of sex imaginable and many that you would never have imagined! Women degrade themselves because they can make money posing nude and in different sex acts. People sell their bodies because they can make more in one weekend than they could in a whole month at a respectable job. And in many cases, their families and friends don't need to know what they are doing - and it gives them their jollies as well. How much better could it be? But what does it profit a man or woman to gain the world, to achieve that sexual "high" and yet lose his soul.

But I won't lose my soul just because I am involved in some sort of sexual game or business. that is the thought. A person can be lost in the sensuality of life without giving up their faith in Christ. But can they? Can you really live with your lover (male or female) and still profess faith in Christ, active, living and breathing faith?Can you truly live as the old sinful self and still claim the new Adam lives in you? Can you have this desire for sensuality outside of marriage and still follow Christ? What about the 6th Commandment? "You shall not commit adultery." But perhaps you are not married. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in word and deed and husband and wife love and honor each other. Can you set aside the command of God for your own sinful desire and still tell God that you love and follow Him? No you can't.

My friend, the world offers you one thing. Christ offers you another. The married man cannot take a lover outside of marriage and still claim to follow God. the single person cannot pick up a good time at the bar, spend the night, take the morning after pill and still say they are following Christ. I know, there is always repentance and forgiveness. But don't abuse that. Don't fool yourself and say, "I can look at online porn, not hurt anyone, ask God to forgive me and I will be all right." You are inviting darkness into your soul at that moment. The battle is on. Darkness wants you. Light wants you. Which will you follow?

This is a tough reading. the sinful sexual self thinks it is all right. God tells us it will only hurt our lives, our minds, our emotions and our souls. The woman who lives with the guy for 8 months, thinks he is the one, only to find out that he found another woman who is "better" in bed, willing to do "other things" and leaves her high and dry. She is crushed. He was the one. She gave herself to him. Oh well, try again. Use the feminine ways to get the guy and then wonder why there is no commitment. Use the studly looks to woo the girl into bed and then wonder why there is nothing to talk about the next morning.

God is trying to spare us the emotional and spiritual agony that plays out day after day. He is encouraging us to enjoy the sensual, sexual life that He has given - but only in the course of the marriage, between a husband and wife. The world can't see it. Many Christians struggle to see it. Why? Because we are often darkened in our understanding. We are not thinking with our souls but with our old sinful self.

Turn to God. Trust in God. Follow the light. Enjoy that which God gives - in marriage.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Vacation Bible School

"Polar Extreme" was our theme this year. I wasn't too sure about it as it was from the Regular Baptist Press. Had some issues with some of the theology but it was easy enough to bring into the Lutheran Church. I know that some will take offense at that statement but please don't. That is just a fact. We are not into decision theology which was a part of the VBS, but it was easy to overcome that and put the right emphasis on the working of the Spirit to bring us to faith.

I enjoy VBS. It is a wonderful time to connect with children and their family. I have always enjoyed VBS. It gives me a chance to step out of the ordinary and bring a little joy and wonder into the lives of the children. It is amazing when you step out dressed in a coat and hat, holding a penguin that played in the street and telling the children how upset you were. They look at you with wonder. Then to be able to tell them that you were wrong and needed the penguin to forgive you. And they sit there wide-eyed in wonder, hearing about the forgiveness of Jesus for you and for your penguin. That is a moment that makes all the effort, all the challenges of the ministry worthwhile. If you can touch the heart of one little child, everything that you do is worthwhile. All the frustrations, all the struggles, all your inabilities as a pastor/teacher suddenly don't matter. All that matters is that one child, seeing the wonder of the love of Christ, the sweetness of forgiveness, the joy of the Gospel and the life in Christ. There is nothing better.

And boy does it tire you out. I sit here tonight worn out. All week, I have poured out all I have to the children, the Spirit has been filling me up and I have been pouring it out to them (and to the children). While He has filled me up to overflowing, it still takes a lot of me. I am poured out for the gospel - maybe that is the spiritual talk that Paul talks about when he says he is about to be poured out. (OK, I know that he was talking about his life ending but sometimes I think it might be this as well. I pour myself out each and every time I in front of the people. The Spirit fills me. I pour it out. And when it is done, I feel like a rag that has been wrung out and hung up to dry.)

I love VBS. I look forward to it every year. Next year is coming. We have a lot of days to go through till we get there, but it will come. Thanks to everyone who worked, who taught, who gave cookies, brought children and loved each child. God bless you all. Extreme Joy, Worship, Trust, Obedience and Trust. All of me all out for God. Yes, I love Him with all my heart, body, mind and soul. Put my strength into the mix, and that is what we taught our children.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Law and Gospel

It sounds so simple - Law and Gospel. It is a fundamental teaching of the Lutheran Church, one that we take for granted in our lives. We are sinners. We are separated from god by our sin. We deserve damnation. God, in love, sent His only Son to suffer and die for us upon the cross. His sinless life, death and resurrection paid the full and complete price for our salvation. through faith in Christ, faith bestowed by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace, we are saved. We are given forgiveness, life and the power to please God through good works. We are assured of salvation instead of damnation. Law and Gospel, foundational to the Christian faith.

But there are many who don't know these two teachings. They struggle with their lives and their theology because they do not understand the difference between them, or perhaps they don't even know them. How often do you hear someone preach the gospel only to say, "You are a sinner going to hell"? That isn't gospel, that is law. Anytime that we put our works into the mix, we are moving back into the law. We are putting forgiveness and salvation on our shoulders and it means that all is lost again.

Another teaching that we take for granted is that we are at the same time both saint and sinner. We are saint by virtue of the grace and forgiveness of God. We are sinner by virtue of our nature. We struggle with that each and every day. Just when we think we have this Christian life thing down pat, we find ourselves caught up in sin once again.

The reason I am thinking of this is that I was reading an article this morning. "We've Won the Lottery - Now What?" (BTW - It really wasn't about the lottery.) Written from the evangelical point of view, it struggled with sinful behavior on the part of people, especially high profile people who claim to be Christian. How can a person be a Christian and still find themselves in the life of sin? How can a Christian really be a Christian and be an adulterer or an embezzler? And does all those sinful people invalidate the message of the Gospel?

As a Lutheran, I do not struggle with that question at all. Sin is in this world. Sin is in the life of those high profile Christians such as George W. Bush and Billy Graham. They are not saints. they make good decisions and bad decisions. Their children, raised as Christians, will get into trouble. The pastor of the congregation will sin. The elders of the congregation will sin. The little old blue haired lady sitting in the pew shaking her head at the sins of others will sin. That, my friends, is the reality that we face. (read Romans 7)

Having said that, I also proclaim that those same ones are saints, not by their actions but by the grace of God, that forgives them for Christ's sake. They live in the state of grace (now that doesn't mean that we sin boldly so that grace may abound. That thought only comes from the sinful heart that is not following the way of the Lord. What a wicked heart we have to think that way.). Forgiveness is theirs. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, "Go and sin no more." Do you think she actually never sinned again? Of course not. In my mind, she didn't commit adultery ever again. Then again, maybe there is something to the saying, "Once a cheater, always a cheater." The thing is that under the forgiveness of Christ, she went away forgiven and renewed for a new life in Him. She continued to have to confess her sins and receive forgiveness, just like us.

The problem with some theology is that they have set people up for failure. They want people to think that they can be perfect here on earth. And when they fail to reach that perfection, when some famous person falls into a public sin, they are shocked, appalled and sure that they were not true Christians. That fills my heart with sadness for in the moment of greatest need, we are shaking our heads, wagging our fingers and telling that person that they were not a true Christian because of their sin. The law is already crushing the person and all we can do is heap more law upon them.

Perhaps it is time for us to get back to the teaching of law and gospel, sin and grace. It helps to know that I am at the same time saint and sinner - all under the power and love of Christ Jesus. I thank God for the forgiveness given to me. And I pray that the Spirit would strengthen me and help me to live as He would have me live. Yes, we still reach for perfection, knowing all the while that we will only attain it when we enter into heaven. Doesn't stop us from trying - but we must remember that a bruised reed he will not break.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I couldn't believe it

We were given tickets to attend the Thursday evening game at Busch stadium, a game between the Cardinals and the Dodgers. I can't say that it was all that exciting - me being a Cub fan and all. Besides, it was a slow game, at least through the 7th evening. Not much action. But that isn't what I was thinking about.

I was surprised at the greeting that the Card fans gave to Manny Ramirez (probably spelled wrong, sorry). I am not a big Manny fan, guess I am not into the long hair and the attitude. He is a good ball player. But that day it was announced that he was named in the 2003 steroid scandal. Ooh, that is terrible. So every time that he was announced the crowd would boo him. I just sat there in surprise because I could not see the need to boo a man for that which took place in 2003. Yes I know that is the year that the Red Sox beat the Cards in the World Series. they are now able to blame their loss on the steroids instead of not playing up to their potential. Why not just admit that the Sox outplayed them? Guess that is too much to ask.

But as I sat there and listened to that booing, I thought to myself, "Why? Why boo Manny? Is he really that bad? Is it really something worth booing?" Before you answer that, give this some thought.

The very men who are booing someone for using performance enhancing drugs will turn around and drink alcohol in order to make themselves feel much stronger, more important and uninhibited. They will turn around and use Cialisor Viagra in order to enhance their "performance" in the bedroom. The woman will have breast implants in order to encourage the men to pay attention to them. There will be drugs used to make the "work" better and smarter at the office. There will be various types of drugs to help them work faster and longer. Truck drivers will take those little bottles of energy stimulants in order to drive farther than they should.

It is wrong for Manny but not for them. He should be "clean" while they can do whatever they can to "enhance" their life or performance. Talk about hypocritical. Why not boo themselves? Why not say that since Manny is wrong, they are too? Oh wait, we can't do that. Manny should be above that - not them.

I am not one that goes for that performance enhancement, no matter if it is on the ball field, the boardroom or the bedroom. It is wrong. Wrong on the ball field for Manny and for Big Mac. Wrong for the truck driver, the secretary, the office worker, the CEO, the pastor and whoever it might be.

Let's not boo Manny. Instead, let's just work at making the world right instead of continuing to tear it apart.