Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 2

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" (Psalm 100:4 ESV) I plan to do just that with this blog. I am entering into the courts of the Lord Almighty with songs of praise over all He has done. I give thanks to Him for the many blessings He has given to me.

As I continue my Thanksgiving thoughts I want to clarify one thing - today I am giving thanks for "temporal" things. I said yesterday I would talk about the material today and that isn't quite true. I am talking of temporal - those things that are not eternal, things that are temporary, no matter how long we might have them. The first of those temporal things is life itself. After all, we are only here a short time. None of us knows how long that shall be but we do know one thing, unless the Lord returns first, we shall all die. So this is a temporal life. But I thank God for each year He gives to me. I am fast approaching the 50 year mark. To some, that isn't that old while to others it is ancient. I must say, to me, it is what it is. I have never lived this long before so it is a new experience. So I thank God for the years I have lived and I look forward to praising Him through out however many years He gives me.

I am thankful for my family - all my family, even those that I don't have much contact with. They are still family and have been a part of my life. They are a part of who I am today. I thank God especially for my wife, Penny. I wouldn't be the person I am without her. She is a rock in my sometimes sand-filled life. When other things begin to slip away from me, she remains solid. I thank God for her faith. She has a faith that is tremendous. Generally, when she gets upset over something it is because she is looking at it through the lens of faith and sees how the incident doesn't fit with the way that God would have His people living. She has taught me much about living in Christ. She has taught me about love - unconditional love. To love me is a challenge, has been through out our 31 years together. She has taught me how to forgive. I give thanks to God for a wife, friend, lover, companion and helper.

I thank God for my children. I have two of the best kids in the world. They aren't perfect - just take a look at their rooms! But I am so proud to be able to call them my daughter and son. Rachael and Matthew have both grown into fine young people. They both have strong faiths and a good head on their shoulders. We did not have difficult times during their teen years, of which I am very thankful. It is fun to have them around. I enjoy going places with them, doing things with them and being a part of their lives. I thank God for them.

And I could go through the list of those in my family. I am thankful for them. Some I am very close to to - like Penny's mom. Others I don't have strong relationship with - like my brothers. But I am still thankful for them. I pray for them daily and ask the Lord to watch over them and to awaken in them that faith in Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior.

I am thankful for the opportunities that I have had to be involved in many people's lives through the ministry the Lord has given me. Each parish I have served has blessed me in some way. There have been good people in all of them. They each have presented their own challenges. And each one of them have helped to make me the pastor I am today. I thank God that I am allowed to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. I rejoice that I am privileged to present the message of Jesus Christ week after week. I get to do what I enjoy - helping people through the Lord Jesus - and I get paid for it! How much better can it get than that? I am thankful for the congregation here at St. Paul's Lutheran, Troy, IL. They are a people who have been challenged in their walk of faith. They are a blessing to me and my family and I am thankful for each of them. The Lord has brought us together and we can rejoice in His leading and guiding to get both myself and the congregation together to work together in His kingdom.

For the moment, that is enough to be thankful for. I plan on bringing more that I am thankful for in part 3. There are so many temporal things to give thanks for - shoestrings, washing machines, a warm bed, the sound of rain on the roof, the flash of lightning at night, and the pant of a dog that wants to go outside. All blessings from God. Continue to think about what you are thankful for - and give thanks to God for those things.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving 1

It is Thanksgiving week! Most people have purchased their turkeys. The plans for the family gathering have been made. Some will stay put and family will come to them. Others will have to travel hours - by car, bus, train or plane. Still others will have very small gatherings while others will have large, boisterous gatherings. And then there will be those who have nobody to get together with. They will heat up their TV dinner or their Weight Watchers meal and will stare out the window, wishing that they had someone to share their beef stroganoff with at this time of the year.

That leads me to think - what are you thankful for? I know that we should be thankful all year long but at Thanksgiving time it just seems right to think about life and be thankful. So what are you thankful for? I labeled this blog "Thanksgiving 1" because I really think that I will be writing more than one blog about being thankful. So I will start.

What am I thankful for? The first and foremost thing I am thankful for is my Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him and all that He did for me, I could not be thankful at all. How can you be thankful when you have no future? Jesus gives me life - true, full, happy life. That means that I am blessed beyond what I could ever imagine. It means that when I am filled with joy at the way things are playing out, I can be thankful for how the Lord is blessing me. It also means that when life is really bad, terrible, rotten, dark, depressing, etc., I can still be thankful. I can be thankful that my Lord Jesus Christ has walked through those bad, terrible, rotten, dark and depressing times for me. He knows what I am facing and how I am feeling. And He tells me, "Come to me" with your burdens, your fears, you depression, with all that you have that disgusts you, and I will give you relief. "You don't have to carry it yourself," He says to me.

WOW! That is a powerful thought. I don't have to carry all that stuff myself. Why? Because He has already carried my burden. And He continues to carry it. It isn't just that He carried it many years ago, it is the fact that He is carrying it right now. Am I willing to give up my burdens and let Him carry it? Most of the time the answer would be, "No." For some reason, it seems I always want to carry my own burden. He understands and gently leads me to that place where I am willing to give it up to Him. Like the child that wants to prove himself, I want to prove myself to God and the world around me. I am strong. I am self-sufficient. I am able to handle all of my life myself.

But I can't. I need Him to carry me. And I am thankful that He does. He doesn't get tired of my childish actions. He doesn't get tired of forgiving me for my foolish, sinful ways. He doesn't get tired of my whining or my frustrating ways. He doesn't get tired of seeking me out when I get lost in the briers of sin. He never tires of binding up my broken heart or life. He is always there for me in whatever happens in my life - even when I mess things up royally.

And in the end, He saves me. Even if He did none of these other things, even if He left me alone to fend for myself, it would be enough that He saved me. I am not going to hell. I will not be damned for an eternity. Heaven is mine - now. He has saved me from death and sin and the devil. He has given me true life. That is why I am first and foremost thankful for the life of faith that has been given to my.

Next up...the material things that I am thankful for this year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do you believe?

It is the end of the Church Year. This coming Sunday is November 21 - the Last Sunday of the Church Year. The focus of the service will be on the return of the Lord. What do you believe about that?

I ask that question because what we believe will happen on the Last Day affects how we live today. Will there actually be a "Last Day" when Christ comes? Or will the world go on until we finally destroy it - through war or through abuse of nature itself? If there is a Last Day, what will happen on it? Will Jesus really come upon the clouds as the angels told the disciples on the mount outside of Jerusalem 40 days after the day when Jesus rose from the dead? (Acts 1) When He comes, will He really separate people - believers from unbelievers - as He says in Matthew 25:31ff? Does that mean that only those who believe will go to heaven? And those who don't believe in Him will go to hell for eternity, to the place of eternal suffering and pain, a place where they will never again know the love and the presence of the Almighty?

The way you answer those questions is important. Scripture tells us that Christ will return on the Last Day. On that day, all who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the one and only Savior, will enter into eternal life with Him forever. (All right, so that is a redundant saying, but it is what Scripture means.) Scripture also tells us that all who do not believe that Jesus is the one and only Savior of mankind will be cast into hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, where there is torment and suffering that never ends and where Satan and all the demonic horde will be for all eternity. Scripture points out these very things. Do you believe that?

I do. And having said that, it changes how I look at life. Life is not meant JUST for my pleasure. Oh, the Lord does come that we may have life and have it abundantly. He does give us much joy and pleasure in this life. He does intend for us enjoy the wonders and bounties of His creation. So don't go thinking that Scripture tells us that we are to grumpy, sad people who have no sense of joy. Just the opposite is taught in God's Word. He tells us that we will "leap like calves from the stall." (Malachi 4:2) He tells us that we will enjoy the fruits of this earth, the pleasure of marriage and the joys of family. Christians actually can enjoy life more than non-Christians, because they know the real meaning and direction of life - given to them by faith in Jesus Christ. For those who think that Christianity is meant to be boring, sad and unmoving, they have missed how God wishes us to live.

But life is not JUST about me. It is about others. If I truly believe that only those who have faith in Jesus Christ are going to heaven, AND that Jesus can come at any moment, then I am living my life for others. Life becomes a life of witnessing to Christ Jesus. And not waiting till tomorrow, but witnessing about Him today! Now is the day of salvation, now is the day when I need to tell you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came to save you from eternal damnation. I will want to shout it from the mountaintop - Hey world! There is one Savior and it isn't Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. The only Savior is Jesus Christ - the One shown only in what is called the Holy Bible. Any other god or savior or path of religious/spiritual enlightenment is wrong. It will lead you to hell - whether you believe that or not. You might not accept there is only one God, but there is. And my life, my being, all that I do and say, is meant to reflect that.

Why? Because I believe what Scripture says. It states that Jesus will come again. When He does, all bets are off. You either believe in Him or you don't. And I want everyone to believe in Him. I want what God wants - all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

So what do you believe? Will Christ come soon? If so, why are you sitting on the message of life and hope and not sharing and living it? "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20 ESV)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is sin still a sin?

I was reading in Isaiah this morning and ran across this verse: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20 ESV) it kind of struck me this morning (as it has before as well) that we are a nation that does that very thing - just like Judah did in Isaiah's time. We like to say it is our "freedom" or "right" to act the way we do. We also like to say that we cannot tell someone else how to live or what to do. That is up to them.

And in a fashion, that is true. We cannot live someone else's life. They must do it. But we can tell them what is right and wrong. They might not listen. They may not even want to hear it. They might call us "unloving" or "arrogant" or something else. They might say that we have no right to judge them. They might even become irate with us - turning around and attacking us because of what we have said. But if we are speaking from God, speaking from His Word, then we are not the ones "judging" them. God is. When He speaks, then we must listen. To not listen is foolishness on our part and it has an eternal effect on our lives. To blatantly say "I do not want to listen to God," puts us at odds with God.

Yet it is said, "I don't believe that God really says that." And then we do what Americans are good at doing, we put our own twist on God's Word. We interpret it for ourselves. It doesn't matter what generations before us have said about the text, we figure we know better. We approach Scripture from the aspect that every person must interpret it for themselves. And is so doing, we finally have to ask, "Is there anything in Scripture that is true or is it something that we can twist and bend to fit our lives, to justify what we want, and turn God away from our actions?"

In the end, we have to either say, "Thus says the Lord," or "Thus says me." What you say betrays what you are wanting in your life - God or you. I though about how we are with so many things. We say, "Abortion is not murder. It isn't a living, human." God says, "Abortion is murder. It is a living child." We say, "Living together is just a way of life that is to be accepted." God says, "Living together without marriage is wrong." We say, "Sex outside of marriage - before or after - is just an expression of our desire and love that shouldn't be stopped." God says, "All sex outside of marriage is wrong." We say, "Homosexuality is an alternative way of life." God says, "Homosexuality is an abomination." Need I go on? What we do on TV, in shows, on the computer, etc. is seen as a "right" and is open to all we want, no matter what it might be. God tells us to focus on what is good and right. We focus on sick and evil.

And God says, "Woe to you..." We should listen. We should take to heart. We should turn from our sinful, selfish, self-centered ways and follow the way of the Lord. Will we? As a nation? No. As individuals, I pray that we will. As for me, "Lord help me to do, think and say that which is according to Your will."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thinking of the Saints

"O when the saints, go marching in, O when the saints go marching in, O how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!" (I don't know if that is exactly how the song goes but if you know me, you would know that it really doesn't matter. I will sing it anyway.) This last Sunday was the celebration of All Saints' Day, which is actually November 1st. I love the reading from Revelation 7. It reminds me of those who have gone before - those who no longer live among us but live forever with the Lord.

When I think of All Saints' Day, I tend to think of the loved ones being in heaven. I fear that I might not focus enough on the resurrection at that time. As we learned at the SID Pastor's Conference this last fall, we need to remember the importance and power of the resurrection. Yet at the same time, we do still need to know that our loved ones are in heaven right now - spiritually, their souls. While we wait for the resurrection, we are not in some "soul sleep" or some ambiguous "never never land" from which we will emerge on the Last Day. It is as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Today! Not some distance time that we wait to arrive.

That gives me lots of comfort - knowing that my mom and pop (and step dads) and father-in-law and aunts and a whole host of others are in heaven now, enjoying the wonders and the pleasures of being in the presence of the Lord.

What will it be like? We don't have an answer for that question. In 1 John we read, "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Jesus0 appears, we shall be like him (Jesus)." (1 John 3:2 ESV) We do not know what we will be like. We do know this one reality, it will be better than life here on earth. Why? Two reason: 1) We will be in the presence of God Himself. 2) We will be perfect, holy, sinless, free of temptation, trials and tribulations. Those both cause us to rejoice!

All Saints' Day brings all that to my mind. It causes me to rejoice in the life that I have been given in Jesus Christ. It reminds me of those who have already entered into that wonderful, heavenly relationship with God. And it puts my heart at peace. Death is never fun. Death is never wonderful. But we know that Christ has overcome death and has given life. In that we rejoice.

I know it is late (today is Dec. 8th) but "Happy All Saints' Day to you." Celebrate the eternal life you have been given in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Psalm 78 - telling the next generation

Take a few minutes today to read Psalm 78. It is a great Psalm. There are a few verses that struck me today. "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done." (Ps. 78:4 ESV) The writer then goes on to tell of the wonders in the lives of the Israelites - the plagues, the time in the wilderness, the feeding of manna and quail, the water from the rock - all amazing events in the lives of the people. Look at them. Tell the next generation of those events. Stand in wonder of what this great God does in the lives of His people.

If only...He did those things today. People would believe. They wouldn't get involved in sin. They would focus their attention on the Lord instead of themselves - the instant gratification and selfish actions that so many desire. If only...but that isn't true. Even with the events in front of them, the people of Israel strayed from the way of the Lord. We read, "In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe..." (Ps. 78:32 ESV) What does it take? What does it take to remain on the path that the Lord puts before us? What does it take to even "get on" the path? If the people couldn't do it even after they saw the mighty works, how can we?

Through the working of the Holy Spirit! That is how! He works in our lives the same was every day - through the Means of Grace. The Word opens to us the wonders of what God has done. Most especially does it open the reality of the greatest event in history - the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. There in the Word He shows us the greatest of all His deeds - greater than manna and water from the rock. He also does wonders with water and bread today. Water - baptism, saving the soul, giving faith, bestowing forgiveness, life! Bread - Lord's Supper, simple wafer on the tongue, the body broken on the cross, united in the Supper by the word of Christ, given to the sinner for the forgiveness of sins. Powerful stuff!

Tell it to the next generation! Tell them about the love of Christ. Tell them of the wonders that the Son of God has done and continues to do your life. That is what we are about. Sunday school, religion classes, confirmation - all ways to tell the next generation. Day school - 7 hours of telling the wonders of God to the next generation. What an opportunity! What a privilege we are given.

We see the importance of telling the next generation but are we willing to support that work? Are we willing to give sacrificially to support the ministry to reach out to the next generation? Churches that have schools struggle with that question. They look at the costs of a school and wonder - can we do it? But that is the wrong question. Instead we should ask, "Why are we not doing it?" How can we not do all we can, not just in word but in deed (which includes financially), support the work of the schools of our churches? There, you and I have the golden opportunity to make a difference in the life of our children. We can do as the Psalmist writes, "We will not hide them from our children..."

Read the Psalm. Pray about it. Ask the Lord how He can use you to reach the next generation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Profile Picture

I was looking at my profile picture. That is Penny and myself. We took it ourself in Chicago Union Station, when we were in line to board the Amtrak long distance train "The Empire Builder" on Monday, June 22, 2009. We were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with a 9 day, 5200 mile trip on 3 different long distance trains. We started with the train from St. Louis to Chicago early in the morning. The kids dropped us at St. Louis. We took the 2 day Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, WA. Spent a night in Seattle. Took the Coast Starlight for a day to Sacramento, CA. Spend 2 days in Sacramento. Then boarded the California Zephyr for a 2 day trip back home.

Long? Yes. Tiring? No. We enjoyed the relaxing trip. We would do it again if we were given the chance. And we probably will do it again.

The picture was standing in line, after they called our train. I was excited! Penny was happy to be getting away. We enjoyed our days together, just us, relaxing, enjoying one another's company and watching the country go by. Try it some time. You will enjoy it.

All Saints' Day

Happy All Saint's Day! That's right, today is November 1st, which in the church year is All Saints' Day. It is a day in which we can think of 2 different things: 1) those who have died in Christ, and 2) those who still live as yet by faith. The first group is made up of all those who are truly saints. The second group is made up of those who are truly saints and yet, at the same time, are truly sinners.

We rejoice to think of those who lived in Christ and died in Christ. It might sadden us to think of a loved one - a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt or friend - who has died. Death is that one last terrible enemy that we must face. Death is always hunting us down. We fear death. We don't want to die. We hang onto life until the last possible moment. And then we finally succumb to death. It grabs us. It yanks us from this world of life. It comes screaming our direction and pulls apart our world.

And yet, for the Christian, death is a toothless enemy. It appears strong, powerful, and overwhelming. But it is a toothless hound whose bark is worse than his bite. Why? Because of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross, was laid in the tomb and then (ready for this?) ROSE from the dead! He broke the bounds of death. He kicked the teeth out of that enemy. He defeated not only sin and the devil, He crushed the power of death over us! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It is because of Jesus' resurrection that we celebrate All Saints' Day. Those who have gone before us, those who lived in faith in Christ Jesus, those who died in faith in Christ Jesus, have received victory over death. They have passed from death to life. It is as Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die." (John 11:26-26 ESV) Life from death, victory over death, saint from sinner - All Saints' Day. Those who have died in Christ are saints now. They live in Christ. They sin no more. They are sin no more. All sin has been removed from them. No longer do they have that terrible, wretched sinful nature to struggle with. They are totally and completely saints. Free! Truly free! Christ has set them free!

We who are alive face the struggle. We are at the same time truly saint and truly sinner. We are made saints in Christ by virtue of our Baptism. He made us saints. He made us new. He gave us a new life in Him that we live by faith each day. But we still struggle with that terrible, wretched sinful nature that is truly us. We are sin. We face temptation and we give in. We sin regularly and mightily. It is for that reason that we crawl back to the waters of our Baptism and say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." And there, in the place that our new life began, we are made new again. Forgiveness is bestowed. New life is given. And we are made saints once again. The cycle goes like that daily.

Lest we give up hope, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11). We look at the saints of God and realize that empowered by the Holy Spirit, strengthened through Word and Sacrament, we fix our eyes on Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

That, my friends, is All Saints' Day. That is why we remember it. We celebrate the life eternal God has given to those who have died in Christ. And we celebrate the life eternal to those of us who live in Christ. Happy All Saints' Day to you, my fellow saint.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thoughts on BND article on Why young people are leaving religion

I was reading an article in the Belleville New Democrat, Saturday, October 23, 2010. It was entitled "More and more young people are leaving religion." It had some interesting things to say. It really wasn't a surprise to me. Young people leave religion regularly. The article was trying to make the case that in recent years, more young people (defined as twentysomethings) have left organized religion than in years gone by (stating that it is roughly four times higher). These are not people who have become atheists but are people who are still religious but don't like organized religion.

The reason - organized religion has become synonymous with conservative political parties and agendas. I guess I can see this. There are many religious groups that have become very political and as such, have driven some from the church with their agenda. But the whole thing begins to make me uncomfortable. Why? Because I can see this as yet another excuse to say "I believe in God but don't believe in religion." This statement is so overused it is ridiculous. We can get into the whole thought that if you believe in God, would you not want to follow what He says? The answer is generally, "According to who?" And we head down the road towards making God's Word relative to each person, open to what you want it to say and to follow only what you want. This is usually followed by trying to justify some sinful behavior that God has already condemned. Excuse me, I have digressed from where I was really heading.

There was a paragraph almost at the end that read, "More likely is that as growing numbers of young Americans reject religious doctrine that is too political or intolerant for their taste, innovative religious leaders will concoct more palatable offerings. Jesus taught his disciples to be 'fishers of me,' and the pool of un-churched moderate and progressive young people must be an attractive target for religious anglers." (BND Oct. 23, 2010 p. A5)

This set my teeth on edge. The writer is probably correct in his assessment of the way that churches will try to reach these young Americans. They will sell their soul to the god of modern thought (or postmodern if you like) and will give up the true teachings of the Lord for the ways of the world. The argument will be that they are just doing what they can to reach these young people. But can you give up the Word of God for the "good of the people" and still give the people something good? Can you "soften" sin in order to make people comfortable? In doing so, have you not said to God, "I don't think you quite have it correct. In order to reach these people with the message of the Gospel, I will need to change what you say about sin, life and salvation." That, my friends, is a terrible thing to have happen.

But it doesn't surprise me. We are told of this in Scripture. "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV) Turning away from sound teaching - it is happening when we don't want to tolerate those who bring the teaching of the Law to bear on our societal situation. Pastors are tempted to give away some of the teachings of the Word in order to fill the pews. When all is said and done, does the church that is built on the thinking that we need to change the message of Law & Gospel in order to suit people's tastes have anything to stand on? Is it not building on sand? Will it not collapse - if not at this time then at the time of the coming of Jesus on the Last Day?

We need to continue to build on the Rock. We need to focus on God and His Word. The church is not meant to be political. I agree with many who say that many churches have become to political. The church is not meant to be running the government any more than the government is meant to run the church. (This is why I refuse to put out "voter's guides" and the like. If you want to know who to vote for, do your own research. You will not find me or St. Paul's Lutheran telling you who to vote for.) But the church is meant to bring the Word of God into the lives of people. If they are sinning, it needs to be addressed. That often means that the church is not going to be PC (politically correct) in what it says. But we do not fear that. Instead we understand that we must follow God rather than man.

Will people continue to leave the church? Unfortunately, yes. Even if the church changes its message and "softens" sin, people will continue to leave the church. They will only stay if they know that what they are hearing week after week is the true, full Word of God and not some watered down teaching that changes with the whims of people.

"As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hope in the Lord

There are so many things that I think about blogging about, then I get caught up in the day and don't get around to them. Most of the time they come from my morning Scripture readings and I don't want to stop reading to blog. That means that they pass quickly into another realm - and not the cyber realm.

I was in Psalm 42 and read, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" (Ps. 42:5a, 11a ESV) When I read this, I thought about how we are so often in our lives. Something happens and we become upset. We don't like the way things are going. We feel that it is unfair, etc. We struggle with our lives. We face illness. We face financial difficulties. We face family problems. The list of things that cause one to be in turmoil or "down in the dumps" is as varied as there are people. And it changes from day to day.

And I wonder, why do we become "cast down" and "in turmoil"? Is it because our lives really stink? Are our lives really that bad? I can hear the resounding "YES!" coming from those who are going through those times. I won't "diss" you on that. But let me also ask you, "Where does your hope lie? Where were you when these things happened? What was the condition of your relationship with the Lord?"

The Psalm goes on, "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." (Ps. 42:5b, 11b ESV) Too often, our hope is in ourselves or someone or something. We look at our lives and focus on "me". We lose sight of God and His guidance and strength for our lives. We are so caught up in ourselves that we don't go to the one place that gives strength - the Lord.

I know that even when we hope in God, our lives can still stink. There will still be pain and suffering. Spouses will still argue, say heated things, perhaps even act in ways that lead to divorce. Children will still refuse to listen to their parents and think that their parents are stupid and have no idea what it is like to be their age. Workers will think that bosses are idiots and bosses will think that workers are lazy, no good bums who are only wanting to rip off the company. Sickness will still land a person in the hospital. Pain will drive people to more powerful medication. Anger will still lead people to act and say things they shouldn't. Basically, sin will still be in our midst, no matter what takes place.

BUT...where is your hope? Too often, we turn from the Lord in times of turmoil. Satan uses them to tempt us to doubt the way of the Lord. Hope in the Lord. Hope in the One who has gone through the pain that you are going through, who has gone through the loss that you are facing, who has been rejected by people just as you are being rejected by that one special person. Hope in the Lord. Trust in Him. Doubt that you can? Before you turn away, take His hands in yours and examine the scars you find there. Those scars are from nails. They are from when He hung on a cross, completely rejected by friends, family and followers. Those are from a time when the eternal Father turned His face from His Son and looked the other way while He suffered and died. He knows. He feels. He has been there.

And He overcame - for you! FOR YOU! He overcame all the turmoil of this world. He has overcome all that you are facing. He is victorious. He is living. He is saying to you, "Come to Me. Hope in Me. Trust in Me. I will carry you through." Will it still hurt? Yes. Will it overwhelm? Only if you try to do it alone. Hope in the Lord and He will carry you and your burden. Will you make it through? Yes. Better yet, let me say a resounding, "YES!"

Remember these words, "My soul is cast down within me, therefore I remember you." (Ps. 42:6 ESV) The Lord hasn't forgotten you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Great is our God!

It is almost the end of September. Where did the month go? Where did the year go? Only 3 months till we are in 2011. Sounds like a ways off but the way time has been going, it will be here before we know it. The trees are starting to change. There will soon be color all around us - red, yellow, orange. It will be wonderful. The air has a crispness to it. It is the time to sit outside by a bonfire, make smores, drink hot chocolate, and watch as the little embers of the fire float into the blackness of a clear night sky.

Looking up, seeing the stars in all their glory, makes me think of a passage I just read. "May those who love your salvation say continually, 'Great is the Lord.'" (Psalm 40:16b ESV) Great is the Lord! Those twinkling stars remind us of how great God is. He made them. He put those stars in the sky to light our sky. Imagine how sad it would be to have no stars. You would look up in the night sky and see - nothing. Blackness. Emptiness. And you would feel so alone, as though you were living in the bottom of a deep pit, with no hope of ever getting out. It would be like living in a cave without ever leaving it. I shudder to think of such a thing.

Shows you how God thought of all things. He knew the need of our hearts to be able to look into the sky, see the stars and know that we are not alone. I don't mean life on other planets - I mean life with a God who made all those stars in a moment. When I look up at the night sky, I rejoice in the greatness of God. He gave them to us, to marvel at, to study, and to fill the blackness of our skies at night.

Great is our God! I say it again, "Great is our God!" His greatness no one can fathom. As you look at the stars, as you rejoice in the colors of Fall, as you wonder at the change in the seasons and the marching of time, that is what I would like to put in your mind. Each time you round a corner and see a bright red tree, let the words, "Great is our God!" slip from your lips and fill your heart. Each time you eat that smore or watch that bonfire burn, may your heart say, "Great is our God!"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Everything is changing

We live in a world of change. Nothing is ever the same. I am not the same as I was yesterday. I would like to say I am better, stronger, smarter, etc. Some of it is true. I have learned since yesterday. I just finished an hour of reading various things that have helped me to be understand "Christian vocation" and "infant baptism." I have a little better grasp on those things than I did when I got up this morning. Yet, I am a day older than yesterday. Having celebrated my birthday this week, I am now officially 49, which means I am getting close to that half century mark! It is for sure that I am not what I was when I was 29 or 39 (let alone when I was 9 or 19!). Am I better looker? I do know I have more grey hair today than I did 10 years ago. I also have more weight. I have less energy. And I eat less (though I want to continue to enjoy eating!). I have changed tremendously through my life.

We all have. "Change is the only constant in life," I have heard it said. Is that true? Is change the only constant? If so, that is terribly disconcerting. I can not be sure that when I get up tomorrow morning that anything will be the same. Remember what 9/11 did to our assurance of stability? It threw everyone for a loop. We weren't sure of anything anymore.

But then, as I was in God's word this morning, I read a wonderful, powerful, assuring passage. It comes from Psalm 102. As the Psalmist wrote, he said, "For my days pass away like smoke and my bones burn like a furnace...My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass." (Ps. 102:3,11 ESV) EEK! That sounds terrible. If change is so sure and certain, is there hope? "But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever..." (vs. 12) "They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end." (vs. 26-27) God does not change!

Did you hear that? God does not change! He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow! In the middle of this world where the only constant is change, there is something else - God never changes. His love is the same for you today - in the midst of your life. He loves you as much as He did yesterday. He will love you just as much tomorrow! His grace never changes. He doesn't decide that today salvation comes through Jesus only to have Him decide that tomorrow salvation comes through a 3 mile hike in the woods or a dance around the altar. Grace is the same. He forgives you for Jesus sake - today, even as He did yesterday. Everything about God is the same.

Change - not in God. I might change in my relationship with Him but He will never change in His relationship with me. I might stray off the path but I can be certain that this changeless God will come after me, no matter where I have strayed or how far I have strayed. I might doubt Him but He never doubts Himself. Wherever I go, whatever I do, God is a God who is the same. He loves me the same. He cares for me the same. He saves me in the same way.

God doesn't change. Thank YOU! Thank You God for not changing because I know I am going to. I can be certain that my feelings are going to change - perhaps even through out the day. As uncertain as life is, there is one certainty - God. I breathe a huge sigh of relief. How God acts doesn't depend on me. He is always going to be Himself.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thirsting, dry, parched...

Have you ever been really thirsty? What I mean, have you been so parched, so dry, that your lips are dry and cracked, and your tongue feels as though it is so thick and dry that it sticks to the roof of your mouth? Has your soul ever felt that way?

I was reading Psalm 63 this morning and thought about that. "O god, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1 ESV) I wondered if I have ever desired the Lord that much. More than that, I wondered if I still desired the Lord that much.

Have you? Do you? Or do you live your life of faith as though it doesn't make any difference? You believe. That is good enough. Desire the Lord? Thirst for His Word? That seems so foreign to us. When was the last time you said to yourself, "Hurrah! It is time for worship!" And then went joyfully and excitedly to the water of life? When was the last time you stayed home from worship and said, "My soul feels dry and parched because I didn't go to the house of the Lord this week." Have you ever had tears in your eyes because you were unable to join your brothers and sisters in Bible study?

That is the the way David was in this Psalm. He thirsted for the Lord. He wanted the Lord more than he wanted life itself. He desired the Lord more than he desired anything in life - and we all know about David's desires! They got him in trouble a time or two (just like they have gotten us into trouble). David's words are powerful, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you..." Earnestly seek the Lord for your dry, parched soul.

Another line caught me as well. Have you ever lain awake at night, fretting because you couldn't sleep, worried about this or that event? Of course you have. That is one of the things that we often struggle with - sleep. Listen to David, "My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed and meditate on you in the watches of the night." (Psalm 63:5-6 ESV) When I remember you upon my bed - laying awake at night. Instead of fretting over the enemies who sought to kill him, David spent the time meditating upon the wonders of the Lord. As he laid there, unable to sleep, instead of worry being upon his mind, he found himself filled with the bounties of the Lord - as with rich, fat foods. His parched soul was given the water of life - not from what he did but through the power of the Lord Almighty. He was refreshed by the Lord.

Water of life - water of refreshing - that is what you and I need for our dry, parched souls. Worship - regularly, frequently, with joy and excitement as you come into the house of God.
Bible study - daily yourself, weekly with others.
Praise - daily, in all that you do, with lips that are no longer parched but refreshed by the water of life.

Lord, I need refreshing. May I have that cool, wonderful water of life? May I drink deeply from the well of Your Word? Please...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Zephaniah for today - Woe to our Nation

I have been reading in the "minor prophets" recently. They are small books that have a big message. Unlike Isaiah or Jeremiah (or perhaps the preacher that is writing at this time!), the minor prophets wrote less. Just because there are fewer words does not make their message any less important.

I couldn't help but think about these words: "Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no corrections. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God." (Zephaniah 3:1-2 ESV) Those words were spoken against Judah generally and Jerusalem specifically. But as I read them, I felt compelled to think not about Judah but about the USA. Could not this be said of our nation? More and more I feel that the prophets are also talking to us today. (No, I do not believe that the United States is the new "promised land." Nor do I believe that the people of the USA are the new "chosen people" of God. That would be a false teaching.) It is as if they were looking through the lens that told them to speak thus for there will be a people living in years to come, who would be in a land far from Israel, that would begin by following the way of the Lord and would end the very same way that Judah was going and ending in their day.

"She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction." How true that is today! Our nation as a whole does what it wants. It does not seek the way of the Lord. And when a prophet speaks out, when a priest cries out the Word of the Lord, she closes her ears. Covering her ears she attacks the prophet/priest and does her best to defile his name, to discredit him personally so that others would not listen to his message. The Christian message of Law and Gospel is blasted, looked down upon, thrown into the pit with the pigs and trampled underfoot. It is treated with no respect. When she is called to repent of her sexual immorality, she laughs. She derides. She speaks against the prophet who brings the word of the Lord. To those who say, "Thus says the Lord," she sneers and jeers. Like a drunken man that refuses to listen to the one who tells him not to drive, so our nation refuses to hear the word of the Lord spoken.

Nor does our nation trust in the Lord. "In God we trust" is our motto. But we do not trust in God. We open ourselves to the gods of the nations. We embrace falsehood instead of truth. We allow the god of Islam, the Latter Day Saints and materialism to have the same voice as the true God - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We draw near to other gods (and don't get me started on the mosque near the Trade Center plaza) and embrace them as though they are equal with the Lord Almighty. We allow the voice of those who have no voice (for they are man-made gods) to speak louder than the voice of the Creator God. Listen to the Lord? Never! Let Him lead our nation? Of course not. We must bow down to Allah, who is no god at all, but is embraced by leaders and people alike.

I can only imagine the tears of sorrow that ran down Zephaniah's cheeks as he proclaimed this message to the people of his day. Tears run down the cheeks of the prophet today who points out the sin of the people, the judgment of the Lord, the great Day of the Lord, for the people do not listen. They do not care. Satan has blinded them with his lies. And they have accepted them as truth. And the Word of God, which is truth, is seen as a lie.

Woe to you people who do not listen! Woe to you who turn away to false gods, who bow down blindly with your leaders! The day of the Lord is coming - that great, dreadful day of judgment! Turn from your sins, from your wicked ways, and live! Turn! Not tomorrow but today! Who knows, perhaps the Lord will relent of His judgment against you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Anger and fretting

I was reading Psalm 37 this morning. This is a wonderful Psalm (but then again, which one isn't?). When I was installed as pastor of St. Paul's, Troy, Pres. Mueller used Ps. 37:4-6 as the basis for the sermon. As usual, he did a great job preaching that day. I know I listened. I hope that everyone there listened for he gave excellent guidance for how the ministry is to be from God, how a pastor is to trust not in himself but in the Lord and how the congregation is to focus on the work the Lord has placed before them.

Anyway, as I was reading Psalm 37, several verses jumped out at me and I couldn't help but comment on them. Psalm 47:8, "Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself, it tends only to evil." (ESV) This is one of the verses that caught me. "Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!" How often do we let anger guide our thoughts and our lives? We get upset over this or that, things that we do not or cannot control. We rant and rave. We let the anger build inside of us until we are worked into a frothy, unthinking sense of wrath. We get to the point where we cannot stand the person or thing that we are angry at. We say things that are unkind and unjust. Yes, we feel justified in our words and thoughts. We think it is "righteous" anger because "we" are the ones that have been wronged. But is that really true? Are we really as "innocent" as we think? More times than not, we find that we are letting our emotions rule our thoughts and letting them guide our anger. We are filled with wrath. And we cannot think straight.

After we are finished with our ranting and raving, do we ever think to go back to that person and apologize? Generally not. Because once again, we have done no wrong. "They" are wrong. "They" should be the one to come to us to apologize. "They" are the ones that we want God to strike down because "they" are so wicked. But is that really the case? When the dust has cleared, when we look at the situation, did our anger, our wrath, help the situation? Or did it make more smoke so that the solution couldn't be seen? Has it caused more hard feelings than it solved? Has that anger/wrath truly been worth the time and the effort, worth the hurt that it caused?

The Lord is guiding us here. Are we open to that guidance? If more of us listened to His Word and refrained from anger and forsook wrath, would it not make it possible to work through the issues at hand? Anger destroys relationships. Wrath hurts hearts and lives. The love of Christ, the peace of God, and the power of the Spirit does just the opposite. It heals. It lifts. It guides. It fills. It is the balm on the wound that sin cuts deep.

The other half of the verse is true as well - "Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil." To sit and fret over a situation is deadly. How many times have you escalated a situation to the point of anger because you sat and fretted over it for hours, perhaps days, instead of talking about it with the person, dealing with it at work, etc.? Fretting solves nothing. It only tends to evil. It leads the heart to think the worst. It lets the heart think the worst of every situation. Have you ever fretted over a situation and had that fretting make it better? It almost always makes it worse. (I say "almost always" because if I don't, someone will come up with a time when their fretting didn't make it worse but finally, in some way, made it better. They will think that their "fretting" is what made it better. Instead, it is the Lord that works out the good in the situation for those who are still sinful. See Romans 8:28.)

Fret not - words to take to heart in every situation. God will guide you through the situation and work it out in the best way possible - maybe not at that exact moment, but in His time and in His way. And that is what is so hard. That is what leads to fretting. We want it to be in our time and in our way. We tell God how we want things. And when they aren't that way, we begin to fret. And soon it leads us to evil - even evil thoughts against God. "Why...?" we will often ask. We challenge God at every corner. Read Habakkuk. That is how he starts out - challenging God. He thought God was unjust by letting the Babylonians come to take away the chosen people. But God tells him to chill, to fret not. God has a plan that is unfolding. It is a good plan. It is a right plan.

"NO!" we cry out. We don't want God's plan. We want our plan...wait, isn't that a problem? Isn't that what fretting does? It only brings evil. When we cannot trust God's will, when we cannot accept it, is not that evil? Has not fretting taken us there?

Look not to the self. Look to the Lord. Look to the cross. Look to Jesus Christ! There we begin to see how to follow the will of the Father - in faith. And that faith is not in ourselves but is in the One who has given Himself for us in our lives. We trust that He will lead us through this valley of the shadow of death, this vale of tears. We trust that He is indeed the One who is control. Fret not, for it tends only to evil. Good words to listen to. May the Holy Spirit help each of us to not only listen but to follow them.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Moving thoughts

I am sore. That and tired. All right, so right now I am not as tired and sore as I was this morning. When I got up this morning (uncharacteristically late by the way), my body groaned at me. All through the morning, my head was sleepy. Why? (Thanks for asking.)

We moved Penny's mom from Altamont to Troy yesterday. It is great having her in town now. We even invited her to come over for supper tonight as we grilled for Labor Day. We haven't been able to do that for about 2 years. It is nice having her here. I know that it makes Penny happy. She loves her mom and really loves having her around. I do too!

But it sure showed to me that I am not as young as I used to be. My body groaned as I lifted, pushed and pulled. I realized how out of shape I truly am. The amazing thing is that when we were loading her truck, I was one of the younger ones there. Greg Brumm from Troy came over and helped (he is 30). Gene is older than I am and Kenny Mercier is too. So why am I groaning? Because I am. I want to moan. I want to groan. So I do so.

Tomorrow, all this will be over and a new week will begin. I will set aside these thoughts and go on with the life, not moaning, not groaning but rejoicing that the Lord has given me another day to be alive.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Just Thinking

Lots of things to think about - life and death, building mosques or not building mosques, rain, trusting in God or not trusting in God, making personal plans and then following the direction of the Lord or making those plans and refusing to follow the Lord. What to write about?

Rain - it came suddenly. Lots of it. Sounds wonderful in a morning. Makes the sunrise seem in complete. Darkness instead of light. Wetness instead of dryness. The sound of cars going by on a wet road, hitting the puddles, water splashing all around. Water - baptism. As the rain comes down I remember that I am a baptized child of God! What a wondrous thought. It isn't that I claimed God. It isn't that I went searching for Him and found Him hidden somewhere. He came searching for me. I was hiding under the rock of my sinfulness. Rotten, stinking, in need of a change, much like a baby after a long nap and a good bottle. Unable to change myself, not even aware that I needed to change. He found me. He claimed me. The water is poured. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." He searched me out. He changed my heart, my life, my clothing. I am now clothed in the righteousness of Christ not in the filth of my own making. I am made whole through His working not through my desire. He makes me His child by His desire not by my trying to become His child. What joy that is! What comfort that gives. WOW! Thank you God for acting my life. If it was up to me, I would be the wild child in class, acting out to get attention and unable to stop myself. You have given me a new heart, a new desire, new clothing, new life! Thank You.

Just thinking - amazing where those thoughts can take a person. Reflect today on your relationship with God. Is it one you are making or is it one He is making. There is a difference. The former you are making God in your image. The latter He is the One making you into His image. The former is colored by sin. The latter is guided by righteousness. Which would you prefer? Your actions or His actions? Lord, it is up to You to mold me, to form me, to remake me. Your Spirit has prepared my heart. Please help me not to stand in Your way, to try to do it myself. Instead I pray that You will be the One working in me.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wings of a dove

I was reading in Psalm 55 this morning. Quite the interesting Psalm. It really fits well when your life is on a roller coaster of ups and downs. I can't really say that my life has been like that lately, even though it has been hectic, with lots of unexpected happenings. Still, I know that the Lord will see me through. He will give me strength. In fact, when I am weak, that is when He is strong in my life. Is He strong all the time? Yes. The problem comes when I think I can do things myself or when I think "I" am strong. When it is all about me, then I don't let the Lord work in my life. I try to do it all. Like the little child, I shake off the hand of my Lord and try to do things on my own. Then I fall, then I mess up, then I cry out to Him! Save me! Help me! I am weak, He is strong. He was strong all along, but I haven't paid attention to His strength. In my weakness, my eyes are finally opened to His strength.

I read the line, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest!" (Ps. 55:6 ESV) That sounds so wonderful in times of trouble, when things get tough. That is what we long for, to leave it all behind and go someplace where we can rest, someplace where we can find comfort and peace. But is that really the best thing for us? Is that what we truly need? Yes, there are times we need to get away. There are times when we need to withdraw, go off by ourselves, away from the grind of life, in order to be refreshed. That is what vacations are supposed to do - relax us. That is why churches have retreats - in order to refresh the participants. That is why there are marriage encounters - in order to give the couple time to withdraw from life in order to reconnect and strength their relationship. But they always have to go back into life once again.

As I read the Psalm, it struck me that verse 7 follows (all right, so that is kinda a "duh" statement). It reads, "Yes, i would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness." (Ps. 55:7 ESV) I would go to the wilderness. The imagery hit me this morning. To go off into the wilderness as a dove, would not always be the best thing to do. The wilderness is a "wild" place (another "duh" statement, bear with me). It is not a place that a dove would be "free" from all cares and worries. Doves don't fair well by themselves in the wilderness. There are many other wild animals and larger birds there. The dove would become fair game for them. Also, finding refuge away from the nest, is a tenuous proposition. Then there is the problem of finding food in an unknown area. (Just try to find a place to eat in an area that you have never been before!) To be off by yourself in an unknown area isn't really the wisest thing to do.

The Psalmist shows us a better way. "But I call to God and the Lord will save me." (Ps. 55:16 ESV) My heart wants to fly off like a dove but my faith calls to God. I want to be by myself but the Lord surrounds me with fellow members of the church to help me. I feel all alone but the Lord gives me strength in the family of God, feeding me through Word and Sacrament! Should I really run away? Should I really give up so easily? NO! Turn to God would will save you!

"Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." (Ps. 55:22 ESV) "But I trust in you." (Ps. 55:23c ESV) The dove doesn't fly into the wilderness. It flies into the arms of the Lord. Fly to Him! Trust in Him. Live in Him! He will sustain and help you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

August is moving fast

Summer is over. Thank God! I know that we don't really want summer to be over because it means that fall is upon us with winter hard on it's heals. But the fact is, I am tired of the heat. And as long as it is August, it can be hot. Last week we had triple digit temps. Hot! Hot! Hot! It was good at first - I actually like the heat. I enjoyed it. I loved being able to go outside and feel the heat overwhelm me. I know it sounds weird, but that was true summer weather. And I was ready for it.

But now - I am ready for it to be over. I am ready for the cooler nights, sleeping with the windows open, enjoying the fresh air and the sound of the bugs making their late summer sounds. I love that. I am ready for it. I look forward to the days being cooler - in the 80's. I am ready to (gasp) begin to wear my ties to office, classroom and calls. It is just part of who I am.

Am I ready for winter? Not now. I am not ready for cold weather. But I am ready for the blue skies, the beautiful colors of the trees, the smell of fall, etc. I just am starting to look forward to that.

That means that August needs to move fast. It needs to be over. September, I am waiting for you. I am longing for you. You have been a good month August. But it is time to say good bye and move on with life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Being certain

Death - it is that one event that we cannot avoid and the one event that we try to avoid. We look for the fountain of youth, only to realize there is none. We try face lifts only to have the face sag again. Tummy tucks do nothing to stop the progression towards death. We can eat right, exercise daily, watch our cholesterol, and make sure that we have no heart blockages and we will still face the inevitable. Death is going to claim each one of us (unless the Lord returns first but that is for another blog).

So when we face death, what comes next? Heaven or hell. Heaven if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and hell if you do not. It is that simple. Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved! Don't believe in Jesus Christ and you will be damned. Plain, simple, straightforward. That means that if a person is a part of a Christian denomination that believes that Jesus is the Savior, he/she will be saved. (So such groups as Lutherans [yeah], Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc. have salvation.) It also means if a person is part of the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, etc., he will not have salvation. Pretty easy to understand.

But can we be certain that we are going to heaven? Ask the gentleman who is dying from cancer that question and he will tell you, "Yes!" He has no doubt that he is going to heaven, not by his works or by his decision, but by the grace of God. That is how we can be certain, the same way that he can be certain. It is a certainty that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace.

Many doubt that certainty because they are placing their trust in their decision or in their own actions. Have I done enough? Have I acted faithfully enough? Am I faithful enough? Those questions place the burden on the individual - and when the burden is on you, you can never be certain. So you try harder, you act nicer, you follow six steps towards a deeper spirituality, and when all is said and done, you still cannot be certain.

When your certainty is placed squarely in the hands of the Lord, then you can absolutely certain that you are going to heaven - because it is due to His actions both on the cross and in your life. That is the Gospel at it's purest. That is the message that people NEED to hear but often don't WANT to hear. Why? Because we all want to have something to do with our salvation. Trusting in the Lord, we have nothing to do with that salvation. He is the Savior and He is the giver of that salvation.

Can you be certain? Yes! In Christ alone you can be certain.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First day of school

It is official - the 2010-11 school year began today (Aug. 18th). School began today. And it was a joy. I really enjoy seeing the kids coming in with their parents. What was especially nice to see was that the students came in wearing their uniforms. I knew that it was going to be nice seeing the students in their uniforms but it was much better than I hoped for - it was very attractive. The tan shorts, pants, skorts or jumpers with the red, white or black shirts was really nice. I am going to wear my new St. Paul's dress shirt tomorrow - bought from Land's End. I think I might check with Fisher to see what they have for adults in dress shirts.

The school is coming alive. We have 98 students in our school (preschool-8th grade). We have numerous new families for which we give thanks as well as those families who are returning. I thank God for each student and each family. You should too! Offer up your prayers for the students.

We have a great staff as well - beginning in the front office and moving into the classroom. I enjoy working with each of the teachers. What I also enjoy is that I have the opportunity to get into each classroom to teach religion. I teach confirmation to the 7/8 grade on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I also teach one religion class a week in Kindergarten, 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6 grade. I am blessed to lead chapel every Wednesday morning for the morning preschool and the K-8 and also chapel for the afternoon preschool. Wow! It is great to see that the teachers and staff are willing to welcome me into their classrooms and their student's lives. I admire the teachers for their ability to be in the classroom day after day. Thank God for them.

Today my wife, Penny, substituted in the Kindergarten class because Laura Thomas's dad is in the hospital following a terrible farm accident. We pray that the Lord would be with him and pray that things go well with his leg. Please Lord! I am impressed that Penny is able to slip into the classroom so easily. I would have not been able to do that very thing. The Lord gave her some amazing talents.

OK, so it is just some thoughts running through the mind on the evening of the first day of school. Tomorrow, day 2, and I am sure that I will feel the same way. God be with all of us.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Heat Breaks

Can you believe it? The heat has broken!!! We slept with the window open last night and the AC turned off. This morning as I sat on the front porch to do my morning readings, I was comfortable. I listened to the bugs making their comforting summer sounds, watched the light clouds move across the awakening skies and rejoiced! I thanked the Lord for the wonder of a new day, a day when the heat was not oppressive and the humidity was down and the dew point was bearable. This has been a good old-fashioned summer.

As I walked through the summer, I thought back on the years gone by, the time before air conditioning. When I was a child, we didn't have the AC. I remember Mom and Pop getting a window unit for their room. Pop was an engineer on the B & O (for those who don't know what that is, it was a railroad called the Baltimore & Ohio. You can still find it on the Monopoly board.) He needed the cool air to rest when he came in from the road. I can remember some nights being so hot that I would go down the hallway to their door and lay in front of it, just to get a little of that cool air that would come under the door.

How things have changed. Now we go from our air-conditioned house to our air-conditioned cars to the air-conditioned stores or offices. We complain about it being too cold! Can you imagine? The heat is unbearable and we complain about it being too cold. What strange people we are.

The point of all this? There really isn't much of a point. Just a thought back across time to the present age and the differences that we face. Enjoy the day. Revel in the cool weather. And don't forget to thank the Lord for the wonders of today.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

School begins

This is the week that school begins. There are great cries of anguish from the children around the nation. While at the same time there are great cries of joy from parents. This is the time of year that I enjoy. When the school year was done in May, I was ready for the summer. I was glad that I would have time out of the classroom. But now, here it is August, and I am ready to be back in the classroom. I have missed the students and the excitement of teaching. Yes, there is an excitement in teaching.

As I think about that, I think about our teachers. I am in the classroom one hour a day teaching confirmation class. Our teachers begin their day in the classroom at 8 a.m. and school is over at 3 p.m. That is 7 hours in the classroom with the students. Here at St. Paul's, our teachers don't have those "free" planning hours to get ready for their classes. They end up spending hours after school grading papers, preparing lesson plans and doing a variety of things around the school. I just can't see myself in the classroom hour after hour. That is probably why the Lord lead me into the pastoral ministry rather than the teaching ministry.

As school begins, take a few moments to thank your child's teacher/s. Remember that they will be in contact with your child 5 days a week - perhaps more than you will be through out the school year. Pray for your child's teacher/s. Ask the Lord to guide them, to open their hearts and minds to His Word which should be a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path. Pray that they will teach your child true morality, based upon the way that the Lord wants us to live not the way the world wants.

And pray for your child, that he/she will listen to and follow the guidance of their teacher. Pray that they will be open to learning and growing. Pray for yourself as a parent, that you will be quick to listen, slow to speak and even slower to become angry. Pray that the Spirit will guide you in your walk of faith that you may be able to be the Christian parent for your child - guiding them in what you say and what you do.

Yes, it is time for school to begin. Bring on the students. We are ready!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Tomorrow (Wed.) we leave for the National Lutheran Youth Gathering! Hurrah! It has been years in the making - as are each of the Gatherings. The Gathering is sponsored by the Youth Ministry of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and is the only national gathering sponsored by them. There are others but those are sponsored by RSOs (Recognized Service Organizations) and while they are worthwhile, they are nothing like the NLYG. Perhaps I betray my thoughts on this whole setting within our church body.

The NLYG is just that - it is National. It is for Youth. It is Lutheran. And it is a Gathering.
National - youth from all over the nation, even from around the world, attend these gatherings. It is a time to see that you are not alone in your walk of faith. Too often, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature lead us to begin to think that we alone walk in the faith. Much like Elijah, we run with terror at the things that are taking place around us and we feel that no one else is holding firm to the faith in Jesus Christ. We run and hide. We begin to withdraw. The NLYG changes that. When we sit with 20,000 (used to be 25,000 but some of the other youth events have pulled our youth from the NLYG and taken them elsewhere) and see that they love the Lord as much or more than you, it lifts you up. It encourages you. It says to you, "Go back to your hometown for I have reserved thousands who have not bent their knee to other gods or kissed other gods." Those who attend the NLYG realize that our Lord is still the Lord of all and learn to stand firm and tall before the onslaught of temptation and sin.

Youth - youth are the focus of this Gathering. All the Bible studies, workshops, concerts, etc. are geared for youth. Adults love to go the Gathering because of the energy they feel while they are there. But it is meant for youth - high school youth, youth that are in the midst of the battle for the faith, youth that face struggles daily as they try to walk as Christians through the halls of their highs schools. To see so many youth excited about Christ in one place (back to National) is an overwhelming event. I praise God for the power He brings through Word and Sacrament to these youth. I rejoice to see these young men and women on fire for the Lord. No one should look down upon them because of their age nor should anyone pooh-pooh this event as merely being fluff and worthless for the growth of the spiritual life. Those who do are stuck in themselves and their own desire that others be like them. Our youth are strong Christians who are strengthened even more at the NLYG. Go youth!

Lutheran - the NLYG is Lutheran. It is Lutheran in all it does. It might not be like the local congregation in how it goes about being Lutheran, but I thank God for that! I have heard it said that the NLYG leads our youth away from LC-MS Lutheranism, to which I say, "Baloney." It is LC-MS in all it does. It focuses the youth on their life as Lutherans. It teaches as Lutherans. It celebrates the Sacrament as Lutherans. If you prick it, does it not bleed Lutheran? If you attack it, are you not attacking Lutherans? The answer is yes! I am proud of what the planners, presenters and youth do at the NLYG. When we arrive, we are Lutheran. When we are there, we are Lutheran. When we return home, we are Lutheran. Can you find fault in the NLYG? Of course, when you look long enough and hard enough, you can find fault in anything and everything. That can be done in the local parish, no matter who the pastor might be. Why search so hard to find fault? Why not use that energy for the positive and find the good and right things that are done and build upon them? I will not give in to the anger or hatred of others that seek destruction of that which is different from them. I rejoice that the NLYG is decidedly and completely Lutheran.

Gathering - need I say more? It is a Gathering, a gathering of Lutherans in one place, a gathering of Christians around the cross of Christ, a gathering of people who are hurting, a gathering of those who are lost, a gathering of those who are in need, a gathering around Word, a gathering around Sacrament. We gather to grow. We gather to love. We gather to serve. We gather. It is overwhelming to be in the midst of the gathering. it is more than you get at home. In the local parish, life is wonderful. I love St. Paul's in Troy, IL. I rejoice to gather with them each and every week in worship and Bible study. I revel in the life we have together in this place. And yet, when you gather at the NLYG, there is something amazing. To gather with thousands of other Lutherans/Christians in one place is wonderful.

WE BELIEVE - in one God, triune, holy and just, loving and gracious, redeeming and sanctifying. WE BELIEVE, together as one body. Christ is the head of this body. Youth and adults from around the nation are the body of Christ in their place. We are drawn together for 5 short days to confess before the world, "WE BELIEVE!"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Truth - what is it?

I was reading this morning - something I really enjoy doing. The author was talking about "Modernism" and "Postmodernism" as it applied to the life of faith. He pointed out that modernism did it's best to destroy Christianity by applying different "modern" ways of thinking to the Bible and to the Christian faith. I can see that. As I went through my undergraduate work at Millikin University in Decatur, IL, I learned that way of thinking. Much of what the Bible attributes to Jesus was said to have been written by His followers and not really what He Himself said. (Talk about bunk! That is just the devil's way to try to destroy the beauty of our Lord and the salvation He brings to us.) But at the time, I bought into it hook-line and sinker. In the end, though, modernism becomes bankrupt and having taken away all there is to hold onto by destroying the very Word of God, it leaves people empty, searching and wondering what life was really all about.

After Modernism destroyed the faith, postmodernism has stepped in and tried its hand at answering the really big questions of life - who am I? Why am I here? Is there something for me to hold onto in life? Or is it just hopelessness?

Unfortunately, postmodernism has begun to tear apart what was left by modernism. The really big question is the one that Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" And postmodernism answers the question with a simple, "Whatever you want it to be." What? How is that possible? What postmodernism says is simply, "That might be true for you, but it isn't true for me." It leaves it up to the individual to decide what is truth and what isn't. That sounds really good, until you run smack dab into someone who is adamantly opposed to what you believe. You might be a strong advocate of being "green." (Which, by the way, is the way that God would have all people be - it's called being a good steward of creation.) But then you run into someone who really can't stand being "green" and thinks it is a waste of time, effort and money. Who is right? Who should be listened to? The answer - neither one. You need to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. You need to decide if being "green," great. If you decide to waste the resources of the world, great. There is neither a "right" or a "wrong" in the issue.

What is that? That is so bogus. Yet, this even carries over to the Christian life. How many times have you heard it said, "What does that text mean for you?" That is a good way to get discussion going in a Bible class but in the end, the question is not "What does it mean to you?" but the question is "What is God saying?" The bottom line is not what I want Scripture to say but what is God saying in Scripture. That really is the problem with the Emergent Church. (If you don't know much about it, don't spend too much time on it. I have and I find that it is just another way that the devil has come out to try to dilute or destroy the message of the Gospel.) When you read Rob Bell ("The Velvet Elvis" for example), he comes out sounding very Christian. Yet, when I was reading that book, there was something that just ate away at me. There was something wrong with his writing. I finally figured out what it was. He was recasting Christ, justification, sanctification, Scripture and a whole host of other doctrines to fit what he wanted. And in doing so, he truly was changing the face of Christianity. Is it for the better? No it isn't. In fact what he is doing (and what many in the emergent tradition are doing), is creating God and Christianity to fit their own thoughts and lives. They are leaving behind truth for their own brand of "truth." Which is just the Father of Lies leading people astray once again.

What is truth? It isn't what you make it. It is what God makes it. It is found in Scripture - and not in your interpretation of Scripture. The truth that God brings is pretty clear. What makes it muddy is the sinful self, the sinful thoughts, the sinful desires of each and every one of us. If truth is left up to us, there will be no truth. If the teachings of the faith are open to what we want them to be, there will be nothing left. Satan is laughing all the way to hell. And he is taking many souls with him, souls that are lost because some preacher or some well meaning Christian said to them, "What I think is..." It isn't what I think. It is was God says. Period.

Pilate wondered what truth was. Truth was standing right in front of him and he was too blind to see Him. Truth is right there in front of you. Truth is Jesus Christ. Truth is justification by grace through faith. Truth is God's Word. Truth is truth, plain and simple. Postmodernism is destroying truth. And many Christians are merrily strolling down the emergent path to their destruction. God, save us from ourselves!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Living Free - Sermon notes from June 27, 2010

When I write a sermon, I make various notes. Not all of them end up in the sermon. And the sermon may well go another direction than the notes might be leading. These are the notes from this last week. Enjoy.

Galatians 5:13-14 “Living Free”

June 26/27, 2010 5th Sunday after Pentecost

:13 For you were called to freedom, brother. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in a word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Called to freedom” Salvation is a free gift that is given to us by the grace of God.

It is neither earned nor deserved. You are a sinful person so that cannot earn the love of God. You cannot do enough good things to be made right with God.

Nor can you say you deserve it. You don’t. You want to deserve God’s love, and complete salvation? There is one way – perfection, not sinning in thought, word or deed. Think correctly. Speak correctly. Do correctly. Not just for a short time but for 24/7, 365. Fall short of that and you cannot deserve the love of God, His grace or His mercy.

So it is a gift. A glorious gift. A wonderful gift beyond any that you have ever received or can ever begin to fathom. A gift of God – called mercy and grace which brings love, peace and joy – all the things we desire in life but cannot get from the world around us. All given to us free from God.

Paul is pointing this out against the Judaizers who are wanting to return to the Law. Be circumcised for only then can you be saved. Live under the Law and you will be worthy of God’s love. Wrong! Live by faith, faith that trusts only in God and not in self. Faith that takes hold of promises of God, faith that doesn’t rely on itself but upon God alone.

As we know this grace of God, it leads us to today’s text – “For you were called to freedom.” The Christian is free. Free to live. Free from the bonds of the law. Freed to go through life without the fear of punishment. Free to enjoy life.

Our Lord has given us freedom in life. What does that mean? It begins with a contrast – sinful nature vs. spiritual nature.

Sinful nature:
Desires for self, desires the moment, desires to be free from all constraint. “Don’t tell me what to do.” Don’t tell me what is right or wrong.” The world today thinks this way. Often it is even couched in a new way of thought. “God doesn’t ask for obedience only love.” “God didn’t ask us to obey Him, only love Him.”
Is that true? That is the freedom that the sinful nature desires. “If it feels good, do it.” “How can something that feels so right, be so wrong?”

Spiritual nature:
Desires the welfare of others, desires the big picture, long term life. “What is good for you?” “What is right and what is wrong?”
Christian life seen as following God not self. It is a struggle for it is contrary to the heart, the nature. “There are many things that feel right but God tells me it is wrong. Who do I listen to?” Self or God?

Psalm 47:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

The challenge of this verse, the challenge that the freedom Paul talks about in Galatians, is the challenge of faith. You need to search yourself to distinguish between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the faith.

Desires of the flesh are sinful desires. My neighbor’s job, my neighbor’s wife, lustful desire for another person that is not my spouse, sinful desire to mess over the fellow worker, the abuse of God for my own purposes.

Desires of faith are what God desires. Ephesians 5:1-2 “Be imitators of God, then as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Guided by Christ – our hearts are lead.

Guided by Christ – we love one another. Paul tells the Galatians, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Let the love of Christ guide your life.

Imitate Christ – Be Bold Believers in Christ (VBS theme!). Love begins in the relationship you have with God. Grace given to you. Love shared.

Share that love. What is the desire of your heart? Perhaps that is the real challenge of this sermon, to try to figure out where my heart is – heart of flesh or heart of faith?

Goal: To assist the hearer to see how to live their lives of freedom in love and service to one another.

Malady: We continue in bondage even when we think we are free. We focus on our flesh, our self more than others.

Means: Sharing Christ, His love, we see how we are guided to live our lives as His children, loving each other due to the love He gives to us.

Freedom: Free to live apart from the demands of the flesh. That is truly a challenge we face daily. We are tempted, tested and we struggle with it.

How are we helped? By the Holy Spirit guiding us in faith. Setting our hearts on Christ not on self (not easy!). Through the Word and Sacraments. Always being on guard.

Freedom is never free. It takes a lot to have freedom. So it is in faith. It takes much to be free in Christ. It takes diligence, it takes patience. It takes Christ.

There we are able to love as Christ loved us. We can imitate Him.

Challenge is two-fold:
1) to be free in Christ.
2) to love each other.

As we continue to face this challenge it isn’t easy. As with anything, it isn’t given to you. The faith, the forgiveness and the salvation are given to you. What are you doing with them? You are called to freedom – what does it mean to you? What does it mean for you. Back to Psalm 37:4

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sermon Notes for Galatians 2:17-21 "My Life is His"

Galatians 2:17-21 “My life is His” or “Crucified and Living”

June 12/13, 2010 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

We will be studying the book of Galatians for the next 4 weeks. As we do, I would encourage each person to sit and read through Galatians as a book. It is only 6 chapters long, so it isn’t too hard to get through it in a short bit of time. As you read through it, don’t stop to study any verses or to read study notes. Just read it to get the feel for the book as a whole. Then afterwards, go back and begin to work on it in sections.

It is important to get a feel for what Paul is writing. This is a letter after all. Just as when you receive a letter (or maybe an email for today) you will read through it first and then go back and begin to digest bits of it at a time, so this book is meant to be taken as a whole, then worked through a little at a time.

Paul – the man who was a Pharisee, who hated Christians, and by that also Christ Jesus, the man who followed the ceremonial/ritual law of Judaism to the “t”, the man who would rather die than turn against the law – was writing to the Christians in the region of Galatia (an area is modern day Turkey – which included Derbe, Lystra, and Antioch), an area he had visited on his 1st missionary journey. He is on his 2nd missionary journey, having just left those towns on his way to Troas, then to Thessalonica (though he didn’t know that at the time) and into Greece. He is made aware of a problem which is why he writes.

The problem>>>>>>Judaizers! These are the ones that want to put people back under the Law.
*eat clean food
*be circumcised
*obey the Sabbath laws

Only then could you be forgiven. Obey them can you come into a right relationship with the Lord. Like the story in Luke 7:36ff The Pharisee (Simon) was feeling righteous for his acts of generosity. Look at the fact that I gave the Teacher a dinner. How good am I! That adds up to something>>>>Jesus points out that it amounts to nothing. All that matters when you come to being saved is faith in Christ. Now there are several parts to be addressed, just not here.

Paul, in our epistle reading, addresses this issue of how we live:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of the God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

1) I have been crucified with Christ
2) Christ lives in me.

This is our focus:
Goal: To assist the hearer to see that in faith, they die to the worldly, sinful law-oriented life and Christ lives in them.
Malady: We forget the life in Christ. We let those who focus on self/works, make us believe we can or should focus on our works and self for the Christian life.
Means: Through the words of Paul and the Gospel reading of the day, we will see how the Lord guides us in our lives.

Crucified but alive! Christ was crucified >>for me. He rose>>>> for me. Focus on His works for me and for my life.

What would you do to be saved? What would you do to prove to others that you are saved? The focus of these is upon yourself and your works – the Law.

We want to prove to others that we are Christians>>>
We go to church.
We put $ into the plate
We read the Bible
We – wait a minute. Is that where we should be? Should we focus here?>

The Judaizers did just this. They wanted people to act just a certain way before they could be saved.
Become Judaite first then Christian
Become Lutheran first then Christian.

Is that fair? No. That isn’t what we say. Even at our worst we don’t say this. So don’t bring this up!

But we do want people to become like us! They already are. They are sinners. They are lost. Heap more law on them and things get worse. So what do we proclaim?

The cross, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, buried, risen and ascended.

Crucified with Christ. When He goes to the cross, He carries you, your sin. Nailed – your sins. Dead – you and your sins.

You must die. It isn’t about you and what you do. If the focus is on how you act, what you do, then you have lost it. Sin still lives in you.

You must die! You are crucified with Christ – in Baptism, you are buried with Christ.

Romans 6:3 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
:4 We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Christ lives in you – newness of life. We walk in a new live, in Christ, not in our self.

This is where it gets tough. We do not focus on our works. We focus on what Christ wants to do for us and in us. We focus on the new life in Him.

Dead to sin – crucified with Christ.

Living for Him. Wait, not living for Him – He lives in us! You see, to focus again on living for Him takes you right back to the Law.

Have you lived enough for Christ? Have you done enough for Him? The answer is always NO! Then try harder. But I can’t. So I must die to sin. I must be crucified with Christ>>>>Then given new life. A life that “I” no longer live but Christ lives in me.

Christ living in me. He guides me. He shows me what to do. It isn’t “What would Jesus do?” It is “Christ lives in me. My Life is His. Use me.”

My life is His. That is a tough statement. That means my eyes, my being, my all is given to Him and His will.

Back to the song, “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee.” Take me, all I am. Use me for You and for Your purposes.

This is true stewardship – using all of life and life’s resources for God and His glory.

Challenge: Not the challenge of being saved. That is a gift given to us. The challenge is making me become less and Him become more.

John the Baptist sums it up: “He must increase but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Crucified – I decrease.
Lives in me – He increases.

So the life I live, it is not the life of sin, it is not guided by sinful desire. It is not prompted by selfishness or self-centeredness. Instead – I decrease and He increases. I live because of Him. I live through Him. He lives in me.

Friday, June 18, 2010


How many times have you said that? Thank God it's Friday! The week is over. Work is almost done for the week. The weekend is upon you. You rejoice that you have made it through another work week and you look forward to what the weekend brings.

What does the weekend bring for you? Does it bring a God-pleasing time with self, family and friends? Does it bring the opportunity to spend time worshiping the God who has created you and preserves you? Or does it bring everything but?

Think about your weekend? Is it license to overindulge in alcohol or drugs? Does it give you the chance to troll the bars looking for someone to have a good time with? Does it give you the chance to sleep late, forget about the family, and see that it is all about yourself? Does it give you the chance to forget about the Lord?

I often wonder about what happens on weekends? For me, it is a time of final preparation for leading worship, final touches on a sermon that is meant to lift people up and guide them in their spiritual lives. Then I think about all the people who don't worship on the weekend. I wonder what is going on in their lives that they don't feel the "need" to worship the Lord. I wonder why they would "despise preaching and His word" week after week. I wonder why all who claim to be Christian don't practice what they claim. If Jesus is really your Lord and Savior, why is it that so many people thumb their noses at Him, say that it isn't important, that they don't have time or just plain don't feel like they want to spend time in worship?

I know that some will say it is because they have been hurt by the church in their lives. They will point to events that make them not want to be in worship. They love the Lord but not the church. Isn't that really a cop-out? Yes there are sinful people in church who have hurt others. Does that mean the church itself is bad? What about the person who has been "hurt," have they been the "perfect" person in their lives? Have they themselves hurt someone by what they have said or done? If everyone that has been sinned against stayed home on the weekend and avoided worship, every church would be empty. We have all had someone say or do something to us.

But wait a minute, we have all done the same thing to others. We have done a myriad of things against the Lord Himself. He forgives us. Why can't we forgive one another? Why do we use that as our excuse? Because we think it is a "good" reason to stay home. At that moment, Satan is winning the battle for you. The more a person absences themselves from the Word and Sacrament, the less they feel the need for the Lord in their lives. And the further they will go from the walking with Him.

All right, I have rambled enough. Perhaps you will worship this weekend. Perhaps you won't. That is up to you. Look into you heart and life. Then accept what you see. Be honest. The Lord already knows what is there.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Storms and the aftermath

It is summer - hot, sticky, Midwest summer. The humidity rises. Storms pop. And it is summer. You can have a terrible storm at one moment - hail, damaging wind, lightning, perhaps even a tornado - and then, as quickly as it arrives, it is gone and the sun breaks out, the rainbow shines brightly in the sky. And you wonder, was it really as bad as I thought? Did that really happen?

That is the way it is with a lot of things in life - something happens and we wonder about it. An argument in the family. It shatters the calm of the household, breaks rapidly, builds to a crescendo and then is gone. There may be some broken dreams or hurt feelings left in its wake. But then you stop and wonder, "Was it really worth the storm? Did it matter so much that I lost my temper over it?"

Sorry but my thoughts are rambling. I guess it fits since this is all about my random thoughts. I learned something that I knew already but perhaps had forgotten (not really but it just sounds good to say I forgot it). In the midst of the storm of relationships - personal, family, work, church - we need to be aware of how we act and what we say. The very way that we say something can hurt someone else - even if we don't intend it to be that way. As God's children, we need to watch our tongues. Once it is out of our mouths, we can't get it back. Don't you hate that? Especially when what you said is not really the truth and you were just saying it to hurt the other person? Ugh! Then you can't take it back. You can't gather it up. The damage is done.

But I also learned that there is another side to that topic. All right, so you are hurt by what was said. What do you do? Sulk? Get mad? Get even? Attack? Run away? As God's children, we are called upon to go to that person who hurt us, and talk to them. Let them know that we are hurt. Explain why we fell like we do (not in a way that we attack them and hurt them, that is just as wrong), and then we give them a chance to apologize. Will they or won't they? You don't know. That isn't for you to worry about. If you don't give them a chance, you will never know. And if they do, then forgive them! Yes, forgive them. (That means you let it go, remove it from between you and NEVER bring it back up. Ouch! That is the hard part, isn't it?) If they don't apologize, you have reached out as the Lord has guided you to do. Perhaps you should let them know that they need to consider their actions before God. (Don't go saying, "You are going to be damned for not apologizing! You are going to hell for that!") Then you leave that between them and God. You are not God. You are not the Judge. You are not the one in charge. Remember that!

Too many times we hold onto things and don't talk to the right people. Oh, we talk about it all right. We go to those that we know will agree with us, with our point of view, and we tear the other person down. How unfair is that? It might be easy. It might be a way to avoid confrontation, but it is still wrong, a sin, not acting as God would have us act. Man, this is getting harder to read (also harder to write!). Why does the Spirit have to speak to me in this way? Because that is how He wants it. He wants Christians to leave together in true peace - found only in Jesus Christ, in the life He gives, in the love we are to follow, in the forgiveness that is bestowed upon me and upon each other.

Summer storms are coming - again. They always do. Storms are going to happen in your life. When they do, how will you react? In the love of Christ? Or in the selfish, self-centered, sinful way of the world?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sitting on the dock in the bay

What does that have to do with anything? I was thinking about what to write about here today. I began to think about how much I like sitting on the porch. Penny and I bought some nice outdoor furniture for the porch and every morning, I get up with the sun, go out on the porch with my devotion book, Bible and another book to read and enjoy the morning. I am sitting on the porch by the road/church/where ever you want to call it. And as I sit there, I begin to draw closer to the Lord.

That was something I missed during the rest of the year. In the winter, it is too cold to sit on the porch in the morning. It also isn't light until around the time to begin to head to school. In the spring, there is a chill in the air meaning that I need to wear a coat to sit on the porch (which seems just silly to me). In the fall, the mornings are cool too, though they are beautiful mornings. Plus I am to get ready for school and don't have the time to just sit there communing with the Lord.

And that is what the mornings mean for me - communing with the Lord. I enjoy sitting on the porch, talking with the Lord about what is going on in my life, in the life of my family and in the life of the church. You all know about the face pace of life. When you start the day, the day just gets going faster and faster until you finally collapse in bed at night, dreading the sound of the alarm clock because you know that tomorrow will be no different. My days are like that - except at this moment of time, when I get up, sit on the porch, listen to the voice of God and let the world rush on without me. I know I will join with others soon enough, but at that moment, till the family starts to get up and the office beckons to me, I am at peace with my Lord.

I have been reading 2 Kings right now. A sad history - for even when the king followed the Lord, didn't follow in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat in leaving the way of the Lord behind, they still left the high places for people to go and offer sacrifices. It is like the Christian today who says, "I love the Lord, I follow the Lord. If someone wants to go to the "gentleman's club" [what a stupid name, as no gentleman would be caught in a lowlife strip club that exploits women and destroys the beauty of sexuality as God has given to marriage] that is their choice. It doesn't affect (or is it effect?) me. I don't support it. I don't agree to it. " I imagine that that is what the king and others in Israel and Judah said. When the Lord sent the Assyrians to destroy Israel, I can hear them saying, "But I didn't offer any sacrifices to Molech or Asherah." And the Lord would respond, "But you also did nothing to stop it."

Wow! Did I just say that? Is it possible that we Christians are sinning by doing nothing to stop the sins of the nation? Are we just as guilty by sins of omission as those who are guilty of sins of commission? The answer is, "Yes." When the Lord brings judgments upon the nation for its sins, the Christians will be part of that judgment. The Lord will not allow Christians to get off scot free. As the faithful in Israel and Judah went into captivity, they learned that lesson. As Christians lose their savings to the crash of the market, as the nation faces collapse of state governments due to lack of funds, as the oil comes on shore in the gulf, Christians will face the same issues as the non-Christian.

So what do we do? At this moment, I don't have an answer to that. I do know that we are to stand firm in the faith. That we are supposed to work to make a difference in this society. We are to be "light" shining in the world for all to see. I need to think about this even more just to get my mind around it. Sigh, all right Lord, as I sit on the porch the next time, talk with me. Give me some guidance so that I might be able to make a difference in this world for the lives of others. And while I am at it, forgive me for my sins of omission.