Friday, January 29, 2010


Have you ever been tempted? I know that is a silly question - we have all been tempted. I ask it because for many of us, temptation is such a way of life that we don't even notice it that much anymore. We are tempted to think lustful thoughts ("Not me" I can hear you say with indignation). I am not saying that you are tempted to go out and buy a Playboy or you are tempted to get on an Internet porn site and spend hours watching movies. But you are tempted when you are watching a TV show that shows you the intimate actions that only a married couple should do. You are tempted to not turn the channel, to not avert the eyes or to not shut the show off completely. Satan and your own sinful nature tempts you to go on and watch the scene, because really, what does it hurt?

You are tempted when you know nice piece of information and you want to share it with someone that really doesn't need to know that nice piece of information. Or you are tempted when you think that there is something going on and you want to get that information from the person you know is going to spread it around (you don't go to the pastor who can't share information or to the person it is about because he/she won't talk about it, so you go to the person whose lips are open and who talks to hear himself/herself talk and sound important). You are tempted when you are writing the check out to church and you cut back a few dollars from what you committed yourself to giving because it has "been a hard week." Or you are tempted when you feel tired and don't really want to get up on Sunday morning because it was a difficult week and you just need a few more minutes or another hour in bed.

Temptation comes at us at all times, from all directions. It comes when you least expect and when you are expecting it the most. It comes morning, noon and night. It comes from your spouse, your parents, your children and your friends. It comes when you are sitting alone in your house and when you are surrounded by your family. It comes when you are listening to a sermon at church or when you have bowed your head before you go to sleep. Temptation knows no limits.

So the real question is not, "Have you ever been tempted?" The question is: "What do you do when you are tempted?" How do you face the temptation? How do you react? How do you respond? Do you just give in without thinking (at times we all do that!)? Do you fight it by yourself? Do you ask for help? Do you go to the Lord in prayer and seek guidance? Or do you do all of these things?

At times I try to fight it alone. Those are often the times I fail the most. But I keep doing it and continue to get frustrated by it. Wrong thing to do. That is set up for failure.

What we really need to learn is who to face temptation - in the power of the Spirit. The preparation for the battle actually begins before the temptation comes. Read Ephesians 6: 10-18. There Paul tells us that in order to be prepared in this battle, we need to put on the full armor of God. Not our armor but His armor. Be in the Word. Be in prayer. Be in worship. Live in your Baptism and in the power of the Lord's Supper.

And then when temptation comes, we learn that we are to flee from that temptation. 2 Timothy 2:22, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (NIV) Flee from those situations and surround yourself with Godly people. Again we read, "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith..." (1 Timothy 6:11-12a NIV) Back to the battle motif. Fight the fight - with the armor of God. "Flee from sexual immorality." (1 Corinthians 6:18a NIV) Don't hang around that TV station that you know is going to show what you don't need to see.

Then pray. When tempted. Pray that the Spirit would guide you. Pray that He would lead you into righteousness. Pray that He will give you strength to face that temptation. Pray by yourself. Pray with others. Ask others to pray for you. Don't try to stand alone in the face of temptation. It would be like standing on the train tracks, facing an oncoming freight train and thinking you can stop it by holding out your hand and pressing against it (you aren't Superman!).

Temptation will come. Are you ready? If you aren't, why not? It is coming, knocking at your door. Even if you aren't ready, it is right there. Get ready - stand in the Lord. He will strengthen you.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Shall Not Want

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most well known passage of Scripture. Only John 3:16 might be better known. Just about everyone knows Psalm 23 (generally in the KJV not the NIV or some other version). I will use it quite often for those who are in the hospital or with families while they are going through the struggles of the loss of a loved one. What wonderful words it gives to us. The hope it brings and the strength it bestows is beyond our capacity to understand. How is it possible that a small little poem, written by David so many years ago, can touch so many hearts and lives in a positive way? It is from God. It is His words of love given to us. That's how.

But this morning, as I thought about Psalm 23, I thought to myself, "I shall not want? Really?" "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters..." (Ps. 23 KJV) All right, so He is my shepherd, but I still want. I can say that I don't, but I do. I want to feel good. I want to have a good job. I want to be given a good day. I want to see the sun. I want another hour of sleep. I want a relationship with someone. I want my spouse to act better. I want that friend to get off drugs. I want an easy drive to work. I want a good meal. I want more money. I want my taxes to come out right. I want, I want, I WANT!

We live in a time of plenty. And in a time of plenty, want doesn't seem possible. How can we want for anything? We have all we need. But we do. Commercials tell us to want more. Ads in the paper make us want more. Look under the Christmas tree (OK, so you need to look at pictures to remember that time, but remember!) and see how many presents there were. You want. You want to receive lots of presents. And you want your children to feel good because you have given them lots of presents. Wanting is in our culture, our country, our hearts, our lives (it is often called coveting! ouch!).

So how can we say, "I shall not want." Because it is talking about our hearts, our spiritual lives. Yes, we are given in our lives but those things come and go. Talk with Job and you will see that. I shall not want...when I am in a relationship with God. I shall not want for forgiveness, it is given freely and abundantly. I shall not want for love, it is poured out first at the cross, then at the tomb, then in the waters of Baptism, given in the bread and wine of the Supper and bestowed day after day as He holds me in His hands. I shall not want for life, as I am given that daily in Christ and totally given that when this frail body breathes its last and I enter into heaven.

How can I say it? Because of faith in Christ Jesus. He fills my cup to overflowing, even when my cupboard is bare. He sits me down at a banquet that feeds my soul even when I wonder how I will find the next meal. For you see, He cares for you. Will you have all sorts of things in this life? Maybe, maybe not. That isn't what the Psalm is about. It is about your walk with the Lord.

Next time you read Psalm 23, think of what your life is. Is it one filled with want? Or is it one of contentment in the Lord? Then walk with the Shepherd, where ever He leads you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How can he say that?

I was reading in Job this morning. Quite the amazing book. Lot to learn as I read it. This morning I read again the verse where Job said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." (No problem there. It is so true. We can't take anything with us. So when we are dealing with stuff, as much as it would be a pain and a terror to have the house destroyed in fire or by a tornado, we would survive. We would miss many of the things we have collected - pictures, special items bought around the country on various trips, gifts given one another, etc. But we would rebuild and remake our lives.) "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." (Job 1:21 NIV) And again, this would be easier to say when we are dealing with the car that is wrecked in an accident than it would be to say that upon losing a child in the same accident.

Job must have truly been a man of faith. He trusted in the Lord with his whole heart. His wealth is taken from him, and he gives thanks to God. His children and their families are dead, and he gives thanks to God. How is that possible? I wonder to myself if I would be able to handle such an event - the death of a child. It was hard enough to handle the death of a parent (which I have faced numerous times in my life, having gone through the death of a marriage and then being raised by grandparents only to have one grandfather die, then another and then the woman who raised me - my grandmother, as well as the death of my wife's father who became like a father to me). I would struggle at the loss of my wife or my children. I know I would. Would I be able to say those words of Job, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." I pray that I would. It wouldn't be easy.

How can that be done? Through faith in Jesus Christ. You cannot say that without first and foremost having a deep faith in the Lord. Job had that. That is exactly why the devil was trying to destroy Job - his faith in God. The only way that you can have such an attitude is by looking to the One who has overcome death. Death is such a final, terrible event. It tears apart one's heart and life. When a loved one dies, it is almost surreal. Even when you expect it, it is still surreal. It can't be. They can't be dead. They will come back. They will open their eyes. They will say one more thing. They will...not come back.

Except for what the Lord has promised us - life eternal. Death is not the victor. Read I Corinthians 15 (it is too long to quote here). "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 15:54-57 NIV) Jesus is the Victor not death. He gives life - right in the middle of death. He died and rose, and therefore all who believe in Him will die and rise again. Life in the middle of death! What a powerful and freeing thought! I will not die but will live!

That is how Job makes that very statement in the face of the grief that he is facing. It is Job who gives us the basis for that wonderful Easter/resurrection hymn, "I Know My Redeemer Lives." "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27 NIV) That, my friends, is faith.

And that is how he can say that. May I be able to say the same thing should the time come. Lord, fill my heart with faith. Let the Holy Spirit empower me to live the life of faith, even as Job lived that life of faith.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Just some thoughts

Sunday - the day is past. It was quite the day. Worship was wonderful, from my perspective. It might not have been so wonderful from your perspective - either here at St. Paul's, Troy or at the place where you worship. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide everything that I do in a service. It is the Lord's Word that is brought to you. It is the Lord's Word in the liturgy. It is the Lord's Word in the message. It is the Lord's Word in the prayers. It is the Lord in the Sacrament. How could it not be wonderful?

I rejoice for each person who walks through the doors here at St. Paul's. We should thank the Lord for the opportunity to worship the Lord with all our heart, soul, body and mind. And when we don't, instead of finding excuses (which we are good at), we should ask the Lord to forgive us and to help us to worship Him again.

What excuse do you use to avoid worship? Too tired? Too much to do? Just don't feel interested? Don't like what has gone on? Don't like what is going on? Don't want to go to 2 Sunday services? Don't like what someone said to you? What is your reason this week? What was it last week?

Can you just ask yourself one question: Why do you need an excuse? Can't you just be honest with yourself and God and say, "I just don't feel like it today." Then ask yourself, why not? Why don't you feel like it? Have you been sinless this week? Are you that strong of a Christian you don't need to be fed from Word and Sacrament? Do you think that the Lord doesn't want to help you in your life or that you don't need the Lord's help in your life?

I guess I don't understand why people will avoid worship. I look at it as the wonderful opportunity to be in the Lord's presence (yes, you can be in His presence anywhere, but aren't we just making and excuse again when we say that?) and to hear His Word given to my heart and life that is struggling (and I can hear that at home, but will I? Will I actually spend time with the Lord each day when I avoid Him week after week? More excuses.). I don't just go because I am a pastor and I have to go. I go because I want to. It just happens that I am given the honor of preaching the very Word I need to hear. So I preach to myself. I need to hear what I say. And others get to listen.

So did you worship today? I pray that it was uplifting and edifying. And I pray that you heard the Word of God and that it impacted your life. And I look forward to next week, when we get to do it all over again.

Friday, January 15, 2010

15 days

So how have you done so far? I mean on your New Year's resolution? You know, the one where you will stop smoking, quit talking meanly to your friends, start walking each day or whatever the resolution was. How is it going? You are now 15 days into the month. I was reading somewhere that it takes 21 days for a new habit to form. That isn't that long. The bad news of that is, you are still 6 days shy of that number. And that is an average. That means for some people, today is the day that the habit sets in while for others, well, they still have a couple weeks to go till the action becomes a part of their life. (Which one are you?)

Have you taken this to the Lord? Have you talked with Him about what you are struggling with? I can just hear you saying, "Of course I have. I talk with Him every day. Oh God! I cry. Help me! I need to be free from the alcohol (or drugs or sex or smoking or whatever it might be)." And nothing happens. I still struggle. Why?

Have you ever thought of changing your approach? Instead of asking God to free you from the thing that has trapped you (and that chocolate cake sure looks good when you are trying to lose those extra 20 pounds), have you thought about asking God to change your heart, your mind, your very being? "Change my heart, O God, make me more like You." My sinful heart will not change. It will only lead me into further temptation and action. It desires that thing I am trying to give up. It wants it more than life itself. Until the heart changes, nothing will change.

It is like you are taught in Weight Watchers - you need to learn a new way of life. You need to learn how NOT to eat the wrong things at the wrong times. You need to re-learn your life. As a Christian, we need to be made new in Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20 NIV) Don't try to change your action before your heart is changed. It won't work. To quit smoking is a challenge enough as there are the addictions that you have to deal with. But to have your sinful self fighting against you makes it an even greater challenge. Change my heart, O God, make it more like you. I have been crucified with Christ. I died with Christ. Now let me live with Christ.

15 days - not much time when you look at your life. Don't give up. Don't get frustrated (yeah, right). Why? You are still loved by your Lord and He will help you. Go to Him right now, take to Him what is challenging you, and ask Him to change you (not the action). Be open to His change. Let Him lead you. Don't lock Him out. Instead, open your heart, your mind, your very being to the Lord.

And maybe I will see you Sunday (or Saturday). If not me, maybe your pastor will see you. Maybe that is the very thing you have been struggling with - go this week and start new.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Being thankful

I know that Thanksgiving is past. But does that mean we cease to be thankful? Sometimes it does. We are thankful at the right time - like when grandma comes and gives the card to the grandchild and we tell them, "Tell Grandma thank you." And the child says, "Thank you" in a voice that sounds more like they are telling the dentist "thank you" for a root canal.

What makes it so hard to be thankful? The bitter cold weather when the car won't start and you are late to work? The drive that needs shoveled, for the third time since the wind keeps blowing it back closed? The cold feet because the blood doesn't circulate like it used to? The family that never calls, stops by or even acknowledges that you are a live? Do those things make it difficult for you to be thankful?

Take some time to read the book of Habakkuk. (Look in your table of contents if you don't know where to find it.) It is a little 3 chapter book by the prophet Habakkuk. He was looking at the situation of Judah (the southern kingdom) around 600 B.C. This is just before Babylon destroys Judah in 589 B.C. Things are looking bleak. Egypt is no help. Assyria is a pain in the neck. But Babylon, watch out for them! They are like locusts devouring a field. It is like the Blitzkrieg of the Second World War. Nothing could stop them. Nation after nation has fallen before the power of Babylon. And now, they had set their sites on Judah.

Habakkuk laments that God must not be able to act. And if He is able to help, it seems like it is too little, and too late. Kinda sounds like us, doesn't it? All the things piled against us makes us moan and groan and wonder where God might be. Why does He not act? Why does He allow someone to die so young? Why does He allow families to be torn apart? Why does He let sickness get hold and cause such pain and suffering? Why does He let it get so cold outside? Where are you God? That was the cry of Habakkuk.

God acts. He plans. He works things out. It is beyond comprehension. He says that to Habakkuk. He has a plan but Habakkuk just can't see it. yes, Babylon will come and take over Assyria. In the process, Judah will go to captivity. But God would rescue His people as Babylon falls (which to Habakkuk didn't seem likely but did happen 70 years later, much like the former Soviet Union).

But that isn't what I was thinking about. Read Habakkuk 3:16-19. Amazing passage. No matter how difficult the situation, Habakkuk teaches us to be thankful. "I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sounds; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." (NIV)

No matter how bad it is, I will be joyful in God, I will rejoice in Him. That, my friends, should be our mantra. Instead of moaning and groaning, we should rejoice in God. Our situation may really stink, but we can still rejoice in god. Our life might be difficult, but we still can be joyful in God. That is the message I want you think about. Be thankful. Why? You have a God who loves you and cares for you. You have a God who truly does know what is happening in your life, understands your problems, your fears, your issues and has done something about them. He has given His Son. He stepped into this world for you. His plan is beyond comprehension. But it is also complete.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord...that my friends, is why we have so much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cold, so cold

Why is it so cold? Why? I know that there is a high pressure system sitting over us, with the jet stream pressing in from the north bringing in even more cold. The winds will blow because of the high pressure. The Alberta Clipper due in on Wednesday evening is coming straight down from Alberta, Canada. Yeah, yeah. Meteorology tell us all that stuff.

But why does it have to be so cold? Why can't it be warm? At least in the 30's maybe even the 40's? Why does it have to be single digit temps with the wind taking it to below zero? I want it to be warmer when I walk the dogs.

And it is too cold in the kids rooms upstairs. Why does it have to be so cold up there? Why can't they have more heat? It shouldn't be so cold outside so that it is cold inside. It just isn't right. I don't like it.

I just don't like it! God why are You allowing this to happen! Can't You make it stop? Are you punishing me for something? Have I done something wrong to cause it? Or are You just a mean God who doesn't really care about how we are here on earth? What kind of a God are You anyway? Why would You allow people to live on the streets while it is so cold? You really must not be very nice? God is love? Are you nuts? How can He be love when it is bitter cold, people are freezing, and then, when it is all said and done, we will have to pay higher power bills to a company that is getting rich because we are cold.


Sound familiar? That is how we think about God. We want God to do what we want, when we want, how we want - and when He doesn't, we get angry with Him. We turn our back upon Him. We quit worshiping because we don't like what He has done (even though it is our fault we allow people to suffer in the cold instead of helping them, and it is the greed of the power company that causes them to raise prices when they know people are going to need the power to stay warm and it is the fault of a fallen world that causes these temperatures extremes to happen, which actually is trace back to Adam and Eve in the Garden, not God refusing to love or care for us). We get upset, like spoiled children. We kick and scream because our heavenly Father doesn't do what we want.

But who is God and who is the creation? Did we make God? If so, we really made a weak God. Or did God make us? If so, then He is an amazing, strong, powerful God. He does love us. He does care. That is why He was born in Bethlehem, why He became a man - all for us, because we have these problems in life, these pains, these obnoxious ways of acting, these sins that lead us by the nose through our days. He loved us so much that He was willing to become one of us, to take our place, to suffer, to die, to be placed in a stone-cold tomb. He rose on the 3rd day for us because we would be sealed in the tomb forever if He didn't. He did it for you and for me. He loved us. He loves us!

OK, I am still going to be cold, but now I know, it isn't God's fault. It is the fault of a fallen, sinful world. I am still going to have to put up with cold rooms and cold toes. But I also am going to know that God loves me and forgives me for that terrible thing I said to that person today (or just thought about saying to them). He loves me so much that I can go to bed and pray, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." And He will. Thank You dear Father. Thank You!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolution

It is January 1, 2010, the beginning of a new year. We have left behind 2009 with all of its ups and downs. There were good times and there were bad times. Each one of us can relate stories of joy and tales of sadness. You can tell of victories won and battles lost. You can relate how you fought hard to remain on the right road as well as how you willingly took a side road because you wanted to.

It is also a time to make resolutions - to quit smoking, drinking, cussing, lying, stealing, etc., to love your family more, to spend more time with family, to attend church more often, to read your Bible daily, to be a better housekeeper, to be a more faithful worker, to drive the speed limit where ever you go, etc. You might well have already made some resolutions. The question becomes, "How will you make it to your goal?"

It will take a lot of hard work, determination, support from family and friends and something that most people don't think about - direction from the Lord. Before you start any step towards meeting your resolution, why not take it to the Lord. Before you begin to diet, ask the Lord to help you. Before you put that pack of cigarettes away, ask the Lord to give you strength and guidance as you go through the struggle of quitting. As you begin to treat your wife/husband better, ask the Lord to make you a better person.

Will asking for guidance mean that you will make your goal? That, my friends, is really the question. I would like to say that the answer is, "Yes." But I can't. Why? There is a little thing called sinful self that gets in the way. The Lord is always there helping you in your life. He has never left you. The question is, "How did you get into the mess you are in?" Is it because the Lord lead you there? Is it because the Lord didn't help you in your life? No. It is because you chose that direction. You chose to begin smoking or drinking. You chose to start cussing. You chose to cheat on your spouse. You chose to steal from work. You chose to start looking at pornography. You chose that action. The Lord was telling you all along that it was not good for you, but like Adam and Eve in the Garden, you took the fruit from the tree and took the bite. Despite the Lord telling you that it was bad for you, you didn't listen.

So as you work towards your goal, why not walk the path of faith. Why not ask the Lord to guide you step by step. Each day, ask for His help. Each time you are tempted to give in to whatever it is - eating, smoking, cussing, forgetting about devotions, hating your brother, looking at pornography, lying to your parents/children/spouse/employer - stop and ask God for guidance. Ask Him to help you to do what is right. Ask Him to show you the right path. Ask Him to help you not turn from the path you are on. Ask Him to help you to be with Him (Notice I didn't say for Him to be with you. He is always with you!).

And when you fail at some point (and you will), ask Him to forgive you. And then ask Him to help you forgive yourself. Just because you make one mistake, eat the food you shouldn't have, looked at the person you shouldn't have, smoked the cigarette you shouldn't have, doesn't make you a failure. It just means you are human.

One thing I read this last week or so is that it takes at least 21 days to break a bad habit and begin a new habit. 21 days! That means you will not be able to say you have won a victory until you have reached January 21st. Then it will be another 21 days for a new habit to take the place of the old one. One thing to keep in mind, when you stop something, you need to fill the space with something worthwhile. If you don't, either the same thing will come back or another bad or sinful habit will take its place. You don't want that.

Enough of the preaching. I pray that you will be able to meet your goals. As you begin, begin with the Lord. It is like the hymn says, "With the Lord begin your task, Jesus will direct it. For His aid and counsel ask; Jesus will prefect it. Ev'ry morn with Jesus rise, and when day is ended, In His name then close your eyes; Be to Him commended." (Lutheran Service Book, #869, CPH, 2006) God bless your new year.