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!