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.